What Is SEO for Nonprofits?
Search engine optimization (SEO) for nonprofits is the practice of increasing a nonprofit’s website visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs). To reach organic visitors who want to learn about the support and opportunities nonprofits offer.
Organic means traffic you don’t pay for. Which comes from people finding your content when they search for things using a search engine like Google.
For example, these NGOs show up when you search for “legal aid NGO in New York.”
Which likely brings them many organic visits.
Organic traffic helps nonprofits spread the word about their services, get more volunteers, and raise awareness about specific issues. More traffic also helps nonprofits attract donors and boost fundraising efforts.
Not to mention:
SEO can be a cheaper marketing method in the long run compared to paid ads and other channels.
It also builds trust by providing people with helpful content in their moment of need.
Understanding the Basics of SEO for Nonprofits
There’s more to SEO for nonprofits than just writing about the topics your audience cares for.
SEO also involves keyword research, on-page optimization, and technical SEO. And many other advanced tactics and strategies.
We’ll go over these components to help you understand how they work together to boost your organic traffic.
Keyword Research for Nonprofit SEO
Keywords are the terms people use when searching for specific information in search engines.
For instance, searchers use keywords such as “local charities” or “local charities near me” to look for local nonprofits they want to support.
But how do you know which keywords make sense for your nonprofit?
That depends on your goal and, by extension, the audience you want to reach.
Are you advocating for a legislative change? Trying to attract donations? Each of these goals lends itself to different topics you’ll need to cover. And, by extension, to different keywords you’ll optimize content for.
There are three ways to find keywords for your nonprofit:
1. Start with Broad Terms
One way is to start with broad terms and then find more specific, long-tail variations (that have three or more words).
Go to Semrush’s Keyword Magic Tool. And enter your broad term, like “nonprofit donations.” Then hit “Search.”
You’ll see the main dashboard with a list of almost 5,000 potential keywords.
The next step is to filter the keyword list. Here are the three filters you need to use:
- Keyword difficulty (KD%) tells you how hard (or easy) it would be to rank highly for a specific keyword. You initially want keywords with KD% lower than 30% because those are the easiest to rank for.
- Search volume gives you an estimate of how many times a keyword is used per month. You want keywords that get at least 100 searches.
- Word count tells you how long or short a keyword is. Longer keywords (aka long-tail keywords) are usually more specific and have lower KD%. So target keywords with three or more words.
Click on the “KD %” drop-down and enter “29” in the “To” field. So that you see the keywords with “Very easy” and “Easy” keyword difficulties. And then click “Apply.”
Then, click on the “Volume” drop-down. And enter “100” in the “To” field. And click “Apply.”
Lastly, click on the “Advanced filters” drop-down menu to the right. Enter “3” in the “From” field under the “Word count” option and hit “Apply.”
You’ll now see a list of 52 keywords that are highly specific and that your site may have a chance to rank for.
Go through the filtered keywords and make a preliminary keyword list by clicking on the checkbox beside your chosen keywords. And then clicking on the “+ Add to keyword list” button. So you have all your keyword ideas in a single place.
2. Look at Top-Ranking Articles
The second way to find relevant keywords is to look at what top-ranking articles are doing.
Google some words and phrases associated with what your nonprofit does. And analyze the pages that appear in the search results with Semrush.
Let’s say you searched for “how to find grants for my nonprofit.” And there’s an article that’s particularly well-written.
Head to Semrush’s Organic Research tool. Add the URL of that competing article and press “Search.”
You’ll now reach the main “Overview” dashboard. Scroll down until you reach the “Top Keywords” section. Then click “View all # keywords.”
You’ll now see all the keywords the article ranks for. You can filter the keywords as explained above.
3. Look at What Your Competitors Rank for
The third way to find relevant keywords is to look for queries your competitors rank for but you don’t.
That’s where our Keyword Gap tool helps.
Enter your and competing domain(s) and press “Compare.”
Once on the main dashboard, scroll down to the “All keyword details for:” section.
Then, press “Missing” to see all the keywords your domain doesn’t rank for but competing domains do.
You can then use the filtering options in the upper part of the dashboard to list the keywords that are relevant to your nonprofit.
