SEO for Nonprofits: Top Tips for Landing More Traffic
Gaining online exposure as a nonprofit entity can be a difficult task. With limited budgets at their disposal, few organizations can muster spending a lot of money on Google Ads or Facebook Ad campaigns. Most small organizations must rely on organic, evergreen techniques for building a following.
Through SEO, nonprofit organizations can enjoy the benefits of getting their website featured on Google without having to pay the exorbitant costs of Google Ads.
How Does SEO Work?
Simply put, SEO is the process of creating content on your website and having it rank for certain keywords. This doesn’t mean that the content should only be there for keyword purposes, it should be content that helps and improves the experience for your users.
In fact, today’s SEO landscape is all about developing content with the user in mind. When you create compelling blogs, webinars, and video material, you are helping your audience learn more about the brand while simultaneously getting your content ranked for valuable keywords.
Experience, Expertise, Authority, and Trust
In December 2022, Google announced their latest update to the brand’s quality rater guidelines, claiming that E-A-T would get an extra “E” added to it denoting “Experience.”
E-E-A-T is an acronym that Google has adopted to explain what they look for in content. It’s essentially a quality metric that rates the credentials represented by each brand across their website and other digital properties.
Rather than strictly looking at the content itself, Google looks at who is speaking the content. Is the person a qualified representative in their niche? For example, a website with healthcare related content should feature the credentials of real physicians and specialists.
In the case of a nonprofit organization, the organization’s founder should display their credentials throughout the website as well as across their other online properties and social media entities. This tells Google you are who you say you are, and they are more likely to want to rank you for the target keywords.
Local SEO vs National SEO
There are different forms of SEO that will attract certain nonprofits. Most of them will likely choose between local or national SEO strategies, or some combination of the two.
If your organization is situated in several markets throughout the US, you will want to rank your website in each of those target markets as well as for your national headquarters.
Local SEO is specific to location-based searches, like “blood donation centers near me,” or “rescue dogs in Columbus.” The Google results for these types of searches would present map listings of nonprofits organizations, helping searchers find a facility near them.
National SEO is specific to non-location searches, like “top blood donation centers in the US,” or “disease research organizations.” These searches don’t usually trigger the Google Business Profile listings (or “map pack”), instead they provide normal organic website results.
Deciding which approach to take for your nonprofit depends on your target audience and what keywords you want to rank.
On-Page, Off-Page, Technical SEO for Nonprofits
The three areas of SEO that most organizations will need to pay attention to are on-page, off-page, and technical optimizations.
On-page SEO involves everything that’s visible for users on your website. This includes all written content, images, videos, and certain design considerations. Nonprofits should approach their on-page from both a keyword usage and user experience standpoint, utilizing keywords that people are searching for while also providing the most seamless customer journey imaginable.
Off-page SEO is everything that happens away from the website, specifically link building, citation creation, as well as social media specific activities like influencer marketing. These off-page signals will improve your domain authority and solidify the legitimacy of your on-page SEO work.
Why SEO Matters for Nonprofits?
SEO ranks your brand for keywords, but it also does many other things that can bolster your nonprofit.
Gaining awareness is challenging, especially for newer nonprofits. With SEO, you can tap into specific social issues that your audience is actively searching for and start getting them to land on your website.
A nonprofit aimed at driving donations for ALS research would want to create content that answers questions around disease diagnosis, what to expect, and the treatment process. This organization would also want to highlight key occasions throughout the year like ALS Awareness Month.
Starting with basic keyword research in tandem with Google Trends will help you determine what your audience is searching for and what they care about most in that time period.
Become Thought Leader
Raising awareness is the stepping stone to becoming an industry thought leader. As mentioned in the E-E-A-T talk, Google favors reputable entities. If you can successfully drive awareness to an issue, the rankings and notoriety will follow.
Getting people to your donation page is among the chief purposes of any nonprofit website. SEO can do this in multiple ways, 1) by ranking that donation page for specific keywords, and 2) by properly funneling traffic from other pages on your website to that donation page.
Creating an SEO Strategy for Nonprofits
There’s not a one-size-fits-all method of ranking for targeted keywords. It’s important for nonprofits to consult with marketing strategy experts to lock in a strategy that works for them.
Here are a few of the areas for any nonprofit SEO strategy to consider:
High-quality content starts with keyword research. There are many tools that can expedite this process, including the FREE Google Keyword Planner that can be accessed via any Google Ads account. This will show you the average monthly search volume and CPC value of any keyword—CPC stands for “cost per click” and is a good measure of the overall value for keywords.
