What online ads work best for nonprofits?
September 27, 2006 10:13 AM   Subscribe

Are Google ads a good use for my very limited advertising dollars? If not, what works? I'm trying to promote a small science museum and I need help primarily with online marketing.

I work for a very small earth science museum with a very, very small (think in the low four figures - a year) advertising/marketing/PR etc. budget. I think I want to try out some online ads since our visitor book is showing that the majority of our guests are finding us online. I've been looking at AdSense & AdWords and it's confusing as hell and I'm not sure it's really what we want. Has anyone, particularly anyone who works for a nonprofit, done Google ads and had much luck? What else is out there? I've looked at banner ads on local media sites and they seem almost as expensive as print ads and I'm not sure that's worth it either.

I also got a call the other day from Discover, who are offering one of those "we will put your website at the top of all search engines for $50 a month!" deals and I'm ambivalent about that as well, since I think our pagerank is OK. Of course, I could be wrong about that; please tell me if I am! Any tips for cheap, cheap, cheap advertising and online marketing are much appreciated. Our primary market is local families with kids, followed closely by tourists.
posted by mygothlaundry to Work & Money (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If you're targetting local families, then you want to be linked to from all the local sites -- local newspaper, local school (if they have a website), tourist bureau/"Welcome to Anytown" page, Little League, churches, etc.

Are you in a big town or little town?
What is your pagerank right now (if I searched for "museum+Anytown" or "science+Anytown" or "kids+Anytown", would I find you on the first page)?
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:19 AM on September 27, 2006

You're number 3 on Google for an "earth science museum" search, and you're number two for an "Asheville museum" search. I'd say that's a pretty decent rank for a small institution.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I can't remember the last time I clicked through an AdSense link. I don't even really notice them anymore; my brain just screens them out. Google Ads are probably best used to insinuate brand names into the subconscious. I wouldn't expect them to drive much foot traffic to a North Carolina museum.

If you really want to do web ads, follow Lobstermitten's advice and place them yourself on other area websites. I might also suggest trying to think up some interesting (and free) articles and content to put up on the museum's site. If you're lucky, a rock-hound blogger might pick up on it and give some inches to the institution. That's a really long shot, of course, but it's not as long a shot as a Google Ad, and probably far, far cheaper.
posted by Iridic at 10:46 AM on September 27, 2006

OK. First of all, I think you should at least try adwords because you can set a monthly spending cap, and just see if it's any use for the amount you want to spend. If it's no good after a couple months, dump it. Furthermore, it's pretty cheap if your search words are not super-popular, and I imagine "Asheville science museum" is probably not one of those high-octane search terms. I set up adwords for a local political campaign a few years ago, and I think we spent like $25 overall. Of course I can't say even that was money well spent, but it was a small enough hit that it was worth trying. Particularly if you have evidence that people are already finding you online, and you want to improve that.

Moreover, though, I think if your "primary market is local families with kids," you would probably do best by just TELLING people about your museum. Like, send info packets to local schools (offering group discounts? If that's in your budget), send press releases to local papers whenever you have an event... lots of times the newspapers' local beat gets mighty sick of covering city council meetings and they'd run with anything that came across their desks.

To reach tourists, consider printing up some flyers and placing them at local hotels.
posted by rkent at 10:49 AM on September 27, 2006

Ditto rkent on earned (i.e., not paid-for) media. Best advertising is probably sending press releases to all local media whenever something interesting (a new exhibit, for example) is coming up. They'll cover you; that's their job.

Online stuff may be less effective if your targeting is assiduously local.
posted by mcwetboy at 10:58 AM on September 27, 2006

I agree with what Iridic said. Google Ads just seem like noise to me now, and I never look at them. I think it would probably just be a waste of your limited money.

payperpost is the new thing in town. A lot of people have some really strong negative feelings about blogger advertising, which someone will probably voice, but it's an option you should know about if you're interested.

