Recently I took the decision to offer free SEO audits to small charities and nonprofits who needed a little boost with their website. For websites with a good cause I wanted to highlight their major on-site SEO issues and show them the major fixes for them to implement.
My theory being that highlighting very simple SEO fixes and best practices can transform a declining website into one that receives consistent organic traffic and significant increases in donations as a result.
So I wrote a post in the Third Sector PR & Comms Network Facebook group (since it’s such an active, diverse community of people working for good causes), and the response was great!
I had only intended to audit 1 or 2 sites but in the end I couldn’t face turning people down and so I agreed to audit 11 nonprofit websites.
*Quick disclaimer: Whilst I do offer SEO services for nonprofits, this wasn’t an effort to generate new business, although it has since led to enquiries for SEO support.
For each site I offered somewhat of an ‘SEO audit lite’. I wanted to cover some of the big, core issues that could be fixed without needing to go too in-depth. The audit lite consisted of a complete site crawl to identify serious issues, an eyeball check to spot for visible mistakes, and some CRO checks (conversion rate optimisation).
Here’s what I found…
Table of Contents
SEO For Charities: Tips To Solve Common Site Issues
Whilst conducting these audits I kept noticing the same simple errors over and over again.
The reason is simple, small charities are focused on helping their beneficiaries, and so the website (quite naturally) takes a back seat.
And it’s true, beneficiaries should come first.
However, investing quality time in improving the website should be seen as an opportunity to grow, help you reach more beneficiaries and raise even more money for the cause.
That’s why I felt it necessary to write this article.
The aim of this post is to highlight some of the most common and easy-to-fix issues found on nonprofit websites. Indeed, many of these issues apply to websites in all sectors, but this is very much tailored to charities.
If you run a non-profit website that isn’t receiving very much traffic traffic, try these tips out. There is a very good chance they will turn your website around.
But if you are still struggling or you need extra SEO support, feel free to get in touch. I’d be happy to discuss how I can help.
So without further ado, here are my 12 simple website SEO tips for nonprofits and charities…
1. Create Content That Actually Serves A Search Query
Without a doubt the most common issue I came across was that sites lacked content that could actually turn up as a search result for any potential queries.
By this I mean: “what phrase could someone possibly Google in order to find this page?”. 9 times out of 10 the answer was “not much at all”.
Often I would find the “About” page had all of the information crammed into 2 paragraphs rather than being spread out across the site as separate, comprehensive pages.
As a rule of thumb, every page you want to rank for should be:
- Entirely focused on a particular topic within the niche of the website (for example, pages on: “causes”, “effects”, “treatment” etc).
- Extensive and thorough. Prove you are the experts in this subject matter.
- Adding value to the overall niche. A search engine is looking for the best authority on a subject that has comprehensive coverage of everything within that topic. Each page should contribute to this overall value.
The goal of every good web page should be to provide a thorough resource that matches what people are searching for.
Here’s a good way to approach it:
“What would people search for, in order to find my site?”
And now write down a big list of topics that people might search for, related to your niche.
I’m going to use Cystic Fibrosis Trust as a case study, simply because a good friend of mine is a trustee and so it just popped into my head.
If I was managing the Cystic Fibrosis Trust website I would ask myself “What is it that people would search for in order to find our website?”
Then I would write down the following:
- What is Cystic Fibrosis?
- What are the effects of Cystic Fibrosis?
- What causes Cystic Fibrosis?
- How is Cystic Fibrosis treated?
I would then create a high quality page for each of these questions and I would put the most relevant ones straight into the menu.
And that’s exactly what the CF Trust have done…
If you can afford keyword planning tools you can check the search volumes and find related keywords for each of your topics. These tools can be expensive, however, and would mostly be used by an SEO consultant.
However, if you can’t afford keyword tools or SEO support, you can use simple Google search techniques to help you create your content.
Here’s how you could do that…
Say I’m writing a page for “What causes Cystic Fibrosis?”, I will start by Googling that phrase.
One of the first things that comes up is the “People also ask” box, this instantly gives you a great range of related questions that you can either incorporate into your page or make a note to create another brand new page on this topic.
Next, simply scroll through the search results and note down any common words you see in the top 10. By doing this I can see the words:
- Life Expectancy
These are great words to include in your article, either as headings or included within the content of the article.
Now scroll to the very bottom and look for the “Related searches” box:
Again, you have lots more additional information you can use to write your article or inspire you to create new articles.
It’s important to think about site structure whilst doing this. You want to ensure that the main pages are featured high up in the structure and ensure there is only one page per unique topic.
2. Stop Using Jargon
I’ve worked for various charities so I am well aware of the difficulties of dealing with brand and marketing speak. The big problem is that no-one else talks like this.
Sometimes brand messaging will take the longest route to say something very simple which can be particularly damaging to the SEO of a page.
Terminology is incredibly important for the ability of a page to rank. A page that includes an exact match phrase of the terminology used by the general public is always going to beat a page that doesn’t.
Third Sector News has a post about using jargon in fundraising appeals, but I would go one step further and say don’t use jargon in ANY public facing resources.
And most importantly, don’t include it in key areas of your website, such as your meta titles, headings or taglines.
