8 Actionable Tips to Improve Your Charity’s Organic Visibility
A charity’s budget for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is often tight and highly accountable. It’s also often the last thing to come into a charity’s digital marketing mix—most people reading this will have someone in house managing social media, and maybe even someone for PPC. Few will have a dedicated SEO manager.
This is at odds with the data. Analysis of acquisition data from 20 charities that we work with shows that organic search traffic makes up on average 51% of the total traffic to a nonprofit’s website. For some of the organisations, this can increase to 75% or more of traffic. For those organisations where fundraising and donations are important, the data reinforces this. Sample Google Analytics e-commerce data for 10 charities we work with (from £1m income to £150m in size) shows an average of around 50% of revenue coming from organic search traffic. This % share is far, far higher for those charities with limited PPC and paid social budgets.
At Torchbox, we provide SEO consultancy to organisations including NHS.UK, Greenpeace UK, the British Medical Association, Samaritans and more. This article outputs that experience into a series of top tips on how to make SEO work at your charity.
1. When it comes to traffic: Quality not quantity!
The people you want to reach most might be searching using high search volume keywords. However, they will be diluted amongst all the other users who might not be as relevant for your organisation.
For example, a user Googling the word ‘asthma’ might have been recently diagnosed and looking for information about it. For an asthma charity, this user is obviously part of a key audience. But equally it could be someone trying to find the correct spelling of the word. For that asthma charity, this second user is unlikely to be in a target user group.
Instead, spend time researching and defining the lower search volume keywords that will bring a high quality audience to your site. Aim to rank for these terms instead by creating pages that are specifically optimised to rank for these “long tail” keywords.
The search volume might be lower, but so too will the competition. You will likely see better rankings, higher click through rates (CTRs), lower bounce rates, and higher conversion rates - all as a result of having more relevant content for that query.
2. Speak like your users
Another way to bring this high quality traffic to your site is to make sure you are using the same language as your audience.
You might be a diabetes charity, and your users might be searching for information using the term ‘high blood sugar’, but you have optimised your pages towards the more formal term ‘Hyperglycemia’. Your pages risk not being seen as as relevant because the wording is not the same as how your users are searching.
This could result in your page ranking below other pages that are optimised for the more common wording.
To find these opportunities, many of the common paid SEO tools out there will provide related keywords and their search volumes.
3. Take a look under the hood
It’s all very well optimising your copy with all these new keywords from your keyword research. But if your site isn’t technically strong then search engines won’t rank you highly for them. Your website needs a strong foundation in the first place.
Start with a full technical audit of your site, the aim of which is to improve the journey of search engine crawlers around your site so that they can easily find your content. Get to know your robots.txt file, compare your XML sitemap to Google's indexing, and consider how best to utilise Google Search Console’s URL Parameter tool. These are just an example of the things that we look at when we conduct our technical audits, but there is a lot more to it. Speak to a technical SEO specialist (like us!) to see if they can help you with one for your site.
4. Fast track your way to the top.
Featured snippets are the ‘quick answer’ box that you typically see at the top of search engine results pages, and they are becoming more common in SERPs these days...
12% of search engine results contain a featured snippetAhrefs, 2020
Typically they appear for informational searches, displayed as a paragraph, list or a table - and as a charity you’re in a strong position to rank for them. You are an authority to speak about your cause, and search engines prefer to feature content from authoritative sources.
The main advantage of a featured snippet is you are right at the top of the results page and owning it massively increases your site’s visibility.
We use tools such as Ahrefs to try to find keyword opportunities for our clients to rank in the featured snippet. And then we help them optimise their content to give it the best chance to hold these positions.
5. Ask partners and publications for backlinks
As a charity you may be working with other organisations, or even sending articles out for press releases. This is a great opportunity for your organisation to gain links back to your site, or ‘backlinks’ as SEOs call them.
Why are backlinks important? Because they’re used by search engines as an indicator of authority, which helps them to know which pages to rank above others. If The Guardian puts it’s virtual arm around you by linking to you, Google sees that as a solid endorsement of your content from a reputable source and rewards you.
You should always have it in your head to try and get a backlink where relevant. So next time you prepare an article to be sent out to the press or partner up with another organisation... just make sure that you ask for a link back to your site from theirs.
6. Help search engines understand your content more easily
Schema markup is a language that only search engines can read. It is hidden from your average web user in the source code, and its purpose is to highlight specific elements to search engines.
For example if you are running a fundraising event, you could ‘mark up’ aspects like the event’s name, the time and date that it is running, and perhaps the location. Then when search engines visit the site, they are able to see that this page is about an event - and that these are the specific details.
Sometimes this might lead to a rich snippet in the results page, for example:
Do some research and find out what types of schema are relevant to your organisation and speak with your dev team about getting it implemented.
7. Serve up the right content to an international audience
Does your charity or nonprofit operate in more than one country? If so, your website will most likely contain multi-lingual and region-specific content. Each of your international markets needs to be considered from an SEO perspective, and failure to do so could be harming your organic visibility in each individual market. International SEO is an article in itself, but here’s one tip.
To ensure that the right content appears in the right markets, it’s critical that content is using hreflang tags correctly. These meta tags are hidden to the user, but can be used to show search engines the preferred language and market for that page to rank in.
For example, you might have one version of your site written in Spanish for the Spanish market, but also another version written in Spanish for the Mexican market. Both sites are written and searched for in Spanish. But without hreflang tags, search engines might struggle to know which content to rank in which market - meaning that Mexican content might appear in Spain and vice versa. Not only would this be bad for user experience, but it could negatively impact your rankings.
8. Free tools (and when to use the paid ones)
There are so many free resources out there that you can use to help your SEO strategy and save your precious budget. Here are a few of our favourites:
- Google Analytics. You know this one, but it’s still a big hitter, and it’s free. It shows you data from multiple channels, and allows you to measure performance against fully customisable goals and conversions.
- Google Search Console is a fairly simple, free platform that shows organic traffic data spanning back a year and a half, as well as data on the search queries that brought users to your content.
- Google Keyword Planner. This tool is primarily for helping to find keywords for paid ads, however the insights are useful to SEOs as well. The data is free to use as long as you are running paid ads within Google Ads.
- Screaming Frog. A super useful tool that SEOs use to crawl sites and easily analyse pages in bulk. The free trial allows you to crawl up to 500 pages, and they also offer a discount for nonprofits if you ask nicely.
- Google PageSpeed Insights. The loading speed of pages on your site is an important ranking factor. This Google tool analyses URLs and tells you the aspects which are slowing the page down AND how to fix them.
- Answer The Public. If you are looking for questions that your users are searching for to make your content more relevant then look no further. Input a keyword and it scrapes Google’s search engine results for a list of questions that users have searched for. There is a limit of 3 requests per day, but that is definitely enough to get you started.
Free tools will only take you so far though, and as you might expect the best insights come from paid tools. Our favourite paid tool to use is Ahrefs, which is a very good all-in-one tool! There are plenty to choose from though, and every SEO has their tool of choice.
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Torchbox’s SEO analysts are here to help, and we have unparalleled nonprofit experience. If you’d like to talk SEO—technical, content or otherwise—get in touch.
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