Search Engine Optimization For Nonprofits
You can use Search Engine Optimization (“SEO”) to generate traffic, get donors and increase revenue for your nonprofit.
SEO is a popular tactic for online marketing because it’s free. However, as I’ve said many times nothing is free. You will always pay a price. You will always pay with money or you will pay with time.
In the case of SEO, you will have to pay somebody to do it for you or you will need to spend a lot of time doing it yourself. So keep this in mind and don’t fall into the trap of thinking that SEO is free.
Before we get into the detail of how to actually optimize your content let’s get clear about the advantages and disadvantages of SEO.
Advantages Of SEO
- High ROI. If you do happen to succeed then the return on investment (ROI) from SEO can be higher than other forms of marketing. The only way to know whether your ROI from SEO s better than your other marketing options is to measure them and test them. If you’re just getting started and don’t have much experience with online marketing, you might be surprised at what I’m saying. In fact, you might even totally disagree. As I said earlier, you need to keep in mind that SEO is not free. In fact, if you want to target competitive keywords then SEO can be very expensive. You’ll see what I mean when we talk about all of the things that need to be done for an SEO campaign to be successful.
- It can help your brand. Most people think the best brands occupy the highest positions in the search results.
- Occupy prime online real estate. If you do find your way into the top two or three positions in the search results and consistently provide a high-quality customer experience then it can be very difficult for other people to dislodge you from the top three positions.
Disadvantages Of SEO
- Time. It can take a long time before you see any results and, in many cases, you will never see any results
- Competition. If you’re just getting started, you have no ability to compete for the big keywords that generate most of the traffic in your niche. You’ll have to focus on long-tail keywords (long phrases instead of single words) that generate a lot less traffic. This can still be very effective in some niches but it can be completely useless in others.
- The algorithm. Google’s algorithm changes frequently and every time it changes it creates a new set of winners and losers.
- No guarantees. There is no guarantee that any SEO campaign will ever work. You have no control over Google’s algorithm and you also have no control over the SEO strategies of your competitors.
The conclusion to draw from all of this is that SEO should be a part of your “overall marketing strategy” but it “should not be your entire marketing strategy”.
SEO: How To Actually Do It
The Google algorithm considers hundreds if not thousands of different ranking factors when deciding how to rank Pages in the search results. No single SEO factor will guarantee good search engine rankings.
A great title won’t make any difference if the rest of your page contains low-quality content. A lot of incoming links won’t make any difference if they’re coming from low-quality websites.
The more positive ranking factors your website has the higher the likelihood that you will end up with good search engine rankings. And the same applies in reverse.
Let’s break SEO down into two categories:
- On-page SEO
- Of page SEO
The on-page success factors are almost entirely under your control. We’re talking about the content that you decide to publish, the titles and tags that you use on each page, and your website architecture – all things that you control.
The off-page ranking factors are not completely under your control. Search engines know that they cannot rely on you to provide an impartial opinion about how useful or relevant your content is to a particular search.
This is why backlinks are important. Search engines think of them as a vote in favor of your website. Of course, if this was the only important factor then it would be very easy for it to be abused.
That’s the reason that the Google algorithm considers thousands of different factors when it decides how to rank websites in the search results.
Now, let’s talk about specific ranking factors you should be aware of.
Content For SEO
Your primary focus should always be to produce high-quality content.
There’s no way for you to predict how search engine algorithms will change in the future and there’s no way to predict how online marketing, in general, will change in the future but you can be confident that there will always be a demand for high-quality content.
So how do we define high-quality content? I suggest you use this very simple but powerful approach – do a search on Google for your keyword and take a look at the top two or three results.
Like it or not, these two or three results are what Google considers to be the highest quality content for that keyword.
So, for the purpose of this exercise, the definition of high-quality content is “content that is even better than what you can see in these top three search results”.
Before addressing any technical SEO issues, you need to get clear about what the searcher is actually looking for and how you can deliver it in a way that is better and then it’s currently being delivered in those top three search results.
This usually means that you need to include everything that is currently on those pages and add even more quality content on top of that.
You need to do some keyword research before creating any content. You need to go beyond just looking at the keyword search volume.
Even though a specific piece of content will likely be targeting a specific keyword, you know that every keyword also has a lot of related keywords.
And you need to make sure that you use the right keywords for the audience you’re targeting.
For example, people that search for medical conditions with the scientific name are very different from people that search for medical conditions with regular English language words.
The number of times that you should mention your keyword in your article is one of those SEO factors that he is constantly changing. You obviously have to mention it at least once.
As for the number of mentions beyond this, you should mention it as frequently as you would normally mention it if you were writing an informative article for somebody to read that did not care about SEO.
Just keep in mind that if you do end up mentioning the keyword an enormous number of times it’s possible that the Google algorithm might think you’re doing something suspicious and it could penalize you, so don’t overdo it.
Search engines do like fresh content. But this does not mean that the most recent content will always outrank older content.
It just means that it will outrank older content if, theoretically, everything else is the same. Remember that it’s just one ranking factor, not the “the” ranking factor.
