Brushing Up on Your Nonprofit SEO Basics

You may think that Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a business term and really only applies to the for-profit sector, but the reality is that anyone who wants to get found online needs to understand SEO! From what I've seen, nonprofits have been slow to catch on, which costs them donations, volunteers, and publicity.

What is SEO?

According to Search Engine Land, SEO is

“The process of getting traffic from the “free,” “organic,” “editorial” or “natural” listings on search engines.”

Getting this free traffic instantaneously the moment you publish your website would be amazing, but it rarely works that way. The reality is that if you have a website, you’re in competition with many other websites for a finite amount of online traffic. To succeed in this competition and attract high quantities of the right visitors, you have to play the game!

An example might help here. Let’s say you run a homeless shelter in Newport News, Virginia and you’d like to like to attract more local visitors to your website. You’ve done a search for yourself, but you aren’t even showing up on the first 3 pages of Google for the search term “homeless shelter Newport News”.

You need SEO!

Search Engine Ranking Factors

Google Algorithm Ranking Formula Courtesy of and

Why do you need SEO? Well, search engines like Google and Bing are in business to bring searchers the highest quality, most relevant search results for every query. They use complex, ever-changing algorithms to determine what is most relevant based on things like the following ranking factors:

  • The amount of quality, relevant information on your website
  • The quality and volume of other websites linking to pages on your website
  • The keywords on the pages of your website
  • The amount of social signals (Google +1s, Facebook Shares, Twitter Followers etc.)
  • The structure of pages and links within your website
  • …And much more!

You can see for yourself if you check out’s 2015 Search Engine Ranking Factors. It’s a bit dense if you aren’t familiar with SEO terminology, but it’s helpful to reference.


Your competition certainly influences your website’s ranking for search terms like “homeless shelter Newport News”. If you are in a city, you there will be more people searching for you, but there may also be some well-established organizations on page 1 for your desired keywords.

You may be tempted to throw in the towel, but there are many things you can do to improve your rankings for free if you have a little time to invest. Remember that nothing on the internet is static; it is an ever-evolving environment!

If you know what to do and make consistent efforts to improve and optimize your website for visitors and the search engines, there’s no reason why you can’t improve your ranking for all the search terms that matter to your nonprofit organization.

Some Basic Things You Can do to Improve the SEO on Your Website

Do Keyword Research

There are many tools you can use to find keywords, and one of the best, Google’s Keyword Planner, also happens to be free! You can use the keyword planner to search for high volume, low competition keywords that apply to your town, state, country, or the entire Google-land! Start your search for keywords phrases that are about 2-5 words long.

Use Your Keywords

You’ll want to carefully plan out where to use your keywords throughout your website. I’d suggest starting an excel sheet with each page on your website and the keywords you want to target for each page. Choose a different keyword to target for each page so that your pages aren’t in competition with each other.  IE: Don’t use “homeless shelter Newport News” as the primary keywords on 2 different pages on your website.

Link Building

Link Building Traffic Sources Image Courtesy of

Since the beginning of the internet, links have been the primary tool that search engines use to determine the relevancy of a given website. There are a number of ways you can get high quality links to your website, including things like:

  • Listing your organization in free online directories, like google places, bing local, and yahoo local
  • Posting great content (articles, social posts, images, videos, and more) that gets linked to
  • Guest posting articles on another organization’s website
  • Syndicate a press release
  • Ask people you know for links to your website

If you’d like a more comprehensive list, check out this article by Point Blank SEO

There are a LOT of Fundamentals to Remember!

There is certainly plenty to take in! And we haven't even discussed how to convert visitors once they arrive! However, as long as you understand that SEO is a comprehensive strategy that requires ongoing effort, you can definitely make headway and improve the ranking of your organization’s website.

Good luck, and let me know if anything is unclear!