Of all the digital marketing tools out there, SEO is probably one of the most overwhelming and confusing to get a handle on. Not just for charities, but for basically anyone who uses a website for business purposes.
The frustration with SEO comes from the fact there is a lot of online noise around the topic. There are so many opinions out there and contradicting advice, so it’s hard to know who and what to listen to.
Also, much of the advice is aimed squarely at professional marketing professionals, so includes many technical terms and jargon. This makes it hard for anyone who is not coming from a marketing background to follow what’s going on.
So I want to break down the concept of SEO as simply as possible and share some tips that have helped many charities and non-profits climb the Google rankings ladder and amplify their impact.
Think like Google
To understand SEO, you need to understand how Google thinks. To put it simply, Google wants people to keep using Google – it wants to give them the best possible experience and help them find what they want fast.
It wants to give them the best answers to their queries, and serve people the highest-quality content available on any topic.
Google favours websites that are well established and have built authority – which have consistently published high-quality content – because they make the search engine’s job easier.
So to start thinking like Google, you need to keep three questions in mind whenever you’re writing content:
- Is this the best answer to someone’s search question?
- Is Google going to want to show this to people?
- Is this content better than what Google’s currently showing?
SEO made simple
Let’s start with the basics – what does SEO even mean? SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation, which basically means tailoring your website so Google will promote it to more people.
Nat Eliason has probably the most simple explanation of SEO in his MEAT acronym:
M – Merit
How good is the content you are publishing? If you are not putting the best content on the subject, there’s no reason Google would serve up your site as authority on search queries. Everything you are putting out has to be sufficiently good to be ranked.
E – Experience.
This refers to your website experience – how quickly does it load? Is it filled with pop-up ads? Has it been hacked? Google wants people to stay on the website it sends them to, so if it detects your website has technical issues, it will not send people to it.
A – Authority.
This refers to the other websites out there that have links to your site. If a popular, respected website links to your website, Google assumes you’re offering good stuff too. So the more high-quality websites you have linking back to you, the more Google reasons that your content is trustworthy and good.
T – Time.
SEO is a marathon, not a sprint. There are no shortcuts here and no quick wins. Be patient, and be in it in for the long-term.
Now we’ve covered the basics, let’s go through five tips that can help charities and nonprofits increase their visibility organically.
SEO tips for charities:
Create and publish original content regularly
First things first, like with many other marketing-related things, consistency is key. SEO is a long-term game, so don’t let excuses stop you from publishing content on your website.
Start a blog, where you regularly post new and original articles and thoughts.
Being consistent is better than bursts of activity. Be realistic about your capacity and stick to it. If you can post every day, do that. If you can post once a week, do that. It’s far better to post even one article per week consistently, than to post every day for a month and then stop. It’s also better to produce one high-quality article each week than three average ones.
So, depending on the resources you have, define what frequency is sustainable for you – and stick to it. I have worked on blogs which were posting only one article every Thursday gave fantastic results after six months.
Organise your content with topic clusters and pillar pages
Topic clusters are an SEO method, or strategy, that focuses on creating and organising content around a topic.
For example, I might choose to write content around SEO for charities. This article is part of that cluster, and other future articles that will cover different parts of that wider topic too. Other topic clusters for my audience might be websites for charities. You guessed it, these posts will all be about creating and optimising a website.
The reasons why topic clusters work so good, especially for charities, are:
- It’s the best way to educate your audience about your causes
- It helps you build the authority and credibility
- It helps you create relevant content efficiently and cover the topic in-depth
A pillar page is, simply put, a foundation on which topic clusters are built. Let’s take a charity as an example. A page where they explain and give the overview of their main mission, with links to more information and resources about their work (like links to yearly reports, relevant blog posts, and insights), will be one pillar page.
Another pillar page could cover their team. Here they put a short introduction for each team member, with links to social media profiles so people can find out more about them.
Hubspot has a good article on other examples of pillar pages, soc heck it out to see how you can make the most of this method.
When you organise content like this, it makes it easier for Google to crawl your website and figure out what it is about, and it allows visitors to find out more about what you do in a very structured, neat way.
Keep keyword optimisation simple
Terms like ‘Keyword research’ and ‘optimisation’ can make SEO sound very complex and technical, but it doesn’t need to be.
What’s important to remember is that you are writing for humans, not robots. Just think of yourself when you’re using Google.
Imagine what would you put into a search bar to find the information you are sharing on your website. Try to come up with at least five different search terms you’d use.
Then go on Google and run those terms and see what kind of content will you get on first page.
Is it covering the same topics you want to cover?
What have they included? Remember, the websites that are shown on the first are the ones that Google thinks have the best content for your search – so you want to write content that will be equally good or better than that.
Always keep in mind that Google simply wants to share the most relevant content for a search. Create all of your content with this in mind, and keep things natural.
Speed up your website
Google cares about your visitors’ experience on your website. If it’s too slow, Google will punish you. Issues like loading speed, responsiveness, website security and hosting can have a real impact on whether Google ranks your website or not.
You can learn more about these in my free PDF – 11 Tips to Improve your website, which you can download at the bottom of the page..
But I want to emphasise the load speed here because it’s probably the one you should prioritise first.
Just look at this statistic: more than 40% of visitors will abandon the website if the loading time is longer than 3 seconds.
If people are abandoning your website because it’s too slow, that signals a bad visitors experience to Google. So it will put faster websites above yours.
So how do you speed up your website? First, run a test and see how fast it is currently – I recommend using Google’s free tool PageSpeed Insights for this. It will show you your website performance on both desktop and mobile, and list down suggestions on how to improve the performance.
Start building links
Backlinks are, simply put, links placed on other websites that are linking back to a specific page on your website. For example, this link is a backlink for the Effective Altrusim movement, because it’s placed on my website and it’s linking back to theirs.
The reason why backlinks are important in SEO is that they show the level of your authority. It’s just like academic papers and references – the more trustworthy a reference a paper is, the higher authority it will get.
The more quality links you have from well-established, trustworthy websites, the more your authority will grow.
What’s tricky about building backlinks is that both quality and quantity equally matter.
Here are some other things to note for good backlinks:
- Where and how the link is included on the page – links that are included in the text as part of the relevant phrase have higher impact than links included at the bottom of the page and put just as URL. For example, a backlink for this article will have a higher value if it’s integrated with the phrase SEO tips for charities rather than just putting LINK text
- The industry of the website linking back to your website (it should be the same or relevant to your charity)
- Links from social media websites don’t tend to count as backlinks
SEO doesn’t need to be intimidating. Start by creating high-quality content that your audience wants to read, and you will already be doing 80% of what you need to do.
Don’t try to play the system, just focus on creating interesting and useful content and thinking about how your audience will find it.