Imagine a retail business puts up a billboard advertising an amazing deal—95% off all items in their store. Anyone who saw the billboard would get excited about the sale, sharing the information with their family and friends and making a beeline for the nearest location. Plus, the incredible deal would likely pique their interest in the business, making them excited to see what the store would do next. 

But what if the billboard was in a field in the middle of nowhere, where no one could see it? Not only would the retail business be wasting its resources, it would also be missing out on the opportunity to communicate with its community of customers. 

Like the billboard, your nonprofit’s website has a lot of potential for being an excellent tool for communicating with your audience. But it won’t do your organization any good if your audience can’t find it! 

That’s where search engine optimization (SEO) comes in. According to Cornershop Creative’s SEO guide, “SEO for nonprofits are standard web optimization practices designed to help nonprofits improve their content’s page rankings for target keywords on search engines like Google.”

There are a number of SEO strategies your nonprofit can employ to improve your website’s performance on search engines. We’ll take a closer look at what SEO is and provide you with three tips your nonprofit can implement today! 

What is SEO?

Whenever you search for something on Google, a results page pops up, giving you thousands of options for web pages you can click on to get the information you’re looking for. But you likely only consider the results at the top of the page—research shows that nearly 30% of Google users click on the first search result they see. Search engines like Google know this and deploy bots to crawl every website on the web, using a variety of factors to determine which web pages will appear at the top of the results pages when someone searches a given term. 

SEO is the process of improving your website so that your web pages appear higher up on these search engine results pages. When you improve your site’s SEO, you’ll be increasing your organic traffic, the number of visitors who land on your page after searching for a term related to your nonprofit and clicking on a search result. The opposite of this organic traffic is paid search traffic, which would be the visitors who, for example, click on a Google Ad for your nonprofit. Instead of paying for external advertisements to drive visitors to your site, SEO is free and solely based on the quality of your content and website. 

Optimizing your site can be a big undertaking. You’ll need a clear idea of who your nonprofit’s target audience is and the content that will give you the best chance of reaching them. From there, it will take some time for you to create content that is useful to your audience and for that content to be crawled by search engine bots and ranked on the results pages. 

However, there are some things that you can start improving right now. Let’s jump into our three tips!

Tip #1: Fine-tune your site’s user experience.

Even though search engine bots will be doing the crawling and ranking of your web pages, it’s important to remember that your website should be built for the human visitors who will use it! By prioritizing your human users’ experience, you’ll also be setting your site up for SEO success. 

To completely overhaul your user experience, consider working with a nonprofit website design agency. In the meantime, here are some tips your nonprofit team can use for fine-tuning your site’s user experience: 

  • Brand your site to your mission. All of your online content and resources should point back to your organization and what it does. That’s where branding comes in. Whether your visitors are on your homepage or your donation page, they should see clear brand elements (such as your logo, slogan, or color scheme) that let them know this online asset is run by your organization.  
  • Offer easy navigation. Are all of the pages on your website structured in a logical order, and easy to access? One of the best ways to optimize your navigation is to create a nested navigation menu that highlights your most important pages and includes links to your less important pages. 
  • Provide easy-to-use tools. The right tools can make it easy for your supporters to take action for your cause. Carefully consider the tools you’re offering on your site. For example, your event calendar might be able to sync with your visitors’ personal calendars so they never miss an opportunity with your organization. Or, you might include a matching gift tool on your donation page so donors can easily look up their eligibility. 
  • Make your content easy to digest. No one clicks on a website expecting to read a novel. Keep your content simple and easy to read by writing short, clear sentences and paragraphs. Your content will be even more engaging when you include images that break up the text. 

As you thoughtfully prioritize the user experience on your website, you’ll set the stage for stronger SEO performance. After all, what search engines are looking to rank is the best content on the web. A great user experience will signal that you’re likely checking other SEO boxes as well!

Tip #2: Target specific keywords. 

A keyword is simply a word or phrase that a user types into a search engine. You want your content to rank high up on the search engine results page for keywords that relate to your organization and its cause. So, you’ll need to spend some time carefully choosing keywords that you want to optimize your content for. 

Here’s an example of how a nonprofit might select a keyword they want to try and rank for: Say a nonprofit focused on polar bear conservation hosts an annual fun run fundraiser. This organization, Polar Bears Forever, has a web page dedicated to its fun run and wants to boost the page’s SEO performance so that more search engine users can learn about the event. 

While they could target more generic terms like “fun run,” Polar Bears Forever would likely wind up competing with dozens of other websites for this term. Instead, they could target something more specific, like “Polar Bears Forever Annual Fun Run” or “fun runs for polar bear conservation.” Not as many people will be searching for these terms, but the users who do will more easily find the information about the even they’re looking for. 

Once you’ve decided on the specific keywords you want to target, you’ll need to optimize your content for those keywords. To do this, make sure you’re using your keywords naturally throughout your written content—a good rule of thumb is once every 200 words. You should also include your keyword or a variation of it in your title and headers. This will signal to search engines that your web page is the best source of information for users searching for those keywords. 

Tip #3: Lean into the power of linking. 

In addition to your website and the content that’s on it, search engines also take into account how frequently your website links to other high-quality websites to determine how your pages will perform. 

These links back to your website from other sites are known as backlinks, and they pass on link equity (sometimes referred to as link authority or link juice). Link equity is essentially a “vote of confidence” for your website in the eyes of search engines. In other words, when a high-performing website links to your website, it helps your content look more trustworthy and useful, which can factor into how it’s ranked.

To secure backlinks to your website, you can leverage a few different strategies: 

  • Create high-quality content that other websites will want to link to. 
  • Ensure you’re working within the boundaries set by Google and other search engines—take an ethical approach to secure backlinks instead of trying to game the system. 
  • Form connections in your industry and swap links with your colleagues. 

So, whether it’s a blog post about your upcoming peer-to-peer fundraiser, or a guide to volunteering with your city park cleanup crew, look for natural opportunities to secure backlinks to your content. You can also provide backlinks to other nonprofit websites—doing so will make you a great citizen of the web!

Your nonprofit website will only be an effective communication and marketing tool if your supporters can find it. By applying these SEO tips, you can improve how your website performs on search engines and connect with more people who are passionate about your mission.

Ira Horowitz

Ira Horowitz

With 15 years’ experience, Ira is an expert in nonprofit online communications and online fundraising. His work has resulted in increased funds and resounding supporter engagement for hundreds of organizations. In his current role at Cornershop Creative, Ira oversees the project management team and works with clients to provide them with the best possible product. He also manages all strategic engagements and helps guide nonprofits to determine their long-term strategic goals for online communications.