SEO can be daunting. This beginners guide is intended to make SEO simple and help you promote your charity online.
- Get to grips with SEO
- SEO at a platform level
- The relevance of speed in SEO
- The importance of usability
- Content strategy
- Domain and brand authority
This section will address the following common questions:
- What really matters and what can I ignore?
- What should my website agency do and what can I do myself?
It doesn’t address questions like ‘is SEO even important for my charity?’ or ‘how do I measure my website’s effectiveness?’ but these worthwhile and related questions are addressed in these blog posts:
- 7 Steps to Mastering SEO for Your Charity Website
- 5 Steps to Creating a Charity Website Measurement Plan with Google Analytics
2. SEO at a platform level
This is the stuff that your website developer should take care of, but it’s useful for you to be aware of build quality issues so you can help your provider to check things over.
Well structured website pages
There are a bunch of conventions that your website should follow to ensure that search engines, screen readers and all the different types of browsers out there can make sense of your website’s content. While it’s always slightly more complex than you can capture in a simple online test, the W3C Markup Validation Test can be a helpful tool.
Automatic creation of key website page elements
In the past, adding metadata about your content (i.e. extra info beyond the obvious content elements) had a major influence on search rankings. This is now much less the case but certain pieces of metadata are still important.
Page titles still important
Page titles are used in browser tabs and each page should have a separate title (just open a few pages from your website in different tabs to demonstrate). Because they are user-facing they are also currently seen as important by Google as its crawls the web and assesses content for its relevance. Despite their importance, you will rarely need to customise page titles so the ideal setup is to have page titles created automatically with the option to override this if you wish.
Page descriptions less important
Page descriptions are ‘on their last legs’ in terms of their usefulness for SEO. They no longer affect ranking but Google does sometimes use them when displaying search results. It’s distinctly questionable whether they are worth the effort.
Keyword metadata - don’t bother
Keyword metadata is now deemed irrelevant, so don’t bother. Don’t get confused though: keywords are still important, but only as a concept to drive your content creation process.
3. The relevance of speed in SEO
Speed is becoming an increasingly relevant factor for search rankings. Google is so keen to encourage people to speed up their websites that it has a whole website and range of tools to help developers to ‘make the web faster’.
Getting a fast website is very much a team effort between you as a marketer and your charity’s website agency. The structure of the website needs to be built for speed but you also need to educate yourself and anyone else posting content on your website about the importance of speed.
Things for your agency to worry about:
Minimising the number of files that have to be downloaded when viewing a page
Optimising images that form part of the core site structure (like header logo, icons, etc)
Things for you to worry about:
Optimising all images before uploading
Optimising all docs and other attachments before uploading (avoid massive PDFs!)
Understanding that there is always a trade off between aesthetics and speed, i.e. using images thoughtfully and purposefully rather than for decoration
4. The importance of usability
Usability hasn’t always been seen as part of SEO but as search engines get more intelligent and gather more data, they are also assessing how easy your website is for people to navigate and whether people do in fact stick around on your website or whether they leave quickly. It’s an area that is likely to grow in importance. What follows is a breakdown of key areas to consider.
The proportion of users on mobile touch screen devices continues to increase and understandably, Google now takes into account whether or not a website is easy to use on mobile devices when it is returning search results to mobile users. This is an area where you will need to depend on your website agency. Google allows you to test particular pages here.
Search engines do not treat pages as separate entities but rather as part of an interconnected web of pages. For this reason the clarity of your page structure is important. Here are some ways you can help search engines understand your page structure:
Submit an XML sitemap to Google (something your website agency may be able to help you with)
Make it easy for users to find content through your website’s main navigation menu(s)
Remove old or irrelevant content
Avoid duplicate content
Provide additional contextual links within the body of pages that link to other pieces of content
5. Content strategy
While everything covered in this post is important, the most important is probably content. The bottom line is that search engines are all about finding content, so if you don’t have high quality content you are always going to struggle to attract traffic from search engines.
