David Falor – On-Page SEO 101: Tips for Keyword Optimizing the Most Critical Parts of Your Website

SEO can sometimes feel like it stands for “Something Extremely Obscure.”

As marketers, we’re responsible for staying on top of what can feel like endless Google algorithm updates. And if we fail to do so, we run the risk of not showing up in search for important target keywords.

But keeping pace with all of those changes isn’t easy. Thankfully, when it comes to achieving SEO success on your website, there’s one rule of thumb that remains a tried-and-tested technique: optimizing your website with relevant and targeted keywords.

Download our free on-page SEO template here to help you plan and organize your keyword strategy. 

By having a well-optimized site, you’ll start to see results like improved visitor quality, higher conversion rates, and in the end: more closed customers.

In this article, I’m going to cover how to add keywords to your website once you’ve already completed your keyword research. So before you dive into this post, be sure to read this awesome blog post on how to do keyword research.

Got your keywords ready? Alright. Read on to learn what on-page SEO is, where to add those keywords to your website, and how to avoid search penalties.

What is On-Page SEO?

SEO, or search engine optimization, is all about creating content, optimizing it, and promoting it. When we talk about SEO, we often talk about “on-page SEO” and “off-page SEO.”

What’s the difference? In short:

  • On-Page SEO is what a site “says to a search engine.”
  • Off-Page SEO is what “other sites say” about a site.

On-page SEO, or “saying something to a search engine,” means optimizing individual webpages so that they rank higher on search engine results pages. The term covers both the content itself, as well as the HTML source code — both of which can be optimized for search.

Off-page SEO, on the other hand, refers to external ranking signals like links.

Improving your on-page SEO can help your inbound marketing efforts immensely by helping you attract the right visitors to your website. You want to optimize your pages for search engines so they can understand who you are, what you do, and what you’re writing about. Again, when you improve your on-page SEO, you’ll help increase the organic rank of your website on search engine results pages (SERPs).

(HubSpot customers: Click here to learn how to use HubSpot’s on-page SEO tool, which is built right into the software.)

On-Page SEO Tips to Help Your Webpages Rank Better in Search

1) Start with an SEO audit of your website. 

Every time you add new site content, you’ll want to create that content with the specific keywords you’re targeting (1–2 per individual webpage) in mind. But if you already have a bunch of webpages published, then your first step will be performing an SEO audit on your current website.

An SEO audit will give you an idea of how SEO-friendly your website is overall. That way, you can update and optimize your current content for search starting with your highest-traffic webpages. The audit will also help surface any other issues you may have, like duplicate content, so you can address them immediately and start ranking better in search.

Watch this quick video series to learn how to perform an SEO site audit in detail. It’ll cover how to check whether your site is being blocked by search engines, make sure your XML sitemap is working, monitor and improve site performance, spot and remove internal duplicate content, and check your site’s popularity and trustworthiness.

In short, here’s what you’ll need to do:

  1. Export all of your site pages into an Excel spreadsheet.
  2. Sort by the most frequently visited pages. (Learn how to sort in Excel here.)
  3. Decide which keyword category each one falls into, and add that category into a column beside the page name.
  4. Add another column in your spreadsheet to add more specific keywords that you want to add to that page. Keep in mind that they must be relevant to the content on that page, as well as terms your target audience would be searching for.

Here’s an example of what this might look like:

Keywords_Audit

Once you’ve completed this process for all of your pages (or, if you have a ton of pages, at least the most important ones), then you can jump in to your site to start adding keywords.

Here are a few other helpful resources for performing SEO audits:

2) Add keywords (naturally) to 5 critical places on your website.

In order to optimize your pages for keywords, you’ll need to, well … include those keywords on your site. But not every placement of a keyword is equal: There are certain places on your website that are more optimal than others for on-page SEO.

