How PCMS Sells Chamber Music with SEO

By jacob on October 26, 2011

Four years ago I joined PCMS as Development Director. I had never actually raised a dollar for a nonprofit in my life, but our Executive Director, Philip Maneval, is widely known for his "unconventional" hiring, and after a few weeks we convinced each other that I was an okay fit for the gig.

Why? Well, I like to think it's my charming southern accent and movie star good looks (I'm from Los Angeles and usually have my eyes closed during photographs). However, evidently it was my background in music (bassoonist) and business (I ran my own internet marketing company for about a decade) that sealed the deal.

Since taking over marketing efforts in 2010, I've made use of my internet background in a number of ways, the most important of which has been implementing a formal SEO (search engine optimization) strategy. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the ins and outs of SEO, the goal of it is simple:  to position your website (or other online assets) at the top of search results for particular terms. Sounds simple, but as the internet has grown in both size and importance, it's become highly competitive (check out this NYTimes article about JC Penny to see how cutthroat it can be).

By the Numbers
SEO is an activity that lives and dies on numbers. We receive a monthly report from our SEO partner detailing our entire online campaign; traffic, conversions and rankings reports are summarized alongside stats for incoming links, PageRank, and Domain Authority -- metrics that help us determine the effectiveness of our efforts.  To show you some numbers:

  1. We now have 41 terms that rank on the 1st page of Google, Yahoo!, or Bing.  37 of those are ranked 1-3.
  2. Our revenue from online orders has increased 32% in the last 18 months.
  3. Traffic from Google increased just 5% this year, but revenue from that traffic increased 19%

Why SEO?
Simply put, as a marketing director, I want PCMS to be highly visible within our target market. As a marketing director with a relatively small budget, I want to do that as cheaply as possible. If I looked at it from a one year perspective, in spite of the above numbers I'd probably rate SEO at the bottom of my list of priorities. However, since I'm lucky enough to have the stability to be able to take a long term view, SEO is actually near the top of my list -- and that's because it is where all the growth is. Building a strong foundation in SEO allows me to take advantage of the growth of the internet and to position our product in front of more and more people at a very affordable price.

A  good example is a phrase we targeted a while back:  Kimmel Center concerts.  It's not the most highly searched term, but since we perform 30+ events each year at the Kimmel Center, I want to be in front of users who are attracted to the Kimmel Center's widely known name. As you can see by the below screenshot, we currently rank #3 for this term (it fluctuates each month).

PCMS' Current Ranking for "Kimmel Center Concerts"

PCMS' Current Ranking for "Kimmel Center Concerts" on Google

As my brother is fond of saying:  "So, and about the money?"  While I can't divulge the exact details of my SEO contract, it is about 10% of our marketing budget. After brochure printing and design costs, it's our next biggest chunk of money. We work on a monthly retainer basis with a local firm, and after a year of partnership, we've been very pleased and impressed with their approach. As I used to ask my clients when I ran a web design firm, "Do you think the internet will be more important or less important 5 years from now?" The answer is so clear that it's a bit of a painful question to ask!

How did we make room in the budget to afford SEO, which is inherently a long term return on investment? Well, we cut out a big chunk of print advertising. At one point, weekly newspaper ads consumed a whopping 30% of our annual budget; we have since cut it down to about 3%. While we may be missing some visibility in the newspaper, we're confident about the trends and our prospects online moving forward.

There are two kinds of SEO activities in our campaign: the ones that we handle internally and the ones that our SEO firm helps us with externally. Here is a run down:

  • Internal activities. We maintain our blog at least three times per week and write quality content for our website and emails. We engage with our audience through Facebook, and we write about three press releases or articles per month that we hand off to the SEO firm for optimization and distribution.
  • External activities. Our SEO firm helps us in maintain our keyword list, ensuring proper usage on our website. They also review our website code periodically and help us adjust to changes in web standards and best practices -- everything from XML sitemap structure to mobile presentation and load speed. Beyond that, they help with our link building activities by making sure we're in the proper directories and by distributing optimized releases and articles. Finally, they prepare a monthly report and action plan, outlining tasks for us and for them. Recently, we also initiated a Facebook advertising campaign for our Young Friends program with assistance from their Pay Per Click expert.

Why SEO Makes Sense for PCMS
I explained in a previous post how certain factors that make our organization stronger artistically or otherwise (multiple venues, one night concerts, different artists for each performance, etc.) can actually dilute our ability to market effectively on a small budget. However, our fragmented season and diverse offerings are in many ways extremely well suited to SEO.

While high rankings are nice and the visibility is a huge strength for our organization going forward, the main benefit is much simpler. SEO has pushed us to be more informed and more intentional with our online activities and has given us as perspective -- a philosophy of sorts -- for how to market online. This confidence is a massive time saver . Instead of introducing new ideas and directions each week, we are working steadily towards clear and measurable goals.