What if we told you that it’s possible to seriously maximize your nonprofit’s reach just by… strategically adding certain phrases to your website? Yup. The official term for this is SEO (search engine optimization). It’s shorthand for making your site Google-friendly, thereby widening your digital reach. And the best part? Any team can leverage nonprofit SEO for some serious wins—both online and off.
We’re Slam Media Lab. For the past decade, we’ve been delivering high-impact web design, content marketing, and SEO solutions to companies on a mission to shape the future. But before all that, we were each working at nonprofits focused on everything from local journalism to rethinking the US education system.
Needless to say, we get what it's like to be doing the work as a nonprofit, and we believe these orgs should have the same tools as big companies do to widen their audience and make an impact. However, many nonprofits are so focused on day-to-day ops that they miss traffic-generating opportunities altogether when setting up their website.
That’s unfortunate, because SEO is the marketing tool that we believe works best for nonprofits.
In an effort to boost small org’s efforts here, we’ve created a quick and dirty guide just for you.
In this article we’ll be answering:
- What is SEO?
- Why should I bother improving my SEO?
- How can I improve my nonprofit’s SEO?
- What are some nonprofit SEO best practices?
- When can I expect to see results after investing in my org’s SEO?
Ready to absolutely slam your nonprofit’s digital reach? Let’s get into it!
What is SEO?
In case you haven’t heard, Google is a game (which means you can win).
“Winning” on Google can look different depending on your specific goals, but some common metrics include:
- Ranking number one for terms relevant to your organization
- Increasing brand awareness through site impressions
- Exponentially boosting site traffic
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a set of strategies for reaching these benchmarks through general web queries. In other words, SEO doesn’t rely on ads (yay, free stuff!), nor does it rely on searchers who already know about your brand.
But let’s back up a minute and answer this: how does Google actually work?
Obviously it’s a complex process, but there are three main steps.
- Crawling: Google’s automated programs “crawl” through the internet to find and download new text, images, and videos on existing pages.
- Indexing: These programs then analyze and store newly-discovered information on Google Index, a huge database.
- Serving results: You know all about this part! When someone searches for something on Google, the search engine pulls from its index and returns relevant information.
Let’s say that a growing nonprofit writes an article that’s all about locating free meals. Cool! The post goes live to the site’s blog hub, which allows Google bots to find it as they crawl the internet. The bots then analyze the post’s information. Depending on how well this nonprofit optimized the article for search, users may or may not frequently find the post when they Google terms about locating free meals.
TL;DR: SEO is a set of strategies for optimizing web pages to rank higher in search results.
Types of SEO
Google might use one linear process for generating search results, but SEO pulls from a few processes to crack the code. The main ones are:
- General SEO
- Local SEO
- Programmatic pages
To illustrate the differences here, we’ll use that free meals blog post as an example. The type of SEO an organization will want to focus on will depend on the goal of the article. Here are three main goal possibilities:
- Teach people strategies for identifying free meals in any location
- Spotlight one specific free meal program
- Share info about free meal programs in specific US cities
Example: General SEO Best Practices for Nonprofits
#1: Teaching people strategies for identifying free meals in any location.
If we’re optimizing a post that shares strategies for identifying free meals in any location, then we’re working within the “General SEO” category. Why? Because we’re appealing to a delocalized audience and aiming to boost search rankings everywhere.
In other words, if an article appeals to a wide audience, then it’s likely to land in the “General SEO” category.
Most nonprofits working on SEO will find that the bulk of their goals fall under this umbrella. That’s great, because the highest-potential improvements live here.
Google works by tailoring search results to the country where each user is located. While the algorithm does take into account other factors as well (from exact location to primary language to past searches), the basic premise is that good SEO can impact results all the way from coast to coast within any given country.
To improve your general SEO you’ll first want to:
- Set up Google Search Console
- Decide what you want your organization to be know for
- Do a bit of research (aka poking around on Google) to see what’s currently ranking for your chosen topics
Example: Local SEO Best Practices for Nonprofit
#2: Spotlighting one specific free meal program.
