Title of the blog post overlaid on an image of someone doing SEO on their computer

Imagine you see a billboard advertising an amazing deal: A popular retailer is offering 95% off all items. Excited about the sale, you share the information with your family and friends and make a beeline for the nearest location.  

But what if the billboard was in a field in the middle of nowhere, and no one could see it? Not only would the retailer be wasting its resources, but it would also be missing out on the opportunity to connect with customers. 

Like the billboard, your nonprofit’s website has a lot of potential to be an excellent tool for communicating with your audience, whether you focus on animal welfare or the performing arts. But your website won’t do your organization any good if your audience can’t find it! That’s where search engine optimization (SEO) comes in. 

What is SEO? 

Whenever you search for something on Google, a results page pops up. This page gives 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. These bots use a variety of factors to determine which web pages will appear at the top of the results page. 

According to NXUnite by Nexus Marketing, SEO is “the process of fine-tuning your nonprofit website to perform better on search engines like Google so that more people will see your website and be able to engage with it.” In other words, SEO helps you appear higher up on the search engine results pages. 

When you improve your site’s SEO, you increase your organic traffic, which is 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 organic search traffic is paid 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 website and its content. 

Optimizing your site for search engines can be a big undertaking, but there are some things you can do to start improving your performance right now. Let’s take a look at three tips!

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

Even though search engine bots will  crawl and rank your web pages, it’s important to remember that your website should be built first and foremost for human visitors. 

To completely evaluate or even overhaul your user experience (UX), Cornershop Creative suggests you consider working with a web design agency well-versed in nonprofits’ unique website needs. In the meantime, here are some best practices your nonprofit team can use: 

  • Brand your site to your mission. Whether your visitors are on your homepage, blog, donation page, or web store, they should see clear brand elements (such as your logo, slogan, or color scheme) that let them know this website 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 navigation menu that makes it intuitive for users to find what they’re looking for, highlighting your most important pages. 
  • Provide easy-to-use tools. For example, your healthcare organization’s website might offer an interactive map that lets users see different clinic locations. 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 hoping for a giant wall of text. Keep your content simple and easy to read by using headings and writing short, clear sentences and paragraphs. Your content will be even more engaging when you include images and videos to break up the text.

As you thoughtfully prioritize the UX on your website, you’ll also set the stage for stronger SEO performance. After all, search engines are looking to share the best content on the web. Great UX 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 go through the process of selecting a keyword they want to try and rank for: 

  1. Polar Bears Forever, a nonprofit organization focused on polar bear conservation, hosts an annual fun run fundraiser event
  2. 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. 
  3. The organization could target a generic term like “fun run,” but would likely end up competing with lots of other websites for this term, so instead they conduct keyword research and choose something specific like “Polar Bears Forever annual fun run” or “fun runs for polar bear conservation.” 
  4. Finally, Polar Bears Forever begins creating content around its chosen keywords to increase the likelihood of its website ranking for those terms. 

To optimize your content for your keyword, make sure you’re using it naturally throughout the piece—a good rule of thumb is to use the term once every 200 words or so. You should also include your keyword or a variation of it in your title and headers. This signals to search engines that your web page is the best source of information for users searching for those terms. 

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 other high-quality websites link to your website. 

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, abide by these best practices:

  • Create high-quality content that other websites will want to link to. 
  • Take an ethical approach to secure backlinks instead of trying to game the system. 
  • Form connections in your industry and swap links or guest blog posts with your colleagues and partner organizations.

So, whether it’s a blog post about your upcoming alumni reunion 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 tool for your mission if your supporters can find it. By applying these quick SEO tips, you’ll improve how your website performs on search engines and connect with more people who are passionate about your mission and ready to support it.

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.