SEO for Nonprofits

You know people care about your cause. You’re sure more people would give if you could just get the word out about your organization to the people concerned about the problems you help solve. 

But we live in a world full of distractions—there’s tons of competition for the eyeballs of your target audience, and even more for their wallets. Figuring out how to reach them with your message to begin with is the first challenge every non-profit has to overcome. 

54% of donors prefer to do their giving online. That makes your non-profit website a crucial tool for getting found by potential donors.

And while there are a lot of online marketing tactics you can employ to promote your website, one in particular is widely considered the best for making your website more discoverable: search engine optimization (SEO).

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10 Steps to Improve SEO for Non-Profit Websites

If you want your non-profit website to show up in the search engines when people are looking for the kind of work you do, there are a few main steps to take. 

1. Make sure your website works on mobile.

For several years now, mobile use has surpassed desktop use. A significant portion of the people coming to your website will be doing so on a smartphone or tablet. Does your site work well on the small screen?

If it’s been a few years since your last website redesign, you may not have treated mobile use as a top priority. But now it’s non-negotiable. Update to a responsive website—that means one that automatically adapts to the screen size, while keeping all the page elements the same. 

responsive web design

Building a website that’s mobile friendly may sound like a big project, but it doesn’t have to be. Because of the prevalence of mobile, any good website builder will now include responsive templates. You can get a responsive website up fast, without having to spend much at all. Our Gator Website Builder only costs a few bucks a month and makes editing your website a breeze: 

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2. Improve your website speed.

Your visitors care about speed. We’re no longer in the days of bandwidth connections, when slow-loading times were the norm. If your non-profit website takes too long to load, your potential donors will click away.

The main priority that Google and the other search engines have is to provide the best results possible in every search. Because visitors care about speed, the search engine algorithms do too. Google has been upfront about using page loading time as a ranking factor. If your website is at all slow to load, there are a number of steps you can take to make it faster, including:

That may sound confusingly technical, but most of these steps can be completed by anybody with a little time and willingness to look up instructions on how. We’ve linked each tip to a blog resource on the topic — just click each step to access it!

3. Switch your website to an HTTPS.

Any time you visit a website, you can tell if it’s an HTTPS based on two things: 

  • The URL will start with the letters https
  • You’ll see a lock icon to the left of it
example of secure website with https

When visitors see that, it signals to them that the website is secure. 

Websites that have these visual cues have taken the step of investing in an SSL certificate. That adds an extra layer of encryption, which means that any information a visitor shares with the website—including (and especially) payment details—will be harder for hackers to access. 

The search engines care about security, so give HTTPS websites more weight in their rankings. But it doesn’t just matter for SEO. Potential donors that come to your website will be far more likely to feel comfortable making online donations if they see that your website’s secure. 

Luckily, this step is extremely easy. Check with your web hosting provider, and you can usually add an SSL certificate to your subscription for a small fee, or sometimes even for free

4. Do keyword research.

Once you get beyond the more technical aspects of SEO, most of the other steps depend on keywords. Keyword research is how you learn what your audience is searching for, and the specific language they use when doing so. You can tap into a wealth of keyword data using SEO tools that show you how often people are searching for relevant phrases, how competitive they are, and provide suggestions for related keywords.

Use these tools to put together a list of keywords that relate to your non-profit’s mission. Your list will include two types of keywords:

  • Broad keywords – These are the general, descriptive words that describe exactly what you do, such as “animal shelter” or “prison book programs.” These are the kind of keywords you target for the main pages of your website, such as your home and about pages. This category can also include phrases related to the kind of help you need like “foster kittens” or  “book donations.” 
  • Long-tail keywords – These keywords are usually longer and represent topics related to your mission rather than describing precisely what you do. These are less competitive than broad keywords and the part of the list to build your content strategy around. Examples could include “how to catch stray dogs” or “most requested books for prisoners.”

    The people searching those terms aren’t thinking about donating or volunteering at the moment they’re performing the search, but they’re highly likely to be the kind of people who care about the work you do. Creating content that targets those terms will help you get onto their radar, and seeing the helpful content you’ve provided may inspire them to learn more about your organization and get involved. 

Keywords are valuable because they help you craft a strategy for visibility based on relevance. You don’t need to be found by any or everyone, but you want it to be extremely easy for the people who care about your cause to find your non-profit website. By choosing the right keywords—the ones they’re searching for—you can ensure the right people find your website when they have issues related to your mission on the mind. 

5. Optimize each page on your website for a relevant keyword.

For each page on your non-profit website, select a relevant primary keyword from your list. To optimize the page for that term, make an effort to include it in a few key parts of the page:

Whatever you do, don’t force it. Only include it where you can do so naturally. You don’t want any use of your keyword to look weird to human visitors to your site. 

If you can’t work your primary keyword into the page without it making things awkward, chances are, you picked a keyword that wasn’t actually relevant to the page. Go back to your keyword list and find a better one. Relevance is more important than search volume. 

In addition to optimizing the specific page for your chosen keyword, look for other places on the site you use that term or a similar one. Those are opportunities for internal linking. 

Google pays attention the anchor text used to link back to a page—that’s the words that are hyperlinked, the ones that usually show up in blue with an underline. Every link back to your page that uses your primary keyword in the anchor text signals to the search engines that’s what your page is about. 