But what if you don’t need coast to coast hits? In fact, what if your goal is to keep things local and target people living within the area where your free meal program operates?
Then local SEO is going to become your best friend.
Local SEO uses some of the mainstays of general SEO (keywords, linking, meta information, etc.) and pairs them with tools people use to search locally.
Here are a few local SEO tips for nonprofit organizations:
- Set up Google My Business
- Create a Yelp account
- Decide what you want to be known for in your community
- Collect reviews!
Example: Programmatic Page SEO Best Practices for Nonprofit
#3: Sharing info about free meal programs in specific US cities.
Okay, final scenario: let’s say your offering is localized… but in more than one spot. For instance, maybe your nonprofit has been running for decades and you have locations with unique offerings and programs in a few major US cities. Do you rely on general SEO? Local SEO? A bit of both?
Yes, yes, and yes. But there’s more to it.
Programmatic pages are a dimension of SEO that allow you to essentially automate a local SEO process. With programmatic pages, you create a template that includes universal info to your program (example: the mission of your free meal program) and location-specific information (example: the times free meals are offered at each location).
Once these are set up, you can quickly churn out a few at once by inputting specific fields of information.
To get started on a series of programmatic pages, you’ll need to gather the following info:
- Information important for audiences everywhere
- Information specific to certain locations
- Design and photo assets to populate each page with
What are the main SEO benefits for nonprofits?
But what does this all mean for you? Is all this back-end work really worth it?
It really is, and we’re not the only ones who think that.
SEO consistently comes out on top as the marketing channel with the highest return on investment. Just one month of deep site and content optimization can set your organization up for multiple years of consistent growth through web search.
And the benefits are more far-reaching than just that. Investing in SEO for nonprofit websites can help any organization:
- Increase web traffic and conversions
- Grow online donations
- Connect with potential volunteers
- Boost brand awareness
- Improve reputation
- Build credibility
- Enhance visibility
- Strengthen online presence
- Produce evergreen content
We know, we know, it sounds too good to be true. But it’s not.
To prove it, first we’ll break down the details on how SEO can boost every aspect of your operation. Then, we’ll share the numbers we’ve seen come from our work with a variety of nonprofits and mission-driven organizations in the past.
SEO Nonprofit Management: Boosting Web Traffic and Conversions
Let’s start out easy with web traffic and conversions. After all, increasing search rankings is the bread and butter of SEO.
Every other nonprofit SEO benefit stems from a site’s ability to generate web traffic and then have those visitors convert by taking an action like:
- Subscribing to a newsletter
- Signing up to volunteer
- Benefiting from a program
Leveraging SEO can help sites become more highly favored by Google (and other search engines). Initial SEO work compounds to create a positive feedback loop that can truly skyrocket any organization’s digital presence.
When you optimize your website and content, pages of your site will begin ranking on Google. The more pieces you have ranking on Google, the more your domain authority will grow. The higher your domain authority, the easier it will be to rank on Google in the future.
Essentially, SEO is a ball at the top of your marketing hill. Invest in an initial push, and the momentum can carry you to big wins.
SEO Nonprofit Management: Connect with Volunteers and Donors
For nonprofit leaders considering SEO, a clear win to be had is connecting with volunteers and securing donations.
We know how frustrating it can be to be running an amazing program, but hurting for funds and volunteers. It can be doubly frustrating to know that there are people out there who would be happy to help, but being unable to connect with them.
SEO can bridge these two realities.
Think about it this way: we’re living in an age where many US Americans want and are able to volunteer and donate to causes they care about, but we’re also living in an age where the internet is full to the brim and many individuals in Gen X and above still don’t know how to navigate it. Scrolling to page 10 is something many people (digitally literate or not) just won’t do.
As a nonprofit organization, you can make things easier for everyone by floating your site pages to the top of Google (where everyone can find them).
