The Incredible Evolution of the Goodwill of Greater Washington’s Digital Strategy

The Incredible Evolution of the Goodwill of Greater Washington’s Digital Strategy

The Goodwill of Greater Washington is a DC based non-profit that transforms lives and communities through the power of education and employment. In 2012, the Goodwill of Greater Washington received a Conductor Foundation Searchlight Grant, which gives selected non-profits free access to the Searchlight platform, including regular support and strategic calls with Conductor’s customer success team.

This is the story of the evolution of the Goodwill of Greater Washington team’s SEO knowledge and digital strategy.

In December 2012, DCGoodwill.org had an average rank of 36 for all their target keywords. After using the Searchlight platform through a Conductor Grant, they’ve jumped up to an average of 17, an increase of 19 ranking positions.

goodwill rank in searchlight Over the last year, we’ve witnessed other incredible SEO accomplishments and new capabilities:

  • Scale and capacity: Before Searchlight, the Goodwill of Greater Washington was managing 78 keywords. Today, they manage 866.
  • Competitive landscape: Before Searchlight, the Goodwill of Greater Washington didn’t have insight into their competitive landscape. Now, they have simple, deep-insight systems in place to monitor comparison domains and discover opportunities.
  • Ability to act: Searchlight has enabled the marketing team to quickly identify low-hanging fruit (like keywords ranking on page 2) and make rewarding quick fixes.

Want to know more about the team and the Goodwill of Greater Washington’s incredible (and ongoing) SEO journey? Hear it straight from them.

Click on a picture to get a perspective:

shanna goodwill

Shanna Gidwani, Digital Media Manager

Brendan Hurley Photo

Brendan Hurley, M.S.M., Chief Marketing Officer

web and graphic design manager

Tom O’Keefe, Web & Graphic Design Manager, Marketing & Communications

 

Shanna Gidwani, Digital Media Manager

What is the Goodwill of Greater Washington’s mission, and what’s your role there?

I’m the Digital Media Manager at Goodwill. I started as an intern back in 2007, and in this past year, I’ve become more focused on editing videos, SEO, content, and analytics.

Not everyone really knows what our mission is at Goodwill. Really, it’s to provide free job training and employment services to people with disabilities and disadvantages.

One of my favorite experiences at Goodwill is going to our graduations. For some of the people we help, it’s the first time they’ve worn a cap and gown, and they have their family and friends there: knowing they’re on their way to being independent and self-sufficient, gaining more confidence and being able to provide, not only for themselves, but really for their families. That’s how I really got drawn into the mission.

We are a non-profit, but we’re also a social enterprise. There’s a retail side we can really leverage and use it to tell our story about what our mission is. We are also involved in the fashion community. We have the DC Goodwill Fashionista blog, which is part of our overall marketing strategy.

How have you been using Searchlight for your marketing strategy?

Searchlight provided us analytics that we hadn’t been able to see. We were able to really gauge where we were. One of the first things we did was make sure our URLs were vanity URLs. Once we made the switch, we saw an increase in rankings and for some of our pages, a huge spike.

We also took a closer look at our PPC competiton, and discovered that Salvation Army was paying 40-some dollars for a certain word. I was surprised that we could find that information, and I was surprised they were paying that much. We realized as a nonprofit with a limited budget, we would have to depend on natural search.

Searchlight provided us analytics that we hadn’t been able to see. We were able to really gauge where we were. One of the first things we did was make sure our URLs were vanity URLs. Once we made the switch, we saw an increase in rankings and for some of our pages, a huge spike.

Does Searchlight take a lot of your time?

The workspaces are a big timesaver. I plug things in and get a weekly report sent to me. There are a lot of easy fixes you can find in Searchlight such as certain URLs or tags.

I dedicate some time every week, but a lot of it is just poking around and investigating. I might look at our competitors, keywords, or influential fashion blogs. It just depends what I am looking for.

How hard is it to use?

Searchlight was really easy to learn. If I ever had any questions, the monthly calls cleared them up.  Michael Hoffman, my contact in customer success, made sure I knew the features that were available, and how they applied to Goodwill.

Brendan Hurley, M.S.M. Chief Marketing Officer

What was the state of SEO at the Goodwill of Greater Washington before the Conductor grant?

We’re not experts on SEO and we rely heavily on our limited knowledge and what we can learn from others. We knew it was significant, though.

We knew that nobody uses the yellow pages anymore; they mainly go online. They type in some search terms and try to pull up what it is they’re looking for. Now we’re smart enough to know that that’s how people search for retail operations these days or quite frankly for anything that they’re trying to find. So we wanted to figure out how we could improve our efficiency using search engines.

We didn’t have the skill set that we needed. We talked to a couple of volunteers who had some knowledge of it, and the team went to workshops and read some online articles.

Still, we are as a nonprofit organization; we wear a lot of hats. Couple that with the fact that there is a lot of demand on the marketing department as a growing organization—and we are growing very, very rapidly—which is a good thing. It’s good growth, but it places a lot of demand and our time and our resources.

So while we all I think, agreed and understood that SEO is where we needed to go. I don’t know that all of us fully understood the value of SEO at the time, and the importance that it could play in our strategic marketing efforts. And because of that lack of knowledge, it was put back on the shelf, because we felt we had other more pressing priorities.

I think the Conductor grant helped push it up on the priority list because we were being held accountable for that. And that’s a good thing and it forced us on the team to participate, to learn, to practice SEO to the point where it has become a much more relevant and important element of our overall marketing plan.

