Using Search Tools to Get Found

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You can be proactive about gathering new members via the Web. Make sure you are listed on all of the major databases on the Net. Genetic Alliance, NORD, Family Village, various NIH institutes, and a number of universities have large listings or searchable databases of condition-specific organizations. Make it easy for your members to find you—you will want to be listed in these databases. In addition, these organizations may be able to connect you with others who are seeking contacts. Sometimes this can give you other potential leaders for offices or chapters—whatever you wish to set up.

You also want to make sure that when someone searches one of the major search engines on the Net, your organization comes up—and you would prefer not to be hit number 24,529. You cannot guarantee that you will be listed first (unless you pay one of the search engines that ranks results by how much the organization pays), but you can make it more likely that you will be ranked close to the beginning by making sure three areas are covered:

  1. Make sure the writing on your site is clear and direct. Search engines index the entire content of webpages, so clear, direct writing in a form search engines can see (regular text in your webpages—not images of text) is an important part of getting an appropriate ranking.
  2. Link to related sites and have related sites link to you. Some search engines rank sites by the number of links to and from the site—assuming the more popular sites have more links. Be wise in your link partners, however. Search engines are starting to do content evaluations of linked sites (another reason clear, direct writing is important!) and give a higher rank to sites that are linked to sites with similar content. That is, if you sell computer accessories, and you have 15,000 links from sites that sell shoes, your site may be ranked lower than a computer-accessories site with 15 links from computer sellers or computer user groups.
  3. Use metatags wisely. Metatags are descriptions that are part of the code in the pages of your website. They were intended to help the various search engines index your site, although their importance has decreased. What words you chose for metatags can make a difference in how your site is ranked, and your "description" metatag may actually be reproduced by a search engine as the page description.

Another use of the Web to find potential membership includes searching various databases. There are many bulletin boards and health discussions on the net; you simply need to find posts that ask about your condition and respond to them, inviting other posters to visit your site, receive your info, or even join your organization. Posting on the bulletin board or email list is equivalent to free advertising for you.

Other Search Tools

Besides search engines which allow you to search for general information sites, [ Technorati] and [ Daypop] allow you to search weblogs. The equivalent of a personal journal on the Internet, weblogs not only allow the individual to share his or her own feelings and opinions but also provide a way for readers to leave comments. The creation of weblogs moved the Internet from being a passive resource to more of an interactive community. As you are starting your advocacy organization, use the comment feature to alert those who reference your specific condition in their blogs to your organization’s contact information or other information that may be beneficial to them.

Being Up to Date On Your Condition

Make sure you search regularly on the Net for your condition. Use search engines to pick up any reference to your condition on the Web. You may discover a news story or discussion of a medical case and have a lead for new members. Google now gives users the opportunity just to search for news stories through Google News. You may also discover sites that have information that could cause concern or confusion for your membership. The Web contains a wealth of information from the essential to the meaningless, and not every misleading site requires action, but some forewarning can allow you to ease affected individuals' concerns promptly.

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