SEO: Using Search Engine Optimization to Drive More Traffic to (and Fundraising through) Your Nonprofit’s Website

By Allan Pressel, Founder/CEO of CharityFinders
Redondo Beach, CA (September 1, 2008)- Your nonprofit might have an excellent website, but it still might not help you. If no one visits your organization’s site, that site won’t benefit you. So, most nonprofits are now focusing on driving more traffic to their sites. Since many visitors to nonprofit websites find those sites through search engines, nonprofits are now using the growing area of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to attract more website visitors.


The first article in this series introduces readers to the importance of SEOs and how they can positively impact your nonprofit by bringing new users to your organization’s website. Part Two begins to consider a number of SEO techniques to drive traffic to your site. The final article wraps up the discussion by employing additional SEO techniques to drive traffic to your site.
Part One- What Is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a set of techniques you can use to drive more and better traffic to your website by improving your organization’s search engine ranking for relevant keywords. If potential donors, volunteers, clients, or other constituents can’t find your site easily, they may donate to, volunteer for, or support another nonprofit that they can find more easily — or they may simply do nothing.
Many nonprofits receive few, if any, online donations, event registrations, volunteer sign-ups, or other forms of support through their website. Sometimes this is because organization’s websites do not offer these transactions or, if they do, make them difficult for users to find or complete. Other times, it’s because few users are visiting the site, or those that are coming to the site are not likely to take action. SEO can help you to drive more visitors to your organization’s site and maximize the likelihood those visitors will take action to support you. Of course, another part of the equation is to have a website that offers a lot for the user to see and a lot for them to do. For more information on this, please see How Your Nonprofit Can Use the Internet Strategically.
Luckily, there are many techniques you can use- both with SEO and in other areas- to drive more traffic to your site. In Part Two of this article we’ll focus on SEO techniques, particularly those that are easy to implement, and either free or low-cost.
So, how do search engines work?
First of all, there are hundreds of search engines, but only three that you should care about: Google, Yahoo, and MSN. The hundreds of others cumulatively have a small market share. Plus, taking the right steps to improve your organization’s website ranking for these three will help you with the others as well. The search engines send out software processes called bots, spiders, or crawlers to scour the web looking for new or changed websites. When they find them, they are trained to sniff out various pieces of information about your site and report them back to the search engines. This information is then fed into an algorithm used to create the search engine standings or rankings — these rankings, in turn, enable search engine visitors to find your site. If you know what those bots and spiders are looking for, you can maximize the likelihood they’ll find it, so your site can appear as high as possible in the search engine rankings. If your site is not in the top few listings, it hardly matters whether you are number 20 or number 2,000,000; most people don’t look past the top few listings.
What are the search engines looking for?
Google alone has over 200 factors that they use to determine your search engine standing! Few people outside of the CEO of Google himself actually know exactly what factors are examined, their relative priorities, or precisely how they are used in the search engine algorithms. However, Parts Two and Three discuss several factors that are likely to help you achieve a higher ranking in the search engine standings.
Part Two- SEO Techniques to Drive Traffic to Your Website
1. Have lots of other sites linking to yours. Here’s how you can easily determine how many and which sites are linking to yours. Go to Google and in the search box, type “links:www.yournonprofit.org” and hit enter. You’ll see which sites link to yours (called back links), and you can click through each of these to determine exactly where those sites link to yours. Obviously you want the number of sites linking to yours to be as high as possible. Therefore, you should think about which other organizations- relevant, reputable ones- might consent to providing a link from their site to yours. Examples include partner nonprofits, sponsors, your board members’ corporate sites, local Management Support Organizations, nonprofit associations and industry groups, places where you speak or exhibit, and more. Ask these organizations to provide links to your site. You can make it more attractive to them by offering a reciprocal link, but remember that a one-way link into your site is more valuable than a reciprocal link in determining your search engine ranking.
2. Have lots of links to other sites. This should be easy for you to do. Remember that the more relevant the links are to your site and your mission, and the more reputable the destination site, the more they will help you in the search engine rankings. Still, you should limit the number of outgoing links to 100.
3. Drive lots of traffic to your site. The more website visitors that your site attracts through a particular search engine, the higher your ranking will be for that search engine. There are many techniques nonprofits can use to drive traffic to their sites, but this article focuses only on SEO-related techniques.
4. Use metatags. Metatags are pieces of HTML code that are embedded in your web pages and identify various attributes of those pages to the search engines. There are at least 15 different types of metatags, but only two which you should care about:
* Description metatag. This is a one-sentence description of your nonprofit.
* Keyword metatags. These are words or phrases that you’d like people to search on and then be able to find your nonprofit. You can view your site’s metatags by going to your home page, clicking “View” within your browser’s menu, then “Source”, and then using Edit/Find to find the word “keyword”.
5. Use blogs. Incorporate one or more blogs within your website, such as a blog written by your executive director letting people know what’s new with your nonprofit on a regular basis. They will help your search engine standing.
6. Avoid splash pages. Search engines- and human visitors- want to see content on your home page, as well as navigation, not some fancy graphic, especially Flash.
