Ranking highly in Google search results is a great—and cost-effective—way to raise your nonprofit’s profile. But in order for your nonprofit’s website to rank well, you’ll need to perform some Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Nonprofit SEO is pretty similar to SEO in other sectors and can be broken down into two main components: content strategy and technical optimization.
Content strategy involves researching search terms related to your cause and then creating content that will rank well for those terms. Technical SEO involves improving your website, itself, from the page structure to the code you use, with a priority placed on speed, accessibility, and a positive user experience.
In this post, we’re going to focus on the technical aspects of nonprofit SEO. Here are 10 steps that your nonprofit can take to improve its website and help that site rank higher in search results.
1. Optimize for Mobile Search
With almost 60% of Google search traffic happening on mobile devices, Google has adopted a mobile-first indexing strategy. This means that Google will give priority to sites that perform well on mobile devices, and it’s why your nonprofit’s website needs to be mobile-optimized if you want to rank well in Google search results.
If your website isn’t optimized for mobile, it will take a long time to load when people are on their mobile devices. And once the page loads, the user will be faced with the desktop version of your site—which will be pretty miserable to navigate on their mobile device.
There are a number of design factors that can impact a page’s usability on mobile. Those factors include a page that’s wider than the device screen, text that’s too small, and clickable elements that are too close together.
The best way to see whether or not your nonprofit’s website is mobile-friendly is to take Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test. If your nonprofit’s site isn’t mobile-friendly, the test results will make recommendations to help you improve your site’s performance.
2. Focus on Page Speed
If you’ve ever had to deal with slow-loading webpages, then you know how frustrating it can be. That’s why Google takes page speed into account when creating their rankings. If you want your pages to rank, they need to load quickly.
First, you should check out Core Web Vitals. This is a standard set of metrics provided by Google that lets you make an apples-to-apples comparison to other sites. One of the metrics contained in Core Web Vitals is Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), which measures the time it takes for all the various content blocks on your page to load. You want an LCP score of 2.5 seconds or less.
When it comes to learning more about how your page could load faster, Google Page Speed Insights is a great tool.
While the specifics will vary from site to site, here are five basic steps that you can take to improve your page speed:
- Compress your images (and/or use JPGs): The bigger a file is, the longer it will take to load. For images, compressing them will reduce the file size and help them load faster. You can also use JPGs, a file format that is already compressed.
- Host videos on a third-party hosting platform: While compressing video files is also a good idea, an even better idea is to host your videos on a third-party hosting platform which you can then embed on your webpage. That way, your webpage won’t need to load the full video file.
- Minimize Redirects: Every time your site redirects from one page to another, that’s another request sent to the server that needs to be fulfilled. Any time there is a redirect needed, make sure that there is only one redirect in the chain.
- Use a plugin to enable caching: Caching is a protocol that stores elements of your webpage as a static file, allowing it to load more frequently. While you should definitely do research before installing any caching plugin, nonprofits with WordPress sites should check out the free plugin W3 Total Cache.
- Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN): CDNs spread out the storage and delivery of your website elements across a network of servers. When a person clicks on your website, the page will download from the server that is physically closest to them, reducing load times. W3 Total Cache, mentioned in the previous tip, also provides access to a CDN.
Another way to help your pages load faster through Google Search is to create Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) versions of these pages. AMP is a web component framework created by Google to help sites create web pages with streamlined code that load faster.
3. Include Title Tags & Meta Descriptions
You can help Google determine what content each page contains—and what search terms best apply to that content—by adding title tags and meta descriptions to every page of your nonprofit’s website.
Title tags (also known as meta page titles) serve as a headline for each page—and they’re an important spot to include keywords. If a nonprofit has a page for a food pantry that lists its hours of operation, that page could carry the title tag “Food Pantry Hours of Operation | Nonprofit X.”
You want to make sure that your organization’s name is in the title tag, and a good way to do that is to include it at the end following some kind of separator, as in the example used above.
Meta descriptions provide a bit more context for your page, and they provide another opportunity to use key search terms. Think of it as a brief description as to what your page contains. “Learn more about Nonprofit X’s food pantry hours of operation. We are open six days a week, and we are closed on Sundays.” The ideal meta description is 100 to 150 characters long.
Title tags and meta descriptions won’t only help search engines categorize your content. They will also help users identify what is on a page and whether it is relevant to their search intent. Make sure that you keep users in mind when crafting them. The catchier your title tags and meta page descriptions are, the better!
Below you can see the Title Tag and the meta description for Neon One’s homepage as it appears on a Search Engine Results Page (SERP).
4. Use Headings to Structure Your Pages
Headings not only help readers quickly navigate your page to find the information they’re looking for, they also help search engines categorize that same information. Don’t just throw a title at the top of your page and call it a day; you should also include subheadings that call out specific elements within a page.
Headings in HTML follow a clear numbering structure. Your top headline is h1, while your sub-headings below it are h2. If you include any subsections within a section headlined by an h2, you would title those subsections with an h3. The smallest heading is h6.
As with many technical optimizations on this list, using clear headings helps search engines and improves the user experience. Visitors to your nonprofit’s website will be grateful that your pages break everything down into easy-to-navigate sections.
And don’t forget: You can use your headings to reiterate keywords that you would like your page to rank for! Just don’t go overboard. “Keyword stuffing” will turn off visitors and hurt your rankings.
