Written by Sam Yadegar on Feb 15, 2021

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

Here you’ll learn:

  • Why nonprofits should prioritize SEO
  • Which tools to use for content ideas
  • How to adjust on-page SEO
  • Which website elements nonprofits should pay attention to

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 donors, nonprofit organizations are digging deeper into digital marketing. 

With smaller budgets and more modest team sizes, nonprofits often have to get creative and remain agile to stay afloat. Luckily, a solid search engine optimization (SEO) strategy can help bring awareness and site traffic to these orgs without breaking the bank. 

Nonprofit SEO isn’t drastically different from for-profit SEO. Often, the goal is to attract website visitors with high conversion potential. The only difference is that the nature of conversion involves donating and volunteering rather than buying.

Why do nonprofits need SEO?

SEO involves following a set of tactics to get your website rising to the top organic spots on search engine result pages (SERPs). For nonprofits, this strategy 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 attentionLocal 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.

Keeping the objectives in mind, let’s go over key SEO tips for nonprofits.

nonprofit team

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

1. Make sure your website is user-friendly

Search engines pay special attention to the user-friendliness of your website. Besides creating an intuitive interface and using a thoughtful, easy-to-navigate design, don’t neglect these technical issues:

  • Page loading speed – Must be under 2.5 seconds.
  • 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 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 is king when it comes to nonprofit SEO efforts. 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:

  • 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 blackhat SEO technique called keyword stuffing.)
  • 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, whitepapers, lists, and case studies. Don’t forget images and infographics for easier sharing on social.
  • Source content ideas from volunteers, donors, and competitors.
  • Aim to 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 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.

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

Have more SEO questions? Connect with an expert

4. Work on your backlinks

If content is king when it comes to nonprofit SEO, 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 do this, your site is more likely to end up on the top of the SERPs.

There’s no “one weird trick” to getting quality backlinks, unfortunately. In our experience, the key to getting other websites to link to yours is creating highly valuable in-depth content. You can, however, speed up the process by using the following tactics:

  • Write guest posts for trustworthy, high-authority websites that allow adding a link to the writer’s bio or your website.
  • Share annual reports, hard data, and statistics collected by your organization.
  • Create highly shareable content like infographics.
  • Add social sharing buttons to each content piece.
  • If applicable, ask corporate partners, sponsors, and even other nonprofits to link to your website.

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 via Unsplash)

5. Implement local SEO

Potential volunteers are likely to turn to the web to find nearby nonprofit organizations to work with that align with their values. Your goal is to make sure your website is one of the first that they see on the SERPs.

Ways to increase your local visibility include:

  • Create a Google My Business listing so your 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 keywords when creating content for your website.
  • 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.

6. Adjust your on-page elements

There are varying types of SEO: on-page, off-page, and technical. On-page mainly deals with the elements of your website. To make your site more appealing and optimized for search engines, make sure to keep these on-page elements in order:

  • Create a unique and relevant title tag for each page.
  • Create a well-written meta description (while it’s not a ranking signal, this description can impact click-through rates).
  • Include keywords in titles and meta descriptions.
  • Add alt text to images.
  • Make sure anchor text is accurate and descriptive.

The takeaway

Search engine optimization is one of the most efficient (and cost-effective) ways to generate traffic to their websites. By practicing top-notch nonprofit SEO, it’s possible to attract donors, find volunteers, and increase awareness for your cause.

Focus on high-quality content, backlinking strategies, and technical page excellence to start seeing the results you want. 

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

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