The bi-monthly meeting of charity digital marketers met on Thursday 28th April to hear a presentation on The Future of Search from Ruth Attwood, 4Ps Head of SEO. Taking advantage of this opportunity to join Ruth were representatives of a broad selection from the third sector, including Cancer Research UK, Just A Drop and The Children’s Society.

Leading the event was 4Ps’ Head of Third Sector, Nick Shread, with additional insight provided by Account Director Rowan Chernin and Liz Partridge from the 4Ps planning team.

In the past, marketing consisted of entries in collections such as The Yellow Pages, or looking even further back, adverts in newspapers for products such as Dr Hooker’s Cough and Croup Syrup (the ONLY reliable remedy for coughs, colds, croup and all diseases of the throat, apparently!)  These methods of advertising relied on the understanding that customers knew the type of product you were selling, such as searching for plumbers in The Yellow Pages.

This method of searching for products and information was similar to the function that search engines were originally created to perform:

Yesterday's Search Users Thought In Solutions

However, with advancements in mobile and other technology, Ruth advised that search is moving to a more conversational and context driven experience:

Today's Search Users Think In Questions

It is imperative that third sector organisations are geared up to provide answers for their potential audience. With people using search engines on their mobile phones to ask questions such as “where’s my nearest charity shop?” and “free events near me”, location also needs to be at the forefront of your marketing strategy. According to a 2015 report from Google, searches involving the term “near me” surged 34 times since 2011. (

Conversational & Contextual Search Queries

In addition, voice search is something that is gathering momentum, especially amongst young generations where it is becoming the norm. None of the attendees at the breakfast were aware of plans within their organisations to investigate the implications of voice search.

With search gaining more intelligent solutions by the day, Ruth gave an example of a potential donor viewing a news report covering a disaster elsewhere in the world. In the future, they are likely to be asking the question to their mobile phone, “how can I help with this?” when reading a news story or seeing information about some issue or disaster on their social feeds.

Digital assistants learn habits, and knowing their search history and other information available to them, search engines such as Google will be smart enough to know the event that they are concerned with. They are also likely to know the persons favourite charity that is helping with the disaster relief efforts, and will be in a position to make a donation to them. It’s entirely possible that no further details would be needed for the search engine to know the usual amount of donation, and have been given authorisation to make that donation straight away.

In 2014 Amazon included image recognition in its iOS App, allowing shoppers to find the most competitive price on their online store for products they spotted when out and about shopping – so searching supported by visual input is starting to become a consideration, too, and multimedia is often the preferred way for users to get answers to these questions as well.

Multimedia Search Channel Queries

To help deliver answers that searchers will be looking for, consider how multimedia such as video hosted on site will be in a prime position to answer questions such as “how does this work?”, “where can I buy this?” or “how was this made?”. If someone was investigating an artificial pancreas by using their phone to view one and asking “how does this work?”, the type 1 diabetes charity JDRF UK would be an ideal destination for the delivery of a response to the question. An explanatory video hosted on site, covering the working of an artificial pancreas, could be shown by Google.

Of course, being prepared for such a search landscape requires an in-depth strategy to future-proof your charity’s digital presence. 4Ps are working closely with The Army Cadet Force to ensure their video capabilities are set up to offer the best platform for their members, whilst also ensuring that search engines fully understand the content of their video library to help answer questions that could potentially be asked.

Conversational shopping is an activity that Google is actively working on, allowing purchases to be performed without a click of a button. It rarely involves brands and combines a habit and a need into a solution. To succeed, charities need to understand all three. Typical “searches” performed in this kind of behavioural environment show an assumption on the part of the user that certain parameters in their search will already be known thanks to existing habit-driven data. Take the example conversational queries below, which in no way feature a brand – the user is assuming that the device they are using will know where they want to donate to, where they are and which charity they normally buy Christmas cards from.

SERPless Transaction Queries

Towards the end of the session the floor was opened to questions and discussion from the attendees.

Drew Davies, a freelancer within the third sector and currently working for Unicef, said that he expected a donor would want to feel good about their donation. Drew felt that a generic search was a little impersonal, and didn’t provide a donor with the gratification they may be seeking.

Catherine Joyce, Digital Coordinator at The Children’s Society suggested that it is important for charities to integrate PR and marketing campaigns to aid a softly-softly approach to gaining donations.

Nadiyka Pyzik, representing Room to Read, felt that bad publicity towards charities pushing for donations had harmed the industry. Her advice was that it is important to make digital platforms a personal experience for donors, making them feel valued by the charity.

As the breakfast was drawing to a close, we asked attendees for their key takeaways from the event:

  • Valerie McBurney, Head of Marketing & Communications, Army Cadet Force:
    “Work on developing personas. Consider what questions they are asking, and answer those questions”
  • Nancy Scott, Search Manager, Cancer Research UK:
    “Make content more conversational, especially where the subject doesn’t lend itself easily to it. Also consider the tone of voice used”
  • Catherine Joyce, Digital Coordinator, The Children’s Society:
    “What questions are people asking. Research!”
  • Matthew Gardiner, Ambassador, Just a Drop:
    “How are people looking at our brand, what questions are they asking?”
  • Liz Partridge, Client Relationship Manager, 4Ps Marketing:
    “Utilise findings from site search to answer visitors questions”
  • Erin Longhurst, Social Media Misfits:
    “Consider the implications of image recognition, will donors be searching for a charity’s logo?”
  • Linh Lieu, Digital Marketing Manager at JDRF UK:
    “Think about how we can be in the space to answer questions that people are asking”
  • Richard Williams, Head of Creative & Digital at Bloodwise:
    “Use videos more!”
  • Katrina Velasco, Digital Communications Manager for Bloodwise:
    “Research available options for YouTube and other video platforms”

Ruth Attwood, Head of SEO for 4Ps, adds:

“Easily the biggest takeaway I’m glad to see people understanding from the breakfast is the need to understand that the evolution of conversational and voice recognition technology is causing changes in human behaviour and that idea of “thinking in questions.”

To succeed, brands need to keep themselves at front of mind to play into that idea of habitual giving and engagement, and the best way to do that is to engage with users at a level that grabs their interest by understanding the sorts of questions they are likely to ask about your cause before your organisation’s name even enters the picture. And please, make sure your websites and apps are soundly built and marked up, so all these bots and crawlers can access and understand the content you’re producing easily – if it can’t be discovered and fully indexed it can never be surfaced to users!”

We hold our Third Sector Digital Breakfast bi-monthly and new attendees are most welcome. If you work in a marketing role for a charity and have an interest in helping take them forward digitally, please get in touch with Nick Shread to reserve your place at our next breakfast.

If your organisation is lacking a digital strategy to take advantage of advancements in search marketing then you should consider the third sector team at 4Ps.

Not just another SEO agency, we’re already thinking about the future of search marketing beyond the next 12-18 months to help our clients built future-proofed strategies that take into account the evolution of technology and user behaviour. Give us a call on +44 (0)207 607 5650 for a no-obligation coffee and chat about data, marketing and technology across all inbound channels for your organisation.