SEO for nonprofits can be a great opportunity to grow your online presence. As purpose-driven organizations, charities and nonprofits face unique challenges when it comes to connecting with your base digitally. While businesses in the private sector focus on selling products and services, nonprofits and charities need to fundraise, build a donor base, raise awareness, and champion causes. It is a long-term undertaking that involves keeping your base engaged and attracting more people to your mission.
If digital marketing has been playing a greater role in your overall outreach strategy in recent times, it’s likely you have heard of SEO, and for good reason. SEO for nonprofits can be a powerful, inexpensive way to help your organization reach its marketing goals.
In this article, you’ll learn what SEO is, why SEO for nonprofits is important, why you need SEO even if you are already running paid search campaigns via the Google Ad Grant, and how to get started without needing experience with HTML code!
What Is SEO? SEO for Charities and Nonprofits
SEO stands for search engine optimization and represents a technical set of activities utilized to make a website “friendly” to search engines. A website that a search engine algorithm can properly “read” will improve the opportunity for people to find your website and discover your brand through ranked organic search results.
Check out the image below to see the ranked result for a search on “Bing.com” using Google.
Organic listings appear for free on search engine ranking pages (SERPs). By contrast, cost-per-click (CPC) search listings are paid ads shown at the top and bottom of SERPs. If your organization has received the Google Ad Grant, you already have access to CPC listings.
Although paid ads get more prominent positioning on a search engine, organic results can be incredibly effective for digital marketing. While users do look at ads, they turn to organic listings for the most relevant and reliable information. According to one study, the top 3 organic search results receive 75% of all clicks. This is what makes SEO a powerful digital marketing practice. The ability to rank high in SERPs raises your nonprofit’s visibility and attracts high-quality traffic.
Why you should be focused on SEO for nonprofits: It raises awareness and more
The ultimate goal of SEO is to bring visibility to your organization through organic search listings. A well-built website supported by SEO can raise the profile of your organization and its mission. It gives you the opportunity to tell the story of your work and impact to people who are using search engines to investigate your social issue or cause area you work in.
This is where SEO and SEM is at its most powerful—it connects you to users who already have an interest in your area of work and are most likely to convert into supporters, donors, newsletter subscribers, and volunteers. It can also connect you to your constituents and make sure the people who need your help can get it.
Do I need SEO if I use the Google Ad Grant?
Google serves more than 5 billion searches per day. While the Google Ad Grant has the potential to transform your digital marketing success, it puts a daily budget cap on your search ads. When that daily budget is exhausted, your ads stop showing. Depending on the bid cost and traffic volume, the total number of daily or monthly visitors coming to your website through paid search campaigns might not be enough to meet your organization’s goals. SEO for nonprofits, on the other hand, is organic and can grow your website traffic exponentially over months and years.
Here at ConnectAd, we educate our nonprofits clients on how to maximize their online opportunities by using SEO for organic listings and CPC for ads together. In tandem, they improve total visibility in search engines.
Not only does this strategy increase the total number of opportunities for searchers to click to your site, but it also improves those odds longitudinally. CPC (also known as pay-per-click, or PPC) helps you generate traffic and brand awareness immediately, while SEO builds up over time, bringing in a steady flow of traffic. In this way, SEO can help you spread your message and reach more people long after an ad budget has dried up.
How does SEO work?
There are a myriad of different technical tasks and responsibilities that can go into building SEO, but for the purposes of this article, we focus on the fundamentals needed to get your website visible to search engines.
At its most basic level, SEO is the process of making your website and online content friendly to web crawlers for search engines. These web crawlers “crawl” the Internet, gathering and interpreting website text and content to determine the most useful information available to web searchers.
SEO helps web crawlers understand the content on your website so they can provide useful links to that content in relevant search results.
Now that you know the value of SEO for nonprofits as well as what it means and how it works, let’s move into a practical application of SEO. We’ve put together a 7-step SEO checklist that’s easy to follow so that you can start improving your website’s SEO today.
How To Do SEO Yourself – A 7-Step Checklist
In this section, we’ll introduce you to 7 simple steps you can take for SEO. With over 200 ranking signals used by Google, we focus on best practices that are easy to implement and don’t require any coding. You may be surprised to discover how much you can do for SEO without the need to know any programming languages.