I do think that getting an ad on the local paper/radio site is a great idea. All of my knowledge about local events/museums/festivals comes from local websites. You may be able to get a discount if you tell them you're a nonprofit.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 1:02 PM on September 27, 2006

Don't ever take up "guaranteed top rankings'-type search engine optimisation offers, in the same way you shouldn't believe miracle weight-loss programmes and get-rich-quick schemes.

You have a small financial budget, but if you have enough time you can do interesting things. Try out AdSense. Put some time into refining and expanding your listings in various directories, and the site itself. Maybe run competitions in conjunction with appropriate sites, invite some bloggers over, basically get other people involved in ways that aren't just about paid advertising.

(Feel free to get in touch if you'd like me to have a quick look at the site to see if there's anything simple you could do to improve its performance)
posted by malevolent at 1:04 PM on September 27, 2006

I generally think paying for online exposure is counter-productive, since readers have trained their eyes to pan right over those little boxes and banners without even seeing them.

Make sure you have detailed listings and/or a link (whatever's appropriate) on travel websites - Fodor's, Frommer's, Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, etc - as well as on local websites like LobsterMitten suggested.
posted by joannemerriam at 1:29 PM on September 27, 2006

If it's in Asheville, be sure you're reaching the families of undergrads who will have to entertain younger siblings when they come to visit, and grad students who are more likely to come with kids of their own. Are you listed in the university's "things to do with kids in town" section of their webpage? Are you in their orientation brochure for grad students and undergrads? Most schools also have an international students' office, and an alumni office, which put out their own publications, maintain their own websites, etc. Does Asheville have big sports rivalries, where there are big game weekends that draw people from out of town? Try to get listed with the athletic department's page on what to do after the big game.

A lot of university towns have local free papers; advertising with them is probably pretty inexpensive. Often these will have a "what to do in Asheville" issue at the start of the school year: get in that issue! Include a map, and some beginning of year promotion (university students 1/2 price).

If you charge admission, you can do a lot of giving away "4 free tickets to the Amazing Asheville Science Museum, the most fun you can have in Asheville while sober" (or whatever your slogan would be): give them to church raffles, as prizes for 5K/fun runs, elementary school fundraisers, oldies radio stations, etc.

The recommendation to put brochures in hotel lobbies, "Welcome to Asheville" centers and talk to local B&B owners is a good one.

I agree that I never look at Google ads, but they are by far the least annoying of all internet ads, so I wouldn't actively lose respect for a museum that used them. (Although, people who use the internet less might have a different reaction.) If you are already highly-ranked for the most likely searches, then I wouldn't spend your money on that.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:58 PM on September 27, 2006

Given that you have great positioning in relevant searches, I think the biggest benefit of paying for AdWords is that you'd be able to funnel people who click on the AdWords to pages specifically designed to turn them into customers. You might just target the content based on the fact that you know they are coming from an ad. YOu could also offer a coupon code for a discount on admission, etc.

As other's have noted, you can cap your spending, so why not experiment a bit for a few months. Besides, if people don't click, you don't pay.

I usually ignore search ads, but I often click on them when I'm looking for a product or service and I don't have a specific vendor in mind.
posted by Good Brain at 2:08 PM on September 27, 2006

BTW, you mention that you know from the guestbook that people are often finding out about you online, but do you know how they are finding you online? Do you have an analysis of referrers in to your site, and the search terms people are entering when they arrive via a search engine?

Google Analytics is easy to add to a website, and will give you that sort of information. Knowing how people find your site is important info to have before you go off figuring out ways to get more people to your site.
posted by Good Brain at 2:23 PM on September 27, 2006

Last thing: If you have regular programs (lectures, classes, events, etc) you should make sure you provide an RSS feed with info (also offer the same info as a weekly e-mail).
posted by Good Brain at 2:29 PM on September 27, 2006

All advertising is noise, but I have clicked thought about ten Google ads as I recall, finding two of them useful. I have never, and would never, click on a banner ad. Their only purpose is to give Adblock Plus something to do.
posted by flabdablet at 12:57 AM on September 28, 2006

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