When it comes to an online presence for nonprofits, unfortunately it’s not just a case of ‘build it and they will come’! Sandra Hanchard explores some trends in how consumers are using digital channels, giving insights on the behaviours of donors you’re targeting online.

When it comes to an online presence for nonprofits, unfortunately it’s not just a case of ‘build it and they will come’! Sandra Hanchard explores some trends in how consumers are using digital channels, giving insights on the behaviours of donors you’re targeting online.

There are often news headlines about the ‘addictiveness’ of the internet. A wide cross-section of Australians are using the internet more frequently for everything from socialising with friends, monitoring news, and purchasing both small and large ticket items.

One standout trend is the increasing amount of time users are spending online each internet session, indicating greater engagement with online channels. This has several consequences for marketers and fundraisers seeking to build brand visibility.

Greater concentration in visits to top sites

Australian internet users are spending more time online, but their attention is becoming more concentrated in visits to the top websites. This is dominated by social networks, search engines, email services, and portal front pages. The top ten websites accounted for a 30.32% share of visits in May 2010, compared to a 26% share of visits in May last year. In other words – the ‘big’ players are getting bigger.

For marketers, this means there is a greater need to understand what users are doing within each web ‘ecosystem’ in more detail. Search data within each of the major social networks indicates that user intent can vary widely between networks. Twitter, for example, attracts a high proportion of news and topical search terms, while MySpace search terms tend to be music-oriented. Marketers should ensure they are tailoring their messaging and communications to the trends of each network.

Social networks overtake search engines

For the first time in December 2009, visits to social networks and forums overtook visits to search engines. (This surge may have been prompted by school holidays.) Social networking has become a mainstream recreational activity. The phenomenal growth of Facebook in Australia (which experienced a peak in 2009 on Boxing Day) has strongly underpinned the strength of the social networking industry.

Social networks and forums were one of the key online industries to attract a significant increase in the amount of time spent online by Australian users, increasing from 19 minutes 30 seconds in May 2009, to 21 minutes 23 seconds in May 2010, up by about 2 minutes. Other leading sectors to attract longer session times included shopping and classifieds, portal front pages, email services, lifestyle, games and adult. Overall, the average amount of time per session in May 2010 was 11 minutes 39 seconds, compared to 11 minutes 5 seconds in May 2009.

Analysis from March 2010 confirmed the new dominance of social networking forums over search engines, indicating that this is a stable trend and one set to continue beyond 2010. Consumers have shown that they highly value the information they receive from connections they know versus the anonymous nature of search engine results. Developing an online social strategy that leverages trust structures is imperative for any organisation seeking to promote itself properly online.

E-commerce engagement levels also up

While Australians are spending more time online socialising, they are also more engaged with commercial activities. Shopping and classifieds attracted a longer average session time in May 2010 (12 minutes 59 seconds) compared to 2009 (11 minutes 50 seconds).

Retailers have realised that to successfully operate online, they need to provide strong content to attract and sustain the interest of shoppers, including shop locations, trading hours, extensive product information and independent consumer reviews. Consumers have also showed a greater willingness to research or make their purchases online, with searches for ‘online shopping’ increasing by 48% in December 2009 compared to December 2008.

Non-profits need to improve social network referrals

Community, humanitarian and community organisation websites have not fared as strongly in vying for consumer attention as social networking and shopping industries; experiencing a decline of more than a minute in session times comparing May 2010 and May 2009. Visits to community websites also declined by 23.1% year-on-year in May 2010.

Referral traffic data on community websites shows that 42.2% of traffic was received from search engines in May 2010, compared to 10.18% from social networks and forums. While social networks are effective in raising awareness and building grass-roots support, nonprofits need to be tactical in funneling users through to their websites for conversion activities, such as membership sign-up.

Standout messages for marketers in 2010 and beyond Develop engaging content that meets a variety of information needs to compete against other organisations. Continual keyword research on popular and relevant search terms can help businesses optimise their website content to sustain the interest of users. Community organisations have a significant opportunity to improve their online visibility through greater social network referrals and developing more engaging content. Ensuring that Fanpages are properly linked back to conversion landing pages, or providing tools that allow users to share campaigns with family and friends are some examples of building online traction.