Environmental Charities SEO Sector Deep Dive

Emma Bennett

Head of SEO

If you'd like a PDF copy of this report please email us at [email protected]
Deforestation -

Environmental charities across the UK, and around the world, campaign on and raise awareness of issues relating to the natural world—climate, deforestation, pollution and conservation. These charities have an extremely wide range of objectives, some of which overlap with the other charities in this audit, and some that don’t. These range from animal adoption, donations, membership, petitioning, campaigning and more.

The organisations we looked at in this sub-sector audit were:

(NB: For the purposes of this audit, we have opted to treat Greenpeace as a nonprofit, despite its strict definition as a limited company. We’ve reviewed www.greenpeace.org.uk in its entirety, rather than just the section of the site relating to Greenpeace’s charitable arm, Greenpeace Environmental Trust).

Reflections on our data

The Domain Authority (broadly defined as an indicator of the overall “strength” of a domain) of charities in this sub sector averaged 69/100, which is the highest of all of the sectors we have audited as part of this project. This is fantastic to see. WWF and Greenpeace lead the way, with DAs of 74 and 72 respectively: some of the highest across the nonprofit sector.

This sub-sector has a clear, unchallenged frontrunner: WWF. In 4 of the six metrics we reviewed, WWF came out ahead of other nonprofits in this sub-sector, and in the fifth and sixth (no. of 30x / 404 error codes and number of referring domains), they were second best in both.

The sub-sector has a low average Core Web Vitals score of 33—the second lowest of all the sectors we looked at. This average is favourably skewed by WWF, who have a CWV score of 66. Were we to remove WWF from this average, this sector-wide score would fall to 25—by far and away the lowest of any sub-sector in the nonprofit space. Charities need to engage with CWV now as Google increases its importance over the coming months: it’s part of the core algorithm now, and we expect more weight to be put on it, and more components to be added to it as it increases in relevance.

Sector Super Tip #1

More than any other sector we audited as part of this project, your charity (assuming you’re not WWF!) has a big opportunity to put clear water between yourself and the competition by addressing your Core Web Vitals score and making improvements to it. It’s part of Google’s core algorithm now, so it should be considered as a technical consideration by your development team.

Reaching Students and Teachers

We know from our previous work with Greenpeace UK and Friends of the Earth that a critical audience for this sub-sector are young people and teachers. These are the supporters of tomorrow, and they have increasing clout in mobilising older demographics. While it’s perhaps too big an ask to expect primary children to go on climate marches en masse, it is entirely reasonable for these charities to play a role in educating the next generation. To do this, they’ll need to rank for specific keyword territories. One of these centres around teaching resources, which allow nonprofits to reach young people through teachers, by proxy.

  • For the term “teaching resources about climate change”, WWF is the only charity in this list to rank on the first four pages of Google UK, holding an impressive position 1 ranking for this term. Oxfam GB, who we’ve classed as an International Aid & Development charity in this project, also rank on page 1.
  • No charity in this sub-sector audit ranks on page 1 for “how to explain climate change to children”. Rainforest Alliance have a section on their website dedicated to resources for kids, and they also have a separate page about talking to kids that is ranked on page 2 for this term, suggesting an opportunity to optimise this existing content. But the kids hub page they have is what we call “corridor” content—it is merely a list of other content in multiple different languages with no parsable text for Google to really sink its teeth into and understand.
  • Only World Land Trust ranks on the first page for “teaching resources about deforestation”, outranked by everyone from Pinterest to TES to Twinkl. WWF and Greenpeace are on page 3 for this term.
  • Greenpeace UK’s content ranks poorly for this keyword territory. Their hub for young people is another example of a corridor page that makes no mention of central Greenpeace causes. If Google were to just crawl this on-page text, this could be a list of resources for young people on almost any subject. Robust on-page optimisation would really help this content position itself as environment-related in the eyes of Google.
Screengrab of Greenpeace UK educational resources hub Greenpeace UK website image
  • Friends of the Earth were not visible for any of the terms we mention in the above bullet points; we found evidence of some KS3 content about climate on their site, but we were unable to surface it in Google’s results for any of these terms (it does rank on the first page for “ks3 resources about climate change”).

Sector Super Tip #2

There is a wide open goal for environmental nonprofits here to rank well on the first page of Google UK for terms that are being searched for by teachers and educators. Competition comes from an extremely wide range of other domains including nasa.gov and other teaching resources. Consider developing a content hub with an informative, text-rich, well-structured (H1, H2s) landing page that establishes your site as an informational hub for teachers and parents. The potential here feels endless.

Unique Competition

The nonprofits in this sub-sector face a unique challenge compared to all the other sub-sectors we looked at, in that they are competing not just with each other, but also with a wide range of commercial websites that are talking about the environment—news outlets, climate publications, wikipedia/encyclopedia sites, eco-friendly companies, government entities, and more. This brings additional challenges in ranking strongly.

Heathrow Expansion

Friends of the Earth have a great piece of content about the expansion of Heathrow airport in which they’re ranking in second place for the term “why is airport expansion bad”. The BBC, The Guardian, the Times are all occupying competitive positions on the same first page result. What’s interesting is that this ranking is for a keyword with an intent, indicated by the word “bad” in the user’s query. For the shorter tail, “head” term like “heathrow expansion” which has far higher volume, FoE fall significantly further down the SERPs to the bottom of page 2. Crudely put, this suggests that news sites play a stronger role in the education of neutral users, most of whom will not be FoE supporters. One tactic that organisations could develop is looking at how to rank for these more neutral terms to bring in future supporters. We were really pleased to note FoE at the bottom of page 1 for the slightly more neutral term “is heathrow expansion a good thing”. On this topic, the charity is punching really hard amongst fierce competition.

