When was the last time you checked your search rankings on Google? The internet search is typically the first action people undertake when researching a topic, so making sure your organisation ranks well for your key search terms – otherwise known as SEO – is an essential tool in your marketing toolbox.
When implemented correctly, SEO can increase your brand awareness, build credibility and send more prospective donors to your site, helping even small organisations compete on a level playing field with the big guys. Despite all this, it’s a technique that’s often overlooked.
Why do charities need an SEO strategy?
Competition to secure donations has never been fiercer. But because charities tend to focus all their efforts around campaign time, they often don’t have a solid strategy to attract supporters outside of these events. This means valuable opportunities are being lost.
On the other hand, people are often inspired to connect with a cause because of a personal experience or life event; if you aren’t visible when that ‘spark’ occurs, you’re missing out on that connection. Search marketing is very powerful because it puts your brand in front of people at the exact moment they express a specific need or interest in your cause and are looking for a charity to support.
Equally, as your existing donor base ages, it’s important to evolve and future-proof your marketing strategy. Many charities who still take a traditional approach to fundraising are missing out on connecting with younger, digitally savvy supporters for whom the web is their first port of call. Fail to invest in a digital strategy now and you could see your supporter network shrink in years to come.
The three key steps to good SEO
If you’re not technically-minded, terms like ‘search engine optimisation’ and ‘search algorithm’ might have you running for the hills. However, while you’ll need to enlist expert partners to execute certain aspects of your SEO strategy, you don’t need to be an IT guru or digital marketing expert to understand the basics.
A good SEO strategy is comprised of three pillars: technical, content and linking. Here’s how to create a strategy that incorporates all three.
1. Design your website with your user in mind.
While much importance is placed on Google’s infamous search algorithm, understanding your audience and designing a good experience for them is more important than trying to satisfy the mysterious workings of the Google search
. If your site is thoughtfully designed, loads quickly, is easy to navigate, and contains relevant, quality content, this will naturally encourage organic sharing and distribution and increase the length of time people spend on your site – all of which will have a positive effect on your SEO.
On the other hand, if your site is confusing and full of content that is ‘thin’ (low quality or duplicate pages that don’t add value to the reader) or stuffed with keywords, you won’t appeal to readers or Google. If you don’t get the technical elements right at the start, you’re facing an uphill battle.
2. Become a publisher of great content.
We’ve all heard the phrase content is king and nowhere is this more accurate than when we’re talking about SEO. Good content sends people to your site (through organic search), keeps people on your site and encourages them to come back for more. It’s also an important brand-building tool, helping you to engage and connect with supporters and show them who you are and what you stand for.
The good news for nonprofits is that creating great content doesn’t have to be an expensive exercise
. Assess what resources you already have within your organisation and use them to your advantage. Are there any budding writers among your team? Can you create compelling case studies from previous events? Do you have donors with fascinating stories to share?
But – and it’s a big but – a good content strategy requires planning and commitment. Establishing a blog, for example, requires you to consider what it is your audience wants to read about and make sure you are fulfilling that need and that you have something valuable to say – otherwise you’ll most likely be broadcasting to no one. Equally important, you need to be publishing fresh, regular content in order for Google to sit up and take notice – a flurry of activity followed by months of inactivity will actually do your page rankings more harm than good.
Remember that while your content should be keyword-centric in order to help you rank for specific search terms related to your cause, it’s important not to overdo it. Keyword stuffing – the practice of repeating a certain phrase for SEO purposes to the detriment of the content’s readability – doesn’t work. Google got wise to that technique a long time ago and will penalise you for it.
3. Improve your linking profile.
A big component of the Google search algorithm is trust. That’s why it values backlinks (external links which lead to your site) from other credible sites and pages with good quality content of their own: their endorsement indicates that you’re a reputable site and your content is of value. The more quality backlinks you have from a diverse range of sources, the more Google will trust you and the higher your page will rank.
Establishing a network of quality backlinks is no easy task. It’s also not something that can be done overnight and requires months of ongoing work before seeing real results. If you focus on producing great content and providing a good user experience on your site, the links will eventually come over time. However, there are other strategies you can explore to make things happen faster. Manual outreach to request backlinks from other influential sites is one tried and tested technique and you can also engage partners to help you strengthen your linking profile if budget allows.
The thing to remember here is quality over quantity
– links from lots of poor quality, low-ranking sites are unlikely to improve your own authority rankings, so it pays to be selective and focus on fewer, better links.
When done well, SEO is a powerful technique that can significantly improve brand awareness for charities and help you stand out from the crowd. However, it’s best to think of it as a long-term investment, not a quick fix. Good SEO is time-intensive – not only because it requires you to stay up-to-date with any changes to the algorithms but also because of the effort required to implement optimisations, create content and establish links. That’s why it helps to build a team of expert partners around you who can support you on those elements you don’t have the skills or time to execute internally.
If you choose to invest in SEO and are prepared to put the time in, you’ll find the reward well worth the effort. For more advice on how to improve your digital presence, get in touch