SEO 101 Guide for Nonprofits

Do your organization a favor and spend a few minutes studying this guide. Bookmark it, and use it as a reference later.

Intro

SEO stands for "Search Engine Optimization". The main goal of SEO is to get your website or service in front of the eyes of more visitors.

There are many technical ways to optimize websites, but this primer focuses primarily on the non-technical tactics you, or someone in your organization, can deploy to get more traffic to your site.

One key thing to understand when it comes to SEO is that search engines rank pages, not websites. When you search on Google, each of the 6-10 results you see are links to pages, not websites. Keep this in mind when reading our best practices guide, and while taking action on your SEO plans. You are not just optimizing a single website, you will need to optimize each page you want to drive more traffic to.

Your homepage may bring in search traffic, but often times most search traffic visitors land directly on secondary pages (ie. a product page, or an article page). You won't notice this until you can see your traffic statistics. If you do not have stats tracking ability, the very first thing you need to do is get this set up. We recommend Google Analytics. It works great, and it's free, no matter how large or small the organization. Enough said. There are many tutorials around the web on how to get this set up on your pages and start tracking relatively quickly.

This is our guide to low-hanging fruit for nonprofits, as well as some best practices for long term search traffic success. See these key topics summarized below and we will dig deeper, as we develop this article further into the future.

Overview

Content
You will hear very often around the SEO-webs, "content is king". If you don't have some good unique content, you are not likely to succeed. All of the following segments of SEO begin with content. Content can be any original text, image, video or document. Each page should contain one or more of these. If you don't have content you can't do on-page optimization, build incoming links, or build trust and authority. Without content, you are not king.

Page Optimization
"On-page" optimization is very important. There are a lot of things you can do wrong, and it is tough to always do right. On-page search engine optimization includes page titles, page headings, the markup used for content, meta descriptions and more.

Links
Remember all links are not equal. Having one or two incoming links from well established/trusted sites will often be far better than having hundreds of links from untrusted sources. It is the quality, not so much the quantity. Remember that search engines rank pages, not sites. Well the same is even more true for links. In fact the placement of a link on a page makes a difference as to its weight, or link juice, that is given to it by search engines.

Social Media
Trying to put an ROI on Twitter and Facebook is a tough task. However, these channels are great ways to indirectly boost your SEO. When your followers or fans/likers see your latest tweet or wall post, there is a good chance (relatively speaking) that one of those people will then re-post that on their blog, or on their website. The links from your followers are the real gems of your social media efforts. While the links you (or others) add on social media pages are no-followed (we'll explain search engine slang further later), the links from blogs and other websites will tend to be do-follow links. Generally speaking, the links you get from a blogger or news story will be weighted heavier by search engines than the links you post yourself on Twitter or Facebook.

Authority
A site's authority helps pages rank higher. Identical content pages will rank differently depending on a site's authority. Build trust in users, and search engines will follow. Once you have some authority and/or trust, your job optimizing your organization's website will get easier.

Action Items

In-House

Write new content
You know your cause/industry better than most. Write about it. Every unique piece of content is a new landing page, with the potential of garnering new links, and bringing interested eyes to your site. There's no magic word count, keyword density, or format. Just start writing about what you know, or want to research more, and the odds are with you that others will be interested too. Writing great content is the best way to organically build links to your site.

Ask for a link
Who do you know that may be willing to link to you? Find a specific, relevant page on their website, and ask them for a link. It's as simple as that. Start with friends and family. Then ask partners or close allies that have websites. Ask your local chamber of commerce and related industry sites or blogs if they will link to you. Then contact local media and see if they are interested.

If there is absolutely no benefit to users linking to your site, then you probably shouldn't be asking for a link.

Get Social
Sign up for a Twitter account. Add a Facebook page and a Google+ page. There are many resources out there to help get you started. It is easier than you think.

Webmaster Tools
Make sure you take advantage of Google's and Bing's webmaster tool suites. They are free to use, and will give you some important data on how your website is indexed, and if there are any problems you need to take care of. Major SEO mistakes can be uncovered with these easy to use online tools.

Outsource

Hire freelance writers
Writers are available everywhere. Find one, task them with specific content topics, and start building content yesterday. If your site is content poor, there's no excuse. Hire someone if you can't do it in house. Keep an eye on stats to see what's working and what isn't.

Hire an SEO
Find a reputable company to help with your content and link building strategy, if it is in your budget. Do not try to hire cheap labor to build links. It will do more harm than good if you don't find the right entity to handle this.

Further Reading

Visit these sites for more search engine optimization strategies and techniques for nonprofits: