These nonprofit SEO tactics can help your philanthropic organization get in front of the right people at the right time.

Here you’ll learn:

  • Why nonprofits should prioritize search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Which tools to use for new content ideas
  • How to adjust on-page SEO for nonprofits
  • Website elements these organizations should prioritize

If you were watching TV regularly in 2008, you may remember that one commercial for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) — you know the one, starring Sarah McLachlan. The ads feature the singer’s haunting “Angel” ballad amid a backdrop of sad-looking cats and dogs.

This ad was so effective it not only garnered national media coverage, but a record number of donations to the nonprofit (roughly $30 million) as well.

The lesson: Strong marketing tactics have always been a key part of any nonprofit organization’s success.

And now, with online and mobile giving becoming the preferred method for potential donors and making fundraising much more seamless, nonprofit organizations are digging deeper into digital marketing.

With more modest team sizes and budgets that can’t exactly afford a celebrity singer-songwriter, nonprofits often have to get creative and remain agile to stay afloat. Luckily, a solid SEO strategy can help bring awareness and organic traffic to these org websites without breaking the bank. 

A nonprofit SEO strategy isn’t drastically different from a for-profit organization’s. The goal is to attract website visitors with high conversion potential. The only difference is that the nature of conversion involves donating, event attendance, volunteering, and other types of involvement, rather than buying.

Why is SEO for nonprofits important?

SEO involves following a set of strategies to rank higher in organic spots on search engine result pages (SERPs). SEO for nonprofits comes with a variety of benefits:

  • Competitive edge – SEO can be a low-budget marketing strategy that helps you compete against bigger organizations.
  • Visibility – These efforts help donors and volunteers find your organization on the internet.
  • Local attention Local SEO tactics allow you to reach local audiences that show interest and engagement through search behavior.

Besides attracting donors, high visibility can raise awareness about an issue, thus serving one of your nonprofit’s core goals: promoting social causes or advocating a certain standpoint.

The three pillars of SEO

OK, so the jury’s still out on exactly how many pillars of SEO there are and what they mean. Some say there are three elements: authority, relevance, and experience. Others say the pillars are technical, content, on-site, and off-site.

We like to keep it simple, so let’s go with these tree: on-page, off-page, and technical.

On-page SEO

No surprise here: On-page SEO mainly deals with the elements of your website. It’s all about doing what you can to ensure each page of your website is primed to be easily crawled by search engine bots so they can find out what your site is about and serve your content to the right searchers.

On-page SEO means elements like:

  • Optimized content focused on keywords, value for the reader, and E-A-T (expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness) standards
  • Meta descriptions
  • Headers and title tags
  • Images with alt text
  • Keyword optimization
  • Working internal links

Off-page SEO

While you have a little less control over SEO not on your website, there are plenty of things you can do to ensure third-party sites represent your nonprofit accurately. The main action item here is to ensure all of your organization’s info is accurate across all of your external profiles on other websites.

Off-page SEO can include:

  • Backlinks
  • Social media profiles
  • Guest posts
  • Review site profiles
  • Local SEO (like directory listings)

Technical SEO

This is arguably the most important SEO type. It’s a bit more complex than on-page and off-page, which means lots of businesses tend to ignore it. But the truth is, having healthy technical SEO is essential to hitting your organic search goals. Plus, some of your on-page efforts will also fall under the technical SEO umbrella.

Technical SEO refers to factors like:

  • Schema markup/structured data
  • Complete meta data
  • Site security (having “https” in your URLs)
  • Mobile-friendly web pages
  • Proper site architecture, sitemaps, and navigation
  • Swift page speeds
  • Thoughtful URL structures

Keeping all of these objectives in mind, let’s go over key nonprofit SEO tips.

nonprofit team

The content you create can be repurposed and made into different types of media, thus keeping your marketing costs low. (Image: Rawpixel)

1. Make sure your website is user-friendly

The Google search engine (and alternatives like Bing and DuckDuckGo) pay special attention to the user experience (UX) on your website. Besides creating an intuitive user interface (UI) and using a thoughtful, easy-to-navigate design, don’t neglect these technical SEO issues:

  • Page speed – Pages should load in under 2 seconds. Any longer, and users will likely hit the “back” button, which isn’t great for your bounce rate.
  • Text readability – A top-notch content structure (smaller paragraphs, headings, sub-headers) can help you win the fight for competitive keywords.
  • Interactivity – Your website should respond to the user’s input in less than 100 milliseconds (according to Google’s Core Web Vitals ranking factors).
  • Mobile optimization – With 25% of donors using smartphones to make donations, mobile optimization is key. And since more than half of all searches are done on mobile devices these days, Google has adopted a mobile-first indexing strategy.

Pro tip: If your website is user-friendly, visitors tend to stay on it longer. This increases the “session duration,” which, according to some evidence, is a Google ranking factor.

2. Focus on your content

Content reigns supreme when it comes to SEO for nonprofits. But sharing valuable information doesn’t just bring donors to your website — it also raises awareness for your cause.

