Search engine optimisation (SEO) can seem like a black art. Charities typically face two potentially difficult questions: why should I worry about SEO, and how do I go about optimising my website?
This article highlights a range of basic principles that will help you find an answer to these questions.
Because search engines regularly change their approach it can feel impossible to stay current but by avoiding ‘quick fixes’ and instead mastering the basic principles of search engine strategy you can set your charity up for long term success.
1. Understand your website’s goals
SEO is only ever a tool to promote your website and your website is a tool to promote your charity.
Unless you define clear goals for your website you will never understand whether SEO is an important tactic or how to employ it effectively. Your website goals should be measurable. Some examples are:
- To increase newsletter sign-ups
- To increase online donations
- To increase event attendance
- To sell more training resources
2. Link SEO goals to website goals
If you approach SEO through the lens of your website goals it will be clearer why it is important.
For each goal, you should consider the path a user takes to complete that goal. For example, if your goal is to get more people to donate to you then you should understand the journey a donor takes to reach this goal. For this example the journey is likely to be relatively long / complex because donating requires a high level of engagement that is unlikely to come on first contact.
3. Define keywords
SEO keywords are the key phrases and words in your content that help people to find your site through search engines, for example 'homeless charity Birmingham'.
A well optimised website will speak the same language as potential visitors through these keywords, making it easier for supporters or beneficiaries to find your site. It's therefore worth the time and investment to ensure your SEO keywords are relevant to your audience.
Thankfully there are free tools out there to help you identify them.
Once you have your keywords, you should use them in most if not all of the following:
- The title of the page
- The URL
- The page copy
- The meta tags, especially the meta description
- Image file paths and in the images' alt text
- The anchor text in links back to the page from elsewhere on the site
4. Basic website optimisation
As well as optimising your website for search through keywords, there are steps you can take across your whole website to ensure that it ranks more highly in search engines.
If you have a mainstream system like Wordpress or Drupal then the chances are that your developer will have installed a bunch of plugins that do the basics for you (these include structuring your pages in a way that search engines like, creating sensible page titles and URLs, automatic creation of sitemaps, etc).
However, there are a few important elements of website optimisation that are often overlooked. You should ask your developer about these:
- Speed: search engines will penalise sites that loads slowly.
- Image descriptions: do you have the capacity to add descriptions for all images? Are all staff in your charity doing this?
- Mobile optimisation: is your site optimised for mobiles? Google has released specific guidance on SEO for mobiles.
5. Write good content and write it frequently
By far the most important thing to do is to write good content with relevant keywords. Don't get carried away with the keywords though; focus primarily on your users. By putting yourself in the shoes of your readers, avoiding jargon and writing good, simple copy you are likely to succeed. Above all else, focus on quality.
Frequency is also an important factor. Keeping a regular flow of content is widely thought to improve the reputation of your website in the eyes of the search engines. It also makes it much easier to build your website's authority (see #6 below).
6. Build your website's authority
Google wants to serve high quality content to its users. At the moment it's not quite clever enough to do this purely on the basis of the content itself, though it tries hard. For this reason another important factor is the authority of the website publishing the content. Google infers quality from the reputation of your website. So, after you have written high quality content you should then turn your hand to building the authority of your website.
The simplest way to build your website's authority is by attracting high quality links. Here are a few ways you can do this:
- Write guest posts, articles or resources on sites that are well regarded in your sector and ensure they credit your charity
- Publicise your high quality content so that people recognise its quality by linking to it from their websites
- Get press coverage and use social media well so more people are talking about your work
7. Measure your effectiveness
In the long term, you need to know the areas where SEO has an impact on your charity's overall goals. It is never enough to talk about general increases in traffic (though this might make you feel better) because it is not actionable data. You need to know what is working and what is not working so that you can prioritise the former.
Measuring your SEO efforts is never easy but start simple:
- Refer to the goals that you highlighted (see #1 above)
- Track the proportion of traffic coming directly from search, using a tool like Google Analytics
- Consider the link between this traffic and the number of goal conversions you are achieving
- Experiment with different content and different keywords
- Learn from what works and do this more
For more help with creating a measurement framework for your website see this post '5 Steps to Creating a Charity Website Measurement Plan with Google Analytics', which comes with a free downloadable template to get you started.