With more than half of all search queries now taking place on mobile devices, Google switched to mobile-first indexing for all websites in 2020. This means that web crawlers now assess your website content based on how it looks on mobile devices.
To ensure you have a mobile-friendly website design, work with your web developers to use responsive web design that is flexible and renders nicely on any screen size, operating system, platform, and orientation (landscape vs. portrait). So if you want to rank well in web searches, you’ll need to check that your website is readable and renders properly on mobile devices.
Short web URLs
URLs are scrutinized by both web crawlers and humans, and when it comes to SEO, easy-to-understand URLs are ideal for both. Complex URLs can create issues for web crawlers, and illegible URLs have a negative effect on readers, resulting in lower click-throughs.
Non-optimized URL (bad)
SEO-optimized URL (good!)
URLs that are simple and have the keywords related to your webpage’s topic will give readers the best preview of the content they will find on your website. It also helps them feel confident that choosing your search listing is the right choice.
Google revealed several years ago that HTTPS is an important ranking signal for SERPs. HTTPS keeps the connection between your organization’s website and user browsers secure from malicious web activity.
Secure HTTPS connection is not only great for SEO, it’s important for your website overall. Because it provides protection from hackers, HTTPS goes a long way for safeguarding your nonprofit’s reputation and building trust with donors, constituents, and other important stakeholders.
Concise, descriptive page titles
Page titles are the first things users see when scanning a search engine page full of search results. The window of opportunity to grab the attention of a user is short. Clear, descriptive page titles that explain what users will find on your page provides the best user experience and increases the odds your site will attract your target audience.
When it comes to SEO, concise also means keeping your titles short. The amount of space for a title is limited. Try to stay within 50-60 characters or less so that readers can see the entirety of your title.
High quality content
The goal of search engines is to provide a useful service to users through access to reliable, accurate information. If your website can help search engines accomplish this mission, your rankings are likely to perform better than sites that don’t do the same.
So how do you go about creating helpful and substantive content? Try starting with answers to common questions that your audience might have about your cause area. It’s also recommended to write long-form content and avoid having your webpage look too sparse with only a paragraph or two.
If your site takes too long to load, that creates a poor user experience. Few people these days wait for more than a few seconds before giving up on a site. A slow load speed factors into your search engine rankings, so you want to have a fast-loading website that keeps people engaged. Get a free speed analysis for both web and mobile from Google’s PageSpeed Insights.
For some, the suggestions for speed improvement that PageSpeed Insights provides might be too full of technical jargon. To keep things as easy as possible, choose the most reputable webhost with reliable speed and uptimes you can afford. If you’ve done that but still aren’t getting the site load speed you want, consider working with SEO professionals. Here at ConnectAd, we’ll help decipher, prioritize, and execute recommendations to get your site in great shape.
SEO plug-in installation
SEO for nonprofits doesn’t have to be difficult once you get the basics down. In fact, installing free SEO plug-ins might be the most intimidating thing you do. SEO plug-ins are great for most content creators because they make it possible to do more search engine optimizations without needing to manually edit the HTML.
Depending on the content management system (CMS) or web framework used for your website, an SEO plug-in can you save you a lot of time and reduce the need for maintenance. We use Yoast for WordPress, but any SEO plug-in that is compatible with your CMS should be able to help you optimize metadata and other techy SEO tasks.
SEO is about being search-engine friendly, but it’s about people, too
In this article and checklist, we have provided essential steps to ensure that web crawlers can index your website and understand your content, but that’s just the beginning of SEO. The goal of search engines is to provide useful information to its users, and that should also be the goal of every website.
SEO can sometimes be enigmatic for even the most experienced SEO practitioner because results don’t happen overnight. Moreover, search engines don’t disclose all the signals that factor into their search algorithms. This is intentional. Search engines like Google don’t want content creators to focus on SEO signals, they want creators to develop great content they can serve up to users.
Advanced SEO tactics (not discussed in this article) can help your overall nonprofit digital marketing strategy. If you are short on resources and time, we recommend that you focus on using these SEO principles to enhance the user journey for your audience. Providing an excellent end-to-end user experience establishes trustworthiness and increases the odds of a web visitor returning to your site. For nonprofits, this can be an important step in building a loyal support base to help you reach your digital marketing goals.
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