The world of search engine optimization (SEO) can sound intimidating to many non-profit and development professionals. After all, do you really need to worry about SEO for non-profits? With all of the other concerns in creating and maintaining a website, developing your non-profit’s fundraising strategies, and focusing on your core mission, SEO can easily seem optional.
But the simple answer is ‘Yes, absolutely!’ Understanding how SEO works can have a profound impact on gaining traction for your organization’s website traffic, getting donations and garnering volunteers and supporters. Just like any business or organization, SEO allows a non-profit organization to be found online – and that’s important. After all, if you found us and are reading this blog, it’s probably because we optimized SEO well.
Luckily, we’re here to walk you through how SEO works and how to utilize SEO to benefit your non-profit website and bottom line.
What Is SEO?
Before we begin, let’s start with the most important question: What is SEO? SEO stands for search engine optimization, and it simply means using optimization tactics to appear higher in search engine results. Major search engines, like Google and Bing, serve as a vital source of information for everyday people. The higher the ranking of your website in a search engine, the more likely your website will be found and clicked through to. As you go further down the search results, it becomes more unlikely that someone will find your website content. SEO for non-profits is the same as SEO for business. When was the last time you searched page 4 or 5 of Google?
Fact: If your non-profit website doesn’t appear on the first (or perhaps second) page of a search, chances are that your charitable cause or effort will not be found at all.
What Factors Affect Search Engine Ranking?
Search engines typically use an algorithm (a complex set of formulas) to determine what websites rank higher. Some of these factors that are indirectly in your control are total website traffic and frequency of content circulation. However, we’re here to talk about the factors that are in your direct control (which thus help the prior factors, as well). Let’s run through the top five areas of focus to optimize your non-profit website.
- Keyword Research
- Content Creation
- On-page Optimization
- Linking (both internally and externally)
- Social Sharing
SEO for Non-Profits: Five Steps to Get Your Organization Started
Here are the building blocks of SEO for non-profits and schools, as well as any business or organization.
1. Research Your Keywords Well
What do you want to write about? Having a general idea of your topic is obviously a good starting point, but it won’t be enough to lay the foundation of an optimized website or page. Researching the keywords to incorporate into your non-profit website, article, blog or even social media post is an essential step towards helping your SEO ranking. Don’t forget that if you serve a local area, adding your city or state into your keyword strategy can really help you to be found.
Not all keywords are worth the same and the ideal keywords are the ones that are a balance between most frequently searched and not being overly saturated or competitive. There are free keyword research tools that exist that can help you find out which keyword options are best for your topic (based on how often they are searched).
The frequency of your keywords on your website or page is called keyword density. There is no hard and fast rule on how often a keyword should appear, as it can vary based on how saturated your topic is on the internet. However, best practice is to have the keyword appear in the page title, the meta (page) description, and at least a couple of times within the first paragraph or 100 words of copy. From there, your SEO keywords should naturally and frequently appear throughout your content.
2. Develop Your Content Strategically
‘Content is King’ is a popular SEO catch phrase. Writing valuable content that speaks to your audience is really what it’s all about. All of the other factors are there to show search engines what great content looks like – but it all comes down to the content.
Great content consists of engaging information for your audience, combined with actionable items. Both are important to keep your constituents and website visitors reading through your post or clicking through your website. In addition to good information, part of the strategy that optimizes your website or article is immersing the ideal keywords throughout the content (see step 1).
3. On-Page Optimization is Key
On-page optimization refers to website-related factors that help with the SEO ranking of your non-profit website or article. These factors show search engines that your content is well organized and act as kind of a cheat sheet to categorize your content. On-page optimization includes the following:
- Title Tag: The title of your website, article or post that appears in the search engine when your page appears in the results. The title of the page ideally contains the primary keywords and is catchy enough to entice a click.
- H1 and H2 Headings: These are the headings and subheadings throughout the article that should incorporate the primary keyword(s) and other related keywords.
- Page/Meta Description: The brief summary of the page that appears below the title tag in search engine results. The key in the metadata description is that it contains the primary keywords and actionable items. It should also be brief enough to fit within the search engine description. Google recently changed the length of the meta description from 160 to 320 characters, so this is now the standard.
- Readability Score: The readability score indicates how easy your content is to read in relevance to school reading levels. While sounding highly knowledgeable and studious sometimes sounds like a good idea for credibility, being difficult to read does not help with your ranking and may hinder your non-profit website from being shareable on social media. Short, concise sentences are key here.
- Friendly Content and Layout: Even the best content must be presented in a way that it can easily be digested. Some friendlier factors include using shorter sentences, frequent paragraph breaks, use of white space, and images to help make your content more appealing to read.
One of the most helpful tools available to assist with on-page optimization is Yoast. That’s why all of DoJiggy’s non-profit websites built on the WordPress platform include the Yoast plug-in integrated right into your publisher. This integration makes it simple to check that these on-page factors are being optimized.
4. Focus on Internal & External Linking
Linking refers to the hyperlinks within a website or page. There are two types of linking to consider and both are very import to SEO for non-profits: internal and external.
Internal linking is a link that leads to other pages within your website. It allows visitors to explore your website further and to increase traffic on your pages throughout your website. Here you are strategically sending readers to more information that further answers their query. For example, a private school website may have a website page that discusses admissions requirements. On this page, the school can include internal links that refer readers to tuition and fees as well as school curriculum. These are related content pieces that require their own website page.
Internal linking is great, as it allows you to point users to the content you wish to highlight.
External linking is a link that comes to your website from another website. The more websites that link to your website, the more important and authoritative your content is regarded. So reach out to other local non-profits and see if they can link to your website. Research directories and local SEO opportunities as well.
You may also wish to practice external linking to other websites. External linking to other sites can certainly work towards your advantage when approached strategically. It is important to link to credible websites only, as the credibility of these links affect the trustworthiness of your own website.
Link exchanges are a great way to build value in a partnership and collaboration with another organization. If someone has a high-ranking or reputable website, you can ask if they can link your website in exchange for doing the same with theirs. It can be especially beneficial when you are externally linking using a keyword that isn’t the primary keyword of your article. It is typical that organizations with a website can view the sources of their website traffic, so they can see how this exchange benefits them. That also means you can do the same, and you can see how much value they add to increasing your traffic for externally linking your website. External linking used in this way can be a beneficial “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” dynamic when trying to build your non-profit website traffic.
5. Be Easy to Share
This point brings us back to one of the original indirect factors that affect SEO: generating traffic to your website to help SEO ranking. One of the ways to generate traffic to your website is through social media. Here are some key tips to make your website or page ready to be shared:
- Mobile-Friendly Website: An overwhelming amount of people access their day-to-day news and content through their mobile phones and tablets. Having a website that is designed to be mobile-friendly assures that your content is easy-to-ready and easy-to-share from anywhere.
- Social Media Share Buttons: The website or page should have social media share buttons readily available, either at the top of the page or at the bottom. These buttons make it simple to share your content with a quick click or two.
- Post on Social Media Feeds: Social media outlets, like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, are all built on shares and likes. Share your page on these channels to give another opportunity for your content to be organically shared by others that are active on social media.
With some practice, mastering these five simple steps will become natural to improving your SEO ranking for your non-profit website. It’s as simple as laying your keyword foundation, building your page with strong materials and tools and allowing the world to enjoy and share your content.