Here’s a list of some of the most important places to optimize for your chosen keywords on your site:

  • Titles
  • Descriptions
  • Headings & Content
  • Images Titles & Alt Text
  • URLs

If you haven’t optimized these sections of your site in the past, you have some work to do — but it’s up-front work that will pay off big time in the long term. To get the most bang for your buck, start with the pages that get the most traffic. Then, as you create more pages in the future, be sure to optimize as you go.

(HubSpot customers: Click here to learn how to figure out which webpages are getting the most traffic using the “Sources” report.)

Titles

Titles are the HTML element used to describe the topic of a webpage. You’ll find them in the title of a search engine result page (as shown below), and in the top bar of an internet browser.

hubspot-homepage-title

Titles have a direct impact on both searcher clickthrough rates (CTRs) and search rankings. To make your title both search-friendly and click-friendly:

  • Try to keep it below about 65 characters so it doesn’t get cut off on search engine results pages. (Technically, Google measures by pixel width, not character count. It recently increased the pixel width for organic search results to about 600 pixels from 500 pixels, which is approximately 65 characters.)
  • Include one of your target keywords or phrases so it’s easier for searchers to identify that your results are relevant to other query — and position these keywords toward the front of the title to lower the risk of it getting cut off on SERPs.

Descriptions

Descriptions, also known as meta descriptions, are shown in search results below the title and URL, as shown below.

hubspot-homepage-description

Descriptions can help increase CTR, but nowadays, they actually don’t have a direct impact on rankings. They’re there for humans, not search engine crawlers, and you should use them to tell searchers why they should click on your result. Use one of your target keywords or phrases in your meta description so they know your content is relevant to their query, but make it attractive to the viewer, too.

Bonus: You can use this cool tool from Dejan SEO to preview what your search result would look like before deciding which description to use.

Headings & Content

It’s important to use your keywords in your headings and content, as visitors are much more likely to stay on a page if they can see the terms they had searched for on it. Using keywords in your content is used by Google as a ranking factor, so doing this can help improve your SERP placement.

Just make sure you’re using these keywords naturally, since Google has gotten better and better at being able to tell when people are keyword-stuffing their content. Whenever you create content, focus on what matters to your audience, not how many times you can include a keyword or keyword phrase in that content. If you do that, you’ll usually find you naturally optimize for important keywords.

While it’s fine to use keywords in multiple locations on your site, don’t overdo it or Google will demote your webpages in search results. (And hey, no one wants to read content like that, anyway.)

Image Alt Text & Titles

You can also look at including keywords in a natural way in your image alt text and titles. Both alt text and titles are attributes that can be added to an image tag in HTML. Here’s what a complete image tag might look like:

<img class=”alignCenter shadow” src=”image.jpg” alt=”image-description” title=”image tooltip”/>

An image’s alt text tells search engine crawlers what an image is about, which helps it be found in search. It’ll display inside the image container when an image can’t be found, and it also improves accessibility for people with poor vision using screen readers.

An image title tag, on the other hand, is shown when a user hovers their mouse over the element — kind of like a “pop-up.” It won’t be shown to the user when an image can’t be displayed.

(HubSpot customers: Click here to learn how to add alt text and title text to your images in HubSpot.)

Adding keywords to these image attributes may seem minor, and truthfully, it isn’t going to impact your search rankings as much as other things on this list. But trust us, it’s worth the extra minute (if that) it takes to change the name from “IMG23940” to something accurate and descriptive.

For example, if you were to write alt text for the image below:

  • Bad: alt=””
  • Better: alt=”puppies”
  • Best: alt=”golden-retriever-puppies-in-basket”
  • Avoid: alt=”puppy-dog-baby-dog-pup-pups-puppies-doggies-litter-retriever-labrador-wolfhound-setter-pointer-basket-wicker-basket-box-container-straw-grass-green-nature”

golden-retriever-puppies-in-basket

URLs

It’s a good idea to include keywords in your URL if they accurately describe the page contents. This is particularly important for businesses that do a lot of blogging — there’s a huge opportunity to optimize your URLs on every post you publish, as every post lives on its own unique URL.