So while we all I think, agreed and understood that SEO is where we needed to go. I don’t know that all of us fully understood the value of SEO at the time, and the importance that it could play in our strategic marketing efforts.

What has your experience with Searchlight and the Conductor Grant been like?

I’d say that the grant has been tremendous to Goodwill of Greater Washington. Shanna and Tom, they are religious about attending your online presentations, tutorials, and webinars and Shanna constantly comes into my office and talks about what she learned. And Tom has also been very diligent in following through on recommendations that Conductor has made that have helped improve our SEO.

Some of them have been simple; some of them have been a little bit more involved. But they have really made a positive impact on what we do.

But the biggest benefit is really just a much greater understanding of the value of SEO and the strategy behind it. I know that from my conversations with Tom, that we’ve seen a measureable increase in organic traffic and a direct result of creating “friendly” URLs.

And as Google changes its algorithms, the Conductor team continually informs us of the pending changes and how to adapt to them.

Here’s something else: as non profit, we deal with grants on a daily basis. We get grants from all kinds of corporations and foundations and government entities. But what makes this grant different from most is that, while most grants we are required to report outcomes and it can be very, very demanding and time consuming, the outcome here that is being requested by Conductor is learning.  It’s been a fantastic experience because the Conductor team has proven time and time again that their goal is to help us learn. That’s the objective here and it’s really quite frankly refreshing.

And of course, from a metrics standpoint, we’ve seen a measurable increase of organic traffic. Anecdotally, our retail revenue and our donated goods inventory has been increasing steadily over the course of the last year, so it’s very good.

The biggest benefit is really just a much greater understanding of the value of SEO and the strategy behind it. I know that from my conversations with Tom, that we’ve seen a measurable increase in organic traffic and a direct result of creating “friendly” URLs.

How has your SEO strategy changed through the grant?

We can’t compete in the pay-per-click world. We just don’t have the money for that, but it gave the working knowledge to really focus on the organic search side. So Tom and Shanna are experts in that area.

But this is what Tom and I discussed this morning. And Tom was really excited about and appreciative of the Conductor team and their continual efforts to keep us informed on top of what’s happening at Google. And how we can adapt to take advantage of the changes.

What’s next for the Goodwill of Greater Washington?

We’re working with another outside partner who is helping us build microsites within our own site for each of our retail stores. When this is completed, if someone types in a keyword or Google ad word, it will not only bring up Goodwill, but it will bring up the Goodwill store that is closest to them.

This is really what a consumer is looking for. What’s the nearest thrift store to me? Not just a list of thrift stores, I want to know which one is closest to me. So it’s really going to help us I believe from a prospecting and awareness standpoint. We believe this will increase traffic and conversions…. And we’re better prepared for this next step now, as a direct result of what our team has learned through Conductor.

And what we hope that this will accomplish is that through organic search, we will better communicate and create awareness for the new stores that we’re building in communities that we’ve just haven’t been able to really get a foothold in yet. So… I’m very, very hopeful, very, very hopeful that this will have a huge impact as we continue to grow our organization.

Alongside that, Tom is developing a new website now that is going to be completely SEO optimized, in a large part from what Tom learned through Searchlight.

Tom O’Keefe, Web & Graphic Design Manager Marketing & Communications

How did Searchlight impact Goodwill’s marketing strategy?

It focused us more towards organic search. Google and searches have really evolved; you need to do more than create and article and post it on a website now. You have to be methodical in your thinking. What’s the URL going to be for this article? What’s the title going to be? The keywords?

People who want to get it there can, and it will be at the top of the page in the search results.

How have you been using Searchlight?

I use it to evaluate the content I’m putting on our website and our pages. I also use the recommendations section of Searchlight; it is really great from my standpoint. Not only does it call out what could be improved, it also ranks time and the impact it can have. It gives you a suggestion on how to make those improvements, so it essentially does everything for you which is amazing. I can only imagine the programming that was behind that.

Searchlight was a huge help for me, especially in designing and structuring the new website that should be launching early next year. Conductor just gave me a whole bunch of back-end resources that you don’t usually see or you can’t read about.

Searchlight was a huge help for me, especially in designing and structuring the new website that should be launching early next year. Conductor just gave me a whole bunch of back-end resources that you don’t usually see or you can’t read about.

What features have been most useful to you?

Definitely the workspaces. Creating the workspaces with automatic reporting saves a huge amount of time. You just have to put in the time into creating that workspace once and then it’s going to track everything you want and kick it out to you automatically.

And also the backend, I just appreciate the user interface of Searchlight. I did a lot of testing and evaluating on UIs, and for the amount of data that’s there and how in-depth you can drill into the analytics, it’s very easy to use.

I’m really impressed by that, because you would think it’d be easy to get lost with all that digging in, going further and further. But I feel like no matter where you are in the backend, you can get to where you need to go, fairly easily.

What’s your big takeaway from the grant?

Overall, one of the major benefits has been learning the methodology of how to perform SEO. Between the Searchlight platform and the Conductor team, this grant has been a huge resource that has prepared us for the future.

I’m thankful that the grant came with not only the software, but the people. People that we can refer to and ask questions. It’s just so much more than, as Brendan says, your average grant.

About Charity Stebbins

Charity is a Content Strategist at Conductor, the leading enterprise SEO technology platform. She is a monthly contributor at Econsultancy's internet marketing blog.

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