The picture is less positive elsewhere. One of the main non-charity competitors we reviewed as part of this audit is National Geographic, who have a huge number of position 1-3 rankings for topics that are key to our environmental charities.

A stark example of the disparity in rankings can be seen with the term “tropical rainforest’. The National Geographic (.com) holds the featured snippet for this term, while Rainforest Alliance doesn’t rank on the first page:

Search engine result for "tropical rainforest query" SERP result for "tropical rainforest"

Topics such as Plastic Pollution and Deforestation are important to all of the charities within this sub-sector, but again, National Geographic is holding the top positions:

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The root causes of the issues outlined in the previous section lie in the need for the organisations we’ve audited to develop in-depth content hubs around the issues they campaign on. All of the sites we looked at naturally have strong calls to actions (CTAs), and they meet users needs from an “action” perspective—these CTAs will tie directly back to organisational objectives. But these websites have a wider role to play if they want to ensure they’re talking to future supporters too, and that role centres around deep education of the issues they campaign on. The National Geographic is understood by one and all (Google included) to be a hub of information on the matters of the day. There is no reason why the websites in this space can’t develop content strategies to help them compete in this space, and be seen as the first port of call for users (including policy makers, students, action takers etc) needing primers on these topics.

Non-branded rankings

Here’s how the picture looks for the number of position 1, non-branded (e.g. searches without a charity’s name in the search) rankings each of the charities holds:

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Again, WWF is the clear winner when it comes to non-branded keywords in the top positions, and their educational hub contributes to this. WWF have an entire ‘Learn’ section on their website which is structured around different educational themes, including:

  • Effects of > Deforestation, Climate Change
  • Fascinating Facts > Facts about Bees, Facts about Dolphins
  • Wildlife > Jaguars, Giant Pandas

The WWF rank for some high volume, high competition keywords with this section including position 3 for ‘bee’ (55,000 searches per month); they have captured ‘facts’ keywords such as ‘shark facts’ (2,800 searches) and ‘orangutan facts’ (2,600 searches).

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Sector Super Tip #3

Perhaps more than any other charity we’ve looked at, WWF demonstrates how valuable educational hubs can be in gaining high ranking positions. The charity has avoided the tactic of solely trying to rank for action-focused terms like “how to save bees” (from already warm supporters), and this has paid huge dividends from a ranking perspective. The site has estimated organic monthly traffic of over 400,000, and it’s in no small part down to the development of these hubs, which all open up the charity to brand new future supporters.

Featured Snippets

WWF is also gaining featured snippets for these keywords which is a further opportunity to drive traffic and awareness. WWF utilise headings within their content which Google has then pulled out into a list for the snippet:

Featured Snippet for "orangutan facts" Featured Snippet for "orangutan facts"

The structure of the page itself includes <h2> heading tags with a paragraph underneath, but because the headings are descriptive, Google is able to use these to provide a snippeted summary.

- WWF content pulled into a featured snippet

Sector Super Tip #4

Featured Snippets are now a mainstream feature of SEO. Any reluctance to engage with them (some concerns centre around the fact that they result in “zero clicks”) in this sub-sector should be cast aside: they’re incredible ways of engaging future supporters who are in an early awareness phase. In the above example of orangutan facts, it is incredibly unlikely that this result will be a “zero click” result—users will see that information, and want the full picture. Any keyword tracking you’re currently doing should identify existing, and target, featured snippet rankings, and your content strategy should engage with the aim of occupying these.

Image Search

For some search engine results pages (SERPs) there are a large number of search features in this sub-sector that push the typical “10 blue links” way down the page. In the example below, for the query ‘sea around uk’ (1,600 searches per month), there are PPC adverts, followed by a featured snippet, and image pack, a “People Also Ask” pack, and top stories before any typical “blue link” results. This is all still SEO, just not as we often think of it as.

A screenshot of a SERP result for "sea around UK" SERP result for "sea around UK"

The image pack is an often overlooked opportunity to rank amongst these search features, and can be easier to obtain than the featured snippet position. Once again, WWF ranks within this image pack in position two, with their UK map from the UK Seas Project page:

A screenshot of a Google image pack result showing WWF ranked highly WWF image pack result

Friends of the Earth is ranking with images for a number of bee-related keywords including: ‘types of bees uk’ (5,800 searches per month), ‘bee types uk’ (700 searches), ‘different types of bees uk’ (500 searches) and ‘bumble bee identification’ (500 searches).

- Image SERP for "image of bees" query

World Land Trust is ranking alongside National Geographic for ‘orange frogs’ within image search. This could be an opportunity for sites that have ‘species’ sections or educational resources on different types of animals and wildlife.

Screenshot of a SERP result for "orange frogs" SERP result for "orange frogs"

Sector Super Tip #5

Image search is the forgotten area of SEO, rarely focused on in any comprehensive SEO strategies we’ve seen. But these examples show it’s possible for charities in the environmental sector to land strong ranking positions alongside commercial entities, and (again) bring users who are at the early awareness, information seeking stage in their relationship with these charities. When these images are embedded as image packs on the central SERP (as with the above WWF example), the opportunity is even clearer. Audit and optimise all alt tags for those images that tie in with content you’re looking to rank for, and adopt a keyword tracking tool that allows you to closely monitor the impact this has on your image SERP rankings.

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