But beware: Search engines will penalize exact match domains that are keyword stuffed. So if you’re thinking of starting up arizonerealestaterealtorsinarizona.com, think again. Keep it to businessname.com/topic-topic, and you should be fine.

As always, keep reader-friendliness in mind when you’re creating your URLs. Overall, your URLs should make sense to humans and give them a good sense of where in your website they’ve landed. You should also separate words with hyphens and remove extra words (like “a” and “the”) in the page part of the URL slug.

url-slugs

3) Learn to avoid search penalties.

There are a couple of things you should also avoid when optimizing your site for keywords, so be careful of the following sketchy SEO practices some people (mind-bogglingly) still use.

Never hide keywords.

This includes using the same color background as you do for the text, hiding them behind images, or hiding them off to the side using CSS. (I know, I can’t believe I have to say it.) While this isn’t as easy to catch as other black hat tactics, today’s more sophisticated search engines can easily find instances of hidden keywords — and it can result in serious search penalties.

Avoid keyword stuffing

Keyword stuffing means repeating keywords over and over again in the text, whether it’s in titles, headings, descriptions, page content, URLs, or even at the bottom of a webpage in very small text. Basically, when it looks like keywords have been added unnecessarily onto a webpage, it’s probably keyword stuffed.

Keyword stuffing is the oldest trick in the book when it comes to SEO — and nowadays, search engines have been developed specifically to detect it. Not only does it look spammy, but it’s not approved by search engines and will result in penalties.

Don’t force keywords where they don’t belong.

This isn’t quite the same as stuffing a lot of keywords into a post. This is more about not forcing a keyword in — even if it’s just one — if it doesn’t belong, contextually speaking. If you can’t figure out a place to put a keyword in a piece of content, it’s often a sign the content isn’t that well-aligned with what your personas need, anyway.

Remember, SEO is not about incorporating as many keywords as possible. It’s much more about picking content topics relevant to your target audience.

4) Promote a good user experience.

The most important thing to consider is your visitor’s user experience. While optimizing your website for an algorithm sounds purely scientific, remember that the goal of search engines is the deliver the best experience possible to their end-users: searchers. If you keep that goal in mind with your SEO strategy, you’ll be more likely to make good choices. Think about humans first and search engines second, and you’ll be alright.

We know you’re a busy marketer with a lot of things on your plate. SEO need not fall to the bottom of your priority list because of lack of knowledge — or, worse, fear you’re doing it wrong. We hope this was a helpful starting-off point for your on-page SEO efforts. Happy optimizing!

12 Mistakes Salespeople Make When Setting a Qualification Call Agenda!!

Setting an agenda for a call is a table-stakes sales skill — one salespeople should learn and master early in their career. However, while agenda-setting isn’t usually hard for an initial or closing call, most salespeople really struggle when doing it on an exploratory call.

Many salespeople try to apply the same agenda-setting process they use for other types of calls to the discovery process. But to really excel at turning interested prospects into likely buyers, reps need to master the agenda-setting process for this two-way dialogue where buyers and sellers are trying to simultaneously determine fit.

Avoid these 12 mistakes to ensure an effective call and increase your chances of moving qualified buyers closer to the closing stage.

1) They skip agenda setting. 

Some salespeople skip agenda setting altogether. Don’t do it. Without an agenda, the call will go in unanticipated directions. To the prospect, it’ll feel like you’re aimlessly rambling or asking ineffective and unrelated questions. They’ll have trouble connecting your stories and questions with their goals and challenges and they’ll begin to tune you out. Worse, you and the prospect may battle for control of the call.

2) They wait until they’re on the phone to set the agenda.

The best time to set an agenda for an exploratory sales call is when the call is being booked — not when the call is in progress. When a prospect agrees to schedule a call, they usually have their reasons: They might be in serious need of your service and ready to buy, they might have just started to evaluate solutions like yours, they might only be curious about what you do, or it could be something else completely.

