What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO), anyway?
Let’s get right to it: basically, SEO is the process of making strategic improvements on and off your website to gain organic visibility on search engines (as opposed to paid), resulting in more traffic to your website.
Search engines, like Google, work by trying to pair what people are searching for with the best answers as quickly as possible. This is largely determined based on two factors: 1. your site’s relevance to a given search query and 2. your authority on the topic.
As a note, since Google is the most popular search engine with over 90% of global search traffic, this article will refer to it primarily; however, the SEO practices mentioned can largely apply to other search engines as well.
How can SEO help your nonprofit?
Search engine optimization is a must for nonprofit organizations.
Ranking well in search engines is your golden ticket to gaining visibility online, which, in turn, boosts your ability to bring awareness to your cause, grow your community—both locally and at large—and gather new volunteers and donors.
In fact, according to Higher Visibility, almost 53% of website traffic goes through organic search, and more than 99% of searchers click on a result from the first search engine results page (SERP).
Getting a spot on Google’s first page takes some effort and patience, but it’s a very cost-effective way to get your organization visibility online, meet your goals, and make a name for yourself against any competition.
So, how can you get your NPO to rank on the first page of Google? Below, we’ll cover all the best SEO practices to help your organization get the right attention online (and lots of it).
What are the best SEO practices for nonprofits?
First, The Basics
Before we get to the meat of search engine optimization, there are a few things you’re going to need to do first to make sure you get the most out of your SEO efforts:
- Set up Google Search Console and Google Analytics for your site. These are free tools that work in conjunction with each other to provide you valuable insights on how people are finding and engaging with your site as well as your site’s overall performance and health.
- Create an XML sitemap for your site and submit it to Google Search Console. This ensures that search engines can crawl and index your website.
- Make sure you have a secure HTTPS website, not HTTP. Google has stated that non-HTTPS sites will risk losing traffic.
- Set up your Google My Business page to help your organization show up for local searchers and establish trust online.
Keyword Research is Key
Keyword research is the foundation of any good SEO strategy.
Simply put, keywords are the words and phrases that searchers type into search engines. It’s necessary to get a grasp on what people might search about you and what keywords you want to show up for because search engines pair these searched keywords with the content that matches them the best. If you can determine the right keywords to target in your content, you’ll get “paired” to more searchers’ queries and inevitably rank better.
When targeting keywords you want to rank for, a helpful trick is to focus on the long-tail keyword. Long-tail keywords are keywords longer than three words. Not only is it easier to rank for them, but they’ll also bring more relevant traffic to you.
Here are some steps to guide your keyword research:
Do some brainstorming:
Create a long list of keyword ideas that reflect what your organization does—your mission topics, services you offer, problems you’re tackling, questions your community might have about you, etc.
Try to put yourself in your target community’s shoes when making this list and think up language they might use; you want to be as specific and relevant to their needs as possible. Don’t overthink it too much at this step, though. Just get as many ideas down as possible, and you’ll be able to narrow it down later.
Determine your keywords’ search volume:
A simple technique to weigh the relevancy of your keywords is to type them into Google and compare the number of results (search volume) that come up at the top of the page.
You can also use Google Trends to measure and compare the popularity of different keywords and see whether they’re trending up or trending down over time.
Generally, you’ll want to target keywords with a healthy balance between high search volume and low competition.
Find low competition keywords:
You can get a basic understanding of what a keyword’s competition is like by weighing which results show up for it.
For example, are the top results for your keyword coming from big organization names, .govs, or .edus that are very well known or established? Those will be virtually impossible to outrank at first, so it’s better to place your focus on less competitive keywords.
Google Ads Keyword Planner is a great tool to determine the overall efficacy of a given keyword. You can use it not only to generate keyword ideas and get a range of average monthly search volumes, but it also shares the competition level of any given keyword.
Keyword placement checklist:
Once you’ve got your target keywords down, you’re not going to want to place them at random. Here are the best spots on each of your pages to include your keywords:
- Page URL
- Page title
- Meta description
- Image alt text
- The first paragraph of your content
Make sure your keywords fit naturally into your content; search engines are smart enough to recognize natural keyword implementation and actually punish those who stuff their keywords.
How to Optimize On-Page
Create fresh, relevant content:
What is your organization’s mission? What are some key facts that define you? What stories do you have to share? Knowing these things, you’ve already got a lot of great, evergreen content for your site.
Evergreen content is important to create because it’s perpetually relevant content that doesn’t expire, as opposed to content about passing trends. It doesn’t run the risk of becoming outdated to Google, providing you with great opportunities to rank long-term.
Of course, with any of your site’s content, search engines value quality above all else. Make sure your content is engaging, clear, and unique. By providing strong content that answers the questions of your current and potential supporters (maybe even ones they haven’t thought to ask yet), you’re building trust as a go-to source within your community, and your content is more likely to be shared.
Optimize your page titles and headings:
Your page title is what appears as a blue link in the search engine results and communicates to search engines and users what your page is about. It should be relevant to the page, include your target keyword, and be unique from any other pages on your site.
Headings are another way to help search engines and users understand your content. Using headings helps organize your content, increases readability, and provides another great place to naturally incorporate your keywords.
Consider your meta descriptions:
The meta description allows you to further describe what your page is about. It appears just below your page title on the SERP.
Making a meta description actually doesn’t directly affect your ranking, and Google rewrites them around 63% of the time. However, they’re still worth writing. Why? They provide an opportunity to increase your page’s click-through rate (CTR) with compelling copy and a strong call to action, which can positively impact your ranking.
Incorporate image alt text:
Creating alternative text (alt text, for short) is a way to provide Google information about your site’s images. It gives you another opportunity to use your keyword, if relevant to do so, and helps Google navigate your content. Additionally, image alt text helps you communicate with visually impaired users who use site readers to navigate your site.
Use internal linking:
Internal linking is simply the technique of linking from one page within your site to another. It’s a great way to help users and search engines navigate your site, and it encourages people to explore your other content, keeping them on your site longer.
Don’t Forget Off-Page SEO, Too
Backlink best practices:
Backlinks are links from other sites to your site and essentially work like votes of confidence towards your site’s authority. Building trust in your organization’s name is crucial for ranking well and inspiring new donations and partnerships.
Here are a couple of great ways to get backlinks:
- Make sure your site’s content is extremely useful to others, and add social share buttons to your content. This will encourage your community to share your content around the web, potentially garnering you tons of backlinks.
- Reach out to publications or news sites when you publish research, launch campaigns, or host any events. This is a great way to get authoritative backlinks.
- Ask other organizations if you can make guest posts on their site that link back to yours. This can help you get relevant backlinks.
Keeping up with social media is now an important part of any SEO strategy. Since social media sites tend to rank well on search engines, taking advantage of their incredible sharability is a great way to get more backlinks and mentions around the web.
It’s important to keep in mind that SEO takes time and effort to signal to search engines that your site is both trustworthy and relevant to searchers. But, once you manage this, it’s so worth it. You’ll be rewarded with free, valuable real estate online and, with it, exposure that can help your organization meet its many goals.