You can’t control the anchor text used on other websites linking to that page, but you can for any internal links you add to your own site. So every time you use your target keyword elsewhere on your own website, link it back to the page you’ve optimized for that term. 

6. Create a non-profit content strategy.

Content marketing is a really important part of SEO because it:

  • Gives you the opportunity to target a much longer list of relevant keywords by creating content around them
  • Means you’re consistently creating new content, which tells the search engines your website is current
  • Gives other sites more reasons to link back to yours, because you have more pages providing useful information.

Use your keyword research as a starting point to build out a list of topics related to your non-profit that you can cover in your content. Supplement that by brainstorming any questions you regularly hear from donors.

Create an editorial calendar that clarifies:

  • The topics you’ll be covering
  • The formats you’ll be using for each (e.g. blog post, ebook, video, podcast, etc.)
  • Who’s responsible for creating the content
  • Deadlines for each phase of creating each piece

Content marketing does require time and resources, so don’t expect this step to be easy. But if you want to be more competitive in the search engines and reach more of the people who care about your cause, it’s a big part of effectively doing so.

7. Create high-quality content.

Don’t skimp on the content itself. In the early years of the internet, websites could game the system and get rankings by publishing a lot of low-quality content stuffed with target keywords. Now Google’s worked to crack down on that and ensure only high-quality sites show up in the results.

For your content marketing to pay off, it needs to provide accurate, helpful information in a way your audience finds engaging. Try out different content formats to see what they respond best to.

And test different approaches. Some examples could include how-to posts and videos, interviews with the people your work helps, and infographics that collect relevant stats that show the breadth of the problem you’re working on. 

8. Promote your content.

When you’re trying to reach potential donors or volunteers who have never heard of your organization before, you can’t count on them to find your content on their own. Over time, as you build up your SEO authority, people will start to find it via the search engines. But that doesn’t happen overnight.

To get your first viewers, you need to give it a boost. A few content promotion strategies to consider include:

  • Sharing it on social media
  • Sending it to your email list
  • Sending it to prominent activists working on your cause that may share it
  • Guest posting on relevant websites to spread the word about your organization and build backlinks back to your site
  • Using search and social advertising to expand your reach on each platform

Many of the metrics search engines use to determine a website’s authority depend on getting traffic to begin with, so your content promotion strategies are important to boosting your SEO. 

9. Build links.

The hardest part of non-profit SEO is link building. Many of the steps on this list require work, but you have control over getting them done. Link building depends on convincing other people to update their websites to include a link back to yours, which is a whole other level of challenging.

But non-profits have something going for them businesses don’t in this area: you’re doing something good for the community! 

People are more likely to respond well to requests for help from a charity doing meaningful work than a company trying to sell products. Here are a few strategies you can try to build links to your non-profit website:

  • Create a listing on all relevant directories – Do some Googling to identify relevant directories. This includes general non-profit directories like Guidestar and Idealist, local and state non-profit directories, and cause-specific ones. 
  • Reach out to related non-profits – Other organizations doing similar work are your friends. Sometimes non-profits will have a whole page on their site devoted to linking out to other organizations doing work they respect, so you may be able to get on their list. Or they may be willing to partner with you in creating content together or doing a joint initiative that results in a backlink on their site. 
  • Reach out to local businesses – It’s a smart business practice for local companies to associate themselves with good causes. Reach out to local businesses to see if they’re interested in a partnership of some sort. If they agree to donate a percentage of all profits for a night to you, or to host a fundraiser for your organization, they’ll inevitably link back to your website when promoting it. 
  • Release and distribute press releases for newsworthy updates – Anytime you have an event, start a new initiative, or even get a significant grant, that can be a reason for a press release. Write one up and distribute it to the main press release websites and any relevant publications that may cover it. 
  • Make it easy for journalists to contact you – If a journalist or blogger is working on a piece about your cause and needs an expert source, you want them to come to you. Provide an obvious email address on your website for all press inquiries. 
  • Find unlinked mentions of your non-profit – If a website mentioned your non-profit without linking back to your site, that’s a backlink opportunity. Contact the site owner to ask them to add a link.

Link building is challenging, but links play a huge role in how Google decides how authoritative a website is. Every link you build on a reputable site makes your own website much stronger in terms of SEO.

10. Perform regular SEO audits.

At least once a year, do a review of your site to look for opportunities to improve your on-site SEO. Check your analytics to see which pages are performing the best and which are underperforming. Identify content that would benefit from an update to make it current or otherwise more valuable.

Re-evaluate your keyword strategy. Are any of the keywords driving irrelevant traffic? Are any more valuable for getting donations than you expected? And look for new internal linking opportunities for the content and pages you’ve added in the last year. 

This is a step many non-profit website owners neglect, but it can help you make the work you’ve already done on creating content and improving your website’s on-site optimization go further. 

Why Does SEO Matter for My Non-Profit Website?

If you’ve made it to this point in the post, it’s obvious that none of this is easy. SEO is competitive and doing it well requires a sizable commitment in time and resources.

But search engines are the first place most people go today when they’re looking for anything—the answer to common trivia questions, directions to get to a store, a new pair of boots, and information on causes they care about. 

Improving the SEO of your non-profit website is how you make sure the people who want to donate, volunteer, or otherwise get involved with your cause will know where to find you. It’s hard work, but the type that will pay off in helping you advance your cause. 

For help putting these best practices into action, contact HostGator’s SEO Services. Our SEO experts will put together a strategy just for your non-profit website.

Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.