Regardless, this is your chance to uncover why they are taking the call in the first place. Asking what they want to accomplish on the exploratory call not only ensures you’re spending your time with a viable prospect, it also allows you to start shaping and planning the call.

Most sales calls require some preparation for you (and ideally for your prospect as well). Setting an agenda in advance allows you both to complete your homework. The homework you assign them can range from thinking about a few of your standard questions to sending them some information to review. Assigning pre-call tasks tests their commitment and helps make the call much more productive.

3) They forget to recap what they already know.

Don’t forget to recap what you’ve learned from previous conversations and other research you’ve done.

To get your exploratory call off to a good start, the easiest thing to do is pick up where you left off. For example:

“When we last spoke, you shared a few challenges that you’re frustrated with. You mentioned X was preventing you from achieving some important company goals, like Y and Z. Can you expand a bit more on what you’re dealing with?

Many prospects will repeat what you discussed in your initial exchange and expand on their challenges, giving you more detail. Getting them to open up right away is a great way to get started, enabling you to ensure your agenda will be focused on the challenges they’ve acknowledged. You should ask follow-up questions and repeat back some of these issues, so they know you’re listening effectively.

4) They skip rapport-building.

It’s sometimes hard to agree upon an agenda. Building rapport first makes it easier.

Don’t be too eager to get down to business. When a salesperson sets the agenda immediately at the beginning of a call, it usually sounds rehearsed. Do it too soon in a call, and your buyer will think you’re a robot setting the exact same agenda on every call.

Breaking the ice helps your prospects realize you’re a human being who is trying to help them — not just another salesperson trying to close them as quickly as possible. This helps make the whole call more of a conversation instead of a pitch or interrogation and sets the stage for mutual accommodation.

The first time you attempt to build rapport, you might have to do some research about the person: Where do they live? Where did they go to school? Do they have kids or pets? Are they sports fans? Are they accomplished in their career or just starting out? Regardless of your choice of topics, never skip rapport-building at the beginning of a call.

Though some buyers might want to get right down to business, a skilled rapport-builder can crack a smile or get a chuckle out of even the most serious of prospects. You can always abort or abbreviate your rapport-building attempt if they really push back. But if a prospect thinks you’re all about the sale and not interested or concerned about them, it’s hard to overcome that perception later.

To learn more about building rapport, read this article on building rapport on sales calls as well as the sales professional’s guide to building rapport with leads.

5) They set a vague agenda.

Agendas should be as specific as possible. Almost everything worth doing requires a plan, especially when two or more people are involved. Usually, the more detailed a plan, the better the execution.

Sales calls are no different. Too many salespeople show up to a call with a vague proposal for a call, like, “I figured we’d talk about your business and I’ll tell you about my product.” This is not an effective agenda. It does not include a goal and there is no clear benefit to either party.

Even if your agreed-upon agenda is just to get to know one another, make it clear that you’re doing so to see how you might be able to help each other — whether it’s by doing business directly, referring each other to acquaintances, or learning something specific from one another.

6) They assume they know what the prospect wants to talk about.

Another thing salespeople screw up is assuming their agenda is the right one. Too often, salespeople come in to sales calls with their own agenda, share it, and get started.

When this happens, some buyers will stop the rep and say “I’d like to cover X instead,” but many just go along with it and tune you out if your standard rant isn’t relevant to them. Problem is that you won’t know your message was irrelevant until they start ignoring your future attempts to reconnect.

The single most important part of setting an agenda is to ask and then really listen to what the prospect wants to talk about. “By asking what the prospect would like to get out of the call, the rep shows respect and gains insights into what’s on the buyer’s mind,” Sandler Training CEO Dave Mattson points out.

Gaining insight into your prospects’ objectives allows reps to make conversations relevant regardless of what stage of the buyer’s journey a lead is currently in. They might have no clue they need your service, or they might have shortlisted you and are ready to pull the trigger if you check off all their requirements. Conversations in these two different scenarios should be completely different, of course. But you won’t know what conversation to have until you ask your prospect what they already know, what they want to know, and what they think they need.

