These days, SEO has to be one of the most commonly used terms in not just digital marketing but marketing and PR in general. If you are setting up a website for your non-for-profit, upgrading it or simply looking for ways to promote your organisation better, likely you’ve dipped your toes into the waters of SEO or at least wondered how to better “SEO” your site.
As anyone how was tried to research SEO knows, if you type the term into a search engine you will, fittingly, come up with stacks of results representing a wealth of information on the topic. If you have done this, you will also know that much of this information is overly technical, cryptic, and even confusing. Much of it is geared towards digital marketing specialists who already have an in-depth understanding of the topic. Some of it is written to be intentionally overwhelming to the lay-person so that they are persuaded to hire an SEO expert to assist them.
With all that in mind, this article is intended to be an introduction to SEO for small, grassroots organisations, so they can get a grasp of the basics of the subject and decide whether this is an area they want to invest in further whether in terms of time, manpower or financial investment. We will also take a brief look at some easy things you can do to improve your site’s SEO.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for “search engine optimization” and is essentially the process of ranking more highly on search engine results pages (also known as SERPs). In other words, it is about making sure you are as close as possible to the top of page 1 on Google when someone searches for something related to your organisation. This optimization is usually targeted on a website, although it can also be used for other elements such as individual pages or articles.
This is now a highly specialist area, with experts and even whole companies dedicated to SEO. It is quite a complex area, though perhaps not as complex as some “experts” would have you believe. Adding to this complexity is the fact that search engines are continually changing and upgrading their algorithms, the technology they use to determine how sites are ranked and what search results are shown first.
Is SEO Important for my NGO or Non-Profit?
So with all the hype around SEO, is it really that important?
The answer is yes and no.
For most businesses, SEO is critically important. Research shows that the vast majority of consumers (something in the order of 90%) search for businesses and products online. It is also well-accepted that most people won’t click onto the second page of results or beyond, and may not even scroll down past the first few results. So it is critically important for businesses trying to get new customers from online searches. Marketers these days live by the rule that “life doesn’t exist past the first page of Google”.
The NGO or non-profit sector is a little different, however. You are more likely to be connecting with your target audience – donors, volunteers, partners – through outreach and networking, rather than them stumbling across your site through a Google search. In this way it is most important that your website showcases your organisation to people once you have given them the site address, rather than being designed for people to find it while searching online.
However, there will be situations where people are searching for your organisation, either looking specifically for you, or for an organisation like yours. For example, people looking to volunteer may search for NGOs in your country or with your area of focus. Or perhaps potential donors who have heard of your organisation but don’t know the website address or even the name. So I would say that, depending on your goals and objectives, SEO should be a priority but probably not a top priority.
How To Improve Your Site’s SEO
As already mentioned, SEO is a relatively complex area and to really do this well it requires a significant level of investment of time and expertise. However, there are some quite simple things that you can do without too much technical knowledge to improve your site’s SEO somewhat.
1. Use the right keywords
Keywords are one of the most important elements in SEO, if not the most important. Search engines use keywords to determine relevance, that is, whether your site is relevant to a given search. For example, if someone types “children’s charity in the Philippines” into Google, the search engine will scan sites for keywords relating to this topic to pull up the results which are most relevant to the search. This will not only be the words in the search, that is “children’s charity” and “Philippines” but also terms which Google recognise as equivalent, for example, “non-profit” and “NGO”.
One slightly confusing thing about keywords is, despite the name, these don’t just have to be one word. A “keyword” can actually be a short phrase of several words, as long as it is something people search for online often. Examples could be “women’s organisation in Bolivia” or “gender-based violence NGO”.
A good, easy to use and free tool for keyword research is Ubersuggest. You can put any search term into the site, select the target country (this should be the main country where your target audience is – for example, if your organisations is in Ghana but most of your donors are in the UK, select the UK) and click “search”. This will then show that word’s search volume, which is the number of times that word is searched for each month on average. It will also show related terms and their search volumes, which can be useful as these may be more frequented searched.
A good approach to keyword research is:
- Think about the type of words or short phrases potential donors, volunteers, stakeholders and others who you want to find your site will be searching for. Brainstorm a list.
- Use a tool like Ubersuggest to search for each word on your list
- Note down the ones which have the best search volumes. This will be your keywords list, and ideally, it will include between five and ten words.
