Millennials and Search Engines: Nonprofits’ Biggest Concerns

Jan 17, 2014   |   Clock Icon 9 min read
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What do Millennials, the generation born roughly between 1979 and 2000, and search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo have in common? Maybe much more than you think...

They're both constantly evolving and adapting to new technology and they both promise to impact the future of nonprofit and for-profit organizations alike. For now, we’ll focus on how these two subjects are totally changing the game for charities and nonprofits in particular.

More people look to online resources for information today than ever before. The Pew Internet Project reveled that 74% of all adults 18 and older go online and 93% of young adults between 18 and 29 go online daily. The same research found that over the past decade search engine use has consistently been among the top online activities, second only to email. In fact, 91% of online adults use search engines to find information on the web. These numbers will only continue to grow as all Millennials progress into adulthood.

But why are these trends crucially important to charities and nonprofits? Simple. Millennials are the next generation of donors and volunteers. This massive population of 76 million is expected to spend $200 billion annually by 2017 and where they decide to spend or donate their money depends on which organizations can capture their attention. Thus, an organization that can’t be found through a Google search doesn’t have much of a chance.

As nonprofits begin to rethink their approach for capturing donors’ attention, they should consider the following similarities between Millennials and search engines.

They both know what’s trending

Search engines and Millennials are up to date on trending terms and language much faster than older Internet users. If your parents still think LOL stands for “lots of love” you know exactly what I’m talking about (sorry, Mom). This is a concern for nonprofits because they’re infamous for using internal language to describe the services they provide. But if your audience doesn’t use that language to search online, then what’s the point?

So ask yourself, is the terminology on your website in line with this generation? Start with some basic keyword research to figure out what’s trending and determine which keywords may drive this young audience to your site.

Here’s a great example of a nonprofit that did their keyword research and used a trending term to their advantage:

Vittana, an organization dedicated to defeating world poverty by providing student loans to college aged kids in third world countries, worked with two independent students to build a successful campaign around Oxford Dictionaries’ 2013 word of the year, “selfie”. The Selfie Police reposts selfies that people have posted to social media sites and fines them $1 on charges of self obsession. In the first two days of operation, Selfie Police received about 100 donations and raised more than $1,000 for Vittana.

They like it to be easy

It’s not shocking that Millennials are the generation of multitaskers. And with a hundred things going on simultaneously at any given time, they don’t want to scour a charity’s website looking for the information they need. If they can’t find it quickly, chances are they won’t stick around long enough to donate. Search engines are very similar in this respect — if they can’t easily navigate your website and find valuable information to index, they’re gone.

To make it easier for both parties, focus on the following:

Logical Usability

The Millennial Impact conducted usability testing among Millennials strictly on nonprofit websites, social media pages, mobile sites and donation pages to discover what they want from their online experience. This research offers excellent tips for nonprofits looking to improve their website’s usability. Take a minute to watch some of the videos that actually show Millennials interacting and commenting on the usability of the websites tested.

Once you feel like you understand how Millennials use your site, focus on providing your audience (both humans and search engines) with deep, diverse information about your story and cause. You don’t want to overwhelm them with massive chunks of information so utilize internal linking to other pages within your site. The Issues+Resources page on the Children’s Rights website is a perfect example of simplifying massive amounts of important information through logical internal linking.

Simple Registration

Search engines and Millennials can’t (or won’t) download and read PDF files, fill them out, and fax them over. Instead, transfer your registration forms, case studies, volunteer applications, career postings, etc. to on-page content and forms on your site. That way, you add value and convenience to both visitors and (if set up correctly) you’ll increase the number of pages indexed by search engines.

Easy Donating

You may have a huge prominent Donate button on your site but what happens after clicking that button is what’s important. The entire donation process should be simple and straightforward. If it takes more than two clicks to get to your donation page from your homepage, it’s not as simple as it could be. The more hoops they have to jump through, the more likely they are to leave your site.

They value social media

Search engines use signals from social media including Facebook Shares and Twitter Retweets to determine the popularity of brands, companies and organizations…and so do Millennials.

Instagram’s rapid growth to over 150 million users in 2013 demonstrates the power of pictures. So use social media to your advantage by asking your volunteers to share pictures of their volunteering experience on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Hold contests for the best before and after photos of your volunteer project and provide them with sample hashtags to use when sharing their photos. (Note: Before you decide to make an Instagram account for your nonprofit, be sure to avoid the biggest mistakes nonprofit organizations are making on Instagram.

They get bored of repetition

No matter how sad or heart wrenching the issue at hand, anyone can get bored of reading the same information over and over. In the world of SEO, the necessity of shareable, linkable and unique content in order to rank well in search results is practically drilled into our brains by influential industry leaders. But as someone working in the nonprofit sector, you might not be reminded quite as frequently.

Your nonprofit no doubt has an amazing mission and unique story to tell the world and if you share it correctly you could make a serious impact. Invisible Children, a nonprofit dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of child soldiers, has done an incredible job of this on their site by creating fresh content around their unique four-part model that sets them apart and makes them different.

Get started by going through all the content on your site that is meant to provide information about what you do, your mission and your cause and make sure it’s fresh, accurate and up to date. If it’s not, it might be time for a content audit. And if it is, then keep adding more relevant content.

They have trust issues

Both search engines and Millennials want to trust others, but they have difficulty doing so. According to a study on trust in society and other people, just 46% of Millennials say that other people can be trusted to tell the truth. If you’ve ever seen MTV’s hit show Catfish, you can understand this distrust, especially online. For those of you who have never seen the show or heard the term catfish, here is a brief explanation.

Catfish [kat-fish] verb: To pretend to be someone you’re not by posting false information online and fabricating false identities using social sites, usually with the intention of getting someone to support and fall in love with you.

The first thing the host of the show does is investigate the legitimacy and determine the trust of these online personalities by looking for red flags. They dig into their backstory (or backlink profile, if you will). They then examine who this person is associated with online by checking their friends’ profiles for red flag.

Search engines have a similar method of determining trust; though it’s much less emotional. Instead, search engines look at the diversity, legitimacy and credibility of links pointing to your website from other sites on the Internet. They are essentially testing your website’s legitimacy in the same way the young, hopeless romantics test legitimacy on the show Catfish.

To that end, nonprofits must work to make their new audience of younger supporters trust in their cause by:

Building Relationships

Everyone likes to feel important, Millennials in particular. So if someone starts following your organization on Twitter, send them a quick thank you message with contact information and links to volunteer opportunities with your organization. This small gesture could be the first step to cultivating a relationship. It could also lead to positive word of mouth among friends and maybe more followers on Twitter, a signal of trust among Millennials and search engines.

Being Associated with Credible Sites

Use volunteer matching sites that have a good reputation in your community like VolunteerMatch and HandsOn RVA to post your volunteer opportunities. Being featured on these sites helps search engines better understand what you’re about, provides you with the opportunity to get a strong backlink, and makes it easier for Millennials searching for volunteer opportunities in their local community to find your website in the first place.

The next few years will be very interesting for the nonprofit industry. We are going to see a shift in the way nonprofits interact with their younger supporters. Some older, well-established nonprofits may see a painful fall to the bottom, while new and savvy nonprofits will most likely experience notable success and a fast rise to the top. If you want the attention of strong supporters tomorrow, start making sure your cause is visible to search engines and Millennials today.

Know of an awesome, deserving nonprofit organization in your area? Is their website Millennial and search engine friendly? Share your story with a comment below or let me know on Google+ !

Cheryl Jones