You can also select each keyword and add them to a keyword list. Or just make manual notes of the keywords you want to create content around.
Pro tip: Keep in mind that each keyword has a specific search intent. I.e., the reason why people search a particular term and what sort of content they hope to find.
The easiest way to identify search intent is to look at what kind of content ranks in search results for a given term.
This will give you an idea of what topics you need to cover, what angles you should take, and the ideal format (long-form, short-form, videos, etc.) in order to rank for those keywords.
On-Page SEO Optimization for Nonprofit Websites
On-page SEO is the process of optimizing various parts of webpages to boost their search rankings and organic traffic. This includes optimizing title tags, URLs, internal linking, and more.
Let’s go over the most important on-page SEO elements.
Target keyword optimization: Use your target keyword naturally, but include it in several key spots. Such as the URL, title, first paragraph, throughout the body of the content, and in some of your subheadings where appropriate.
Title tags: Keep your page titles between 50 and 60 characters long. While ensuring they are unique and incite searchers’ interest
Headers: Use the H1 tag as your page title and H2s to indicate sections, while H3s and H4s can be used to further structure long-form content and make it skimmable
Meta descriptions: Keep your meta descriptions at less than 105 characters long (roughly) while including your target keyword and adding a call-to-action phrase
URL structure: Use simple URLs with no random numbers, publish dates, or full sentences so readers know what the page is about
Internal linking: Look for opportunities to link to new content from your existing pages and the other way around, while also updating any links to URLs you have changed or removed
Schema markup: Add schema markup, code that describes elements on your website, so search engines better understand your content. And can potentially show rich snippet results, such as opening hours, star ratings, and more.
Pro tip: Use the On Page SEO Checker to identify on-page SEO optimization opportunities.
Go to the tool, click “Create project,” configure settings, and click on the project name.
You’ll now be on the main “Overview” dashboard. Head to the “Optimization Ideas” tab. Here, you’ll find a list of URLs along with the recommendations.
You can switch between different optimization ideas in the “All Ideas” column. You can, for instance, select to see only “Content” optimization ideas.
Once you click on the blue “# ideas” button, you’ll see a list of improvements for that landing page.
Review the ideas and act on those you can implement.
Off-Page SEO Optimization for Nonprofit Websites
Off-page SEO involves activities you undertake outside your website to help boost its authority and search traffic. Link building and content marketing are two important off-page SEO efforts.
Why are backlinks important?
Because they are a vital ranking factor. Backlinks from high-authority websites tell Google that your nonprofit site is valuable and useful. This can help your website rank higher in search results.
There are many link building strategies. Here are some of the most important ones:
- Outreach: Contact websites relevant to your nonprofit efforts and pitch why they should link to your content
- Broken link building: Find broken links on other relevant websites and offer your page as an alternative resource with better content
- Unlinked brand mentions: Find mentions of your brand that don’t have links to your site and ask those websites to link to your site (or use the Brand Monitoring app to automate backlink tracking)
- Competitor backlink analysis: Identify your competitors’ pages that attract the most backlinks and then create similar types of content
Semrush’s tools can help you collect data to inform your link building.
For instance, Backlink Gap helps you find the backlinks your competitors have but your site doesn’t.
Open the tool, enter your and competing domains, and press “Find prospects.”
Then, make sure the filter is set to “Best” in the “Prospects for” section. Now, you’ll see all the domains that link to your competitors but not to your site.
You can then, for instance, click on the number on the rightmost side of a domain row. If you want the tool to list specific pages from a given domain that link to your competitor in that column. You can also click on the numbers in other columns to get details on those competitors.
Now you can figure out what sort of content in your niche attracts backlinks. Then, create better content than your competitors and reach out to those sites to link back to your content instead.
Let’s say you run an NGO that helps students from underserved communities. You notice that many pages link to an inadequate but highly popular online directory of grants.
Get backlinks by creating a better directory and then asking pages to link to your resource instead.
Read our link building strategies guide for a more detailed walkthrough of various strategies.
Content marketing involves creating and distributing various types of content with the goal of generating interest in your site, offering, and company. Which will hopefully translate into more site traffic.
Note: While content creation is often an on-site activity, distributing content is often an off-page SEO activity.
