How not-for-profits should optimise their website content for search

by David Toporzisek
August 11, 2020

For most organisations, organic search is the number one source of website traffic. But search engine optimization (SEO) can be an intimidating topic: it can be very technical, take a long time to implement, and can take weeks or months to see results.

That being said, SEO is an incredible source of value to not-for-profits, and there are some simple things you can do to optimise the content on your  website to get more visibility in search engines.

Search engine optimisation (SEO) means making it easier for your donors and supporters to find you on search engines, like Google, by creating relevant and useful content.

This guide will focus on optimising for the most popular search engine, Google. Following these instructions will also help you gain visibility in other search engines, like Bing.

SEO helps supporters find you in search results for specific words and phrases

“Keywords”, or “search terms”, are the words and phrases that people search for in search engines. When those search terms match the information available on one of your web pages, search users are more likely to see your website.

To make that happen, we have to clearly communicate that information to search engines, through the process of “search engine optimisation”, or SEO.

Google invests a lot of effort in developing their search ranking algorithm, and in interpreting what people are really looking for when they use a search engine. Google now not only looks at your keywords in isolation, but also:

  • Synonyms, spelling mistakes, typos, and other variations on a keyword

  • Your location, to contextualise results

  • Past search history to tailor what is useful for you

The goal is to rank highly in search engine results: the vast majority of people click on the first or second result in Google. And to do that, we need to know how to optimise our pages for search.

Here’s a full guide for not-for-profits to optimising your page for SEO:

Find the best keywords for your website and pages

The first step to optimising your page for SEO is to know the keywords you want to rank for. You likely already rank highly for your organisation’s name; what are other words people might use for your organisation, your work, and your programs?

  • Start by finding words or short phrases that describe your  organisation’s mission or programs, for example “youth homelessness”.

  • Think about the kinds of words your audience might use to describe these topics. They might use language that is very different from yours! If you’ve developed empathy maps or user personas, try to describe your organisation from each of their perspectives.

  • Start broad and narrow down: consider broad keywords for your topic, then develop more specific words. For example, broad keywords might include youth homelessness organisation, and something more specific might be Melbourne youth homelessness organisation

  • Use search tools: There are many tools out there to help you find the best keywords to target.We recommend Google Keyword Planner (available within Google Ads and Google Grants), Keywords Everywhere (an affordable browser add-on) and Moz Keyword Explorer (a comprehensive SEO tool with a free tier).

A note on keyword stuffing: An important part of SEO is clearly communicating what your page is about to both search engines and humans.

You may be tempted to add lots of your newly discovered keywords dozens of times on each page, to ensure the topic is clear.  That was a common SEO tactic in the early days of Google, but the priority now is writing informative, in-depth and clear content. In fact, if your pages over-use a set of keywords, Google might penalise the page for ‘keyword stuffing’.

Build your page with the anatomy of a search result in mind

There are some specific elements that help search engines understand what your page is about, and contribute to higher rankings. These elements are visible in search results, and can increase the likelihood of someone clicking on your results.

    • Page Title: tells users what your page is about. It should be less than 65 characters and clearly describe what is on the page, using at least one of the keywords you’ve identified.

    • Page Description or “meta-description”: provides more information about what the page is about. This should include keywords identified above and a call to action to visit the page.

    • URL: your URL should be clear enough that potential visitors can understand what the page is about just by reading it. If your CMS makes your URLs very long, work with your web developer to remedy this.

Search result for

Ensure your page is designed with the layout of a search result in-mind.

Create content that your donors and supporters are searching for

When creating optimised content, remember your donors and supporters come first. Google simply provides them with relevant results, so make sure you’re writing based on what they want to read.

Create content that both Google and supporters are interested in reading: Blog posts, service pages, success stories and donation pages that are relevant to your users can bolster your website’s SEO. Here are some tips to ensure content is of high quality:

  • For your most important pages, write long-form content that is between 500-2,500 words long. Research has found longer content performs well in search engines: it’s better able to answer questions about a topic.

Graph shows that higher content length leads to higher search position

Source: serpIQ. Long form content performs well on Google.

  • Include relevant images, video and links related to the topics.

  • Use headings, subheadings and bulleted lists to break content into sections to help Google understand the structure of your content.

    • <H1> tags should be used for the title, and <H2> or <H3> tags for subheadings.

Article from ntegrity using H1 and H2 tags

Source: ntegrity. Break your content into sections to help Google understand the structure of your content.

  • Images on your website should be compressed so they load quickly, and should include descriptive ALT-Tags that identifies the content of the images for search engines.

Build your SEO for local audiences: local SEO is the practice of optimising your page to attract more donors, volunteers or employees from relevant local searches.

If your not-for-profit operates in a specific region, local SEO is important. Here are some tips to improve local SEO for your NFP:

Get other websites to link to your content

Link building is the practice of getting other websites to link to yours. For not-for-profits, link building is an incredibly beneficial, yet underutilised SEO tactic. Essentially, when a website links to your content, it’s a signal to Google that your website is informative and trustworthy, which increases the likelihood that your content will be visible in search engine results pages.

Fortunately for not-for-profits, there are many businesses, partners, advocates and websites that want to be associated with purpose-driven organisations. Here are a few simple recommendations to build links:

  • Reach out to organisations that are associated with your not-for-profit, such as corporate partners, and ask if they can link to your website..

  • Identify where your not-for-profit is mentioned online using tools such as SEM Rush, Google Alerts or Ahrefs, and see if these places include a link back to your website. If they don’t, get in touch with the website owner or contributor.

  • Share your content on social media. This will ensure that people who are interested in your content read it and may add a link to it from their own website.

Measure your results

Most importantly, remember to monitor your results as you implement these changes over time. SEO is an incredibly valuable marketing channel for not-for-profits, because it’s free, but it does require some effort and patience.

Here are some of the tools we’ve used in the past to monitor results for our not-for-profit clients:

  • Google Analytics, to monitor organic search traffic, find out what pages people are exploring and gain an insight into the types of keywords they’re using to find you. Ensure that you also have Google Search Console connected to your account.

  • Moz Pro has a great keyword tracking feature that shows your changes in rankings over time, and offers guidance on simple optimisations you can make.

  • Authority Labs is an alternative to Moz Pro that lets you track keyword rankings and discover changes in search results. It is an affordable alternative to Moz with a strong focus on rankings.

SEO can be a challenging topic for not-for-profits, but optimising your content is the first step in gaining visibility in search results.

ntegrity has helped dozens of NFPs build and implement their SEO strategy. If you’d like to see what an SEO strategy would look like for your organisation, drop us a line.