My personal preference is to ask my prospect what they’d like to cover before I propose an agenda — not after. Chances are, you’ll be able to incorporate their agenda into yours. They’ll feel heard, but you’ll still be in control.

This approach works particularly well when the prospect is an inbound lead or you’ve had a thorough connect call. In these cases, your prospect probably already knows what you do and how you’re different, so what they’re interested in talking about will likely be what you’re interested in talking about.

The main exception to this rule of thumb is when the prospect doesn’t know much about what you do. In this case, follow Mike Weinberg’s advice on setting agendas by positioning how you help people like them, then asking them what they’d like to talk about.

Here’s an example from Weinberg:

“Ron, thanks for inviting me in. I believe we set this up for 30 minutes. How are you on time? Great. Here’s what I’d like to do: Let me kick us off and take two to three minutes to share just a bit about ABC Ozone Aggregators, the issues we solve for facility managers and why they bring us in, and I’ll touch briefly on why we’re different and keep gaining new clients. Then I’d like to turn the tables and ask you questions to find out more about your situation and what you’re doing in QRS or how you’re approaching XYZ opportunity. Depending on what I hear from you, I’ll share a couple of relevant case studies or show you a few options of how we provide ozone aggregation. After that we can discuss if it looks we might be a fit to help you, or if there is a logical next step. That’s what I was hoping to do today, Ron. Tell me what what you were hoping for and what you’d like to walk away with today.”

Either approach is fine. Just make sure you ask your prospect what they want to talk about.

7) They ignore what their prospect wants to talk about.

Too often, salespeople are a slave to their own process. Either the process has been mandated or they aren’t comfortable deviating from it.

Don’t believe me? The next time a salesperson calls you, ask them why they’re asking a specific question. Whenever I’ve done this, I’ve found that newer, more junior reps stumble because they don’t know why they’re saying what they’re saying — they just can’t break from their plan.

Do yourself a favor and be prepared to talk about whatever your prospect wants to talk about. For example, HubSpot research shows that more and more prospects want to talk about price and product on the first call, but many reps struggle to address these areas before qualifying budget and authority.

Reps need to know how to have these conversations without disqualifying themselves from the opportunity. Learn how with this guide.

8) They have an inflexible agenda.

You won’t find many people that are bigger proponents of having a well-defined, documented sales process than I am. But sales opportunities rarely follow the same linear path.

Sometimes, it makes sense to give an educational presentation to a prospect or guide them through a free trial of your product before qualifying them fully. This way they’ll more willing to tell you which business goals they’re hoping your product will help them achieve.

You must understand your prospect’s buying process before you can influence it. For many buyers, you must demonstrate your ability to adapt to their buying process before they’ll adapt to your sales process. If your short-term agenda is set in stone and you’re unwilling to let your prospect influence it, you risk losing the chance of influencing their long-term plan.

9) They forget their own agenda.

While it’s critical to ask your prospects what they want to talk about and incorporate those topics into the agenda, it’s also important for you to have a goal for every sales call as well. Otherwise, you can waste a lot of time talking to tire-kickers.

If you’re truly helpful, buyers will want to talk to you regardless of whether they plan to buy or not. But as a salesperson, you have to spend your time with prospects most likely to buy. In the early days of HubSpot, buyers would book time with us just to learn how to do internet marketing — and to a certain extent, we’d oblige. After all, it was in our best interest to shape a prospect’s digital marketing plan. Once they began following our advice, it was easy to transition into a conversation about how our product would help them implement our advice more easily and effectively.

If you sell consulting, training, professional services, or a complex product, I’d encourage you to freely give advice to prospects in order to influence their plan. Just don’t take it too far. It’s important to determine who is a likely buyer and who is just trying to learn enough to execute your strategies themselves or with a competitive solution.

