SEO Strategies for Nonprofits

Whatever your goal is as a nonprofit organization, you’re likely going to run into the same key problem: how do I get my organization in front of more donors and clients? 

In today’s digital world, one of the most time- and cost-effective ways to do both is by implementing SEO best practices across your web presence.

Rather than focusing all your time and energy convincing the general population to become donors or hoping your resources land in the hands of the people who need them, we’ve compiled a guide to help your organization connect with the people who are already looking for you. 

Why is SEO important to my nonprofit’s marketing strategy?

SEO, or search engine optimization, can save you time and money in the long run. Instead of spending resources on outreach that may or may not find your target audience, you can market to more qualified leads and spend your time and money where you can get more return on investment. 

This is true for potential donors of course: between someone who sees your organization on a flyer on the street vs. someone who has just searched for “(xyz) charities to donate to,” the latter almost certainly has a much stronger intention to donate. 

The use of online donation platforms, via “donation” related Google searches, continues to rise

Online donations are becoming more and more popular every year. According to the M+R Benchmarks 2021 Report, total online charitable revenue grew 32% from 2019 to 2020. Hunger and poverty groups in particular reported a 173% increase in online revenue over the previous year. No matter your niche, digital marketing revenue is more important than ever.

Search engine optimization is also important for connecting with your organization’s target beneficiaries, people who are in need of your services and support. 

The popularity of Zoom and other online meeting platforms, online events, support groups, and resources are more popular than ever. These platforms may widen the range of people your organization can serve. And naturally, people search online for online events. But even for in-person services and opportunities, many users nowadays start by Googling “volunteer opportunities near me.” Over the last 5 years, this has become increasingly popular:

“Volunteer opportunities near me” interest over time, April 2017-April 2022

A line graph beginning April 30th, 2017, and trending upwards from about 25 to 75 until early 2020. It dips back down to 25, then jumps back up to around 50 in mid 2020, continuing to trend upwards towards 100 till April 2022.

from Google Trends

No matter how your organization meets, implementing some SEO strategies can have major benefits for nonprofit organizations. 

Our most proven non-profit SEO strategies

So without further ado, here are our top strategies you can implement today to boost your nonprofit’s SEO strategy:

1. Understand how users are searching for you 

Step one is keyword research. As an expert in your field, you’re likely much more familiar with the technical terms related to your cause. However, a layman might not be as familiar with those terms, or even know where to start! Someone who has just gotten interested in protecting wildlife may be more likely to search for something like “nature charities,” vs. “wetland habitat conservation centers near me.” It’s important to understand how people are searching for you. 

While there are a lot of tools on the internet to do keyword research, one of the easiest (and free!) tools is just Google. Start with a list of possible search terms you think people might use. Start typing each query into the search bar, and see what suggestions pop up. 

Want to go even more in depth? Try Google’s Keyword Planner – which will suggest new keywords based on your niche, a range of how many people are searching those keywords per month, and other historical data. The basic version of the tool is free, but if your organization is running Google Ads campaigns, you already have access to their more detailed search data. 

Once you have a better idea of how people are searching for you, you can use that information to make your pages more welcoming for users. 

You don’t need to go overboard and name a page something like “Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin Midwest Best Waterfowl Bird Habitat Conservation Charity Nonprofit,” but if people are using the phrase “nature charities,” a simple subheading on your homepage like “We are a nature charity dedicated to preserving the Midwest’s wetlands” can bridge the gap between a user’s initial thoughts and a richer understanding of what you do. 

Across the board, search engine bots use page headings and subheadings to get an understanding of a page’s content, so those are a valuable element to optimize. As well, your pages’ titles and meta descriptions are a great place to make use of those keywords, to give users a great first impression that you can do exactly what they’re looking for. Here’s an example of a high-quality title and meta description:

A Google search result with the title "Greater Chicago Food Depository | Chicago's Food Bank" and a description reading "The Greater Chicago Food Depository is Chicago's food bank. We provide food and hope for Chicago and Cook County. Find food and get involved. Below it are links to "Find Food," "Volunteer Now," and Donate."

From this search result, it’s very clear who the organization is (Greater Chicago Food Depository), where they are (Chicago), and what you can do with them (find food and get involved).

Importantly, both title and description are the correct word count so as to not get cut off. A good rule of thumb is generally below 60 characters for titles and below 160 characters for meta descriptions.

2. Work smarter, not harder

Competitor research is an important part of SEO research for any organization, but especially so for nonprofits. 

Competitors can be other nonprofits in the same field, but it’s also worth looking at informational resources on the same subject (i.e. nonprofits supporting people with a certain medical condition should also look at health sites like Mayo Clinic for that condition). You may discover keywords you hadn’t thought of before. 

