SEO for Nonprofits: The Definitive Collection
There’s no way to beat around the bush, so let’s just say it.
Most nonprofits suck at SEO.
This guide isn’t aimed at making you feel bad or making your organization seem outdated or uncool for not being good at SEO. It’s about providing a foundation of knowledge—a collection of resources—that will take you from, “S-E-huh?” to navigating the world of Google SERPs (search engine results pages) with confidence.
Here, you’ll find a hand-selected list of resources to help you all throughout the journey.
Start by learning the basics and then progress until you understand all of the facets of SEO and the various components that make it such a complex and difficult process to master.
Step 1: SEO Basics for Nonprofits
Before we get into any of the specifics about how to execute an SEO strategy, you should understand the absolute basics about how SEO works—and how it doesn’t.
One reason why SEO can be a difficult topic for nonprofits is that it’s constantly changing and evolving. The “rules” aren’t static. Because of this, a lot of the advice and articles on the topic quickly become outdated. Some practices (like keyword stuffing) might now actively harm your site’s SEO, rather than helping it. .
Luckily, much of the core of SEO—best practices and general guidelines—tend to stay pretty much static.
To kick off this collection of resources, we’re going to do a primer on the basics of SEO and what nonprofits need to know.
What is SEO? (via Search Engine Land)
Let’s start from square one. Search Engine Optimization is a complex matter. It’s not just a single action or process. It’s a continuous discipline that takes ongoing education and effort to do it well. This article covers the basics of high-level SEO.
SEO Basics: The Complete Beginner’s Guide (via Wordstream)
Taking it a step further, this article offers a nice visual guide to the various elements that play a part in SEO. It’s useful for understanding how different parts of your strategy come into play and affect the overall results that you’re able to achieve.
SEO for Nonprofits Part I: Why Nonprofits Can’t Ignore SEO (via Brooks Digital)
It’s tempting for nonprofits to turn a blind eye to SEO. It’s only for for-profit companies and startups—right? Unfortunately, that’s not the case. It’s important to understand the role that SEO plays in your organization being discovered by all kinds of constituents and stakeholders.
Step 2: Keyword Research
One of the foundations of successful SEO is understanding which keywords are most relevant to your organization and their audience or stakeholders.
At the most basic level, you want to make sure that your site uses the same words and phrases that people searching for your organization or services would use in their searches.
If you provide help for the homeless in Portland, then performing keyword research gives you the necessary information to optimize your site for relevant search terms (more on that later) that someone would use if they were looking for an organization like yours.
Although Google is constantly improving its ability to understand queries, closely matching the searches people perform is still a key part of optimizing your website. In order to do this, you’ll need to do some keyword research that informs you about which keywords are most relevant and most often used.
How to Do Keyword Research in 2017 (via Ahrefs)
This recently updated guide on keyword research walks through the latest tools, techniques, and strategies for doing keyword research. It offers a pretty broad look at the entire process and how it can be applied to various types of organizations.
Step 3: On-Page Optimization
At a high level, Google uses the content that is written on your website to try to understand which topics and keywords are most relevant to your site.
Then, it matches people with your site (returns a link in the search results) when they search for a topic or keyword that is related and relevant to what’s on your page.
So, in order for Google to properly understand what your website (and your organization) are all about, you need to do proper on-page optimization. This means using the keywords that you found from the keyword research process and applying them correctly to each of the pages on your website.
On-Page SEO: Anatomy of a Perfectly Optimized Page (via Backlinko)
This nice, visual guide shows you the various parts of your website that are relevant to SEO and gives examples of how to optimize them for optimal search visibility.
5 On-Page SEO Methods to Avoid (via HigherVisiblity)
Although you want to optimize your website for search, there are some definite pitfalls to avoid. Namely, you want to avoid over-using keywords or specific phrases to the point where they appear to be spammy. Keep in mind that Google in attempting to provide search users with the best results and the best experience, so anything that is done specifically for search engines that doesn’t also serve the user is generally frowned upon.