As an example of what not to do: We had one salesperson who understood internet marketing very well and was on the phone all the time. You could find his name at the top of the charts for two years straight. But for some reason or another, he stopped shaping agendas for his calls. He’d talk with prospects for hours about whatever internet marketing topic they wanted to learn about. He’d let them guide not just one conversation, but multiple — sometimes the entire process! He’d practically give them a mini-MBA in internet marketing if they asked for it. Even when faced with being terminated for lack of performance, he didn’t change his ways. The fix — proper agenda-setting — was so simple, and plenty of people tried to help him, but for some reason, he just didn’t do it.

Don’t suffer this fate. Make sure you know what you need to get out of calls to ensure you’re spending your time with qualified buyers.

10) They wing it.

There’s no one perfect script for setting an agenda. But winging it isn’t effective either.

Split the difference by having a customizable script for setting your agenda. You can use the example below from HubSpot’s free sales training

“Typically, a good goal for this call is to really figure out how I can best help you. I’ve worked with X companies like yours who were struggling with the challenge you’ve acknowledged. I can certainly share some advice based on my previous work with them, but I find that everyone is a bit different. So it usually makes sense for me to gather more context around your goals and learn about other challenges you’ve faced or anticipate facing, any relevant plans you have in place to overcome XYZ  challenges, as well as timelines and other constraints you might have. Are you comfortable having that conversation today?

“I suggest we treat this conversation like a two-way dialogue. I have a bunch of questions for you. I’m sure you’ll have some questions that I will answer for you. Then, at the end of the call we can decide whether it makes sense for us to continue discussing how we can more formally help you. Does that sound like a good plan to you?”

In short, have a standard agenda-setting spiel that you can customize based on what you know about the prospect already, what you want to learn on the call, and how you want to position the value of your offering.

11) They don’t set their next agenda based on what happened on the call. 

Qualifying a sales opportunity effectively can rarely be accomplished on one call. The key to maintaining control of a sale and gaining insight into whether a prospect will buy or not is to have a full picture of their situation. If you haven’t yet captured that full picture, you need to continue talking to them until you do. Always be prepared to offer more value on a future call in order to grab their interest.

Every salesperson should have a set of predefined agendas for different situations. You should have your standard agendas for exploratory calls, planning calls, proposal review calls, and any other step you might have in your process. However, I’m also a big fan of pre-defining multiple, optional qualification calls in your sales process that you are prepared to conduct in any given sales pursuit.

Here’s an example. Back in the day, HubSpot’s primary pitch was “helping companies grow traffic.” When a prospect had bought in to improving their approach to search engine optimization, but they weren’t quite ready to complete our payment authorization form, I’d offer to schedule a call with them to do keyword research for their website.

Whether you’re setting the next call in your standard sequence or an extra call so you can continue qualifying the opportunity, always be ready to propose next steps that are helpful for the buyer.

12) They fail to discuss the likely outcome of the call up front.

To ensure you’re spending your time wisely, ask your prospect to be prepared to make a decision at the end of your call. Too many sales processes end in “um … maybe” or prospects going dark. By establishing an “upfront contract,” you can ensure that your prospect will be honest with you about their likelihood of purchasing your product or service.

This doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily ask them to buy at the end of an exploratory call. Like setting the agenda, the decision at the end of the call must be something the prospect will agree to make.

As Sandler Sales Training instructs, “Determine at the beginning of the meeting or telephone conversation what you both mutually agree will happen at the conclusion of your time together.”

In most cases, the decision point is simply to determine whether it makes sense to move forward in their buying evaluation or not, and take the next step — whatever it  may be. According to Sandler, “letting them know up front what is going to happen in the time you’re together will save time, eliminate the prospect from giving you a vague response as to what happens next, and [advance] the selling process or conclude there isn’t a fit for your product or services.”

Set Sales Call Agendas Effectively to Optimize Your Time With Maximally Qualified Buyers 

If salespeople could make one wish, they’d wish that their funnel would consist only of buyers destined to become large, profitable customers.