5. Use HTTPS Encryption
If you prioritize security on your website, Google will prioritize your website in their search results. Make sure that you use “https” encryption to add that additional layer of security and avoid getting dinged by Google.
Google typically provides a warning to any visitor who attempts to click over to a website that lacks this encryption. Even if you have great content on your website, a warning from Google that your site isn’t secure will ensure that very few donors ever see any of it.
The easiest way to get https encryption is to use a web hosting provider that automatically includes it. If your web host doesn’t provide one, you will need to request an SSL/TLS certificate from a Certificate Authority and work with your web host to install it.
For more information on requesting and installing an SSL/TLS certificate, see this article from Google.
Neon Websites come with a free SSL certificate that can be easily installed. If you’d like to learn more, please get in touch!
6. Utilize Internal Links
Make sure that you are creating links that connect different pages on your site. If you mention a program or event that your nonprofit is offering, link to the page for that event. Internal links help users discover relevant content on your site and display authority to search engines.
Be strategic with your internal links. Figure out which pages are your most relevant, and look for opportunities to link to them. This will signal to Google and other search engines that these pages are important. If you have a page that is performing well, adding links from that page to other key pages will also signal that these pages are important.
You should take care when creating your anchor text—which is the text that you turn into a hyperlink when creating an internal link. Try and have that anchor text reflect the keyword that you are targeting for the linked page. This will be another signal to Google that the page is relevant to your target topic.
Lastly, make sure that you are regularly checking all your internal links to make sure that they’re up-to-date. A broken link on your site will hurt your performance with search engines.
7. Create a Sitemap and a Robots.txt File
A sitemap is a file that provides information on all the pages, videos, and files on your website. They help search engines search your site more efficiently. Sitemaps are most appropriate for larger websites, websites that don’t have a lot of internal links, new websites, and websites that have a large number of videos, images, and other rich media.
If you are a new nonprofit with a brand-new website, you’re going to be facing an uphill battle in terms of SEO. A sitemap can be a big help. To learn more about building a sitemap, see this article from Google.
A robots.txt file is similar to a sitemap. It’s a file that tells the crawlers from Google which pages on your site to crawl. But, unlike a sitemap, a robots.txt file can exclude pages that are irrelevant to search.
While creating a robots.txt file isn’t a way to “hide” pages from Google—in order to really do that, you need to add a “noindex” meta tag or password-protect it—it does help them search your site more efficiently and skip irrelevant content.
Want to create robots.txt file for your nonprofit’s website? Check out this article on Google Search Central.
8. Keep Your URLs Short
In general, keep your URLs short and to the point. This will help search engines determine the relevant information contained in the URL.
When you’re creating a new page on your website, you’ll start with your normal domain and any relevant subdomains. Next, you’ll create a slug that corresponds to that specific page. For instance, this article’s URL starts with “neonone.com” then continues with “/resources/” and then drills down further to “blog/” until we reach the slug “nonprofit-seo-optimize-website.”
When creating your slug, try and keep it between three to five words. That isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it’s a good principle to follow. Make sure your slugs are to-the-point and—whenever possible—contain your target keyword.
Pro Tip: If you are writing a page that contains a year in the title, don’t include that year in the URL. This way, you can update that page for the following year without having an out-of-date URL or having to redirect to a new page with a new URL. For instance, a page on your nonprofit website that’s titled “Volunteer Opportunities in 2022” could simply have the slug “volunteer opportunities.” In 2023, you then update the title to read “Volunteer Opportunities in 2023” and leave the slug alone.
9. Add a Google Map to Your Contact Us Page
Leveraging local SEO tools and principles is a great way for your nonprofit to increase your profile and perform well in search results. It’s so important, in fact, that to really get it into it would require its own blog post.
Here’s a simple tip to leverage local SEO when optimizing your website: Add a Google Maps module with your nonprofit’s location to your “Contact Us” page. Make sure you use Google Maps, as it’s helpful to use Google’s own products.
By doing so, you will help your nonprofit show up in the map results for nonprofits in your area. This is a great way to appear high on the first page of results, above practically all the other web pages that are ranking on that page.
10. Avoid Duplicate Content
Most of these tips involve things you should do. This tip covers something you shouldn’t do.
If you were looking to have your website perform poorly in search rankings, a great way to accomplish that (very strange) goal would be to include a bunch of pages that have the same content.
Including duplicate content on your website is the definition of spammy. If the number of duplicate pages is high enough, it could result in your site being heavily penalized by Google and rendered basically invisible in search results until the problem is fixed.
If you have pages with lots of duplicate content, you can either delete the duplicates or set up a 301 redirect. This is a protocol that permanently redirects traffic from one URL to another.
Optimization is Easy with Neon Websites
When it comes to optimizing your nonprofit’s website for search engines, there is no one solution to rule them all. It’s a ton of small fixes and tweaks that add up to a speedy, mobile-optimized website with a great user experience.
If your nonprofit is in need of a new website, Neon Websites offers a turnkey solution with both professional and DIY options that are both easy to use and optimized for nonprofit-specific needs.
In addition to strategically designed templates, data security features, quick self-edit, and transparent pricing, Neon Websites also integrates seamlessly with Neon CRM, allowing you to create a premium experience for both your staff members and your constituents.
Want to get started with Neon Websites? Schedule a consultation today.
Join the discussion in our Slack channel on connected fundraising