If you want to be listed highly on search engines you need to engage with search engine optimisation (SEO). Search engines are trying to match up people’s search terms with relevant content so the words you choose to use in your content are crucial. One of the basic principles is focusing on four or five keywords, and making sure to include them prominently in your website content. These keywords should be decided with your users in mind; they should be terms people will search for. Of course, this needs to be balanced with your audience requirements and user experience!
Some keyword searches have a lot of competition for top place (eg. homeless charity London) whereas others are less so (eg. dogs sniffing cancer charity).
It’s sensible to start by jotting down the keywords that relate to your work, and some of the key phrases that people might search for when looking for you. What would the people you want to come to your website search for? Include synonyms, spelling variations, plural versions and different verb tenses of your keywords.
For example if you run a food bank in Birmingham, you will want to make sure that the words ‘food bank’ and ‘Birmingham’ appear frequently. If you only mention Birmingham once on your site then it will impact your chances of being found.
Write up to 10 keywords, and use them consistently in your website copy.
Example key messages characteristics:
e.g. The whole
- A how-to guide on using Google’s Keyword Planner to get keyword ideas
- Wired Impact post on ‘5 Tips for Choosing Keywords for Your Nonprofit Website’
Quantity & consistency
I sometimes get asked about whether it’s possible to have too much content. To answer this, you need to remember that with SEO, as in so many areas in life, there are various competing factors to be balanced and therefore there are no simple answers.
Large amounts of poorly organised content will hurt the usability of your site. This will frustrate users and may lead to Google respecting your website less. However, if the content is not on your website it can’t be found, so there is clearly a balance to be struck. Here are some tips to help you navigate this area:
- Quality is important, but consistency and quality are more important. Prioritising these will put a natural check on the quantity of content you can produce.
- Use tag-based navigation to allow users to sort through large content repositories (like resource or publication libraries) by intersecting themes.
- >Regularly audit your content by ranking it based on usage and cull your unpopular content.
Writing quality website content is not just about the words. The web is built around HTML (hyper text markup language) which relies on marking up content ‘semantically’. While there are lots of areas that charity marketers can leave to their web agencies to worry about, it is very valuable to understand the concept of semantic content structure.
Headings (H1, H2, H3), bullets, numbering, etc are not just about the display of your content. Rather, these convey meaning. Google works on this basis, as do screen readers and other pieces of website technology.
Practically, this means:
- Use headings, bullets, lists, quotes, links, etc throughout your content as a matter of course.
- Use these features to convey the structure of your writing, not to control the display. This may well involve a change to your writing style if you are used to the academic approach of containing everything in a paragraph.
As in so many areas, following these guidelines will not only help your search engine rankings but also make your content much easier for your users to engage with. You will also get indirect SEO benefit through, for example, a lower bounce rate.
6. Domain and brand authority
The importance of domain and brand authority has been a constantly important factor across years of changing Google search algorithms. ‘Page rank’ was one of the pillars of Google’s distinctive approach to search in the early days and it remains crucial.
This is also one of the areas of SEO over which charity marketers have the most control. Building domain authority is a long game with few quick fixes but your authority is within your power to improve. Here’s how:
Ensure you have a single domain
This is the one area in this section that probably rests with your website agency. You should ensure that your website does not exist in two locations at both www.yourdomain.org and yourdomain.org. Instead, one should forward to the other.
Do everything else covered here...
If you consistently follow the best practices we have outlined this will steadily increase your reputation.
Build external links
Google sees links pointing to your content as validation of the quality of that content. If the link comes from a site that is itself respected, then this benefit is compounded.
As a non-profit, high-quality link building is easier than it is for companies. Often people want to promote you! Here are some tips to get you started:
- Audit the current links that send traffic to your site. These may give you ideas for other similar websites to contact. Contact those other organisations and flag up useful content and the fact that others are linking to it, and ask them to add a link to their website.
- Contact real-life partners and ask them to feature your partnership on their website together with a link to the relevant part of your website.
- Contact supporters, especially companies, and ask whether they would like to use your brand to show off the fact that they support you. This should be a win-win as it enhances their brand by association.
Your social media is becoming an increasingly important factor in search engine results. Ensure that your social media accounts reference your main website and vice versa. For more ideas on social media check out the charity social media section of our blog.