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Special Project

Special Project

Smile Train Stories

Entered in Micro-site or Blog


2022 was a momentous year for our blog, Smile Train Stories. We greatly increased pageviews and time on page, gained more than 76,000 new site viewers, decreased bounce rate—and were deeply honored to win both the Shorty and Shorty Impact Awards in the Blog & Micro-blog category for these efforts in 2023. But we still weren’t satisfied.  

After all, the same basic awareness problems persisted: Clefts remain a common and potentially deadly medical issue that is 100% curable when basic healthcare is available… yet most people either don’t know they exist or think they are purely cosmetic. And people continue to confuse us with our competitors, who fly foreign doctors on medical missions to low- and middle-income countries, hampering our ability to inspire new audiences with our more sustainable, “bottom-up” approach of investing in local healthcare workers and infrastructure across 75+ countries. So we developed a two-part plan:  

1) Diversify the voices we feature on Smile Train Stories along every axis—including patients, local medical partners, US cleft community members, donors, and more—with an emphasis on what Smile Train uniquely means to everyone we serve while 2) increasing our SEO and general visibility by hiring an in-house SEO specialist and continuing to work with the analytics firm Knotch. Specifically, our goals were to increase pageviews by 40% and user sentiment by 3% year over year. 


Since so many people with clefts struggle to speak, Smile Train has made providing a platform for their voices one of our key strategic goals. Part of this means showcasing as many cleft-affected perspectives as possible both to demonstrate the unexpected ways clefts interfere with so many basic aspects of life and to increase potential connection points with new audiences. In 2023, we traveled the world to gather stories of people impacted by our work and (in line with our model) hired local photographers and videographers to gather many more. In all, we gathered content from 34 countries in 2023.  

This is the year we suspect we became probably the only website on earth where you can hear the story of a brother and sister, each with a cleft, born to a teenage mother in Chile (through the words of the now 15-year-old brother) and the story of a 65-year-old voodoo practitioner in a small village in Togo who waited his whole life for cleft surgery (through the words of his adult son). Though we also tell stories in the third-person, we like to use the first-person where possible to make them feel more personal and to demonstrate that cleft-affected people and families don’t need anyone else to tell their stories for them. After reading one of our first-person stories, no one can say they’ve never met anyone with a cleft. 

In that vein, we once again sought out unique voices from the American cleft community, too. This year, we also featured the autobiography of a mime with a cleft from Virginia and the candid, courageous testimony of a mom from Chicago who lost her cleft-affected son in 1981, when he was six years old, and has only recently felt comfortable talking about it publicly. 

In all cases, we made sure to ask the subject what our model means to them, personally, and why it is important for the cleft community. 

Of course, even the best content is ineffective if it’s not reaching the right audiences. In early 2023, we revamped our content production process so that our resident SEO expert suggests keywords for each story before they go live. We also worked with Knotch to update what we call our “question strategy” at the end of blog stories. 

For most of 2022, readers were asked “How likely are you to make a donation after reading this article?” after each story. That generated some useful learnings, but it also appeared to be not quite the best question to ask this audience, as our stories were not the main driver to the donation page. So in 2023, we changed the survey question to “How impactful did you find this article?” to better gauge whether our blog content was fulfilling what we see as its primary purpose: inspiring readers and educating them about clefts, as well as leading them to other, similar stories.


This strategy helped us top our successes from last year. We increased pageviews by 88%, blowing past our primary KPI of 40%. Our 78% overall positive sentiment rate (up 6% from 2022) and 86% positive sentiment rate for US community stories are both well above average for Knotch’s clients.  

Changing our question strategy at the start of the year led to a much higher user response rate – a 222% increase from 2022. 

Social media also played a big role in getting our voice heard. In 2023, we increased traffic from Facebook alone by 252% compared to 2022. 

This matters. For a global health nonprofit like us, these successes represent more than market share or a leg up on our competition. Every percent change means that much more public awareness about the daily struggles and triumphs of the cleft community, potentially more people with clefts living with health and dignity, and, most of all, more children with access to the lifesaving healthcare they need, now and into the future.  


Video for Smile Train Stories

Entrant Company / Organization Name

Smile Train


Entry Credits