Topical relevance is the key to SEO success in the 2020’s, which entails using multiple pages or blog posts to cover the entirety of a topic. You can use hub pages to highlight your main, top level keyword, and supplement them with small pages or blog posts that highlight important smaller keywords.
Long-tail keywords are also a good area to explore for a new SEO strategy. These include keywords that are made up of 2-3 words or more and they are typically easier to rank for. Examples of long-tail keywords include questions like “advantages of nonprofit donations,” “tips for finding a shelter dog.”
How are users behaving on your website in its current form? What pages do they spend the most time on and how do they navigate the website? Review website behavior using Google Analytics to determine which existing pages should be improved upon or optimized.
Existing Clicks and Impressions
Google Search Console is another critical ally when it comes to ranking and maintaining rankings. You can monitor Google Search Console to see which terms are gathering clicks and impressions, as well as the average ranking position for each term.
This can also provide key insights into what new pages should be built and what types of topics need to be covered.
Outline Your Content Strategy
Once the keyword research and page analysis is complete, you can begin listing out your content ideas for the coming weeks and months. Categorize each topic idea in the family of its corresponding keywords.
Keyword grouping will help ensure adherence to tighter clusters and keep you accountable for all the content in your planning process.
Decide Conversion Points
Ranking for new content will help you drive traffic, but then comes the question of how to convert this traffic?
Determine the end goal of any user interaction on your website. Let’s say you have a blog post targeting “the best ways to get involved this Autism Awareness Month.” The goal isn’t just to get eyeballs on this post, it’s likely to get people to transition to a donation page or sign-up for a newsletter.
This is where UX comes into play.
Using heat mapping tools like Hotjar or CrazyEgg can help you gather insights about user behaviors and interactions on a given page. From there, you can work with a web developer to make your page more conversion-friendly.
Conversion optimizations often take a backseat to keyword rankings and traffic generation, but they should be approached simultaneously. Understanding what you want to accomplish with this traffic will help you build out an optimal funnel to convert it.
Testing and Building
The testing process should be ongoing. Based on how your traffic reacts to each page and blog post, you can determine whether additional tweaks should be made or whether all new content should be written.
A nonprofit SEO strategy isn’t a set it and forget it, it should be constantly altered and fine tuned to help you get the most bang for your buck.
Nonprofit SEO Best Practices & Tips
An effective nonprofit SEO strategy involves marrying several key optimization components. There’s not one perfect solution, rather there are several steps that need to be taken to boost your organization’s search ranking.
Local Citations & Directory Listings
Websites like Yelp, YellowPages, and FourSquare provide additional search engines that thousands of people use to find goods and services. Your nonprofit should be listed on several directories like these as well as location-specific websites where people are likely to find you.
There’s also an SEO benefit to this. Google tries it’s hardest to connect your brand with details like location, i.e. what city are you in and what’s your address? Then from here they can determine what audience you serve, and ultimately help you rank for those searches.
Getting placed across local citations to your area as well as broader business directories will help Google understand your organization at a deeper level, and it will give you a more consistent NAP (name, address, phone number) so that Google can verify your legitimacy.
It’s also important to sign up for any industry-specific credentials or certifications. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) now offers a credential for charities, which could be a lucrative badge to add to an organization’s website. Adding these badges to a homepage is a great authority signal for Google, plus it ties together your entity by linking out to the BBB profile and back to the website.
Finally, local citations can increase your website’s search rankings, but you can also get referral traffic from certain citations that are ranking on their own. For example, if you type in an organization’s name, you are likely to see their website, Facebook account, Yelp, and other properties. They all provide great opportunities for users to find your brand and land on your website.
Approach Partners & Sponsors for Links
If your organization partners with any other nonprofits or businesses in your area, it’s a good idea to mention this relationship on each other’s websites. Having a “partners” or “sponsors” page will give you additional Google credibility while also helping people understand how your organization fits with other entities within your community.
Approaching potential partners or sponsors can be tricky. You have to be clear about your goals and lead with value. Explain to them how this relationship will benefit them? How will it drive them additional business or donations?
When link acquisitions are involved, make it clear that you’re not just fishing for a backlink. Most businesses today know about backlinks and might question your motives if you approach them about linking to your website. Dispel their preconceived notions by explaining how you will actively promote their brand, perhaps even providing a reciprocal link to their website.
You should approach brands with a personal touch. Always address organizations by name and mention their decision makers specifically by name, if able. This will ensure a much higher email open rate and improve your chances of securing the partnership.