Sans magic genie, salespeople need to rely on their skills to sort these perfect customers from the time-wasters. One of the easiest ways to do that effectively is by setting a solid agenda that helps both parties determine whether there is a fit.

As the list of twelve mistakes above show, there’s lots of ways to screw up agenda-setting. To make sure you’re doing it right, here’s a simple agenda-setting checklist to follow:

  1. Set the agenda in advance of the call.
  2. Assign your prospect homework so they are prepared to have the right conversation.
  3. Do your own research and homework. Learn about your buyer.
  4. Before setting an agenda, recap what you already know through previous conversations and research.
  5. Build rapport in order to forge a connection and make your prospect more likely to oblige your proposed agenda.
  6. Ask your prospect what they want to talk about and what they hope to accomplish during your call.
  7. Incorporate what they want to discuss into the agenda.
  8. Come to the call with a predefined, yet customizable way of introducing your agenda. Ensure that this framework communicates what you plan to ask, what you plan to share, and differentiates your offering in a way your prospect will value.
  9. Have additional call agendas at the ready when you need to further qualify the opportunity.
  10. Get a commitment from your prospect to make some decision at the end of the call.

What does your agenda-setting sound like? How does your agenda setting process help you sort the serious buyers from the tire kickers? Let us know in the comments below.

 

5 Elements Of A Compelling Nonprofit Story

No matter the industry, marketing professionals know that appealing to the “buyer” (donor, client, member) takes a whole lot more than a snazzy logo and nice website. Especially for nonprofits, one of the best ways to attract and engage audiences is with compelling stories.

Data-driven statistics and reports are great tools to use when discussing the results of a project, but if you want to mobilize an army of donors, members, and volunteers, then you need something that forms a deeper connection—your story.

A good story puts a face behind your mission by describing not just what your organization does, but why you do it. This creates the emotional responses that trigger your audience to take action.

By including the five story elements listed below, you can bring like-minded individuals together to rally around the change you’re making in the world.

What to Consider When Developing Your Nonprofit’s Narrative

1) A Relatable Character

Start your story by introducing the main character so that your audience can anchor the rest of your narrative to someone or something. This character (protagonist) isn’t necessarily an individual, and can be a family, organization, association, community, school, or even an animal that serves as the “face behind your organization.”

You want your protagonist to be someone or something your audience can connect with, so it stands to reason you should start by understanding your audience. Who do you hope to reach with your story?

When defining your audience, address these two questions:

  • What characteristics does your target audience have? Are they donors, volunteers, members, or advocates? Also, consider demographics such as age, income level, and occupation.
  • What does your intended audience care about and what motivates them to take action? Pinpoint their hopes and dreams, interests, and values. What might keep them up at night with worry, or inspire them to get involved?

Once you know who you are writing for, find a real or fictitious character that speaks to your audience through similar demographics, hopes and dreams, or pain points and problems.

no1.png

For a great example of a relatable character, check out this story by charity: water. Hadjara, the protagonist, is a young, educated girl struggling with a basic necessity—clean water.

The audience can relate to her as a character because she, like many people, just wants her family to live a healthier life.

Like the other students in Sargane Village, 12-year-old Hadjara learned about the importance of handwashing when the school first received clean water. Which meant that she came to understand — perhaps before many others in the community came to understand — that although clean water was making her family healthier, clean hands and a sanitary environment were equally important. That evening, as she was proudly washing her hands in preparation for dinner, she questioned her father — who had begun eating without washing his hands first.”

You want your audience to see themselves, or someone they know, in the protagonist’s shoes.

When writing your story, spend time fine tuning your main character or characters based on who your organization stands for, and provide enough information for the audience to understand and relate to them.

2) Emotion

A main focus of your story should be to help your audience relate to what the protagonist is feeling so they take action.