When you’re looking at other nonprofit websites, what catches your eye? Is the mission statement and purpose clear? How easy is it to navigate to their resources or opportunities to help?

Also, take a look at the way they show up in SERPS (search engine results pages): Does the title of the link and the description under it make it clear what information will be on the page? Is their name and branding clear, or does it get cut off? 

User experience is an important part of SEO for two reasons: 

1) Search engines are constantly trying to update their algorithms to search like humans. While they’re not perfect, it’s still true that the more clear and easy to find your information is to humans, the more clear it often is to search engines.

2) Bringing people to your website is a good first step, but it’s not worth much if it’s difficult for users to convert. Is your website meeting the goals you built it to achieve: driving users to become donors or volunteers, signing up for your mailing lists, becoming clients, etc.? 

The good news is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel- competitor research can help you find tried-and-true methods to create the best version of your site. 

3. Web Accessibility

If you haven’t already considered your website’s accessibility, now is the time. Web accessibility is not only important for inclusivity and legal reasons, it’s also an important element of nonprofit SEO. The easier your site is for assistive technologies like screen readers to parse, the easier it will be for search engine bots. Here are a few things you can do to make your site more accessible:

Alt text

For images, make sure all non-decorative files have alt text to explain what the image contains. If the image doesn’t add any information (for example, stock images or graphic design elements), it can be considered decorative and the alt text should be left blank. Here is a guide to writing quality alt text.

Document readability

If your site hosts documents, PDFs, infographics, or other informative resources, there are ways to ensure that those are readable by humans and bots alike. Whenever possible, the clearest way to present most data is simply text directly on your website. However, in some instances, file attachments or images are preferred. 

For documents (no matter the file type), using section headings, lists, and simple fonts goes a long way toward readability. When section headings and hyperlink text are descriptive, a search engine bot can quickly scan a document to determine the topic. The more quality content you have around your nonprofit’s area, the more search engines will recognize you as an authority on the subject matter, and the higher you will rank. For the curious, here’s a more in-depth document accessibility guide from WebAIM. 

If you’re using PDFs, the same standards apply, but you must also ensure your PDFs allow the content to be read as text, rather than as an image. A quick way to check if your PDFs are readable is to try to highlight and copy/paste a section of text. If you can, you’re in the clear! It’s readable by both screen readers and search engine bots.

Informative anchor text

Whether in documents or on your website pages, try to avoid vague phrases like “Click Here” or “More” for buttons and links. Not only does that make it hard for screen readers to keep track of location on the page and accurately convey where a link leads, but you’re also missing out on an opportunity to deploy those keywords you found earlier to show search engines the quality of your content. For example, “Sign Up” could be a button on nearly any page on the entire internet, whereas “Register for Chicago Therapy Groups” explains a lot more about what that organization does, where, and how they do it. 

4. Make sure your site works on mobile devices

Mobile performance is important for more users than ever; according to the M+R Benchmark Report, nonprofit mobile audiences grew by 26% in 2020. 

That means that if your site doesn’t work properly on mobile, all of your SEO efforts will have gone to waste for over a quarter of your users. 

Not only that, but Google uses mobile site speed to determine how user-friendly they believe a page to be. This site speed affects all of your rankings, not just on mobile! You can check your mobile and desktop site speed with Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool, which will also provide you with recommendations on how to improve any less-than-optimal scores. Testing how navigable your site is on mobile is an easier task, just try it out on your phone! 

While the perfect strategy can take time to define, investing in your nonprofit’s SEO can make all the difference in reaching potential volunteers, donors, or clients who are truly connected to your cause. When in doubt, the most important thing to remember is the clearer your content is for your site visitors, the clearer it will be for search engines.

Take your nonprofit SEO to the next level

Pilot Digital’s mission is to grow our clients’ businesses so they can do good by their team, their families, and their communities. While we’re proud of our ongoing work in the nonprofit sector, we’re always looking for new ways to support our community. To that end, we’re excited to share our next project: Do Good By. 

Three stylized butterflies in yellow, red, and blue. The wings of each form the first letters of each word in the phrase "Do Good By."

Do Good By is an initiative to do good by our own community by pledging digital marketing services at no cost to nonprofit organizations across the country. Nonprofits that are selected receive 6 months of ongoing SEO, PPC, and web skills assistance to not only improve your web presence, but put your organization on a path to continued growth and improvement so that you can continue to do good by your community.

Our first partner is the Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy, an organization working tirelessly to improve the lives of people diagnosed with a range of peripheral nervous system disorders and bring awareness to these conditions. We’re pleased to support the important work FPN is doing and to help them reach even more people.

Think that your organization is a good fit? Have questions about implementing the SEO strategies above? Let’s chat.

Posted in SEO