The result is opportunities for people on the lookout, and more support for your organization.
SEO Nonprofit Management: Building Brand Awareness
At first glance, brand awareness might not seem critical to nonprofit work. After all, isn’t it more important to do the work than to tell people about it?
But there’s more to it than that.
There are a ton of causes out there that people would care about if they were aware of them. Increased awareness would mean more support and funding for you. But without brand awareness, credibility, and visibility, even people who do care about what you do might not want to take the risk of getting involved.
When organizations sit at the top of Google, not only do people start to recognize their logo and name, but they may even gain a brand new interest in the cause.
Let’s say someone Googled “fighting hunger nonprofit” expecting to find a few local soup kitchens. Instead, they find a website detailing a robust community garden program. They click the page to check it out, and realize that they are totally on board with the program, although they wouldn’t have named urban agriculture as an area they cared about supporting in the past.
That’s the magic of SEO.
SEO Nonprofit Management: Create Content That Lasts
In our humble opinion, ads rarely make sense for nonprofits. Not only is a nonprofit unlikely to have the budget to produce a traditional ad that converts, but it’s even less likely to have the time to do so consistently.
Plus, ads often don’t stand the test of time. But content can.
A huge player in nonprofit SEO (or any SEO) is a website’s blog, where all their content lives. These posts are critical opportunities for generating traffic for years to come.
For example, if our example nonprofit posted an article 10 years ago detailing the cycle of a tomato plant from seedling to harvest, that article will still be relevant today, and likely 10 years down the line as well. It’s evergreen.
SEO Tips for Nonprofit Organizations
If the major benefits above convinced you that it’s time to get serious about SEO, then welcome. We’re happy to help!
There’s so much you can do with SEO, but for now, we’ll start with these basics SEO terms:
- Meta title, meta description, and URL
- Blogs and content
- Images and alt text
- Internal linking
- Website fixes and Webflow
Nonprofit SEO: Keyword Research
Like we mentioned above, keywords are the building blocks of SEO. They’re the combination of words that people use to find things on Google, and by placing them throughout your content and site intentionally, you can increase the chances that Google searchers will find you.
For example, two people searching for information about where to donate dried goods may input two different (but similar) searches into Google:
- where can i donate canned goods
- donate canned goods
A nonprofit that accepts canned good donations can attract the highest amount of potential donors by using both of these keywords, rather than just one.
Nonprofit SEO: Meta Information
Meta information refers to all the stuff you see listed on Google before you click a link. A preview, if you will. Here’s an example from our site:
The meta title here is “Slam Media Lab | Top Digital Marketing Agency Helping …” and the meta description is the text underneath. As you can see by the ellipses, there’s a character limit to these fields, which means you’ll want to keep them short and sweet.
In contrast, the example above is missing a meta description altogether. Users are less likely to click on something that doesn’t preview information they’re looking for.
You’ll also want to make sure that your keyword is present in both your meta title and your meta description. This ensures that:
- Google will index your article for the correct keywords
- Searchers will see that you are answering their query
Nonprofit SEO: Blog Content
But wait, what are these keywords and meta descriptions actually for? Blog content.
This is where you’ll see the biggest wins in SEO. Sure, you can optimize your website copy (more on that later), but there’s only room for so many keywords there. When you begin publishing articles on your site, the keyword possibilities are virtually endless.
If you’re going to dive into blog writing, here are some SEO tips and tricks to remember:
- Use plain language that anyone can understand
- Avoid being preachy or pushy
- Break up the text with images, bullets, and more
- Include statistics and data whenever possible
- Add some personality to your copy
- Above all: write stuff you’d actually want to read
Nonprofit SEO: Images and Alt Text
Next up: images.
We’re starting with the obvious here, but images make your content more interesting to read. Most Google searchers would prefer to read an article punctuated by images, graphics, and bullet points, rather than one long block of text. That’s why Google prioritizes this type of comprehensive content.
