Search engine optimization (SEO) can be an intimidating topic for nonprofits, especially as there seems to be constant debate about what search engines are actually looking for. However, it's surprisingly logical when you break it down.
Beyond the basics and best practices, there are some techniques that you can use to discover what the most effective keywords are for your organization and include them in the most effective locations on your page. When you optimize your site for search engines, you're trying to do two things:
- Demonstrate to search engines what your page is about
- Build the reputation of your site, so that search engines will consider it a trustworthy resource
Both of these will result in your pages showing higher up on searches for relevant keywords.
Even for experienced web marketers, there is a level of trial and error associated with SEO. In order to assess how your efforts are affecting search rankings, start using an analytics tool like Google Analytics to keep an eye on organic traffic to your site.
In what follows, we'll share some best practices around using keywords and links in order to improve SEO for your nonprofit's website.
Using Keywords for SEO
One of the best places to invest your time when trying to improve your SEO is to find relevant keywords and include them in the right places on your site. There will always be some guesswork involved in selecting your keywords, but with patience and a little trial and error you'll begin to see your search rankings improve.
The first step is to find keywords that your target audience is searching for. You're most likely to improve your ranking for a keyword if it has a high search volume and low competition. This means that lots of people are searching for this keyword, but the number of pages that use it is low. Crucially, the keyword must also make sense in relation to your content. Your ranking will suffer if the algorithm picks up that you're using irrelevant content to try to get a high rank for a keyword.
There are a number of free tools that can help you discover what your target audience is searching for. You can also use paid tools like Moz and Semrush, which will give you better competitor analysis than the free ones, but this won't be necessary for most nonprofits.
Google Ads Keyword Planner
In order to actually post an ad through Google Ads, you'll need to either pay or use your Google Ad Grants. However, you can create a Google Ads account in order to get access to Keyword Planner, with no obligation to go through with a paid ad. It'll help you to find relevant keywords for your organization with the information about search volumes. That information will enable you to zoom in on the keywords that will be the most effective to drive up your Google rankings.
Google Search Console
Rather than showing you keywords that are relevant to your subject matter and mission, Google Search Console can tell you what search terms are already bringing users to your site. There are a few more technical hurdles: You'll need to talk to the person who manages your DNS (domain name system) in order to prove that you own the site before you can access the data.
Once you've done so, you can develop your keyword strategy based on information about your specific site and how people are finding it. If you notice that a specific keyword is drawing in a high number of users, try displaying that keyword in more headings, links, and page titles. You might find that this draws in even more users, since you already know that people are searching for that term in order to find the information you're sharing on your site. And together with the Google Ads Keyword Planner, you can find recommendations for similiar keywords to use throughout your site.
In order to keep up with relevant keywords at a particular point in time, try using Google Trends. This is an accessible and easy-to-use platform, so it's a great place to start if you've never done keyword research before. If you deal with issues that are dynamic and ever-changing, this can help you ensure that the keywords you're using are the same as those people are searching for. For example, if your organization provides shelter to people affected by a natural disaster, you can use Google Trends to get a snapshot of where people are searching for those services. Then, incorporate the language people are already using into your site pages, and you'll make it easier for people in need to find you.
Keywords Everywhere is a browser extension for Google Chrome that shows you a list of related keywords when you conduct a Google search. This is a quick way of seeing which keywords are ranking highly, simply by making your own search related to the topic you're addressing.
Where to Use Your SEO Keywords
When it comes to ranking on search engines, your keywords are pretty much useless unless you include them in the right places. There are a few key places the search engine algorithms will look when they try to assess the content of your page.
Most importantly, include your keywords in page titles and URLs. Especially for things like blog content, a URL does not need to match the exact title of the page, and it can just be two or three hyphenated keywords that give an idea of what the page is about.
What you should absolutely avoid, however, are URLs that are just a string of numbers or letters, that tell you nothing about the actual content of the page. Some website builders will set URLs like this by default, but you'll miss out on prime keyword real estate if you don't optimize them.
After titles and URLs, the next most effective place to display your keywords is in your page subheadings — your H2s and H3s. The first five paragraphs of body text may also be crawled by search engines, so try to scatter some keywords in there, too. The alt text of the images on your page should include keywords where it's relevant. This can also help you to appear in image searches as well as standard web searches.
Using Links for SEO
When linking to other pages, whether those pages are on your site or someone else's, include relevant keywords in the hyperlinked text. For example:
Rather than: “Our fundraising gala is next month. Click here to get your ticket!”
Use: “Get your tickets for our fundraising gala on April 25!”
This helps search engines to attribute more context to both your page and the one you're linking to, as well as corroborating any existing information about what the page content consists of.
Links are a great way to build on the information that search engines already have about your site. Linking between pages on your own site helps to build your authority, while having other sites link to your pages can be even better. In particular, sites ending in .gov, .edu, and a few others have a better reputation with search engines, since organizations can only use those types of domain if they are a genuine governmental or educational institution. Anything you can do to get a link to your organization on sites like this will raise the authority of your site in the eyes of search engines.
If you know that your organization or a resource you've created is mentioned on a government website, but there isn't a direct link to your site, get in touch with an admin to see if they are willing to link the name of your nonprofit or resource to the relevant page. Not only will this drive traffic to your site from the government website, it will help you rank for those keywords by raising your authority in the eyes of search engine algorithms.
Strive for SEO Success
There's a myth that if you have brilliant resources and content on your site, people will automatically discover it. That's not the case, so nonprofits must make a conscious effort to ensure that potential beneficiaries, volunteers, donors, and supporters are able to find them. If you can slowly build the reputation of your organization and incorporate relevant links in the right places, you'll likely notice more people discovering and engaging with your organization. The ever-changing algorithms take a little patience to understand, but the time investment will be more than worth it once you discover what works for you.
- Take advantage of TechSoup's Digital Marketing Services.
- Get a solid start with Google Analytics with TechSoup Courses' four-course learning track.
- See a webinar on What Makes a Great Nonprofit Website.
- Find out the Top 3 Website Trends for 2023.
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