Connecting with potential adopters and supporters of your rescue is what will keep you going long-term, even if you have a great program to care for the animals who need you it won’t mean much if you can’t get them in to new homes so you can help the next batch of animals heading your way. During your planning stage, invest some time in figuring out how and where you will be advertising your animals, as well as keeping people updated on what is happening at your rescue.
Your Rescue’s Website
Having an official website for your rescue is an important asset, a website will help legitimize your image with the public as well as get information about your program out in front of a wide audience. You don’t have to be technically inclined to have a website, even a basic website that contains information about your rescue’s mission, policies, and how people can contact you to adopt or volunteer will help you establish your brand. Depending on the type of website you will be operating, your cost may vary between $20-$200 annually to host your website.
When you are planning your website, one of the first steps you will take is to decide on a domain name. A domain name should be something that is relatively short, easy to remember, and identifies your website. For example the Animal Care and Adoption Network, a small rescue and networking service based in Terra Linda, CA, has a long name but has a simplified domain name of www.AnimalCareNetwork.org which is easy to remember and give out. The House Rabbit Society snagged a great domain name with the easy to remember www.Rabbit.org. You can check the availability of a domain name with a variety of domain registrars, such as Namecheap or Dreamhost.
Before buying your domain name, you will want to determine what kind of website you will be hosting. If you are not technically inclined and need something very simple to build where you plan to post just the basic information about your rescue, you may opt to host your website through a service like Wix or Weebly. These services offer simple templates and easier drag and drop type interfaces for designing your website and filling out information, and are great resources for someone who wants a website without getting into the technical side of things. These type of services generally offer a premium plan for a low monthly or annual cost, and will provide you the option to register a domain name or use one purchased elsewhere for your website’s URL. Without the premium plan, your website address with those services will generally be something like yourname.websitehost.com or websitehost.com/yourname, and I highly recommend purchasing a domain name so that visitors will have a more professional impression of your website when they visit yourname.com instead.
If you are more technically inclined and want a more feature full website with room to grow and expand, you may want to buy into a shared hosting service such as Bluehost or Dreamhost. This will give you space on a shared web server where you can host a website that you build using a variety of languages, or on top of another platform such as WordPress, Joomla or others. Building your own website on your choice of platform will give you more room to potentially integrate plug-ins that add features, like calendars, pet listings, forms, downloadable materials or more that you won’t be able to do as seamlessly with a simpler solution.
Another advantage of using a web hosting service and purchasing a domain name is that you will have the option of using an e-mail address that contains your domain name. This means your address can be email@example.com instead of something like firstname.lastname@example.org, which gives an overall more professional appearance. It is possible to use your domain name with a paid e-mail service, such as Google Apps for Business, but e-mail handling is another story and one I’ll cover at a later date.
Your website should minimally contain the following information:
- Information about your rescue’s mission and who operates it.
- Your rescue’s location (if you are operating out of your home, listing a city is sufficient and it’s not always a good idea to list your home address online) and how people can contact you.
- Your policies for adopting out animals.
- Your policies for accepting surrendered animals.
- Information on how people can visit or learn more about your adoptable animals.
You may also want to include things like:
- A blog about what your rescue is doing.
- Articles about caring for the type of animals you work with.
- Recommendations for local vets or pet services.
- Links to your favorite resources or other rescues in your area.
- Printable materials, like care brochures or flyers.
- Information on how people can donate to you, or ways people can donate online.
- Integration with your pet listings on another website.
One of the largest benefits to having a website is boosting the brand recognition for your rescue. The longer you operate your website, the more likely it will be to appear in search engine results. That means if you have a website for a Guinea Pig Rescue in California, once it’s been up for a while you’ll have a better chance of someone searching for ‘California Guinea Pig Rescue’ finding your website and being able to connect with you.
Pet Listing Websites
In addition to having your website, you will also want to list your available animals on at least one pet listing website. There are many options for websites you can list your animals on, but before you sign up with all of the ones you can find you should determine how much time you have to update your Pet Listings and how much time it will take you to maintain them. The two listing websites I recommend signing up with are AdoptAPet.com and Petfinder.com, both websites offer free accounts for rescues, have a high volume of visitor traffic, and accept listings for animals of many species (where many pet listing websites out there may only provide options for cats and dogs). Another advantage to listing with AdoptAPet.com and Petfinder is that they both feature integration with other listing partners. For example, when you post a listing on AdoptAPet.com you have the option for that listing to automatically posted and updated on Petharbor, AllPaws.com, ClassifiedAds.com and more. That means that when you post and update a single listing on AdoptAPet.com, your listing will also be updated and sent to 10 different websites where potential adopters will see that animal.
You will likely receive e-mails from other pet listing websites that want to offer you another avenue to list your animals on their website. Keep in mind that these websites are able to operate because they generate revenue from having visitors interested in seeing animals there, which gives them an opportunity to market other products or services around your animal listings. You are likely to have many websites soliciting you to post your listings, but if they are not heavily trafficked websites or will cause you too much extra work to maintain your listings in different locations, you are better off picking one of the big websites and sticking with them at this point.
Using Social Media to Connect with the Public
These days a lot happens on social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter and more, and they are an important part of your strategy. If you are not maintaining a blog, or in addition to your blog, Facebook can be an easy way to bring pictures and updates about what is happening at your rescue to the public. You can use a Twitter account to send out live updates when you are at an adoption event or connect in a more conversational way with your supporters. You can feature pictures and projects on Pinterest to help get your rescue’s name out there and promote traffic to your website or other channels.
One of the most impactful things you can do is to create an official Facebook page for your rescue. On a Facebook page, you’ll be able to post your rescue’s basic information such as your official website and contact information. You’ll also be able to post pictures and updates about your rescue, links to your website or other things you might want to share with your audience online. Facebook is a website that promotes sharing and ‘Likes’ that help spread your rescue’s name and projects among a wider audience. For example, if you have one person following your page who chooses to share your post about needing donations to their friends, you will be able to reach an ever-expanding audience of people who might not have known about you yet. You can learn more about setting up a Facebook page for a business on the Facebook for Business website.
Twitter is another good avenue to connect with people, particularly at events or during things that might be of interest for people to get a ‘live’ look in to. For example, if you are having an adoption event, you can send out tweets from a smartphone at the event to let people know that the event has started, which animals are getting adopted, or send pictures of what the animals at your booth are up to. These are all things that can help generate a higher level of interest in your activities. You can learn more about the basics of using Twitter for business at the Twitter for Business website.
You can also use Facebook and Twitter to send information to each other, so that when you post on Facebook it automatically pushes the same update to Twitter, or a post to Twitter is automatically sent to Facebook. If you don’t have time to post updates or tailor them to both avenues, it’s a good way to save time while not neglecting your audience on either platform. However, you should consider that these are different types of communication and depending on the type and frequency of your postings, it may not be best for you to connect the accounts. For example, Facebook users tend to tune out too many updates from a page and if they see you posting multiple times a day they can start hiding posts so that your content doesn’t show up in their news feed and flood it anymore. On the other hand, Twitter is a venue where it is commonly accepted to post many times in a day because of the short length of posting (140 character limit). In general, if you are going to connect your accounts, I recommend connecting Facebook to post on your Twitter account and not the other way around.
Your Overall Web Strategy will be Involved and will Evolve
This is just an overview of what you will need to start considering with your website presence. There are a lot of fine details to having a successful website or social media channel, and it’s something I plan to expand on in greater detail in the future. Stay tuned to the Alma Rodentia blog for more technically specific articles and help on branding, social media management, and more.