SEO: Are you accidentally playing “Where’s Waldo” with your audience?

Optimizing your site’s position in search can be tedious and time consuming, but is vital to ensuring constituents and lawmakers are educated on the issues that matter most to you.

Techies have spent years trying to convince business executives to incorporate search engine optimization (SEO) into their marketing strategies. Without an SEO program in place, your advocacy efforts could easily get lost in the waves of opposing competitors, causing you to miss out on an even greater return on investment for your campaign. In order to educate and persuade the policymakers and influencers you wish to target, it is best to be in a position where they can find you and your cause while searching for it.

A humorous meme broke the internet months back when it quoted “The best place to hide a dead body is on page 2 of Google’s search results—or Page 1 of Bing”. Studies have shown that there may be some truth to this, as 95% of searchers don’t bother scrolling past the first page of search results. In other words—don’t do your organization or cause the disservice of being found on page two! Forcing advocates and lawmakers to indulge in a game of “Where’s Waldo” with your position on an issue is the quickest way to send them (and their support) to opposing advocacy groups.

Today, most issues are decided by those who are in the “middle,” and your ability to sway those people whose opinions are not yet formed is essential in public affairs. The real purpose of SEO is to help you to reach that valuable audience by matching the content on your website to what people are trying to find—consistently.

For example:

A Christian advocacy group in Oklahoma fought against the Obama Administration’s policy requiring church-affiliated organizations to provide employees with free birth control. The group was passionate about their stance on reproductive measures that went against their Christian beliefs. To make sure their voice was heard they launched a website to fight against the birth control mandate and eagerly awaited supporters to join their cause. Although the group put time and effort into building a visually compelling website, they didn’t work on framing their content in a way that appealed to the Google crawlers that scan websites on a daily basis for new content.

On the opposing end, a pro-choice group in Washington, D.C., supported the mandate and strongly believed in reducing unplanned pregnancies through increased use of contraception. This group had higher Google search rankings than the Christian advocacy group and a stronger understanding of the power of digital marketing. Instead of solely focusing on a visually appealing website, the group accompanied their advocacy efforts with a blog that they updated regularly. Not only did the blog educate readers and provide more insight on the group’s stance on the issue, but the group also incorporated links, images, and the exact key words and phrases that policymakers and advocates would search for.

This is where the power in SEO lies, optimizing your online content in order to show up and stand out against competitors whenever someone searches for your cause. While both websites held the same intention to spread issue awareness, only one was structured in a way that was search engine friendly.

SEO has earned the reputation of being one of the most reliable and cost-effective marketing strategies today for public affairs professionals. Acknowledging where your advocacy campaign resides in Google’s search results is the first and most essential step in growing your online visibility.