Every organization—whether it's a nonprofit organization or a for-profit enterprise—wants to see their website at the top of Google search. Landing a coveted first-page spot would mean a spike in traffic to your site, which could, in turn, lead to a spike in donations.
But how do you get there?
SEO, or search engine optimization, is a series of steps you can take to ensure your website gets found in Google search. With SEO, you will target a series of words or phrases that would be lucrative for your organization (e.g., "Grassroots nonprofit in Washington, DC" or "nonprofit supporting women of color in Chicago"), then "optimize" your website to rank in a search for those keywords.
SEO, just like social media or email marketing, should play a central role in any content strategy—otherwise, you risk leaving potential donor dollars on the table. Below, we provide an overview of SEO for nonprofits, including five steps you can take today to boost your online presence.
Before you start: What you need to know about SEO for nonprofits
Before we dive into SEO tips for nonprofits, allow us to make this one disclaimer: You should never sacrifice good web copy for the sake of SEO.
There is stiff competition for the top page of Google. Years ago, some individuals decided to take a shortcut and stuff hundreds of keywords into their website copy, calling it SEO. The practice of keyword stuffing created websites that were overrun with bad copy, offered poor user experience (UX), and—to be quite blunt—barely made sense to the end reader.
Taking a shortcut with SEO is like taking a shortcut with anything else in life or in business: It rarely works.
Your bounce rate will skyrocket, as readers will land on your page, quickly realize it’s not valuable information, and leave within seconds. Always prioritize high-quality writing over keyword-stuffing, and be sure to make your message clear to your target audience.
5 essential steps for good SEO for nonprofits
Before we dive into some basic SEO tips, you need to understand this: In the world of SEO, Google Search Console makes the rules. Google continuously tweaks its algorithm to provide a better online experience for all of us (aka, to prevent keyword stuffing).
That said, there are a few things you can do that consistently proven increase search engine rankings, including:
1. Improve your site speed 🏃
When it comes to improving search engine results, content isn't the only thing that matters.
Google rewards sites that are easy to understand and use—meaning, it's a user-friendly website. In other words, information is easy to find within your site, you have a clean navigation, and your site map genuinely makes sense.
Finally, one of the best ways to improve your site architecture is by improving your site speed. Google's Core Web Vitals clearly states that your site speed is directly correlated to the overall user experience of your website. To improve your site speed, use the PageSpeed Insights tool to discover any performance issues, such as extra-large images (or GIFs), too many plugins (for Wordpress), too many ads, or even too many custom fonts.
2. Do your keyword research 🔍
Sure, you want to get your site on the first page of Google—but for what search term?
It's unrealistic to expect your organization to hit the top 10 results for the word "nonprofit"—the competition is simply too steep.
Instead, it's better to set your sights on longer-tail keywords, such as "volunteer opportunities in Kansas City" or "medical volunteer opportunities near me."
If you're not sure which keyword phrases to target, don't worry. You can use the Google Keyword Planner to discover the right keywords for your organization. From there:
- Click "Discover new keywords."
- Enter a phrase you want to target.
- Receive an entire spreadsheet of related keyword phrases. Plus, Google shows you the competition (low, medium, or high) for each phrase, giving you a rough idea of where you have the best chance of getting to a top spot on Google.
3. Develop a consistent, valuable content strategy ✍
Content marketing and SEO strategy are two entirely different things, yet the two overlap in several areas.
Remember when we said you should never sacrifice good web copy for the sake of SEO? Rather than stuff your carefully drafted web pages with various keywords, you can develop a content marketing plan (i.e., write blog posts) that target the keyword phrases you found in step two.
When writing blogs for the sake of on-page SEO, there are a few things you'll want to keep in mind:
- Try to write blog posts with at least 1,200 words, as it's difficult to crawl up the ranks in Google with less.
- Link to external sources to build credibility, but try to avoid linking to other pages that rank in the top page of Google for the same search term.
- Change the alternative (alt text) for all images to a brief description of the image that contains the keyword (e.g., “animal welfare nonprofit in Boston”).
- Add a custom meta description for every blog post to entice readers to click on your link.
- Include headings (H2 and H3 tags) to help break up paragraph text. When you're looking for ideas on what phrases to include for headers, enter your search query into Google then scroll to the bottom of the page, where related terms are shown (see the screenshot above).
4. Invest in a link building strategy 🔗
Google rewards websites that have high "authority," meaning they're known to publish high-quality content and are trusted by other websites on the internet. One of the first steps in improving your authority is investing in a link building strategy.
Link building is when other websites link to your website. Over time, continuously publishing high-quality, educational content will help you earn backlinks to your nonprofit website. However, there are a few ways you can help speed up the process:
- Invite industry colleagues or thought leaders to write guest blogs for your website. The authors will share their post on their social media channels, helping you earn links to your site.
- Add internal links (links to your own website's content) within every blog post you write. Be sure the anchor text contains at least one word that's used within the post URL.
- Reach out to authors who publish round-up posts (e.g., "10 nonprofits accepting volunteers this spring") and politely ask them to mention and link to your organization.
5. Claim your business on Google 🌍
When it comes to search results, Google takes geographical location into account. For example, if your nonprofit is based in Des Moines, Iowa, you are more likely to appear in search results if the person searching lives in Iowa.
One of the easiest ways to boost your local SEO results is to claim your business on Google. With a Google My Business Profile, you can increase your visibility on Google Maps, search, and other Google directories. Plus, it offers additional advantages, including:
- Having your nonprofit location show up in local search results as part of the "places" results (listed before websites, blog posts, and other URLs).
- Publicizing your business hours.
- Offering quick links to your website and an address for your physical location.
Make nonprofit SEO part of your fundraising strategy
Search engine optimization, or SEO, helps boost your visibility on Google. If you're ignoring SEO as part of your digital marketing strategy, you could be leaving potential donation dollars on the table.
Fortunately, there are plenty of free SEO tools that can help you move up the ranks in Google.
By launching a keyword research strategy, improving your site speed, publishing high-quality content, and paying attention to local search results, you can help increase traffic to your website.
Remember, when it comes to marketing your nonprofit, no one channel should exist in a silo. You should harness content marketing, SEO, social media outreach, and email campaigns to help you attract and retain new donors. For the all-in-one fundraising platform with a built-in CRM and marketing automation to help launch your digital marketing strategy, check out Givebutter. Givebutter is the always-free, donor-centric platform that helps ignite the change maker in all of us. Take a tour of its 130+ free features today.
Kara McCartney is a web copywriter operating out of Washington, DC. She writes and builds websites for small businesses.