Here are some popular types of content:
- Blog posts
- Social media posts
But how does publishing various types of content benefit SEO for nonprofits?
For one, high-quality content of any form can be great for attracting backlinks.
Also, different search intents call for different content types. For example, you may want to tell readers more about the people who work at your nonprofit.
Often, a video is the best way to do this, rather than just using text. It allows users to actually see and hear from the people working for your organization, instead of just reading about them.
But if you want to display facts and stats about your nonprofit, an infographic or standard article may be the better choice.
And catering to your users’ needs by using the right types of content means they are likely to spend more time on your site.
Publishing various types of content can increase your nonprofit site's visibility in different types of search, like image and video search. And your social media content may also get indexed by Google and served in search results. Further boosting your nonprofit’s visibility.
Technical SEO for Enhancing Nonprofit Site Performance
Technical SEO is all about making your website easy to understand and navigate, both for search engines and for users. It also involves improving things like how fast your website loads.
Website speed, mobile responsiveness, site structure, and sitemaps are some of the key technical SEO elements that deserve your attention. Since they can influence how your website ranks in search results.
You can do several things to improve page speed:
- Compress videos and images
- Leverage caching
- Remove unnecessary plugins
Learn more about these tactics in our guide to improving page speed.
Mobile responsiveness is critical because Google uses your mobile page experience in its ranking algorithms.
One way to check if your site is providing a good experience to mobile visitors is by using Semrush’s Site Audit tool.
Head to the tool and press “Start Audit.”
Then, configure your site audit settings and press “Start Site Audit.”
Once the crawl is complete, click the project name to access site audit data.
After you reach the main “Overview” dashboard, click on the “View details” button in the “Core Web Vitals” box.
Once in the Core Web Vitals box, scroll down until you reach the “Analyzed Pages” section.
You can now click on an individual page to get more details on what should be fixed to provide a better page experience.
And then work your way through these issues, depending on their priority.
But focus on “Errors” first. And you can click the “Why and how to fix it” text next to each error to review tips on how to fix it.
Site structure refers to how your website is organized.
Structure your site in a logical, hierarchical way. This means using a proper internal linking strategy and logical site navigation, ensuring all pages are but a few clicks away from a homepage.
Good site structure helps search engine crawlers find and understand your content. And it helps users navigate your website, too.
Effective use of internal links helps here. It also helps prevent orphan pages. These are URLs with no internal links pointing to them.
This can make it hard for search engines to find and index these pages.
Website sitemaps are files that contain the URLs of your website’s important pages. These are pages you want Google to crawl, index, and serve in search results.
Here’s what ours looks like:
Read our guide on how to create a sitemap for more information.
Then submit the sitemap to Google Search Console by clicking “Indexing” > “Sitemaps.”
Insert your sitemap URL into the provided space and click "SUBMIT."
You should see a confirmation message if Google successfully processed your sitemap.
7 SEO Tips and Strategies for Nonprofits
Now that you have the basics of SEO for nonprofits covered, it’s time to go for more advanced tips and strategies.
1. Use Local SEO
Local SEO involves optimizing your nonprofit’s online presence to better reach people who are in your geographic area.
Local SEO is vital for nonprofits with a physical location that serve communities in a specific area.
It helps their branches show up in Google Maps and search results for relevant keywords.
For instance, here’s what comes up when people google “food kitchens in austin texas.”
These search results contain a lot of useful information. Like reviews, opening times, and exact location. They are known as the “local pack” results.
The first mandatory step in leveling up your local SEO game is to sign up for Google Business Profile (GBP), a free business listing by Google. Here’s how to do that:
- Create an account
- Select attributes that describe your nonprofit
- Set open hours for each of your branches
- Upload photos and videos regularly
- Reply to comments in the review section
Try to get your nonprofit listed in other relevant directories, especially local ones. These directories are online sites that list nonprofits serving a local area. Like this nonprofit directory of Collier County in Florida.
The “Listing Management” tool from Semrush can help place your nonprofit info quickly in online directories.
And keep your name, address, and phone number (NAP data) consistent across the board.
2. Encourage Online Reviews
Positive reviews improve your online reputation and help with local SEO. They build trust in your nonprofit and provide social proof. Which can be vital for ensuring that donors and users continue supporting your organization
Encourage people who volunteer for your nonprofit or use your services to leave online reviews. Whether on Google or social media platforms.
