More people would give to your organization if they could only find you. But could a nonprofit SEO strategy actually make a difference in your fundraising?
I remember when the check came in that we had all been waiting for, addressed from a high-status and brand-new donor. The amount printed inside the envelope that we all read — $250,000.
But how did they even find our small nonprofit, we asked. “I searched for human trafficking charities in the area and you were the first to come up. That’s where I started my research.”
A simple Google search and our nonprofit’s SEO strategy had earned a quarter of a million dollars to support our cause. This was one of hundreds of donors of various sizes who gave because they found us through Google first.
And with the right SEO strategy, you can do the same for your organization’s search results and fundraising goals. Here’s how to get started.
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You want to start by determining what your website as a whole should rank for. What’s the simplest version of what your website offers to users? It should be a combination of what content you share / plan to share and what your ideal donor would be searching for that can be answered on your site.
Now, this term can be broader than the specific pages on your website will be. For example, International Rescue Committee's core keyword may be their name or the broad topic of the refugee crisis around the world, whereas their page about their work in the US ranks #1 for the term “refugees in America.”
You also don’t want it to be too broad. For example, Charity: Water wants to rank for more than just the term “water” because this will be competing with every water company as well as searches for water bottles, bodies of water, etc. Instead, they want to rank for phrases like “clean water charity.”
So, your homepage will rank for your branded keyword (your nonprofit’s name), and a key phrase that either describes the problem you address, your solution or your unique insight.
Next, you want to find all the related topics people are searching for around your core keyword phrase. To start, you could simply search your keyword phrase in Google and see what comes up.
When you start typing “education nonprofit,” what does Google autofill in the search bar? You may see “education nonprofits in Nashville” or “education nonprofit jobs.”
What other results come up when you search “global homelessness”? You might see articles about global homelessness statistics or how to solve homelessness.
You can also use a tool called Answer the Public to formulate questions people may be asking about your topic.
And there are also a number of SEO tools you can use — some even offer nonprofit discounts on their software.
These tools will allow you to find related keywords, phrases and questions people are asking. And you can even sort them by which words are being searched most frequently and how hard they are to rank for.
What you want to do next is group these terms together into articles and pages you’ll create.
You may want a whole page called “Facts about [the problem you solve].” And this can contain any questions people have that can be answered with key facts, ratios, infographics and more.
If you have a unique approach to addressing your problem, you could have a page that’s all about your solution and the many questions people are asking about it.
When people ask the same question in a slightly different way, you can combine them into one article. When people use a variation of the same keyword, you can add them both to the same page.
If the keywords related to your nonprofit are not terms that people are often searching, you can get creative with your content. Start to think about what your ideal donor would be searching for, even if that’s not you or your branded keywords.
Your ideal donor may be looking for volunteer opportunities, corporate social impact programs and other ways to give back to their community. It may be more broad, though. If your donors are parents, could you create content that’s family focused?
If they are often business professionals, you could create something tailored to their industry that will draw them to your site. Then you can talk about how companies in their sector match donations.
At New Story, a nonprofit innovating to end homelessness, we found that not a lot of people were searching keywords around “global homelessness.” So, we focused on a couple of things.
First, they were searching for one of our solutions: 3D printing homes. So we leaned into that on our website and ranked well for it.
But when it came to the problem of homelessness, we did something pretty interesting. We wrote about other problems that people were searching about and showed them how building a home affects these things.
We wrote about how building a home protects people from human trafficking, provides clean water and business opportunities and keeps families together. And now generous people who cared about all kinds of causes were coming to our website.
When trying to rank for a keyword phrase, search that term and find the top articles that come up for this topic. Then, study them. Try to understand why these articles ranked in the top 10 results for this topic.
Look at the format. Was it image-heavy, started with a strong video, short and text-based, or a media-rich long-form article?
Examine the headers and subsections to see what content they related to this one blog post or landing page.
Find areas that you could follow or replicate in your article. And find ways to optimize your post so it’s better.
Does their page load slowly? Optimize your images and other areas of the page so your content loads quickly.
Does it take a while for them to give a clear answer? Create an index at the top of your article that internally links to specific article sections, written with clear answers so that Google might even use them as snippets.
Once you’ve written your compelling article for people, it’s time to do something for Google. You want to find ways to naturally integrate your article’s keyword and variations of it throughout your page.
This should be included early on in the title, your meta description, in your first paragraphs and paragraphs throughout. Your headers should feature it a few times. It even comes down to how you name your image and video files. As well as what’s called an alt tag on your images.
