Brad LevinsonDespite their prominence for over a decade, digital campaigns can still be seen as mysterious—or worse, as a flash in the pan that’s not to be counted on in the future.

So, whether a nonprofit is large or small, ratcheting up your digital program can lead to much uncertainty, fear of a lack of return on investment, or—worst of all—the absence of a clearly definable outcome once you’re at the end.

But embarking on a digital campaign doesn’t have to feel like you’re rolling the dice each time, wondering how the campaign will perform. Instead, here are a few tips to make your digital campaigns more reliable, more predictable, and replicable in the future.

A Starting Digital Blueprint: Establishing Baselines

In each and every digital campaign—and for every organization—there are infinite possibilities for creating special, amazing content. This can be daunting for an organization, especially when the results and the return on investment may seem uncertain.

But before you come up with the big ideas and make the investment in a large-scale initiative, sometimes it’s good to establish baselines with some tried-and-true (read: reliable) tactics, including:

Mass emails: Mass emails—to this day—remain one of the main engines of a digital campaign. But just because they’ve been around for quite a while doesn’t mean that emails must be without imagination. For every few standard text-based emails, think about how you can add something unexpected into the mix that furthers the narratives and stories that you’re telling, such as a fully graphical email or animations.

Social posts: Look at your content and see how you can carve it up to make it more “snackable” for social media. Zoom in on one aspect per post.

Website traffic: Look at how you might be able to start driving your website traffic to your campaign. Is it with a pop-up lightbox? A feature on your website? Tie the campaign creative into these.

Online advertising: Look at social media advertising and banner advertising to drive your audiences to pages. Start by identifying your audiences and find ways to target those audience members specifically with online advertising.

Landing pages: At Schultz & Williams (S&W), we want landing pages—donation pages included—to resonate as much as possible. We highly recommend landing pages that are tailored to the unique campaign. Look to pull in messaging and imagery from the campaign, rather than driving your audience to a generic donation page. If an audience member was motivated enough to engage with your campaign’s content, make sure it follows them all the way through the campaign—especially on the page where they’ll be taking action.

Tracking and Source Codes: Understanding What’s Leading to Success

In order to make your digital program repeatable and reliable, it’s vitally important to understand where your response is coming from. Now that you’ve determined the main elements of you campaign, it’s time to make sure you know which elements lead to the most success.

Most vital in this process is the actual conversion—if it’s a fundraising campaign, this is the total number of gifts and the revenue that comes from each of your campaign elements. In an advocacy campaign, it’s most likely the number of petition signatures, and in a list-growth campaign, it’s usually the number of new prospects who joined and the total cost per new signup for each campaign element.

Each online fundraising, advocacy or list-growth platform has its own unique solutions to tracking—and for most, it’s usually achieved through something called source codes. Once you learn how your system employs this feature, you’ll create different URLs for your landing page that are specific to each element of your campaign. Many of these campaign elements can all point to the same landing page—it’s just that by generating source codes, unique identifiers are added to the end of the landing page’s URL that signifies which medium—and which version—they got to the landing page from.

After your campaign launches, you’ll be able to see how people got to your donation pages—and which elements are leading to the response you’re seeing. As it’s being measured, you can finally start to set baselines in terms of response per campaign element for the future—and as the campaign progresses, you’ll be able to make adjustments—whether it’s creative refinement or diverting budget away from certain elements in favor of others.

Content and Actionability: Can the Audience Do What You Intended?

The culmination of good content is to lead someone to take a measurable form of action, either now or in the future. There are a multitude of best practices to help promote actionability within your content—and they vary not only based on the medium you’re choosing, but from organization to organization and from audience to audience. What works for one might not work for the other.

At S&W, we like to start with a digital assessment for each organization. We look to determine the unique needs of an organization’s audiences and enjoy finding clues along the way based on past activity. The things we typically evaluate include:

Single-focus: Are you asking your audience to do one thing? Too many choices creates a phenomenon called “analysis paralysis”: the more options, the less likely someone will be able to quickly size up the ask and take immediate action.

Responsive: Is your email readable—and does it adjust—for each device an audience member is using, especially for phones?

Scannable text: How easy is it for a reader to get the gist of your email and find where to take action? Is your copy scannable? Can the reader easily identify where to take action? Scannable doesn’t necessarily mean “short”—just that a person can see where they are in the email and not lose their place—or lose the ask.

Clear and concise calls to action: Is your call to action buried, or present? Is the ask tangible and specific, or vague?

Actionable images: Especially in email, do your banner images and hero images have just a photo, or a call-to-action within them, linked to the landing page?

Buttons: Can you add buttons—preferably text-based buttons—into the email to drive action?

We generally use these guiding practices as a starting point for creating content. As time goes on, we develop and test truly unique content for each organization we’re working with.

Quality Assurance: Making Sure the Content Gets There as You Intended

Another key to creating reliable campaigns is that you know that your content will actually reach your audience—and that once they receive it, that it will actually work as intended.

For email, this means ensuring that your emails will deliver and reach people’s inboxes—and reviewing your emails ahead of time.

At S&W, we use two systems for this: Litmus and Email on Acid. Both are great tools, and we use them for both spam testing and checklist-based email review. We send test deployments to both systems, which check that your emails arrive on multiple email systems. They also allow us to review the actual emails—providing renderings across all different email clients and devices—so you know your email is formatted correctly for each one, whether it be desktop, mobile, tablet, web email, or others.

Be sure to test all the links, ensure each email is coded for accessibility using alt tags, and check that the email isn’t too “heavy” in terms of image file sizes. And don’t forget to proofread the email. In addition to reading all emails, we like to also use a grammar checker called Grammarly as a backup. Since it’s software-based rather than human, it won’t catch everything, but it can serve as an important tool for making sure one doesn’t overlook anything that’s all too obvious.

For online advertising and social posts, be sure to check all previews and—most critically—make sure all the links work to drive people to the intended place.

Launch and Measurement

From here, you’re ready to launch your campaign, measure what’s working, learn key lessons, predict the success of future efforts, and create reliable and replicable success in your digital efforts.

But if you need us, our team of digital professionals is here for your organization—from setting these fundamentals in place to helping you identify where to take your digital campaigns next.