Do you want them to feel angry about an injustice, or maybe hopeful about a solution? The words you use will set the stage for action later on, so choose wisely based on your audience and cause. Try incorporating one of these emotions into your compelling nonprofit story to start with:

  • Awe – Invoke a sense of wonder and rarity to get your audience feeling transformed by what they’ve read.
  • Joy – Whether it’s a feel good story or a sense of humor, audiences appreciate and respond when reading something that brings them joy.
  • Urgency – Tap into the energy that this emotion creates and motivate your audience to take action.
  • Sadness/Despair – Audiences respond less positively to a sad story, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid it. Use a character’s despair to introduce hope.

Richard’s Story, featured on the Alzheimer’s Association website, includes a great emotion-inducing statement that leaves the reader with feelings of hope and inspiration.

np2.png

“After regaining equilibrium, I made a conscious decision to not put off exploring things that have been on the “to do” list for years.”

For your nonprofit’s story, use words or phrases that inspire your constituents to take action. You’ve created a relatable character, and now you have to hook your audience with emotion.

3) The Problem

To make a story compelling, your character’s problem should tie back to your nonprofit’s mission. This isn’t to say you should just have a pity-party. Rather that your issue should be relatable and solveable. Your audience doesn’t want to feel bad for your protagonist, they want to feel connected.

Share not just the problem, but also your protagonist’s personal experience to evoke empathy in the process. Empathy can arise from a number of emotions. Take this example from Loaves and Fishes.

no3.png

“She jumped to the refrigerator and opened the door, rubbing her tummy and silently saying, “More Food!” Then she leapt on the counter, opening every cabinet door, displaying cupboards full of food. She continued to rub her stomach and giggle…”

The audience learns about the struggles of this young girl through her actions. But, we don’t just feel sorry for her, we feel connected to her journey because the storyteller humanizes the problem.

Explain how the origin of the problem your protagonist is up against, and how it affects their day-to-day life.

4) Solution

Your story isn’t just about the protagonist and their problem, it’s also about the solutions your organization provides. Describe the work that your nonprofit or association does to help people like your main character, highlighting facts such as the number of people dealing with the same issue and how your organization is making a direct impact.

World Bicycle Relief uploaded this highly impactful story titled “Ethel’s Dream.”  In it, the audience learns about Ethel and her struggles to get to school every day. The bicycle in this story was literally and figuratively a vehicle for a better life, and the video shows viewers how the nonprofit helped supply it.

Connect the protagonist to the services of your organization to educate your audience on the scope of the problem and inspire them to be part of that solution.

5) Call to Action

You have concluded your story by linking the protagonist with your organization, but you’re not done yet. Your audience is inspired, but may not know what to do with all that motivation. Give them a clear directive with a call-to-action (CTA).

Your (CTA) will depend on your organization’s goal, but should always be action-oriented. Some common call to actions include:

  • Donate – Giving money to your organization
  • Volunteer – Giving time to your organization
  • Advocate – Publicly supporting or recommending an organization, policy, or person
  • Fundraise – Fundraise: Raise funds through an event or fundraising site
  • Subscribe – Signing up to receive publications such as an email newsletter

Here’s an example of a calltoaction from World Help.

np4.png

We hope you’ll continue to partner with us to show others, just like Mary, the love of Christ in a tangible, transformative, and sustainable way.” GIVE NOW

World Help encourages the reader to get involved by partnering with them to create change. They reinforce their organization’s mission and provided a way for the audience to take immediate action. The page features a donate button (“GIVE NOW”) that uses direct language and stands out with bold colors and fonts.

For your story, choose the right language that works with your audience, matches your story, and that has the potential to produce results. Be clear, concise, and give your audience the means to act immediately.

In Summation

Now’s the time to get started on putting together your nonprofit’s story. Brainstorm ideas with your coworkers and peers about what you want to share, and then map out your narrative using the five elements from above:

  1. What type of character will your audience relate to?
  2. What is the emotion you want the audience to feel?
  3. What is the problem you are trying to solve?
  4. What role does your organization have in the solution?
  5. What action do you want people to take after reading the story? How can the reader get involved?

The content your organization shares can be a powerful tool to rally people around your cause and spark action — what stories do you have to tell?