5 SEO Optimizations for Your Nonprofit Website

Jeff Gordy

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Sharing your nonprofit message faster, further and with more impact

What if you create a great website and nobody comes? You have a great story and you want to share it with the world, but your visitor count is too low. As a nonprofit, you don’t always have deep pockets or a dedicated budget to market your organization the ways you’d like to, so you need all the help you can get to drive traffic to your website, and, more importantly, persuade or convert visitors to do what you want. Your organizational goals will typically determine your conversion goals, and in the nonprofit sector, those goals might include getting corporate sponsors, signing up volunteers, encouraging online donations, and so on. Your big challenge will be to improve conversion, and that’s where search engine optimization (SEO) comes in.

If you are new to SEO, it means that you are trying to increase the visibility of your website so that it appears more prominently in search engines, especially Google, which, at the time of writing this article, has almost 80% of desktop search (StatCounter 2016). If you are more experienced, you know that there are many layers to the SEO puzzle, and your focus may be to keep up with the latest trends and updates and to selectively target areas for enhancement. Creating an SEO checklist to work from is an excellent way to deal methodically with all the important issues.

Because SEO relies on data collection and distilling key insights from it, proper SEO cannot be done fully without using the tools of the industry. You’ll need to become familiar with Google Analytics at the least, and then Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools. If you want a deeper dive, then consider using tools (sometimes paid) to give you additional metrics, like Moz (moz.com), Woorank (woorank.com) and SEMRush (semrush.com). A great starting point is Google for nonprofits. This is a free resource with lots of tips and answers to oft-asked questions,

It’s important to note from the outset that SEO will require a commitment. The naked truth is that any SEO strategy is going to be an ongoing effort in time and resources, but it’s likely to be one of the best investments you make in the long-term success of your organization. A complete SEO strategy is beyond the scope of this article, but here are 5 optimization areas that will set you on the right track.

1. Create stellar content and share it.

Tell your story in the most compelling way you can, and find effective ways to spread your message using a combination of media (video, great copy, photos) that can appeal to the emotions. Kristina Halvorson, founder of Brain Traffic, defines content strategy as, “Planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content.” If you have not developed a content strategy, it is time to do so. It will help structure what you want to say and make it easier to produce the right content, at the right quality, at the right time. There are lots of resources for developing a content strategy, and you should be aware that, without this piece, your SEO efforts will be severely limited. If content strategy is not in your organization’s lexicon, add it as an agenda item to your next management meeting.

2. Develop a proper keyword strategy.

Simply describing your organization and its mission is not enough. Focus on keywords that attract the right audience to your site. If the keywords you want are taken (monopolized by larger or more SEO-savvy organizations), you have to be creative and experiment with long tail keywords, which are longer keyword phrases that visitors are likely to use when searching for the kind of information you provide.

Also, it is good to find out which way your chosen keywords are trending so you can plan for the future. If they are significantly trending downwards, that is, fewer and fewer people are searching for them over time, then you might want to take a different tack. You can use Google Trends to see how your keywords are trending (https://www.google.com/trends/).

Google places emphasis on good quality and natural writing styles, so bear this mind when producing content. Artfully crafted sentences that include your keywords make for more engaging content and will help search engines draw the right visitors, so creating excellent, shareable content should always be your goal. If you need a place to start, there are a number of tools that help you zero in on the best keywords to use, including Google Adwords Keyword Planner (Adword account required), SpyFu, and Keyword Discovery.

3. Make sure that your site is technically ready for SEO.

Even if you do the best job at design, layout, and content, you can still be underperforming if your site has not been optimized. You’ll need to look at on-page optimizations as well as underlying site architecture issues that result in performance bottlenecks that affect speed and security, and subsequently, your rankings. It is likely that you will need the support of your web developer here to make the necessary changes.

Common issues include not setting and optimizing metatags in website code. Search engines look for and prioritize tags that contain keywords in specific areas, such as titles, near the top of the page, and above the fold. If you are using a CMS, such as WordPress or Drupal, for your website, be sure that the appropriate tags are being utilized via the plugins or modules. Pay particular attention to your Title Tag, which is used by search engines to highlight what your organization does in search listings, and the Description Tag, which is not used by Google as a ranking factor, but still displays in certain search results. This copy is important in making the content of a page attractive the right audience and more clickable.

So, good technical SEO is an absolute requirement and should be part of your plan, but it will not in and of itself launch you up the ranking charts. At this point, you will need to keep working on your SEO checklist.

4. Develop a backlink strategy.

External links from other companies can significantly increase your standing, especially if those organizations are well-known and rank well themselves. Cultivate relationships with organizations that may be willing to feature a link to your site.

As a nonprofit, potential partners may see you as a worthy cause, so tell your story and ask for support. A relatively small number of high quality backlinks can really boost your rankings. Some high value targets can be found in the education and government sectors, which tend to have high-ranking authority, as they are considered trustworthy and stable institutions.

5. Structure the site for conversions.

Conversion is the pot at the end of the rainbow for SEO. Getting visitors to your site is merely the first step. Ask yourself what you want the visitor to do. Make a donation, sign up as a volunteer, or attend an event? To make these calls-to-action succeed, the design of the site needs to guide the audience and create the shortest, most engaging and most persuasive path to that conversion.

Some companies spend vast resources on conversion optimization with constant testing and crunching of data, but simple, well-thought-out streamlining can often be achieved by a quick review of what you have now and decisions on where you can make small edits and design changes to improve the flow and make it a better user experience. Some of these changes will be obvious once you examine your site with a critical eye. Often, copy, images, menu items, etc. are added to a website over time and the original intent or flow can get muddy.

Measuring conversions doesn’t need to be too complicated. For example, it may suffice to begin small and just monitor how many people request a newsletter subscription or complete an online form. These actions by visitors usually trigger a thank-you response page that can be tracked in your analytics program.

Ultimately, your process should be to set up goals and measurements, collect and analyze the best data, and then, with the insights you get from that data, set up more rounds of testing and repeat until your results improve. There is no end point to the process, so really with SEO you have to embrace the journey and commit to the long haul, knowing that the benefits are worth it. Having key insights into data that is relevant to your nonprofit niche can help you make timely and mission-critical decisions.

Once you start SEO, you will realize how important it can be to achieving your nonprofit mission, and over time it will become even more valuable as you gain actionable insights into your audience and what motivates them. As a nonprofit, you know your cause matters and there are people out there who care as much as you do. Use SEO to connect with them, tell your story, and together change the world.

This post was provided by Peter Sohal, Director of Interactive Marketing at Origin Eight, a web design company that specializes in WordPress and Drupal design and CMS implementation.

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  • Mike Khorev

    With non-profit sites, one of the best “SEO strategies” you can employ is simply asking for links, especially from other non-profits. People usually aren’t too eager about linking out to businesses and things like that, but are generally more generous towards non-profits especially if its for a cause that they support personally. All you’ve gotta do is ask!

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