When it comes to showing up on the first few pages of Google, there is so much confusion and improper expectations among nonprofit leaders that I felt it necessary to go over what search engine optimization (also known as SEO) really means for nonprofit organizations.
Do you need to be on the first page of Google?
What search engines are the most important ones?
What can I expect from being ranked high on the search engines?
If I am already on the first page, do I need to do anything else?
Follow me as we walk through this issue together and dive into the answers you might have about your nonprofit’s website and web presence in general.
The True Level of Exposure Search Engines Provide
Search engines receive millions of searches per day. Google receives over 3 BILLION searches per day, making it the number one search engine. These searches are usually conducted by individuals looking for something very specific, and the search engines are getting better and better at anticipating what their intention is and accurately fetching the right information. Being at the top of a highly relevant search result means that the search engine a person uses deems your website as highly relevant to the intention of that individual’s search. If you have enough searches per month that feature you within the first page of results, it can mean consistent targeted traffic to your website.
Now, let me qualify what I have just said for a moment. Your website must rank well within the top search engines when a term or phrase that matches an intention or need that your nonprofit can meet is entered into those search engines. This means that there is a burden on you to make your website relevant and helpful to phrases that are NOT your name, but instead match the need of your prospective visitor.
For example, if an organization named Compassion Blankets runs a program to distribute blankets to the homeless population of Atlanta, it should be found under terms matching that need, cause, or issue. Being found under “Compassion Blankets” will do nothing for the organization since you would have to know the name of the organization first before finding it. This organization should focus its attention on phrases such as “homeless blankets Atlanta”, “homeless outreach in GA”, and “giving our blankets to homeless people”. Now, which of these phrases are the best and whether there are other keywords that are better will be determined by analyzing these terms. But, the general direction is the point I am making here.
By taking this approach, your exposure becomes very targeted and provides a gateway to your organization based on felt need and not on how well you have established your brand. This is important regardless of how new or established it might be. People search based on what they want to look for, not on who you are as an organization.
What "Top Ranking" Means for a Nonprofit Website
Many nonprofit leaders ask me what they should expect from optimizing their website for good search engine ranking. They want to know what the return on their investment of time, money, or both will be. The answer to this lies in two main points:
You must target the phrases matching the needs of those you most want to meet.
You must have a way to engage that audience once they find you in a way that provides the meaningful and measurable results you want to achieve.
You can hold the top position in Google, drive millions of people to your website, and still go out of business. Target the wrong visitors or get your presentation and response systems wrong, and it won’t matter. You've blown it. So, be mindful of what your website is saying and its true relevance instead of what you internally want it to be relevant to.
SEO: A Foundational Tool, But Not the End
Showing up on page 1 of Google is important. Very important. But, it’s not the only way to generate traffic to your website. And, depending on the approach, it’s not always free. It takes time, an understanding about search engines, learning your website platform, and other things that can cost you time and/or money. There are other strategies such as pay-per-click advertising, social media marketing, e-mail marketing, and more that can work faster to produce short term results while you wait for SEO to kick in. These tactics are all part of a sound internet marketing effort.
Don’t limit yourself to search engine optimization. It’s a worthy long-term investment that can drive targeted traffic to your website. But, always work to add new tactics to your internet marketing strategy to boost your exposure and produce the end results you are looking for.
Ranking well on the search engines is an important part of your website marketing strategy. It provides you with some of the best and most targeted exposure possible on the Internet. The process includes initial optimization as well as continued ranking, analysis, and optimization to maintain your positions as other websites compete for the same positions. But, it’s also only a portion of a balanced internet marketing strategy, providing a foundation for your website’s traffic and supporting your other tactics without costing you a fortune.
Bonus Action Point: Make a list of the phrases people are most likely to type into a search engine to find your type of cause. Take the top 3 and search Google.Com and Bing.Com to see if you can find yourself. If you can’t, think about ways to make your website more relevant to those phrases and make the changes right away.
Need help marketing your nonprofit website? Access the Nonprofit Internet Marketing Manual.