Step 4: Website Structure & Information Architecture
In order for your website to rank well in Google, it needs to be indexed by their spiders (bots that visit your site and collect information about its content).
The ability for them to do that largely comes from your site’s structure and architecture. How are the URLs and website navigation setup? Does it make sense? Is it easy to find and understand?
Creating the right site architecture for SEO is about having an intuitive user experience that makes sense for the user. It’s easy to find and navigate to different pages and content. And, as such, Google’s bots are able to easily find and index your site, too.
How Website Structure Affects SEO (via Search Engine Journal)
Learn the basics about website structure and its impact on SEO by reading this guide.
How to Create a Site Structure That Will Enhance SEO (via Kissmetrics)
This article covers the role that site structure plays in your SEO and how you can optimize it to boost your site’s visibility and make sure that your site is fully able to be crawled and indexed by search engines.
Step 5: Content Marketing
Content marketing is a cornerstone of effective SEO. It serves multiple purposes within an overall SEO strategy, including expanding the keyword set (having more pages means that you can appear in a broader set of relevant search terms). It’s also an important component of building links to your website (more on this in a minute).
Let’s start by understanding how content marketing works and why it’s important to SEO.
Why SEO Is Actually All About Content Marketing (via Kissmetrics)
This article does a great job of explaining the relationship between SEO and content marketing. Most importantly, it makes the case for why being effective at SEO is really about being great at content marketing—they go hand in hand.
Content marketing & SEO: The scalable way to be in the right place at the right time (via Search Engine Land)
Thinking about the role of content marketing and SEO over the long term, this article breaks down how these two things work together to provide you with a way to grow your site and organization in a way that provides compounding returns on your investment.
SEO Content Strategy: How to Skyrocket Your Traffic By 594% (via CoSchedule)
What does all of this mean in practice? This article breaks down how to tie SEO and content marketing together into a strategy that will help you improve your site’s visibility and bring in more relevant visitors, which in turn can help you generate a broader base of supporters, more donations, new partners, and much more.
Content Marketing 101 for the Modern Nonprofit (via Classy)
This excellent resource from Classy takes all of the above advice about content marketing and applies it directly to a nonprofit organization.
Step 6: Content Promotion
Creating great content on your website is huge!
But, unfortunately, just creating great content is not enough to get it noticed. The age-old idiom about a tree falling in a forest applies here. In order to get people to read your content and engage with your organization, you’ll need to actively promote that content in various ways.
How Content Promotion Works for Blogs Big and Small (via Buffer)
Buffer sheds some light on different tactics and strategies for how to get your content in front of the right people. This guide has 11 different suggestions for how to enhance content marketing for your nonprofit.
There are plenty of different approaches you can take to content promotion. This guide breaks them down by owned, earned, and paid media. You can understand how these different tactics work together and which ones are applicable for your content.
Step 7: Link Building
One of the key ways that search engines decide if you rank #1 or #101 for any given search query is the number of backlinks that post to your website. So, when it comes to SEO, one of the main objectives for achieving better rankings and higher visibility is getting more sites to link to your site—link building, as it’s often called.
For most people who aren't familiar with SEO and content marketing, the idea of building links can seem a bit off-putting.
The whole idea of asking someone to link to your content—something that, in theory, is supposed to happen organically—can feel rather unnatural. But, nonetheless, earning backlinks is an essential part of this whole process. And, unfortunately, just waiting for them to happen naturally can mean waiting indefinitely.
These resources will explain not only how to do link building, but give you some ideas and techniques for making it feel less forced and more about building relationships and providing value.
Link building & ranking in search engines (via Search Engine Land)
This basic overview explains the importance of building links and why you need links in order to rank well in Google.
If you’re trying to wrap your head around how to approach this without feeling dirty, give this article a read and take in some of the advice.
Link Building Tactics – The Complete List (via Point Blank SEO)
Ready to dive in head-first? Use this massive list of link-building tactics to learn all about the various ways you can try to earn links to your nonprofit’s website.