2. Put keywords in the right place
It’s not just about which keywords you use, where you put them is also important. When scanning your site for relevance, Google pays more attention to certain parts of your pages than others. This means that it will take more notice of a keyword if it is the site title than if it is somewhere within the text.
The most important places to include keywords are:
1) Page or post title
2) SEO title (the title which is displayed in the search result, and also on the top of the browser tab – you can adjust this on WordPress using an SEO plugin like Yoast SEO)
3) Permalink (the page or post’s URL, can be edited on WordPress)
4) Subheadings (also known as H2, H3 and H4 headings)
If possible, try to make sure you have one or two keywords in each of these elements, every time.
3. Put keywords everywhere
By now, you’re probably noticing a theme: keywords are important! This means that you want to pack as many of them as possible into your site. I don’t mean having more different keywords (there should be around five to ten keywords for your site as I’ve said) but rather repeating them as much as possible. Don’t just include each keyword once or twice and then forget about them!
The flipside of this is “keyword stuffing” and this can be a real problem. This is something that has become relatively common these days and involves marketers putting so many keywords into website text and articles that it doesn’t really make sense. In extreme examples, this becomes a gibberish of keywords.
The key is to include as many keywords as you can while keeping the text natural-sounding. You can also add keywords into sneaky places – for example, the – to increase your keyword count.
4. Add more links within and outside your site
Links can also make a difference to your site, in a few ways.
Firstly, internal links make it easier for search engines to navigate and therefore scan your site, and so can improve your SEO. By this, I mean links to other pages of posts in your own site. For example, on your home page you may write “donate here” and hyperlink to your fundraising page.
Links to external sites
The next type of link which can boost your SEO is links to other sites. These could be hyperlinks to citations or references for facts, figures or other information you state on your site. They could also be links to partner organisations or resources that your stakeholders may be interested in. This is important because it shows Google that you are properly referencing information on your site, and improves your site’s legitimacy.
Links to your site from elsewhere
This is a big one and something that in recent years digital marketing agencies have made big business around “link building” for businesses and organisations. Link building is a technique based on the premise that Google and other search engines look at how reliable and reputable a site is when deciding how to rank it. If it is reputable, they will rank it closer to the top of search results compared to other, less-trust worthy sites.
The main factor that Google looks for, apparently, in deciding if a site is reputable is how many other sites, and what kind of sites, have links back to that site. That is, if lots of trustworthy, well-known sites have links to your site, Google will see yours as a “good” site. Trying to get links from well-known sites can be a huge job, and something that experts work on for a month at a time, usually by trying to get articles published on online magazines and blogs which contain “backlinks”.
This is probably not feasible for most small organisations, however, the key take away here is to take every opportunity to get links to your site published on other websites. For example, if you are associated with a larger international organisation, make sure they publish something about you on their site and include a link on your site. If an online publication wants to write an article about you, say yes and – that’s right – make sure they post a link to your website. These links also have the advantage of raising awareness about your organisation and could even lead to donations or other benefits.
5. Improve your site’s technical specifications
SEO is not just about the content of your site such as keywords and links. Search engines also look at technical specs of sites when deciding which ones to rank first. After all, Google and similar search engines are designed to deliver the best results to the user, and if your site is very slow or difficult to navigate this will not produce a good experience for the people using it. On a very practical level, if there are technical issues with your site, the search engines will not be able to scan it effectively, which will stop them from finding the keywords and so on which compel them to rank it.
Some key technical aspects which can impact on SEO are:
- Site speed – slow sites will rank lower on Google. You can check your site speed on tools like GTmetrix, which is a free tool.
- Site map – having a site map somewhere on your website will make it easier for search engines to check it (called “crawling” in the industry). If you have a WordPress site, you can add a site map by using a plugin such as Google XML Sitemaps or YoastSEO.
- Permalink – Not only what you put in your permalink is important (as previously mentioned, make sure your permalink also includes one or more keywords), but the structure itself also impacts on SEO. The best permalink for SEO is the “post name” structure, with as few words as possible. This can be updated in WordPress through settings.
- Be secure – Google is said to prefer sites which are secure – that is they are “https” rather than “http”.
If you’re running a small, grassroots NGO (or any kind of NGO) SEO probably isn’t your top priority, nor should it be. However, with a basic understanding of the concept, you can take some relatively easy steps to improve your site’s SEO which may bring your organisation more publicity and ultimately help you to achieve your broader goals.