Client: Service Year Alliance

Project: Digital Strategy, Advertising & User Growth

In less than a year we managed to nearly 10x the performance of the platform's user acquisition while decreasing the cost of acquiring users by 90%.

The Challenge

Service Year Alliance is an organization pursuing a bold vision — making a year of paid, full-time service a common expectation and opportunity for all young Americans. Supported by The Aspen Institute, Cisco, and the Lumina Foundation, SYA is a nonprofit initiative with big ambitions.

You’ve probably heard about some of the most popular service year programs such as AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, and Teach for America. There are hundreds of additional programs across the US that host service year opportunities and are looking for diverse talent to help their organizations achieve their missions.

The Service Year platform was created to bridge the gap between those organizations and young Americans nationwide who are looking for opportunities to serve causes they care about, earn money, and gain experience to start their careers.

In December of 2015, was still in beta, with minimal website traffic and even fewer active users. The User Recruitment team was planning a pilot to drive new users to the site, but they had no clear digital strategy and needed an experienced digital marketer to help lead the initiative. SYA engaged Shane to develop a user acquisition strategy and execute on the digital marketing campaigns to prove the demand and viability of the platform. 

The Process

I began the project by mapping out the user flow of the registration process, defining key conversion points, and deciding on the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) we would use to measure progress and success.

I then worked with the engineering team to set up analytics so that we could measure these conversions.

We then identified the marketing channels we would focus on to start, considering our limited bandwidth and ad budget.

Leveraging their nonprofit status, I secured a grant of $10,000/month in AdWords search advertising through the Google grant program, and also decided to focus on Facebook advertising as a source of paid traffic. We also integrated existing email lists, social media channels, and partnerships to create a cohesive and multi-channel approach to driving traffic. 

I developed the ad creative, advising on the graphic design and writing the copy for all ads myself. 

After starting to run paid advertising, we were able to gather data on how effectively our registration process was converting website visitors into registered users. We also implemented an A/B testing tool to test hypotheses for improving the performance of registration pages. 

Over 5-6 months, we consistently ran a series of tests using Facebook ads, Google AdWords, and Optimizely to progressively refine and improve our KPIs. This included testing variations for targeting, ad images, copy, page layouts, and conversion paths. These experiments successfully drove down our cost per conversion over time and yielded a steadily increasing flow of new visitors and registered users.

The Results

This strategy led to a steady growth in traffic and dramatic improvements on our KPIs: most notably, improving the conversion rate of our user registration page from <1% to 8-9% (a 700-900% improvement), while reducing the cost to acquire new users by 83-96% on our paid traffic which represented by far the biggest source of registered users.

In other words, in less than a year we managed to 10x the performance of the platform's user acquisition while decreasing the cost of acquiring users by 90%

By the end of the pilot, we successfully developed a consistent online funnel for driving hundreds of new users to the site. The results of our work paved the way for Service Year to scale up growth and reach tens of thousands of young Americans to provide them with paid service opportunities in the years ahead. 

Since joining our team at Service Year Alliance, Shane has been incredibly productive – not just because he worked systematically to drive targeted traffic to the Service Year Exchange while simultaneously driving our acquisition costs down, but also because he consistently communicated clearly thereby ensuring that all members of the cross-functional team understood the status of his work at any given time and what he needed from any given team member.

Shane was unfailingly patient, professional and objective in his approach to work and I heartily recommend him.
— Sandie Quinn, Chief Technology Officer at Service Year Alliance
Shane has played a critical role in helping our organization reach its target audience. He helped us secure a Google AdGrant that has been invaluable to our efforts to drive people to our new website.

He managed our Google AdWords and Facebook Ads, and was meticulous in his reporting, offering strategic guidance on how best to optimize our site to increase conversion.

Given our limited resources early on in our organization’s merger, Shane has been thoughtful about utilizing Optimizely and Instapage to test changes on our site before implementing expensive backend changes with our developers.

This has been particularly crucial in growing our users and increasing conversion in the long term. Shane has led our digital marketing efforts and is always pushing forward and helping our team stay on track. Service Year Alliance is lucky to have an opportunity to work with him!
— Aly Ferguson, Associate Director of Communications