You don’t want to overstuff these keywords anywhere. In fact, Google really doesn’t like that. Instead, it should feel natural. Name an image what’s actually in the image and, wherever possible, use the keyword.
Use the keyword and variations of it 4-6 times throughout the article. Remember, it doesn’t have to be the exact phrase. Switch it up to account for the different ways people will be searching it.
This way you can capture people searching for both short-tail keywords (the shorter, simpler versions of your keywords) and long-tail keywords (the longer variations of keywords that make things more specific). For example, “water charities” is the short-tail keyword and “water charities in the US” is the long-tail keyword.
One way to tell Google and users which content should rank for what terms is to link between your different pages and articles. In fact, your pages need links from other pages to tell Google they even exist. And with the right strategy, this will tell search engines specifically what those pages should rank for.
Remember, you don’t want every page to rank for everything. Or any page to rank for everything, for that matter.
You want each page to rank for its specific keyword or set of keywords. You’ll want to keep track of which pages you want to rank for each of these. And then you want to find where that can naturally fit.
In fact, I’ve already done that in this article. When I was talking about SEO tools to use for your nonprofit, I mentioned that some tools “offer nonprofit discounts on their software.” And I link just like this because then you’ll read the article and see that the tool MOZ offers a 70% discount for nonprofits on their tool.
Now, one thing that’s really important is what text you choose to hyperlink. This is called your anchor text. This anchor text tells Google what phrase should be associated with that page.
So, you wouldn’t want to hyperlink using the text "click here" or "follow this link" because it gives no context for what this page is to search engines.
Instead, you want to use your keyword or a natural variation. For example, I linked on the phrase “nonprofit discounts on their software” because the phrase I’m trying to rank for is “nonprofit software deals.” And this was the most natural variation of that.
I’ve also realized as time has gone on that this article ranks for the specific tools I list. So, I could have linked above where I said, “MOZ offers a nonprofit discount” because this will help it rank for search terms that have naturally developed from this article.
At times, you can even add it in as almost an advertisement that links to your other articles. For example, I could say:
If you like learning about SEO and nonprofit marketing, here are 22 nonprofit marketing conferences you should attend in 2022.
I like to italicize these, or you could bold them, so they stand out and people can see that they’re promoting something and are separate from the article.
You’ll want to start with articles that are already ranking so that you’re linking to your best stuff. This will help both your existing article and the new one you’re writing to gain credibility with people and the robots that scan your site.
Internal linking makes a lot of sense to people; it’s just linking to your own content so people can see more of it. With external linking, you're linking this article to outside sources, even at times competitors. Why would you want to do that?
With both people and search engines, external linking gives your articles credibility. It can be a key ranking factor with the robots. And people will trust you more because they know you’re the source they can rely on to bring them the best information, even if it’s not yours.
It can be as simple as citing your sources for a statistic or an idea. For New Story’s articles about the water crisis, we went as far as linking to other great nonprofits in the water space.
I get it, going that far may not feel comfortable for you. But as you write an article, clearly you’re going to research it. Where did you get your information? Even if you don’t link from your paragraphs, you could include a section of sources at the bottom that you link to.
When I added links to other great lists of nonprofit conferences to my article about them (yeah, even the ones that ranked above me), it helped move my article up to the second position in search results.
Now, something you want to avoid here is linking out with the keyword you’re trying to rank for. This is where you can get creative again. For example, if I want this article to rank for “nonprofit SEO strategy” and there’s another source that’s similarly titled, I won’t link using the name of the title. Let’s say SEMRush wrote the article; I would hyperlink their name instead.
It would look like this: “SEO strategy for nonprofits by SEMRush.” This way, my page isn’t telling Google that I think another page is better at answering that phrase, just that they also have something valuable to add to this discussion.
This way you can freely share other valuable resources with your audience.
Your sitemap is a map that tells Google how to navigate your website. It’s built by your internal links. That’s why you want to make sure you’re linking between pages. And submitting this to Google and Bing will help your website have a better chance of showing up in search results.
Most web tools will create these for you. And finding it is often as simple as going to yourwebsite.com/sitemap.xml. You’ll want to look up how your platform creates these by searching for your web platform and sitemap. For example, “How do I find my WordPress sitemap?” Or you could reach out to your development team.
There may be multiple sitemaps based on how your website is set up. For example, your donations, shop and blog pages are built out separately. You’ll want to get all of your sitemaps for this next step.
