Is there anything that strikes fear into a marketer’s heart more than Search Engine Optimization? We are constantly told how important it is, and then Google is constantly changing the rules on us. But if you are a nonprofit that wants to be found on the internet (which I’m guessing is all of you), then keep reading.
First, let’s start out by reframing what SEO means for nonprofits. Think of it as a cheap and effective way to increase the traffic of your website. By playing by a few rules that allow you to rank higher with Google, you will reach your audience. You will find more of the people you are aiming to help, and you will reach more potential donors.
Now that doesn’t sound scary at all, does it? Let’s get started.
Start at Tip #1 or jump to the section you’re most interested in.
Tip #1: Get Your Site Right
Before you go making a whole bunch of changes to your site, start out by making sure your site is healthy.
Are you running on an updated version of WordPress?
Are your plug-ins updated?
Is your SSL certificate valid?
An up-to-date site runs more efficiently and is more secure – two things that Google looks for when crawling your site.
If you discover that you are running on outdated versions of PHP or you have a plethora of plug-ins ready to be updated, make sure to proceed with some extra caution. Elements could break down during the upgrade. We recommend backing up your site and creating a local staging environment to test changes.
SEO Definition: Crawling
This is pretty technical stuff, and there is absolutely no shame in getting some help from the experts. (We’ve got some pros on deck, if you need a hand.)
Tip #2: Organize Your Site Structure
Once you have made sure that the backend of your site is up to par, now it is time to make sure it is organized. When users look at your home page, is it clear what their next step should be? If they land smack dab in the middle of your site via a Google search, do they have a path to other pages?
Here are the essentials of organizing your site:
SEO Definition: Page Authority
Make it clear. Use words everyone will understand, and use dropdown menus to avoid cluttering the main menu. This helps Google to crawl your site effectively.
No page should be a dead end. The content on every page should have at least one link to and from another page on your site, particularly from those with good page authority.
Categories & Folders
Blog posts should be grouped by categories, and pages can be grouped into folders. This adds structure to the URL for Google to follow.
Tip #3: Optimize Your Content
Alright, hang in there. This is the only tip that has four extra parts to it.
But unlike the first tip where you might have to call in some experts, you should already be the expert here. No one knows your nonprofit better than you. By providing high quality content about your topic, you can attract the right audience and engage them.
Research What Your Visitors Need
At first glance, this is pretty straightforward. Your visitors are likely people who need your services or want to donate. The trickier part is knowing what they are typing into Google to potentially get to your site.
You’ll need to do some keyword research to determine what keywords or phrases you want to try to rank for. Think about your niche market. If you are a nonprofit that tackles the homelessness crisis in your local community, focus on specific keywords. Trying to optimize your site for “homelessness” isn’t realistic. There is too much competition for that one word. But if you optimize a post for “Homeless shelters in (city)” or “Resources for homelessness in (state),” you have a much better chance of reaching those who need your help or want to join your cause.
Write Great Content
Now that you know what your visitors want to read, you can get to writing. And by “writing” I mean outlining → writing → editing → rewriting. Wash, rinse, repeat as needed.
Well-written content is key to white hat SEO. This doesn’t mean that every sentence needs to be a work of art, but it should be engaging and easy to read. Remember that you are the expert; your visitor is not. The SEO tactics can help Google guide someone to discover your page, but only clear language and organized copy will pass the message on to a real person. If you have any question about whether or not the message is landing for a newcomer, ask a friend or colleague for some feedback.
SEO Definition: White Hat SEO
Optimize Individual Posts & Pages
Once the great content is written, it is time to optimize it.
Focus on these elements to fine-tune the page for both Google and the reader:
Nothing tricky here. If you want a page to be found for something, you should use that phrase, especially in the title.
Make sure each page has an informative title. It is what will show up in the results, so even pages like your home page should be retitled to include the name of your organization.
Depending on the settings of your website, your URL might be created according to your page title. But it could also be a simple string of numbers like www.fakenonprofit.com/?p=123. It’ll get the user where they need to go, but it doesn’t say much and Google doesn’t like it.
If you are using a tool like Yoast (which we recommend), you can update the meta description and title that will show up in the SERP.
Think of these like your table of contents. H1 is the title. H2’s are the chapters. H3’s are topics within the chapters. This helps to break up large chunks of copy so it is more digestible, and it helps Google fully grasp what info your page contains.
Images & Media
Having images and other media on a page helps. Don’t let that picture sit as IMG51236.jpg when you could get an SEO boost simply by renaming it annual_mental_health_fundraiser_walk2020.jpg.
SEO Definition: SERP
SEO Definition: Meta Description
Keep it Fresh
Finally, don’t let your content get stale. If you are directing people to a community resource that no longer exists, unlink that ASAP. If you have a blog post from 2011 about the top STEM programs for inner-city kids, delete it and redirect to one from 2020. Not only do these not help the visitors on your site, it tells Google that you aren’t on top of your own content.
Tip #4: Be Mobile Friendly
Remember when you had to turn your phone sideways to look at a website on mobile? Or do that awful pinch and expand thing to zoom in on a form field? We all put up with that in 2008 because we didn’t know any better. But now? Your site visitors, Google and probably even your own colleagues will be irritated if the mobile response is anything but seamless.
SEO Definition: Bounce Rate
Since 2018, time spent on the internet has been split pretty evenly between desktop and mobile. This is why Google is now penalizing sites that aren’t responsive or have high bounce rates specifically on mobile.
Tip #5: Promote Engagement
SEO is all about getting found via search engines, but don’t rely on Google to sing your exclusive praises. Once you get a visitor on your site, engage them. Keep them intrigued, entertained, curious. Give them the good content they were looking for, and then ask for something in return.
Add social share buttons on all of your blog posts and encourage sharing on other important pages.
Ask them to join a newsletter using an exit or timed pop-up to capture email addresses.
For those who are interested, don’t miss the opportunity to ask for donations or volunteers.
Bonus tip! Keeping people engaged isn’t just about your copy, even though that is a driving factor for SEO. A well-designed site with modern features and functionality encourage visitors to become donors and volunteers, and is something Google isn’t smart enough to judge (yet).
If you’re looking for even more info on SEO, check out Yoast’s very thorough blog post. It has tons of awesome information. With nearly every organization and business competing for the top spot on Google, there is a lot of hard work to put in.
But we’re here to help.
Want to know more about SEO in the nonprofit sector or how your unique site could get a boost?
Does your website need an SEO audit?
Contact Mittun for a free assessment today.