As a nonprofit marketing or web design professional, your job is to increase visibility and credibility for your organization’s important mission. Visibility and credibility start with strong nonprofit branding. But to succeed, you also must be active on social media, send email blasts, and enhance your nonprofit’s website, especially with search engine optimization (SEO).
SEO is a low-cost, high-reward marketing strategy that can reap long-term benefits for your awareness efforts. Whether you’ve worked in SEO design for a while or are new to SEO, it’s a good practice to familiarize (or reacquaint) yourself with the most important SEO factors that will help your nonprofit website rank highly.
Review the following SEO basics to ensure your nonprofit website is primed to rank highly on search engines:
SEO for Nonprofits: 5 Best Practices
Your nonprofit’s digital strategy must include a well-thought-out SEO plan that helps you compete in the modern information age.
When you optimize your website for SEO, you’ll increase traffic to your site and connect with a broader audience who might become faithful supporters of your mission.
1. Create valuable educational content
When it comes to SEO, content is king. If your website doesn’t offer users valuable information that satisfies their search intent, your site will have difficulty ranking higher on search engines, no matter what other SEO tactics you use to boost its visibility.
After all, Google’s purpose is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
Consider your nonprofit’s mission — what sort of valuable, accessible information can you offer the world that answers frequently asked questions or provides new insights?
The following content ideas and examples can help you present your mission-related information in a more engaging, valuable way:
- A deep dive into the history of your mission, goals, and achievements, complete with an interactive timeline.
- An oral history of the founding of your nonprofit, consisting of video interviews and a written transcript.
- A comprehensive database of the local plant and animal species your organization hopes to protect.
- An interactive virtual tour of the historical site your organization seeks to preserve.
When it comes to your nonprofit’s mission, you’re the expert. By sharing that knowledge with the world, you contribute to a better understanding of social good issues and give your site a better chance of ranking higher.
2. Incorporate relevant keyword mentions
What do “easy dinner recipes,” “volunteer opportunities near me,” and “local events this weekend” have in common? They’re all examples of keywords. Keywords are the questions, phrases, or terms individuals type into search engines to access the information they need.
Incorporating appropriate keywords into your nonprofit website’s content signals to Google that your pages are relevant to searchers’ queries.
But don’t go overboard — search engines penalize perceived “keyword stuffing” or loading your web pages with an overabundance of keywords. Use keywords in a natural, deliberate way that prioritizes quality over quantity.
Use resources like the Google Keyword Planner to determine which keywords are related to your nonprofit’s work and receive a high volume of search traffic. After you choose relevant keywords, incorporate them into:
- The page or blog post title.
- The page’s URL.
- The first paragraph of the content.
- The meta description and alternative text for images.
For example, let’s say your nonprofit is dedicated to conserving native and endangered species in the Louisiana bayou. You might target keywords such as “endangered bayou species” or “native species in the Louisiana wetlands,” creating educational resources and blog posts that explain which species are threatened, why, and how people can help.
You should also use unique keywords for each website page or blog post you create. This prevents keyword overlap or cannibalization, which happens when two or more of your web pages are competing to rank for the same keyword. When this happens, it is difficult for search engine crawlers to determine which page to prioritize in rankings, leading to the less valuable page ranking higher.
3. Update your site to be mobile-responsive
You’ve heard it repeatedly — mobile optimization is crucial for modern websites. The statistics support this claim — 85% of American adults own a smartphone, and 46% report spending 5-6 hours on their phones per day. That means your website must be mobile-responsive to capture this critical traffic stream.
Plus, mobile responsiveness is a Google ranking factor growing in importance. Google uses a mobile-first indexing approach to rank pages across the web. Designing a mobile-friendly site makes it easier for Google’s crawler bot to assess the site and index it within the search platform, allowing it to show up more readily when users search related terms.
If you’re uncertain about whether your website is ready to capitalize on mobile-first indexing, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does your website have a mobile-responsive design or theme?
- Have you manually tested the mobile version of your site and essential submission forms, such as your online donation page? You can do this easily on your mobile phone.
- Are your fonts and buttons large enough to be read across various devices?
A mobile-friendly browsing experience can also help reduce your website’s bounce rate. Mobile users won’t face any frustrating formatting issues, encouraging them to stay on your site longer.
Plus, having a mobile-optimized nonprofit website can boost your online fundraising by making the giving experience more convenient for mobile users.
4. Optimize your metadata
An effective SEO strategy requires getting the small details right. Polishing up the behind-the-scenes, on-page SEO elements ensures that the backend of your nonprofit’s website is just as optimized as the front end.
Review the following aspects of your metadata to ensure they’re clear and concise and that they naturally incorporate your keywords:
- Meta title: Also known as the title tag, this is the page title that’s visible on search engine results pages and browser tabs. You’ll want to keep this title short (somewhere around 55 characters and no more than 60) to ensure it doesn’t get cut off. Also, you’ll want to give each page a unique, specific meta title to help search engines understand what they’re about.
- Meta description: The meta description is a brief description of what the page is about. It appears as a short snippet underneath the meta title on search results pages. This description helps users know what to expect before clicking on your page, which can help boost your click-through rate from search results pages.
- Alternative text for images: Including alternative descriptive text for all visual elements improves your website’s accessibility, which is an integral part of making your content available and valuable for all. Plus, search engines can crawl alt text to understand better your images and what type of information they offer users.
- Headers: The heading tags (H1s, H2s, etc.) on a web page help organize your content hierarchically. This makes it easier for search engines to crawl each page and for users to understand the main ideas that the content is conveying. Remember, you should only ever have one H1 tag on a page: your title.
Optimizing these elements serves the dual purpose of creating a more user-friendly browsing experience while helping search engines assess and index your website’s content.
5. Seek out opportunities for off-site authority building
Another critical aspect of improving your SEO approach is building a strong backlink profile. Backlinks are links from external websites that point back to your nonprofit’s website.
Having a variety of these types of links from reputable websites shows search engines that your pages are credible and valuable. Think of it as a form of digital “vouching.” When an external organization uses a link from your website within their content, they’re using their authority and influence to signal to website visitors and search engine crawlers that they approve of your site.
So, how can you build a healthy backlink profile for your nonprofit? First, you must enhance your website’s content. By simply offering high-quality educational content, you’ll start to receive backlinks from other websites that recognize the content’s value.
Then, reach out to relevant sites for additional opportunities to supplement your backlink profile. Partnering with another nonprofit or similar organization to engage in guest blogging offers a unique opportunity to increase your nonprofit’s brand awareness among an interested audience. When your blogging partner has a similar mission or goals, you can expand your reach to a new audience, offering mutual benefits.
When planning your SEO strategy, your priority should be offering your audience members a high-quality, accessible, user-friendly website experience that gives them valuable information about your nonprofit and its mission. Once you’ve created a solid foundation for valuable content, you can begin to pursue SEO-specific optimization efforts, such as cleaning up your metadata or pursuing guest blogging opportunities.
This approach ensures that you keep the user experience front and center in your website design strategy. With a few SEO tweaks, you’ll be able to start increasing your search engine-related traffic and increasing visibility for your mission.