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SEO for Nonprofits Part 1: Why Nonprofits Can’t Ignore SEO

SEO has gotten many labels over the years.

It’s been dubbed a lifesaver, the only approach that matters, and also complete bullsh*t. This is because SEO has changed--and so have the people who “do” and sell SEO as a service.

In reality, we shouldn’t be talking about SEO as a “service” per se. It’s not something you can just buy. You can’t hire someone to “do SEO” and they will scamper off to make it happen. In the modern age of search and social media, the whole process has become much more complex than that.

WTF is SEO?

The whole point of SEO is to increase organic (read: free) search traffic to your website. It’s about being found when people search online. For example, we want this site to come up near the top of the search results when someone searches for either “Brooks Digital” (branded keywords) or “Nonprofit Digital Agency” (non-brand keywords). Ideally, we’d also like to be found by people who are looking for information on a certain problem that we can help them solve--like, say, “SEO help for nonprofits.”

This involves a coordinated strategy of optimizing the website in question, building a strong brand and reputation online, and developing a content marketing engine that answers questions or provides answers for people who are searching. (Hint: This post is specifically targeted at nonprofits who want help with SEO, because we can help them.)

You can’t fake the SEO process. You can’t hack it or trick it or achieve overnight results.

Good SEO--the kind that brings in lots of relevant traffic to your site from people who actually want to be there--is the result of strong planning and dedicated marketing efforts. It’s not a cheap trick or a one-time magic spell.

SEO is:

  • The result of creating great content and building a good online brand

  • Predicated on proper site architecture, code, and organizational structure

  • Incredibly valuable, if done correctly

SEO is not:

  • A magic cure-all that will drive traffic instantly

  • One-time process or “fix” to your site

  • A small tweak or update that makes your site optimized

SEO matters to nonprofits

One thing that we often hear from NPOs is that SEO is just a luxury--it’s an added item that they can’t afford and it only matters to for-profit business.

This couldn't be further from the truth.

As I’ll discuss more in part two of this post, SEO really should be seen as much more than just optimization. It’s brand building, it’s awareness, it’s traffic, it’s fundraising, it’s engagement. All of those factors come with a standard SEO agreement. And not only does it create immediate value for the organization--through the creation and promotion of content, social media marketing, and other tactics--but it also builds a foundation for residual traffic that comes from establishing authority for your website.

The ongoing flow of free traffic to your website from a well-executed digital marketing and SEO strategy can easily be worth millions of dollars.

SEO costs money, there is no doubt about that. But so do many things which provide less value. Consider this an investment with huge potential returns.

SEO matters to nonprofit constituents

Even beyond the business value that nonprofits can get from increasing their online brand, improving search rankings, and bringing in more traffic, SEO also helps nonprofits do what really matters--serve the needs of their constituents.

Whether it’s supporters who already know about your work and are trying to find your website to get more information, or simply people who are looking for an organization that can help with their situation, online search is the number one way that people find resources online.

Studies have found that as much as 64% of the web’s total traffic comes from search engines. This isn’t just a “nice to have”--it’s critical.

This is another reason why a broader view of SEO--which involves content marketing and PR tactics--is so critical to success online. Having a simple site that has “About” and “Contact” pages works well for attracting people who are already familiar with your organization. But what about those who aren’t searching for you specifically, but just looking for information related to the cause that you serve? Your site should be planned, built, and optimized with an extensive and growing content library in mind.

Think of it this way: The more content you have on your website, the more chances you have to rank for more keywords. We call this your “search footprint”.

So with those points in mind, it’s clear to see why SEO needs to be a mission-critical initiative for your organization. But, now what?

Most organizations have no idea where to get started on SEO. Or perhaps they know the basics of on-page optimization, but have no clue how to start building authority around the web. That’s what the next part of this series is for.

In Part 2 of SEO for Nonprofits, I’ll go step by step through the process of creating and executing an SEO strategy, including the broader digital marketing tactics and strategies you need to build authority and rise in search rankings.

Part 2: How to Develop and Execute an SEO Strategy for Your Nonprofit

Tyler Hakes