It’s actually quite simple. You’ll want to create an account on Google Search Console. You’ll need to verify your domain and then submit your sitemap or multiple within the platform.
To do the same for Bing, you’ll then want to create an account with Bing Webmaster Tools and follow the same steps. Because you will have already set up your Google account, Bing allows you to connect your accounts and it saves you time on the verification step.
Once you set up your sitemap with Google and Bing, they’ll periodically rescan your website to see new pages and how your existing content fairs.
But this could take weeks or months in between. So when you publish new content or make major updates to pages on your website, you should resubmit them to the search engines for review.
You’ll simply take the url of the new or updated page and have these sitemap tools recrawl your content. I did this when I updated my article about 2021 conferences to 2022 conferences and I’ll do it when I publish this article, as well.
This ensures your content is as up to date as possible with Google and Bing.
Claim your plan to make fundraising easy.
When optimizing content, you want to start with the pages that are already ranking. Moving into or within the top 10 results will make the most valuable difference for your content’s search traffic.
This is because people’s search behaviors have changed. Most people no longer scroll to page 2 or 3 of the search results to find what they’re looking for. They’re most likely to simply search something slightly different if it’s not in the first few results.
An overwhelming majority of people click on the first result on the search page. This is the first organic result that falls right under the sponsored ads. From there, the second result receives about half as many results. And it continues to drop at a similar rate throughout the remaining top 10 search results.
Getting on that first page is key. And moving smaller numbers up makes the biggest difference. For example, moving something that ranks #2 to the top spot will gain you double the search traffic every month.
So, your goals are to optimize content that ranks #1 so that it’s up to date and stays in the first position. Then work on your #2 rankings and get them to #1. Anything that’s top 10, work to move it into the top 4. And anything in the top 20, work on getting them to the top 10.
Anything beyond that should be saved for last, if at all.
Similar to when you’re writing new content, you can start optimizing content by seeing what the top results are doing well, and what you can do even better.
Some of those things will be out of your control. Those websites may have a much higher domain authority and strong backlinks from reputable sources. But, there’s a lot you can control.
Similar to when we covered this when writing new articles, you can look at their format, media and keywords included. What sites are they linking to? You could add them as a source in your own article, so that you benefit from some of their domain authority.
Optimize your articles and pages to be a better version of the best parts of the top-ranking article. Keep it up to date and you’ll have a chance to claim that top-ranking spot.
One of the best ways to keep people coming back, and Google happy, is to keep your content updated. The simplest example of this is how every year, marketers end their year by updating their blogs about things in this year with what’s coming next year.
For example, I updated my blog that had nonprofit marketing conferences in 2021 to those in 2022. And you’ll want to do that every year.
More practically, you want to use this same idea with all of your content. If you’re talking about something in the future, and that time has come, adjust your content to talk about it in the past.
Have current events or strategies changed how you talk about your programs or how you show your expertise on a subject matter? Update your articles and pages to reflect that. Nobody wants to come to a source they trust, you, and find that your information is outdated or inaccurate.
The same goes for links. As you link both internally to your website and externally to others, you want to make sure you’re sending people to the right place. Has that page's url changed or has it been taken down altogether? Well, you may be sending people to a 404 error page and neither your visitors nor Google likes that.
You can use free tools like the Atmos broken link checker to scan your pages and see if anything is broken.
Keeping your links and content up to date will help you stand out and impress both potential donors and the robots.
Depending on how old your website is or how much you’ve published, you may have a lot of old pages that no one visits anymore. These are called zombie pages. And they’re hurting your chances of ranking.
Google and Bing want to recommend not just articles but reputable websites to people. Your domain authority is a combination of a number of factors including which websites backlink to you, how long people stay on your site and how valuable your pages are collectively to users.
10 high-performing pages will beat out websites with dozens or hundreds of zombie pages any day. Now, you don’t need to get down to 10, but if you have 100 pages (80 of which haven't had a visitor in years), then you have some work to do.
Here are your options. You could simply unpublish pages that aren’t getting any traffic and are underperforming. This will ensure you have fewer but better pages on your website.
You could combine pages that have similar, competing content. This will allow you to have one page that’s super rich with content related to that topic. As long as it’s not too overwhelming, this may serve as a better option to answer your readers’ questions and give them a better experience.
As you unpublish and combine pages, you’ll want to make sure to set up redirects to any pages that have had visitors. For example, if you combine two articles together, the first url should now send people to the new article.
Finding ways to create new content, optimize existing articles and combine or remove underperforming pages will show Google and your potential donors that you’re worth their time and interest.