Plus, images give you an opportunity to add more keywords. How? Through alt text.
The primary function of alt text is to describe what images look like to site visitors who are unable to see them. Failing to include this information goes against accessibility best practices.
The secondary function of alt text is to clarify an article’s purpose even further through the use of keywords.
Here’s an example. Let’s say that our nonprofit uses the photo below as the featured image in a blog post about the benefits of community gardens.
Their alt text could look something like this: Two older women wearing jackets work together to tend to a garden. Decreasing elderly loneliness is one of the benefits of a community garden.
There’s the keyword and image description, all in two quick sentences!
Nonprofit SEO: Linking
- Written a blog post
- Optimized it with keywords
- Written meta information
- Added images and alt text
then you’re almost to the finish line! The last big step is interlinking, which is just a quick way of saying “hyperlinking other pages from your site into your new content.”
For example, we can link out to this page we created about content writing and strategy. Not only is it relevant to this subject, but including it also strengthens the authority of our site by creating a dense link network. It also can drive traffic to other parts of our site by enticing people to click.
When you link one blog post within another, make sure you’re properly anchoring your text. The hyperlink should go on the keyword that the already-published piece is ranking for. In the example above, that’s “content marketing.”
Nonprofit SEO: Website Fixes
Whether you want to go all-in on content, or just post a blog post here and there, the first step to take is always going to be improving your website.
Here are some quick SEO tips for nonprofit websites:
- Include a keyword that clearly defines what you do at the top of your site (the “hero”)
- Insert more relevant keywords throughout your site
- Quality test your site on both desktop and mobile
Those were just our bare bones recommendations. Looking for more? Check out this piece on what a nonprofit website should include.
Nonprofit SEO: Sitemap
Finally, make sure you’re consistently updating your sitemap.
Remember, Google only indexes items on pages or collections that it already knows to exist. If you publish a blog post, Google can find that through your blog hub. Great!
However, if you add a whole new page to your website, this is essentially hidden from search engines until you resubmit your sitemap. Once Google has an updated blueprint of your website, it will then be able to include your new pages in search results.
How Can a Nonprofit Measure Its SEO Performance?
Alright, we’ve come to the final, easiest, and most fun step in SEO—measuring performance. Stay tuned, because we’ve got (free!) recs on deck.
Free Nonprofit SEO Tools
Google offers multiple cost-free options for measuring your site’s SEO performance. Our two favorites are Google Search Console (GSC) and Google Analytics (GA).
On Google Search Console, you can:
- Resubmit your sitemap
- Submit links for indexing
- View site clicks and impressions
- Track growth over time
- Unindex links that you don’t want to show up on Google
Google Analytics integrated with Google Search Console to ensure the data is accurate.
Freemium Nonprofit SEO Tools
If you want something the SEO pros use, that’s still possible at a low price (or even for free). These next two sites are great because they allow you to look at data from any site, not just your own.
Ahrefs and SEMRush allow users to:
- Generate keywords
- Identify keyword monthly search volume
- View data for any specific site or page
The catch here is that not every Ahrefs or SEMRush capability is available for free, which means that you will have to pay a subscription fee if you want total access.
Get More Nonprofit SEO Goodness
But wait, there’s more!
At Slam, we’ve created a free ROI estimator to help any nonprofit decide if investing in SEO is actually worth it. That way, you can see how the numbers stack up for yourself. Sign up here to learn more.
If you’ve already decided that going all in on SEO is the right move for your nonprofit, then we’ve got more good news for you; we’re offering low-cost, high-value guides to SEO that are specifically designed to help nonprofits scale their impact.
We’ve been in this sector for a while, and we’re so excited to share all the insider tricks with organizations doing mission-driven work.
If you’d like our free SEO tools and would love to check out future SEO course, drop your email here and we’ll send you info right away!
In the meantime, we’re wishing your team big slam dunks for your whole community!