7. Don’t build your entire site in Flash. There are many reasons for this besides SEO (such as some users not having Flash installed on their PC or having low-speed connections), but from an SEO standpoint, the search engines will not index any content built in Flash.
8. Be careful with your use of JavaScript. Crawlers will not index JavaScript code. A way around this is to embed all of your content into the page, and then to use JavaScript to manipulate the embedded content.
9. Don’t use “Frames.” This is an HTML command that may cause crawlers to bypass your page. However, crawlers are becoming more adept at recognizing and following frames.
10. Don’t require cookies. It’s okay to use cookies, just don’t require them. The site should work fine without them for search engines or people.
11. Use HTML. Search engines prefer it.
12. Search engines prefer text over graphics. Crawlers cannot recognize any text you display in your graphics.
Part Three- More SEO Techniques to Drive Traffic to Your Website
12. Make your site easily navigable. If a bot or spider has trouble navigating through your site, so will human users, which will detrimentally affect your organization in the search engine standings. Be sure that every page can be located easily. Your homepage should be particularly easy to navigate. Ideally, the user should be able to get from any page of your site to any other page with just one click, perhaps by using a dynamic, drop-down menu. (Be aware, though, that most dynamic menus will not work with search engines. The exception is drop-down menus that use embedded content in HTML.)
13. Don’t have any “dead links”. Every text link, image link, menu item, and button should actually work when a human user- or crawler- clicks on it. Here’s a great tool to check for dead links: www.dead-links.com.
14. Create a site map. This will help spiders and users to navigate through your site.
15. Use appropriate titles on each page. On each page of your site, look at the line at the top left corner of your browser. You’ll see a page title. The search engines see this as well. Hint: don’t use a generic title like “Homepage”. Instead, use a meaningful title (like the name of your nonprofit for your homepage title).
16. Use ALT text. These are the descriptions that are displayed if the images are not loaded properly. Ideally, all your images should have ALT text that is relevant to your content. Adding this text will also help your site be more accessible for disabled users.
17. Use a robots.txt file. This file tells the search engines which parts of your site to ignore.
18. Get listed in the Open Directory Project. It is the largest human-edited web directory.
19. Purchase your domain name (URL) for as long a period as possible. This lets the search engines know that you intend to be around for a long time. Luckily for nonprofits, .org domains are granted a higher status than .com domains. So if you don’t have a .org domain, get one.
20. Don’t have more than one or two hyphens in your domain name.
21. Keep your URL short, for the benefit of search engines and humans.
22. Your site should display with or without the “www”.
23. Register your organization’s website with search engines. Most search engines have free and paid ways for you to register with them (called search engine submission), increasing the speed and accuracy with which they’ll recognize your site. For example, for $299 you can register with Yahoo’s human-compiled directory for one year, helping the crawlers to find your site more easily and quickly.
24. Purchase ad words (also called Search Engine Marketing [SEM] or Pay Per Click [PPC]). For example, Google offers AdWords which you can purchase at x cents per click (minimum = 5-10 cents). You can even specify a total cap so you can control your costs. This way when a search engine visitor searches on those words, you will come up at or near the top, in the “sponsored links” section. Try initially setting a low budget with one or two AdWords. Measure the effectiveness of your AdWords — in terms of increased website hits, donations, etc. If it proves to be effective, then purchase more AdWords. There are two parts to being successful with PPC: (1) having an ad that gets people to click through to your site and (2) having a website optimized for conversion. In other words, when the AdWords drive people to your site, you then want them to actually DO something — donate, buy event tickets, etc. Otherwise your investment in AdWords may be wasted.
25. Apply for a Google Grant. Nonprofits can apply for free Google AdWords for at least three months.
26. Keep your site updated frequently. This means that you should add, change, and delete pages as well as content within pages. Users won’t want to return to your site if it’s static (i.e., if it is always exactly or almost exactly the same). Ditto for search engines. You want search engines to visit your site as often as possible, so keep updating your site, and they’ll come back often to see what’s new!
Google has a key measure of your site’s ranking called PageRank. This rates your homepage (or any page) from 0 to 10, with 10 being best. The only “10” you may ever encounter is Google itself! If your nonprofit’s homepage is a 5 or above, you’re doing pretty well. You can quickly determine your site’s page rank here.
SEO is based on unknown and changing algorithms. So let’s say that you do all the right things and that your website achieves a top ranking on Google for your choice of keywords this month. Next month you might be #60- not necessarily because you have done something wrong or because 59 sites jumped ahead of yours- but possibly because Google changed its algorithm.
Nevertheless, the techniques discussed above are likely to help you achieve a higher search engine ranking and therefore more awareness and greater traffic to your site. Of course, you also should make sure to have a site that is worthy of lots of traffic. Hopefully, you’ll have a site that is attractive, interactive (so people can support you, not just read about you), easily navigable, easy to maintain, and dynamic. A site like that, combined with the use of effective SEO techniques to drive a large volume of traffic to your site, can produce more donations, event tickets, volunteer signups, and other compelling results for your nonprofit.
Related Resources:
SEO: Using Search Engine Optimization to Drive More Traffic to (and Fundraising through) Your Nonprofit’s Website
How Your Nonprofit Can Use the Internet Strategically