How to grow a nonprofit website with a simple “traffic portfolio”

By day, I’m a copywriter and direct marketing consultant. By night, I help run a nonprofit political action committee (PAC).

Since I prefer to keep politics off this blog, I’ll forgo mentioning the name of the PAC.

In my last post, I talked about driving web traffic with direct mail. However, direct mail has its limitations, especially for small nonprofit organizations with tight budgets. Our PAC budget is less than $50,000 a year. So from the beginning, I’ve put an emphasis on highly cost-effective tactics.

As a result, the organization has no brick and mortar presence and operates almost exclusively online with a website and a variety of online “outposts,” including a forum as well as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

While we run a variety of real-world events, such as political rallies, dinners, and meetings, online tools and social media drive the marketing, enabling the website and organization to grow rapidly with minimal cost.

I decided to look at the numbers recently and found confirmation that these tactics have worked spectacularly well.

In 2009, the organization saw a 61% increase in website traffic over the previous year with 41% visitor loyalty (visitors who return 2 or more times). Donations, event attendance, and political influence have all increased dramatically and the number of supporters has grown statewide and nationally.

The website is now one of the most heavily trafficked sites in its category, performing better than nearly all similar organizations, even those operating on a national level. In addition, email newsletter subscriptions have increased from 10 a day to as much as 450 a day, resulting in massive list growth.

To achieve these results, I have used a “portfolio” approach, using tactics that have the greatest effect on search engines, referral sites, and direct traffic.

Content and keywords boost search traffic. Content is king. The PAC has created more than 7,000 pages of high-quality content in the form of blog posts and pages, churning out 8-12 new, timely articles a week. This boosts the website’s rank in search engines and creates a large pool of keywords to drive search traffic.

Of the top 25 most popular pages on the website, I created 19 exclusively for their keyword value. News items that are timely and which properly employ good keywords nearly always generate higher search traffic.

Social media rules referral traffic. Link trading, online directories, and links on supporters’ sites are fine, but produce poor results. However, popular social media sites have the traffic and “link juice” to make links work on a regular basis.

Just weeks after creating a Facebook fan page, traffic began flowing to the PAC website. Better still, social bookmarking sites have created a bonanza of traffic. In December of 2009, StumbleUpon accounted for over 25% of total website traffic and remains strong to this day.

Newsletters drive direct traffic. Forget “build it and they will come.” I use a weekly, digest-style email newsletter that provides links to current blog posts, events, and affiliate products.

The newsletter goes out on Tuesday morning and creates a spike in web traffic that lasts for 48 hours. Featured articles always get higher read counts. Articles not linked to show low read counts. By every metric, traffic increases dramatically when people are “pushed” to the site.

To be fair, a good deal of traffic comes from direct searches for the PAC. And this can be attributed to printed literature distribution, media coverage, and live events. However, these sources generally have their origin online. I use online tools to encourage literature distribution, attract media coverage, and fill the seats at events.

Although I’m known as a “direct mail” guy, my focus has always been on what works, without any loyalty to a particular medium. I knew from the beginning that if a small organization like ours relied on traditional direct mail or printed newsletters, for example, it would be expensive and would limit growth.

By using a simple portfolio of online resources, and by following the most basic of best practices, I have helped the PAC website rapidly attract more traffic. As traffic grows, so do donations, volunteers, publicity, and influence.

Nonprofits who are still relying on traditional print media should consider not only the cost-effectiveness but the absolute effectiveness of these online resources.

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4 Responses to “How to grow a nonprofit website with a simple “traffic portfolio””

  1. Brendon B Clark on August 10th, 2010 9:24 am

    Dean, thanks.

    A great “How to” post, and for someone involved in this area and dealing with the same issues, this is a timely piece!

  2. lawton chiles on August 23rd, 2010 1:54 pm

    Dean, great stuff here. We are winding up our non-profit which is Whole Child Florida. Whole Child mainly works throughout different counties in Florida to hook up needy families with community services and providers.

    Would love your advice and thoughts–

    Working on getting a good lead magnet which you can see here

  3. Dean Rieck on August 23rd, 2010 3:46 pm

    @Lawton: Interesting. I’ll check it out. I used to to do marketing for Children International, a child sponsorship organization. I’m sure you’ve seen the TV ads.

  4. Justin from Direct Response on October 7th, 2010 9:07 pm


    Thank you for sharing the nuts and bolts of your marketing strategies in this instance. Helps out a great deal.

    Your idea of the weekly digest email to re-engage readers is great.

    Quick question- do you automate this weekly email digest?

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