Here are a few things to consider when writing content for your nonprofit’s website:

  • Keywords are crucial: The foundation of good SEO rests in keyword research. Discover what keywords, phrases, and questions are being searched relating to your area of service. Tools like Ahrefs Keyword Generator and Moz’s Keyword Explorer offer free insights into search volume (i.e. the number of searchers typing in a word or phrase in a month).
  • Write quality content: Using those keywords, put your passion on paper, so to speak and create content that will educate, inspire, and engage.
  • Update the old: Check your previously written articles (if you have any) and make sure they include enough organic mentions of your keyword. (By the same token, don’t overdo the keyword inclusion — this is a black hat SEO technique called keyword stuffing.)
  • Make it pop with pictures: Keep readers engaged by pairing your text with visual content, such as graphics, images, or videos. (In 2020, video was the #1 form of media used in content strategies.)
  • Diversify your content: Common types include blogs, white papers, lists, and case studies. Don’t forget images and infographics for easier sharing on social.
  • Solicit help for ideas: Source content ideas from volunteers, donors, and competitors.
  • Aim to educate: Provide value and educate your audience with guides, how-tos, and downloadable templates if applicable.

Pro tip: The content you create can be repurposed and made into different types of media, thus keeping your marketing costs low.

3. Take advantage of free tools

An important advantage of nonprofit SEO is its reasonable budget. It’s possible to achieve many initial SEO content-related goals by using free or low-cost tools that are readily available online.

AnswerThePublic and Google Trends can help you learn what your target audience is interested in, with the aim to create high-quality blogs. You can also use BuzzSumo to discover what type of content is currently popular to find potential outreach opportunities. Platforms like Semrush and Moz can assist with targeted keyword search as well.

Even if you have excellent content ideas for your website, SEO tools can help you figure out what will resonate most with your target audience.

4. Boost your backlinks

If content is king when it comes to SEO for nonprofits, link building is the queen.

That’s because search engines pay special attention to websites that link back to your site. If credible, high-authority websites link to your site, you are more likely to rank highly.

Unfortunately, there’s no “secret trick” to getting quality backlinks — it’s often simply an investment of time and effort. But when you work in nonprofits, you understand what investment means and why it’s worth it.

The good news is that this investment is much the same as promoting your cause: Use the right words, be passionate, paint a picture, and grow your reach.

  • Write guest blog posts for trustworthy, high-authority websites that allow adding a link to the writer’s bio or your website.
  • Share hard data, annual reports, and statistics collected by your organization. Then, reach out to reporters and bloggers through sites like Help a Reporter Out (HARO), Quotd, and SourceBottle to put that information (and a source link) to use in their articles.
  • Create highly shareable content like infographics. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then a picture with words is worth a million.
  • Add social sharing buttons to each content piece. More over, make sure your posts have attractive images that will engage a social media scroller when they come across them in their feed.
  • Ask your community: Corporate sponsors, donors, volunteers, and new sources are all great options for links to your site. Can’t make a contribution but want to help? An in-kind sponsorship of a backlink with details could be worth a line or two in an event program!

High-quality backlinks can be hard to acquire. But through consistency, they often yield excellent SEO results.

nonprofit volunteering

Besides helping volunteers find you, staying on top of local SEO can lead to additional partnerships and opportunities. (Image: Unsplash)

5. Make the most of local SEO

Whether you’re hosting a drive, hoping to recruit volunteers, holding an event, or attracting donors, people need to be able to find you.

Your community is your greatest resource for engaged individuals to support your mission. Local SEO is the fast track to being visible to those in the community you’re trying to reach.

Ways to increase your local search visibility include:

  • Create a Google Business Profile listing so your nonprofit website shows up in response to “near me” searches.
  • Register your nonprofit on Google Maps to make it easier for volunteers to discover your local offices.
  • List your organization in local directories to help your target audience find you.
  • Take advantage of local target keywords when creating website content.
  • Create location-specific pages for each office, if applicable.
  • Try to get backlinks from local businesses, charities, and other nonprofits.

Besides helping volunteers find you, staying on top of local SEO can help you generate awareness in your community, which can lead to additional partnerships and opportunities.

Pro tip: Keyword research and SaaS platform Semrush has its own list of recommendations in the realm of SEO for nonprofits. These include (obviously) using keyword research to drive content strategy, growing brand awareness through linkbuilding, prioritizing site UX, keeping local SEO top of mind, and staying on top of your social media presence.

6. Optimize your on-page elements

As explained above, the three types of SEO are on-page, off-page, and technical. To make your site more appealing and optimized for search engines and users, make sure to keep these on-page elements in order:

  • Create a unique and relevant page title tag for each page on your site (ideally, it should be around 60 characters).
  • Create well-written meta descriptions for each page. These should be around 160 characters. (While it’s not a search engine ranking signal, this description can impact click-through rates).
  • Include relevant keywords in titles and meta descriptions. Make sure you’re targeting different keywords with each web page.
  • Add alt text to images to meet ADA compliance recommendations and make images more searchable.
  • Make sure anchor text is accurate and descriptive, rather than vague “click here” phrases.

Pro tip: Duplicate content is another on-page SEO aspect worth keeping in mind. While not technically a penalty in the eyes of Google, having multiple pages targeting the same keyword can confuse readers and muddle your message. If you come across two similar pieces of content, consider combining them together under one URL (ideally the one that’s built up the most link authority).

The takeaway

Search engine optimization is one of the most efficient (and cost-effective) ways to generate website traffic. For this reason, SEO for nonprofits is an especially attractive digital marketing method.

By adding nonprofit SEO tactics to your overall marketing plan, it’s possible to attract donors, find volunteers, share events, and increase awareness.

Focus on high-quality content, backlinking strategies, and technical page excellence to start seeing the results you want and make an even greater impact for your cause.

And if you’re ready to put your efforts in the hands of an SEO expert who can help you do all this and more, we’d love to make that happen.

This article has been updated and was originally published in January 2021.

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