A
17-year-old girl discovers she is pregnant. She is no longer dating her
boyfriend and feels scared and alone. Rather than turn to her parents for
advice and support, she logs onto Google and searches for 'unplanned
pregnancy'. The websites she finds will heavily influence whether or not she
continues with her pregnancy.

What
is the outcome of her searching? At the time of writing, not one of the
websites presented will encourage her to keep her unborn child. In fact, seven
of the first ten results are links to abortion providers or websites supported
by pro-choice organisations (eg, Marie Stopes International). Similar results
are produced for searches on 'abortion help' and 'abortion information'.

Pro-choice
organisations are vitally aware of the importance of the internet in a pregnant
woman's decision making process. For example, Marie Stopes International opened
their online 'abortion information chat service' after feedback showed that
"when it comes to seeking out information on sexual health services, women
have nominated the internet as their second preferred avenue for information
after their GP." (1)

As
it stands today, the pro-choice movement is winning the abortion war. By moving
with the times and harnessing the power of the internet, these organisations
are ensuring their message is heard.

Regaining Lost Ground: Investing Online

For
pro-life organisations, a dramatic shift in campaigning priorities is required.
It is no longer enough to simply publish a template-driven website, created by
an untrained operator, and then direct all attention to ‘taking action on
the streets’. Funds need to be invested online, which one could say is
now the 'frontline' in this war against abortion.

First
impressions count: Design is important

Firstly,
the website. To be taken seriously, the site should have an appealing design
and provide informative content that is easy to navigate. It is recommended
that a professional designer be engaged for the initial development. A
professional, custom website can be acquired for as little as $1000-$2000
(depending on the number of pages required). It will likely be the most
'influential' campaigning investment the organisation ever makes.

Be
Visible in Google: Implement Basic SEO Techniques

Secondly,
if the website is to have any chance of being effective, it must rank highly in
the major search engines – namely, Google, Yahoo! and nineMSN. Of these, Google
is by far the most important with 88% of the search market in Australia. (2)

Many
pro-choice organisations are well funded (e.g. GetUp.org.au and Emily's List).
They therefore have the advantage of being able to commission professional
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) firms. However, it is still possible for
non-profit, pro-life organisations to rank well if they focus on implementing
five key optimisation techniques:

1. Include the search term on the page. For a page to rank on a certain keyword,
then that keyword MUST appear on the page itself! It's sounds so obvious, but
if it often completely overlooked. So, if a pro-life organisation wants their
website to be found on searches for 'unplanned pregnancy', those words must
appear on the page. However, the position of the keywords is also important…

2. Include the search term in the Title and Description tags. These are the two
most important meta-tags because they are often displayed in the search
results. The Title is what appears in blue in the Google search results. When
you click on the link, you will notice those exact words appear along the top
of the computer screen. The Description tag, more often than not, appears as
the black text in a website's search listing. These tags should be included in
the head section of the HTML. (NB: The meta-tags of any web page can be
viewed by selecting "View – Source" on the browser.)

3. Include the search term in the headings and several times through the content. Headings should be
placed in h1 tags e.g. <h1>Unplanned Pregnancy
Counselling</h1>. Search engines identify words within h1 tags as ‘top
level’ headings (i.e. highly relevant content). When trying to
incorporate keywords through the text, do it naturally. Don't overdo it!
Writing the keyword over and over again is called 'keyword stuffing' and could
lead to Google removing the site from the index. A good rule of thumb is to
make sure the 'keyword' appears no more than 5% of the time.

4. Get other related sites to link back TO your site. This is one of the
most important factors that Google considers when ranking websites. In essence,
Google ranks sites based on popularity and relevancy. A link TO a website is
considered by Google to be a 'vote' for that site. The site with the most
'votes' wins. However, it should be noted that the quality of the link is
also important. For instance, for a pregnancy counselling service, a link from
a major hospital's website site will have more weighting with Google than a
link from the local florist.

5. Use the free Google tools. Google provides numerous useful free tools to assist
webmasters in improving their ranking in the search results. The best place to
start is www.google.com/webmasters. Upload a text-based site map and you'll be indexed with Google, which is the
first step to appearing in the search results. The tools also allow you to
learn what sites are linking to your site and what keywords are generating
search traffic.

By working through the above steps, the ranking of any website can be improved.

In this digital age, a high ranking website is worth thousands of flyers or
placards. To remain relevant, pro-life organisations must start directing a
significant proportion of campaign funds to online initiatives – starting with
a professional website that is carefully structured to rank highly in Google.

Darren Sproats is the director of a Melbourne-based website services firm.

Notes
(1) What women want
when faced with an unplanned pregnancy
, Marie Stopes
International/WebSurvey, Nov 2006
(2) Source: HitWise June 2008 Search
Engine Update