Reviews can also suggest that your site and content are trustworthy. And they’re important signals for Google in local search results.
Reviews can also encourage more volunteers to support your organization. Like in the case of this organization:
Google encourages organizations to reply quickly to reviews, both positive and negative.
You can reply to Google reviews through your Google Business Profile account. Or you can use Semrush’s Review Management tool to manage reviews across multiple directories.
Head to the tool and click “Review Management.”
Then, go over the listed reviews and start replying. Simply enter your comment and press “Reply.”
You can also filter reviews in different ways. Whether by just listing those you haven’t replied to, those with low ratings, or something else.
3. Leverage Multilingual SEO
Some nonprofits may serve multiple linguistic communities. Or want their content to reach foreign audiences for fundraising or advocacy purposes. These nonprofits then need multilingual SEO.
Multilingual SEO is the practice of converting website content into different languages. So searchers who use those other languages or live in foreign countries can find your content in search results.
For instance, a New York-based nonprofit may translate its English fundraising pages into Spanish, German, and French. This can vastly increase the number of potential donors it can reach abroad.
Global nonprofits, like Human Rights Watch, usually have their sites translated into many languages.
Set up a multilingual SEO site by following these steps:
- Identify target keywords for chosen countries
- Choose between separate domains, subdirectories, or subdomains as your URL structure
- Localize content into your target language and region
- Optimize title tags, meta descriptions, and other on-page SEO elements of new pages
- Implement hreflang to tell Google the targeted country and language of each page
You can find a detailed walkthrough of this process in our guide to multilingual SEO.
4. Publish Expert Content to Improve E-E-A-T
E-E-A-T isn’t a ranking factor. But producing content with E-E-A-T best practices in mind can build trust with users and provide a better experience.
It can also help in other ways, such as by generating backlinks from websites that trust your content and expertise. This, in turn, can affect your website’s rankings.
One way to improve your nonprofit’s site E-E-A-T is to publish original and helpful content written by in-house or external experts.
Showcase your experts by including their name and short bio in author boxes. It helps Google and readers understand why these authors are the authority on the topic.
Much like how the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) nonprofit did it here:
Clicking on author names takes you to dedicated pages that explain the authors’ professional background. And list all the articles they wrote.
This way, the ACLU creates transparency around their writers and builds strong E-E-A-T.
5. Ask Partners for Backlinks
Nonprofits often have a network of partner organizations they can ask for backlinks.
For instance, nonprofits often have their activities, projects, and campaigns covered by media organizations. Or mentioned on government, corporate, and nonprofit partners’ sites.
This kind of publicity can be used to advance your nonprofit SEO strategy.
One way to do that is to ask every partner who mentions your nonprofit to link back to your website.
These backlinks can make your site more authoritative. And potentially help your articles rank higher in search results.
You can use Semrush to track which sites link back to your site.
Head to the Backlink Analytics tool, enter your domain, and press “Analyze.”
Once on the main dashboard, press “Backlinks” in the upper menu.
You can then filter the backlinks list in different ways. For instance, you can click “New” in the middle of the dashboard to list backlinks your site got in the last 30 days. Or select a specific time period.
You can also look for your partners’ links by adding their name or URL in the “Filter by title or URL” search box.
If any partners are missing from your backlink profile, you can reach out to them to ask for a link.
6. Produce Social Media Content
A strong social media presence can indirectly support your SEO efforts.
Helpful content shared on social media increases the visibility of your nonprofit. This can lead to more people finding and engaging with your content. And that may translate into more site visits and backlinks, as well as enhanced brand reputation.
Social media content can also get indexed by Google. Your Facebook or LinkedIn posts may show up in search results. This can improve your brand’s visibility by taking up more space in the search results.
And social media presence can support your fundraising efforts in other ways. Here’s how Amnesty International does it:
This organization publishes social media posts to drive traffic to their fundraising efforts.
Grow your presence on a social media platform where your target audience spends most of their time. Master that channel before moving to other platforms.
And use Semrush’s Social Dashboard tool to supercharge your social media marketing.
