How researchers get heard
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The Coming Agitation

The Agitator, a must-read newsletter on fundraising trends and strategy for non-profits, last week posted a series on audience building amidst the ever-shifting sands of Google and Facebook. (In two words: treacherous.) Some takeaways:

  • More than half of all Google searches now end in no clicks (because Google is dominating many searches with its own information boxes — and because people on mobile don’t click as much);
  • Organic reach on Facebook has dried up — clickthroughs are now all ad-driven, and those ads are getting and will get more and more expensive.

In the face of these developments, you have two options, writes DonorVoice’s Nick Ellinger:

  • Pay dearly for Google or Facebook ads (or ads on Twitter, although it might ban issue advocacy ads this week as political), because ads still get you visibility.
  • Answer the questions people are asking about your topic with great content that wins organic search, because Google’s new BERT update prioritizes natural language processing — which means your great content can win out over keyword-crammed crap.

The point of both options is to get people to your site and build a relationship with them there, rather than vaulting over the ever-higher walls of Facebook and Google Gardens. This shift will require, writes Roger Craver in today’s Agitator essay, “a whole new skill set of lead generation and email gathering tactics…as in soliciting email addresses from everyone who visits your website.”

Ellinger adds:

The coming search world is trending toward and could very well end up in two camps: pay to play or served within the search engine. Your interests are best served by getting people out of this ecosystem and into yours by getting them to opt in for their preferred method of communications from you. Yes, you will have to pay Google to do it, but those prices are rising…so there’s no time like the present.

You know how you look back at your predecessors and wonder why they didn’t do more mail acquisition when they were able to make a profit on it? Don’t be the digital equivalent of those folks.

My bottom line: research- and expertise-driven organizations are in prime position to take advantage of this shift, if they can a) consistently generate content to own the questions their audiences are asking, and b) create infrastructures on their sites to collect information about those audiences in legally compliant ways that also start conversations.

If you run a primarily grant-funded organization, you might say you don’t care about any of this. To which I’d respond: You need to look past the word “donor” and see the word “decision-maker.”

Because by “conversion,” I’m including conversations that lead to collaboration with your organization. And even if you run a great, targeted campaign for your insights, you don’t know or can’t buy a list with everyone who can benefit from your expertise.