What if no brands respond? It’s possible that no one will respond to your first outreach attempt, and that’s okay. It’s important to use a follow-up sequence so that you can improve the chances of getting a response. If you are using email marketing as your form of outreach, you can set up a campaign that contains multiple messages. Each message can provide information regarding the benefits of your partnership, and you can monitor the open rates of every email.
Once these partners or sponsors respond, be sure to express gratitude via thank you messages or other forms of acknowledgement.
Guest Blogging Opportunities
One of the best ways to use content marketing for authority building is through guest blogging. Guest blogs are posts written by you that live on other websites. This can improve your nonprofit SEO in a variety of ways.
The main benefit is link building. Most guest blogs allow writers to inject a backlink to their own website which can help improve SEO rankings for that page. Standards for guest posts have improved over the years, as this used to be a messy tactic that often favored poorly written content. Today, your content should be of a high-quality and utilizing original text (sorry, ChatGPT is not a smart way to go for guest posting since Google can detect AI generated text).
Once a guest post is live, the promotions process should begin. Start by asking the guest post publisher if they actively promote new content on social media. Regardless, you should promote your post across your organization’s own social channels to help drive traffic to the content.
If you have found a website that works for your brand and has a good organic following, you should talk to the editors about posting additional content down the road. They may even be a good candidate for a future partnership or sponsorship opportunity.
HARO (Help a Reporter Out) is an outreach platform that allows thought leaders to connect with journalists and website publishers who are doing research for stories.
It’s free to sign up for HARO and start getting email blasts. These emails are sent three times per day—morning, midday, evening—and contain a variety of topics that are demanding input from experts like you.
The key to maximizing HARO is to check the email blasts as often as possible. You never know when an appropriate topic will come through. A quick response will ensure a higher likelihood of the journalist reaching out to you. If they express interest in your response, make sure you follow up with them promptly and provide the most complete answer possible.
If your content makes it to the HARO story, keep an eye out for the ensuing media coverage. Grab any shareable links and place them on your website as well as across social media channels.
Making sure your website loads quickly and provides the necessary information will help you collect more sign-ups, donations, and acquire better search rankings on Google.
It starts with having clear and concise calls to action (CTAs). These CTAs should use language that compels action-taking like “Don’t Miss Your Chance to Help Find a Cure,” or “Help Us Save Our Oceans Today.”
Websites should be optimized from a mobile-first standpoint, as per Google. This means that the website should be simple to navigate and loads quickly across all user devices.
Visuals are another key component of attractiveness and UX. Nonprofits should include lots of team photos to demonstrate camaraderie, as well as photos of the actual events and fundraisers.
Adding an awards or success stories page will also help your users see the impact of your organization and how you can benefit them.
Social Media Presence
When it comes to social media, quality is better than quantity. If you’re going to create dozens of social media profiles but remain inactive, there’s little benefit.
The best approach is to decide which profiles will provide you the best exposure, and which ones you are most likely to be active on.
Once you’ve chosen the right platforms, be sure to optimize your profiles with every piece of information you are able to share. This includes name, address, phone number, as well as founding date, hours (if physical location), and category.
Engage with your followers by responding to comments, acknowledging their kind donations, and demonstrating appreciation for their support.
Social media can be a great place to share details regarding meetups and events, with platforms like Facebook allowing people to accept invites directly and RSVP.
There’s also a paid ads feature on most of the big social media channels. Paid ads can be a great step towards better exposure for newer organizations, especially before your website starts ranking for keywords.
On the website itself, it’s important to focus on high-quality content. Content should be written by physical writers, not AI services, and your pages should focus on helping users as well as on SEO.
Content should be written at a regular cadence to ensure your site remains relevant and helpful year-round. If your nonprofit is more seasonal, you should try to create content several weeks or months in advance since rankings can take a while to grow.
From an SEO standpoint, this content should be properly optimized with target keywords in your title tag and H1, but it should be written naturally and not ‘stuffed’ sounding.
Evergreen Content & Resource Center
Resource centers are valuable from an E-A-T standpoint as well as for a better user experience. These areas of your website should be treated like a library of content, with dedicated pages for frequently asked questions (FAQs), glossary items and definitions, plus any helpful external links that might help people find quality solutions to their questions.
This also could be a good section to list some of your most relevant partnerships and show users your true value as an organization.
Nonprofit SEO is About the Big Picture
Getting more organic traffic to your website is about understanding that your goal is to provide users with valuable information. You want them to understand your cause and make them feel like a valued contributor.
When you appease users you will improve your SEO rankings as well. Understand that it’s not just about getting users to the donation page, it’s about lifecycle. You want them coming back and contributing to your cause for periods to come.