SEO Best Practices for Nonprofits
By: Emily Friedrichs
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. In a nutshell, it’s how to get found online, because search engines account for 51 percent of website visits (Backlinko). Since donors often do online research on nonprofits in addition to asking their friends about places to give back, SEO is necessary to your nonprofit’s online visibility. Incorporating SEO into your nonprofit communications and outreach initiatives is one of the most cost-effective marketing options out there, and can also yield major results for your nonprofit. SEO can directly raise participation in your organization, boost donations, better your name recognition and authority, and increase exposure to your cause.
Ready to get started spiffing up your SEO efforts? Here’s a checklist of five nonprofit best practices:
1. Set Up Google Analytics
Without Google Analytics, you’re flying blind with your SEO. Google Analytics lets you gain insights into the traffic on your website: where your visitors come from, how they navigate your site, and which content they find useful. Google Analytics can also help you identify sources of problems with your technical SEO. Technical SEO refers to the factors beyond your content and its popularity that also contribute to your site’s ranking. Ultimately, it is what allows search engine spiders to crawl your site and index it appropriately. Technical SEO includes site design and architecture as well as factors such as site speed, mobile optimization, and page redirects. While most of the latter are parameters that can be checked and corrected using tools within Google Analytics, your site’s design and architecture will need to be updated periodically by rebuilding your website to match current technologies – like responsive design, increasing accessibility requirements, and the growing importance of visual and voice search.
2. Yoast SEO Widget and Other SEO Tools
In terms of content optimization, the Yoast SEO widget is a great place to start. The WordPress plugin provides a checklist to make sure that all of your on-page SEO is up to par. It is also the best way to learn what you need in order to optimize your content moving forward. There are also many free SEO tools that give you actionable insights for improving qualified traffic from organic search. For a list of the top recommendations for nonprofits, check out this SEO for Nonprofits Guide.
3. Use a Content Management System, or CMS
To keep your content organized, use a CMS such as WordPress, which can be integrated with Salesforce. Using a CMS is necessary because search engines prioritize sites that are regularly updated with new content, such as blog posts. Choosing a CMS that is also open-source makes it much easier to stay current with criteria and technical updates that affect your search ranking, such as removing Flash plugins that slow loading times.
4. Learn Best Practices for On-Page SEO
On-page SEO refers to the actual content of your website, and the steps for optimizing it are relatively straight-forward, with a multitude of free internet resources to help you. A simple checklist should include: conducting keyword research, using structured headers, adding links, utilizing natural, human-friendly language, and where possible, employing keywords early on in text and in titles and anchor text.
Two things that are often overlooked, however, are backlinks and the treatment of images and video. For backlinks, it’s important to edit old content in order to add links to new content, which will help the new content gain visibility and rank higher in search results. For images and videos, in addition to compressing them and limiting the use of large files in order to maintain loading speed, you’ll also need to write unique descriptions for image alt text. This is oftentimes overlooked, but is also a part of Google’s algorithm, just like having unique text for titles, meta descriptions, and content.
If your organization has never implemented or hasn’t been regularly maintaining SEO, you’ll likely need a full SEO audit in order to bring your content up-to-date. If the website is also new, or currently buried in search results, you may also want to consider also employing Search Engine Marketing (SEM), such as the $10,000 monthly Google Ads Grant program.
5. Invest in User-Experience (UX)
Investing in creating a fantastic User Experience (UX) will directly and indirectly impact your SEO. UX directly improves SEO because Google measures people who enter and then abandon your website because it’s not easy to use. The resulting high bounce rates and low conversion rates drive down your site’s ranking.
UX also indirectly improves SEO because it facilitates backlinking and sharing. These two measures are the major drivers of what is known as off-page SEO. Off-page SEO is essentially a popularity contest: it is a measure of how much people share your content or create new links that refer back to it. And just like how people recommend an organization when their experience is helpful and positive, they also share and link to websites when those sites are user-friendly.
6. Seek Out Expert Advice
There are a lot of stories out there about how your SEO can go terribly wrong. When looking for advice, make sure you’re turning to reputable SEO experts. If you decide to work with a nonprofit SEO specialist, make sure to check references. If you take the DIY approach, be sure you have time to regularly monitor your website and a strong enough understanding of SEO that if things start to go south you can quickly course-correct. With SEO, what took months to build up can be destroyed in a matter of days with some misplaced code.
If your nonprofit is not yet invested in improving its SEO, here’s a simplified expression: improving your nonprofit’s SEO = online visibility = more volunteers and donations. The answer is, your nonprofit needs to be thinking about SEO.
What’s next? For more advice on going from updating your website to bringing in recurring donors to support your mission, read this research on recurring giving. The research is based on real donations to 115 organizations across 9 different verticals, analyzing:
- 115 donation pages
- 4,117 email communications
- 534 direct mail letters
- 83 phone calls
You’ll get actionable advice you can use to improve your donation page today!
About the Author
Emily Friedrichs is the Communications and Partnerships Manager at Elevation, a nonprofit digital services agency. Her commitment to social justice and service began in her youth in New Hampshire and has stayed with her across the globe decades later. Emily has been both volunteer and activist for organizations working on human rights, poverty elimination, non-violence, and cultural exchange. She has taught in underprivileged communities in New York and Buenos Aires. Emily is passionate about community-building and behavioral psychology, and excited to be working at their crossroads in nonprofit technology.
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