7. Deploy the Topic Clusters Strategy
You may find that some of your target keywords are highly competitive. And that covering these keywords requires writing about several subtopics.
One way you can go about that is to use the topic clusters content model.
This approach calls for the creation of one page that acts as the pillar page. It provides a high-level overview of the topic. And it is optimized for your highly competitive target keyword.
The pillar links to supporting cluster pages that explore related keywords and topics in-depth.
Clusters link back to the pillar as well. These internal links help signal to Google that the pillar page is a high-value and important resource. And this can help your pillar page’s performance in search.
The topic clusters model can enable your nonprofit site to:
- Become an authoritative source of information on a topic
- Structure content in an SEO- and user-friendly way
- Achieve higher rankings for competitive keywords
Use Semrush’s Topic Research tool to brainstorm subtopics you can create clusters around.
Head to the tool, enter your topic or target keyword, and press “Get content ideas.” Then, click on the “View content ideas” box that shows up below in a few moments (or wait to be taken through automatically).
You’ll now be on the main dashboard. You’ll find a number of broad topics related to your query.
Click “Show more” in the boxes whose topics you find particularly interesting. You’ll then get to see various questions that searchers ask about this topic. And some of the headlines that show up in search results, like this:
Use these headlines and questions to inform your further research of the topic clusters model.
And this model is likely the most useful approach for nonprofits. But there are other types of content hubs you may want to explore, such as content library and topic gateway. You can learn more about those in our content hub guide.
Measuring and Tracking the Successes of SEO for Charities & Nonprofits
SEO is a long-term marketing effort. But there are various metrics you can track on a monthly basis to know whether you’re on the right track, such as:
- Organic traffic
- Keyword rankings
- Conversion rates
You can track additional metrics if they are relevant to your nonprofit.
Steady growth across these metrics indicates your SEO content is performing well. Any significant dips warrant a deeper dive into data. To discover the source of problems and apply fixes.
You also need to decide on which conversion events you want to track. Are you hoping for organic traffic to convert into newsletter subscribers, donors, or something else?
Whatever the conversion event is, add relevant calls to action (CTAs) to each piece and track conversion rates.
Semrush’s My Reports
Semrush’s My Reports tool makes it easy to track SEO performance. You can either create a new report from scratch or choose one of many templates.
Click “Create report” if you want to create a new report. Then, select various widgets and data points from the left side and drop them in the main section. You can also change formatting, add images, and more.
Once done, click “Generate PDF report.” You’ll then also be able to choose whether you want your report to be auto-generated on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.
After setting up this and other options, click “Generate PDF” to download the report.
Google Analytics 4
Google Analytics 4 (GA4) tracks organic traffic data.
Open your GA4 account and navigate to the “Reports” tab on the left. Then head to “Engagement” > “Pages and screens.”
Next, set the time period, filter organic views, and you’ll see organic traffic for individual articles.
Now you can extract this data and add it to your spreadsheets for further analysis and reporting.
You can also click on individual metrics to see which articles, for instance, have the most views, most conversions, or highest engagement time.
Google Search Console
Use Google Search Console to monitor and report on technical SEO performance. The Core Web Vitals report, as explained above, is the easiest way of doing that.
But GSC also enables you to track traffic on a more granular level. Click “Search results” in the Performance menu to the left.
Now you’ll have access to plenty of useful details, including clicks and impressions for search queries, pages, countries, and more.
Click on “Date” in the upper menu to set various date ranges. You can compare various periods with each other.
GSC can be used to discover articles that have decaying traffic. Simply select a three or six months comparison window, then head to “Pages” list below. You can now see how many clicks and impressions articles have won or lost in the selected time period.
These and other insights should be added to your monthly reporting.
And you can share your SEO performance reports with others using PDFs, spreadsheets, Google Docs, dashboards, or any other format you prefer.
You can find more information on this in our guide to SEO reporting.
Tip: If you’re still finding your way around GA4, Semrush’s Google Analytics 4 course could be useful.
Empower Your Nonprofit with Effective SEO Strategies
SEO can make your nonprofit more visible to donors, volunteers, and those in need of your services.
And developing and launching your SEO strategy need not be overwhelming.
Start with creating a content strategy. Then, use various tools and processes we explained above to execute that strategy.