There are obviously some keywords that are much more time-sensitive than others. For example, any articles relating to news, sports, or entertainment will need to be very fresh in order to rank high in the search results.
The most important issue here is just making sure that’s Google can in fact crawl your website. The best way to do this is to sign-up to Google Search Console. Go ahead and Google it. It’s totally free.
You will need to enter some information to prove that you really own the website. Then you’ll need to go to the section about crawl errors to see if there are any issues that need to be addressed.
The other crawling issue is your website’s content structure. You should just use a simple tree structure. Set up categories and subcategories and you should only go two levels deep.
This is the best structure for an optimal user experience and it’s also the best structure for google’s algorithm.
I’m sure you know that there are more searches on mobile than on desktop for many keywords so you need to make sure that your website is mobile-friendly.
Whenever you create a new page on your website remember to check what it looks like on your mobile device.
Make sure it’s readable. Make sure the menu works correctly. Keep in mind the site could look very different on other mobile devices that have different screen sizes.
You can use a free tool from Google called Google Insights to get an idea of how Google sees your site.
Google wants to provide the best possible experience for its users so it will not display multiple pages that have the exact same content on the first page of its search results.
Keep this in mind when you start reaching out to other websites to create backlinks. Some people have made the mistake of offering their article to another website in return for a backlink.
If you do this, you run the risk of ending up in the scenario where the version of the article on your website has been outranked by the version of your article on the other website. So they will receive all of the traffic instead of you.
If you want to promote your content on other websites the best practice is to write a brief and unique introduction that can be posted on the other website and include a link back to your original (complete) article on your website.
Google knows that everybody hates a slow-loading website so it’s not surprising the page load speed is one of the success factors.
If the only thing you have added to a page is an article and an image and your page is loading slowly it’s highly likely that it’s due to big image sizes. Compress them to the lowest level possible while maintaining image quality.
If your page is still loading slowly then the problem could be your hosting. When it comes to hosting you usually get what you pay for.
The most common complaint from people that use low-cost hosting providers is that their website loads very slowly. Keep in mind that this is not just an SEO issue, it’s also a user experience issue.
You’ve probably noticed that some sites have a URL that starts with HTTP and others start with HTTPS. The sites that have a URL starting with HTTPS have an SSL certificate installed on them.
In Simple times this means that communication through the site is more secure because it’s encrypted.
Google knows that most people prefer to interact with a secure site so, if all else is equal, Google’s algorithm will favor a site with an SSL.
SSL certificates are available from your domain or hosting provider so take a look around their websites to see your options.
This is effectively the title of your webpage and you have total control over it.
Google uses the title to figure out what the page is about and, when people view search results, they also use the same title to figure out what the page is about.
As a result of this title tag having a dual purpose, don’t fall into the trap of just creating a title that you think the Google algorithm wants to see.
If you create a title that includes a lot of keywords but does not mean anything to a human then people won’t click on it. If people don’t click on it Google will see that nobody is interested in it so it will push that page down the rankings.
If you use a large font for your title and a mid-size font for your subtitles and regular font for the rest of the text on the page it will be easy for the Google algorithm to understand how the content is being presented.
It can use this title structure to figure out what’s more important and what’s less important. In the meantime, humans operate the same way.
We’ll also look at titles and subtitles to figure out if we want to spend more time on a page.
Nobody knows exactly how Google’s algorithm measures authority but it’s easy to guess.
Websites that have a lot of content that has been referenced and cited by lots of other sites and has a lot of incoming links and produces an enormous amount of fresh content and has been doing this for a very long time will have much more authority than a new website that has none of these characteristics.
I’m sure you know that one of the success factors in SEO is backlinks. If you receive a backlink to your website Google thinks of it as a vote in favor of your website. But as you might expect it’s not that simple.
Google will count all of the links pointing to your website but it won’t count them all equally. It will give more weight to the links that it considers to be higher quality links.
This usually means that these links need to be coming from websites and pages that have a high level of authority in the same topic as the content on the page on your website.
In summary, the number of high-quality links is becoming more and more important and the number of low-quality backlinks is becoming more and more irrelevant.
In fact, I’ll go one step further and say that a large number of low-quality backlinks can potentially result in a penalty so don’t pursue backlinks for the sake of pursuing backlinks.
Put more time and effort into finding ways to get backlinks from high-authority websites that are addressing a related topic.
Anchor text is just a name for the words that you see in a link in your content. Your objective here is to just use the natural text that you would expect to see as a reader.
For example, if you’re reading an article that references a research paper with the title ”Fortune 500 Survey”, you would expect to see anchor text that says ‘Fortune 500 survey’ and this anchor text should be relevant to the content located at the destination of the link.
If the anchor text was ‘Fortune 500 Survey’ then after clicking on the link you ended up on a page with the title ‘Apply For A Credit Card’ this would be a terrible user experience and the Google algorithm knows it and will treat it accordingly.
I hope that addresses the most common questions about SEO and how to optimize for the major ranking factors.
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