Since November of 2015 I’ve been working with a non-profit called the Finger Lakes Trail Conference. The start of this association began when the President came to a local hiking club annual dinner in which he asked for help with the organization’s marketing efforts. As with most non-profits, this organization has limited resources whether it be human or monetary in nature.
After conversing with the president and executive director of the organization, they stressed a few areas of concern. These included, but were not limited to:
- The need to increase and retain current membership
- The need to increase the sale of merchandise whether maps or clothing, etc.
- The need to keep costs in check
- And more…
After a few conversations and exchanges of information I proceeded with an analysis of the organization’s marketing efforts primarily focusing on their online presence. This analysis would first start with the fundamentals of the organization’s online footprint which in this case was its website and the external factors that are associated with it.
Something to be aware of – As mentioned the organization has limited resources both in terms of human capital and monetary funds. In addition, the current webmaster has done an excellent job maintaining the website with little to no assistance. But as time goes on the website and associated elements of its online presence have fallen behind current best practices.
The analysis of the website – An analysis of the website showed that it was generally functional, but had several issues hindering its discover-ability and usability as well as underlying technical issues. This wasn’t due to anyone’s fault, rather for the most part it was due to the changes that occur to the online environment over time. Examples of these issues include:
- The website was not mobile friendly and this was reflected in part by a high bounce rate for mobile users in Google Analytics
- Neither Google Search Console nor Bing Webmaster account were in use and thus a sitemap hadn’t been submitted to either
- Google Analytics wasn’t being utilized to determine what was working and not working on the website as well as to understand where visitors to the site were coming from
- Mixed usage of www and non-www
- Fundamental SEO issues were present such as either missing or misconstrued meta title and meta description tags
- Two domains were in use not only online but in general offline branding
- The website lacked site-wide https
- And other technical issues
Tools Utilized To Conduct This Analysis – To conduct this analysis several tools were used. These included:
- Screaming Frog SEO Spider Tool
- Googles Mobile Friendly Testing Tools
- Google Analytics
- Open Site Explorer
- And more
Analysis of its off site online presence – While the website had problems, I decided to take a look at the offsite online presence of the organization. While there are many areas to consider, this analysis focused on:
- Lack of discover-ability for the website through emulated Google searches
- Failure to appear in Google’s Local Finder for relevant searches
- Backlinks which included the mix use of the two domain names as well as www and non-www
- The citations concerning the organization had issues similar to those facing the backlinks
- Multiple knowledge panels in Google which didn’t correlate to the brand
- Lack of visibility in key 3rd party apps
- The use of a co-branded microsite
- The fact that the organization had to compete with other websites which gave away trail information and data for free
- And more…
With the analysis complete I started to prioritize the issues that needed to be addressed. The two most pressing issues were to resolve the website problems and cleaning up the domain names. Addressing these would lay the ground work for addressing the other problems.
Creating a plan of action – To address these issues a website committee was formed in the Spring of 2016. The committee consisted of the current webmaster, the executive director, the head of the social media committee, one board member and myself. During the spring and over the summer of 2016 the committee formulated a plan which resulted in a request for proposal document. This RFP would be sent out to prospective website developers.
In the fall of 2016 the committee completed the RFP and sent it out vendors we had identified. Of those vendors only one showed interest. Fortunately it was a vendor that had come highly recommended and was familiar with working with non-profits. After a period of back and forth discussions we finalized the contract with the vendor.
As of late January of 2017 the FLTC website committee is working with the vendor toward the completion of the website redesign. In general, the current website content is being migrated to a modern and responsive framework. In addition, technical and domain issues facing the website are being addressed.
Other Items – While the website and domain names were one of the largest issues to contend with, we pursued a few other areas of opportunities for the organization, for example:
Google For Non-Profits Program – Since the Finger Lakes Trail Conference is a non-profit, I suggested the organization leverage the Google for Non-Profits program. After explaining the benefits of the program to the executive director, he agreed that we should utilize the features found under it. While we ran into a few bumps along they way toward getting accepted into the program, we gain acceptance in the the spring of 2016.
Once the FLTC was accepted into the Google Non-Profits program we then applied for acceptance into the Google Ad Grants portion of the program. The thought here was to setup several rudimentary Adwords campaigns which would serve the purpose of not only driving relevant traffic to the website, but also aid in the collection of valuable data that would influence the website redesign process.
In addition to the Ad Grants program, we decided to leverage the Google Apps for Non-Profits as well. We will use Google Apps for handling the organization’s email. This will not only save them money, but also follows the best practices of having email handled separately from hosting.
In Summary– Note, this is an ongoing project. Before and after the redesigned website is launched there will be numerous other tasks to be taken care of. When that happens I’ll return to listing them here.