Nonprofit SEO - How to Start with SEO

October 11, 2017| by Peter Sohal

As a nonprofit you are probably all too familiar with the three scourges–time, money and lack of resources. These are challenging times for everyone, so you have to leverage every advantage in order to continue your mission. Your website can be your most powerful business tool, but only if:

In today’s hyper-competitive markets, SEO skills are increasingly critical to the success of your organization. But many nonprofits wrestle with too many competing priorities to give SEO its proper due. All too often, the problem comes down to sheer inertia. It is hard to start something that seems complicated and technically esoteric. However, there are simple steps that can get you on your way and position yourself to do more in the future.

1. Set up the tools that measure SEO

SEO is search and data driven. For most organizations search means Google. Net Market Share puts Google’s share of the search market at 78.78% in September 2017 for desktop searches and a whopping 96.76% for mobile/tablet.

Start by setting up Google Analytics for your web site. If your site runs on a CMS (Content Management System) like Drupal or WordPress this can be a pretty straightforward task; one that can be implemented through modules and plugins. Once in place, this will help you track site traffic and your visitors’ behavior on your site. You will have access to a treasure trove of data that you can use to see which content works the hardest for you and make decisions on how to improve your search engine rank. The next step is a little harder, but involves configuring specific goals for website to track (e.g. getting a donation) and setting up reporting to monitor website performance.

Google is the undisputed star of this SEO universe, but a supporting cast of search engines still have their parts to play, and you should consider connecting their analytics programs to your site. Bing and Yahoo, Baidu and Yandex analytics are all useful, and some of them have neat features and metrics not found in Google.

For additional data and functionality beyond Google Analytics, you can open a Google Search Console (previously Google Webmaster Tools) account. This no-charge web service goes beyond visitor traffic and behavior to reveal how the search engine interacts with your site and provides clues as to where fixes and improvements can be made.

If you have internal search set up on your website, that is an excellent way to discover what content visitors actually want to find. Your CMS may already have internal site search enabled. Study your site search results to learn what visitors are looking for and to inform your organization's content strategy.

Don’t ignore local search. Google is putting more emphasis on local search results, so your efforts in getting local listings and reviews will be rewarded. Find out why local search is more important than ever.

seo analysis
SEO tools provide data to generate reports and make decisions
2. Review your website and focus on SEO keywords

SEO keywords help connect your visitors to your site, so it is important to do some keyword research via Google. One way to do this is by signing up for a free Google Adwords account. There is no obligation to use the paid service, but that option is always open if you want it. To start, you may just want to populate your site with keywords that you want to be found for by integrating them naturally into your content. For paid campaigns, longtail keywords will be cheaper and be less competitive. Many nonprofits have achieved success using them. Another step you can take is to evaluate keywords using Google Trends to identify search interest for a particular term by time, location and popularity. This great tool even lets you compare terms side by side so that you can see which is trending higher.

PRO TIP: Google is offering free, yes, really! free Adwords money for nonprofits $10,000 USD per month for organizations that qualify. Find out if you are eligible to apply for an Ad Grant. We can help you both apply and manage your Adwords campaign, just contact us.

keywords seo
Help connect visitors to your website using keywords for SEO
3. Build it for Mobile and Get to Grips with On-Page SEO

The popularity of all our gadgets has resulted in desktop consumption of web content being displaced by mobile and this trend is forecast to continue. Mobile optimization of your website will only get more important. Many organizations have already adopted a mobile-first philosophy with regard to their online presence. To get instant feedback on your site's mobile readiness, simply enter your website URL at this Google mobile-friendly test site.

Technical on-page SEO

If you have the budget to do so, get some support on optimizing your website for SEO. Ultimately, it is not complicated, but you may need someone to help you get up to speed with the elements that are important. If your site is constructed with a CMS (Content Management System) like Drupal or WordPress, make sure your web pages use the correct tagging and title conventions for good SEO. Some CMS plugins such as Yoast for WordPress will prompt you to address these elements at the point that you create and upload content. If you make these changes part of your normal editorial workflow it will save you time and effort on something that will have to be fixed later. Other modules like SEO Checklist for Drupal  will help guide your through optimizing your site through a series of steps and recommendations.

seo technical
Good technical SEO habits can be built into your workflow
4. Create unique, interesting and shareable content


Start or ramp up your blogging efforts. If your site does not have a blog, it is easy to start one. This can seem daunting as not everyone has the time to create unique and interesting content that is share-worthy, but a blogging presence gives you a platform to tell your story, and showcase your expertise, knowledge and passion for your cause.

Landing Pages

Create the best landing pages you can. These are simply pages with a very specific purpose, usually created to prompt a particular response from the site visitor. Focus on compelling content; both copy and images, that have an emotional appeal to your target audience, and be sure to include a clear call-to-action (donate now, sign-up to volunteer this weekend, sign our petition, and so on). Ultimately, your landing pages may determine the success or failure of your SEO efforts, so they are supremely important. If you engage in AdWords or similar types of paid advertising these are the pages that you will be directing traffic to in order to drive impressions and conversions. Take a look at these examples of great landing pages for your own inspiration.

Social Media

Set up your social media channels so that they bolster the website, and cross-pollinate and assist each other. As with all inbound marketing efforts, they should use the power of integrated marketing communications to magnify your message and provide consistency and repetition. This older post does a nice job of showing how SEO and social media converge 6 Social Media Practices That Boost SEO

blogging and social media
Use blogging, social media and landing pages to attract and convert website visitors


The Final Word

Nonprofits who take the time to learn can benefit greatly from implementing SEO best practices on their web properties. As you build up your knowledge and skills you can continue to make real data driven improvements. However, if you’d prefer not to go it alone, there is help out there.

Even if your budget is modest, you may benefit from the support of an agency that can do a basic SEO website health check for you (sometimes free), and lay out a step-by-step SEO plan that lets you manage the easier tasks and progress to the more involved ones as you learn. Contact us to learn more.

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About the Author:

Peter is a creative digital marketing strategist with an advanced degree in Business Communications. He helps advise our clients on strategies for building and maintaining effective websites. Amongst other things, he loves to icefish and paint watercolors. View team members »