5 minute read

You can have the most amazing nonprofit website on the planet, but if nobody can find you, it’s just going to sit there and hear crickets. Nothing. No visitors, no engagement, no action, no (gasp) donations.

That’s why it’s important to optimize, or adjust, the content on your nonprofit website to play nicely with search engines like Google and Bing. You want to do everything in your power to get found by the people who need you. And a large part of search engine optimization (or SEO) is adjusting the content of your website to rank well in organic search results. Organic traffic = the people who find you via search terms, not paid ads or sponsored content placement.

The great news is you don’t need to pay an expert or spend countless hours working to boost your SEO; you just need to be strategic about it and understand some SEO basics. Here are six tips that will help improve your nonprofit site’s ranking and get you closer to the top without having to pay, which should boost that coveted organic traffic that every organization is after.

1. Define a keyword list.

Think about the specific terms that people would use to search for your organization and make a list of these keywords. You can do a little keyword research and check the traffic for each term with a tool like Google’s Keyword Planner. However, keep this in mind: Terms that are too general may have high search traffic, but don’t necessarily improve your ranking in search results. It’s better to focus on targeted keywords that are specifically relevant to your organization. Once you determine the appropriate keywords for your organization, sprinkle them liberally throughout your nonprofit website. Include them in the copy, the headlines—wherever it makes sense and seems natural.

Here’s an example: A local humane society might decide to use keywords like adopt a cat, pet adoption, animal in need, rescue dog, <your location> animal shelter or adopting a cat. These are the terms that people could use when they’re searching for a humane society, which are exactly what you want your keywords to be: specific search terms. Just don’t go overboard. Using too many keywords amounts to keyword stuffing, which can hurt your efforts to rank.

2. Limit your search engine titles to 55–60 characters.

Your search engine title tag is what appears in search results, or on the SERP (search engine results page). The rule of thumb with search engine titles was to keep them under 70 characters, but Google has changed a few things, as Google does, and now it’s best to keep it under 512 pixels in width, or 55–60 characters. Other best practices include placing keywords as close to the beginning as possible; the closer a word to the start of the tag, the more influential it is. Also include the name of your nonprofit.

3. Remember ALT tags.

ALT tags are HTML elements used to display alternative text when the element they are applied to, like images and photos, can’t be rendered. ALT tags can have a strong correlation with search rankings, so when you have images and other elements on your nonprofit website, always use a descriptive ALT tag with targeted keywords. In many content management systems, you can update both the title text and ALT text of your images as you’re uploading them to your website. Search engines may not “see” your images, but they do index the image names.

4. Develop your content strategy.

Search engines love sites that are updated with fresh content, so if you’re not in the habit of updating your nonprofit website often with new (or fresh) content, it might be a good idea to put your thinking cap on and start brainstorming. You could start a blog—a favorite of many organizations for adding fresh content, and a highly effective one providing you actually update it regularly. Creating an editorial calendar can help you stay accountable to that, and it doesn’t just need to be you or any one person writing each week. A team approach to updating a blog is often a more doable and realistic plan. 

Other content pieces you might want to consider: videos (upload them to YouTube, the internet’s second largest search engine, and post them on your site), images, white papers and articles, new webpages. Anything that adds valuable and relevant content that your visitors will actually be interested in. In other words, Google does care about the quality of your content; you can’t just add any old thing and expect the mother of all search engines to get excited and whip your website straight to the top of the rankings. P.S. Posting or updating new content two to three times a week will really help your SEO juice.

5. Have a link building strategy.

In basic terms, link building means getting other websites to link to your nonprofit website. You want links that are relevant and from sites that search engines tend to rank high. How do you do this? Let us count the ways:

  • Ask local businesses and nonprofit partners to endorse or mention your organization along with a link to your nonprofit site. (Pro tip: Links from relevant and topically similar websites are generally better than those that aren’t.)
  • Post your stories and articles on major industry websites and include links back to your website.
  • Become a featured columnist or a guest blogger on blogs that are relevant to your organization, and include a link back to your site. If you’re interested in writing a guest post for a blog that doesn’t solicit guest bloggers, ask anyway! The worst they can say is no, and if they say yes, you’ve just landed a great link building opportunity.

6. Get social.

Social signals reflect the engagement—likes, shares and comments—your content receives on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. Social signals impact SEO more than you might believe considering that Google has said they’re not a direct ranking factor. They may not have a direct effect, but studies indicate they have a significant indirect effect. The more your content gets shared, the more likely it is to be seen by more and more people, which can lead to a wider and more populous audience viewing and linking to your content. And that can end up having a big impact on your Google rankings.

And for the record, while Google might play hard-to-get when it comes to social signals, Bing has said outright that it loves social media engagement and social signals do make a direct impact on SEO—and Bing is no small potatoes. Around 24% of internet searches are done through Bing, so yes, social engagement matters.

If all this SEO talk has made you eager to learn more, you’re in luck: You can sign up, whenever it suits you, to watch our on-demand webinar, Be Found: The Secrets of SEO for Nonprofits. You’ll get more tips, tricks and ideas for how to optimize your nonprofit website and get it climbing in the ranks of search results in no time. It’s the perfect lunch-hour companion or a quick educational break when you need to focus on something new. Check it out when you have time.