Brands can use SEO techniques to ensure that survivors of abuse searching for support find appropriate, well-considered resources.

Domestic Violence and Abuse (DVA) cases are on the rise. In the year ending March 2022, the number of police-recorded domestic abuse-related crimes in England and Wales increased by 7.7% compared with the previous year, to a staggering 910,980.

The government is aware of this issue. A series of new proposals were announced by the Home Office in February to combat violence against women and girls, including investing £8.4m over two years in specialist victim support programmes. However, action isn't just up to the government. All of us have a responsibility to raise awareness about domestic abuse and take steps to prevent it.

How are marketers responding?

Through their platforms, brands are uniquely positioned to address and reach audiences. Several marketers are making good use of that power by pushing messages that work to cull abusive behaviour.

During the World Cup last year, Avon partnered with NO MORE to raise awareness of abuse. In addition to spreading the message, it also supported the cause. Avon also donated approximately £1.2m to more than 35 domestic violence NGOs around the globe.

Domestic violence cases are known to rise during major football events. At the end of last year, Women's Aid's chilling ‘He's Coming Home’ ad highlighted the fear and isolation many women who are at risk would experience during the World Cup.

Since it’s a challenging topic to address, marketers must use their mass reach to raise awareness. Awareness, however, is only half the battle. It is also important to raise awareness about the resources and services available. Furthermore, these places of support must be reputable, accurate, and safe. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) could be a useful tool for marketers to achieve this goal.

How search engines support ‘help seeking’

There is a massive demand for information related to DVA online. Using SEO analysis software STAT, we estimate that there are almost 5.5 million Google searches relating to DVA each year in the UK.

This presents an opportunity for organisations looking to impact DVA cases because organic search circumvents key barriers to ‘help-seeking’, such as fear of speaking out and self-blame or shame of being a ‘victim’.

Search engines offer survivors a way to ask candid, unfiltered questions about their circumstances without fear of judgement and repercussions. As well as this, they offer quick – and, more importantly, discrete – access to directories of services and resources.

Despite our progress, it isn't the time for complacency

Fortunately, in the majority of cases, our own keyword research found that for most terms regularly searched by survivors, not-for-profit organisation websites ranked very highly – largely dominating the results.

The queries reviewed for this study were categorised by Emotional/ Psychological Abuse, Physical Abuse, Sexual Abuse, Financial Abuse, and None/ Ambiguous Abuse. The bar chart demonstrates the top 20 ranked websites appearing for these terms, categorised into five groups: Government sites, Charities, Independent Health Sites, Publishers and Other.

However, there are several terms that have seen dramatic popularisation in recent years, namely “gaslighting” (a form of psychological abuse that makes someone question their perception of reality) and “love bombing” (lavishing a partner with excessive gifts and compliments as a means to gain the upper hand in a relationship). 

Both formed an anomalously large proportion of the total search volume. For example, gaslighting accounted for 272,861 (59.71%) of the monthly searches in the keyword set used for this study. And worryingly, both terms exhibited a distinctly lower proportion of government and non-profit websites featured in the 20 highest-ranking websites. In fact, the newly popularised terms had almost no representation from governmental and charity websites.

The widespread use of these terms means governments and charities must create online resources to address it or miss a huge opportunity to reach survivors.

While most websites that don’t belong to a not-for-profit or government organisation are well-intentioned and adequately researched. This is not true for all.

“Profit” is the key word here, and most of the websites that currently rank highly for these terms are heavily monetised, with advertisements for online therapy and affiliate links generating commission by pushing visitors to purchase books about the topic. As well as this, they often don’t contain signposting to safe, free-of-charge services that can provide support, such as helpline numbers.

What can be done?

Not-for-profit organisations must ensure their websites capture these opportunities to reach survivors of DVA. This can be achieved through regular keyword research exercises. Our research found these newly popularised terms through social media, and many more could be uncovered this way in the future.

For brands, more generally, it’s imperative that their hard work in raising awareness also directs viewers to the correct resources and verified points of information. Ultimately, survivors of abuse searching for support must find appropriate, well-considered resources that have carried out all the necessary due diligence.

Marketers have a responsibility to ensure that the resources reaching survivors of DVA are created by experts, motivated by a wholesome desire to help those in need. The content must be carefully thought through with safeguarding and anti-triggering measures in place that prevent survivors from coming into any further harm.