Try to avoid the term “an organisation” when you are “a charity”.
People rarely Google “poverty organisation”, they are searching for “poverty charity”. So tell them that you are one!
My recommendation: talk to your brand team about loosening the rules for SEO.
3. Review & Fix H1s
The Heading 1 (H1) is one of the most important ranking factors of a page along with the meta title and URL. The H1 sits at the top of the page and acts as an overall title for that particular content.
Essentially your H1 tells Google “Hey, this page is about X”.
As such, there should only be one and every page should have a unique H1 (no other page should have the same H1).
Many of the nonprofit sites I audited had various weird and wonderful H1 issues. Some were using no H1s, some had multiple H1s on the same page, some used the same H1s as other pages, some had H1 tags but nothing in them and some had H1s in widgets, sidebars and logos.
And so the problem is with what you’re telling Google this page is about, which is mostly incorrect.
If you have a donation widget which is set as an H1 then you are effectively telling Google that every page with this widget is about “Donate”.
This issue is typically a lot easier to identify and fix for those with SEO tools, but there are some options you can use for a rudimentary check up.
Take a page on your site that you would like to rank for and paste it in the headings checker at SEOreviewtools.com.
If I use the CF Trust as an example again, using this tool I can see that their headings are perfectly laid out:
There is only one H1 and they are using a wide range of heading types across the page, which is great!
Essentially the point here is to use this tool to check that a page has only one H1 and, if it has more than one, to locate the source of the problem.
You may not have the skills or access to edit things like H1s in widgets, but at least you can identify the issue and pay a developer a small fee to fix it.
Other times, the issue is perfectly within your control and you can choose to remove multiple or duplicate H1s from your site, which will likely give you a quick ranking boost for very little effort.
4. Stop Using Tags So Much
If you don’t know what I’m talking about here, CMS’s like WordPress allow you to add custom tags to every post to generate categories of content that share that tag.
However, I found sites with hundreds of tags that were used seemingly at random, for no particular purpose.
Every one of these tags creates a new page but the majority of these only have one post with that tag. This means that there are hundreds of pages with really thin content, duplicate content (because another tag category also only has that one post tagged), and let’s face it, useless pages.
In the worst cases I saw, about 75% of the pages on a site were tag pages. Think about what signals this sends to Google.
My advice: 90% of the time you should ditch the tags all together and stick to categories.
This gives you a clear defining border to say “If it’s important enough, it will become a category and it will be in the menu”.
If you have a charity webshop then the same advice applies to product tags too. And if you do have a webshop you might also be interested to read my article on fixing the most common ecommerce issues which can help you optimise your online store.
*Disclaimer – tags can sometimes be useful in certain scenarios if done well, but this applies to most charity websites I audited.
5. Resolve Duplicate Content Issues
Another very common issue I found was that nonprofit sites had huge amounts of duplicate content. Duplicate content issues arise when there is more than one page with the exact same text, headings and title.
This can be a problem as search engines are unsure which page is the correct one to index, and unnecessary pages bloat a website meaning vast amounts of the site is useless content.
Most commonly, duplicate content issues occur because variations of the same URL have been indexed. (Think http vs https, Facebook parameters etc). I won’t go into detail about that here because this wasn’t what I found to be common on the websites I audited.
More often than not, complete identical versions of pages existed that either had a number ‘2’ at the end of the URL or different categories in the URL.
Identifying and fixing duplicate content issues should be one of the first steps you should take when trying to revive your website traffic.
Not to worry though, duplicate content issues can be solved.
How To Fix Duplicate Content Issues
*Disclaimer: I’m not a huge fan of these tools as they are far less accurate than more established SEO tools, but they are free and can give you some good information.
It takes just minutes to do this so you may as well input your URL and see what it returns. Siteliner displays “match %” which is handy for finding pages that are very similar to one another. (Really you want pages to have a match % of less than 20%).
I find Siteliner rarely shows you match percentages of 100% (even when I find them with other tools). But it can help you identify pages to focus on making more unique.
Crawl Your Site & Audit The Content
A “site crawl” returns every URL on your website in a spreadsheet format so that you can manually go through and check each page that has been published.
If you are keen on delving deep into SEO then the very best way to do this is to download the free version of Screaming Frog that lets you crawl up to 500 URLs and gives you an unbelievable amount of useful information.
Screaming Frog can be quite overwhelming for new users though so maybe not best if you don’t have the capacity to learn this.
If you just want to get a quick list of URLs indexed by Google, you should get this from your Google Search Console.
Every website needs to set up Google Search Console in order for Google to begin indexing your site. If you are ranking in Google then you should have a login to Search Console somewhere.
When you are in Search Console, go to ‘Coverage’, click on ‘Valid’, then scroll down and choose “Submitted and indexed”.
You should now see a list of URLs that Google has indexed, you can export the data into Google Docs or Excel.
Sort the list alphabetically as this will enable you to spot similar URLs right off the bat.
If you have less than 250 pages I would highly suggest manually going through your URLs and taking a stock of what you’ve told Google to index. This process might take a bit of time but it will enable you to flag up some pages you may not have known existed and, crucially, duplicate pages.
Any pages you flag for deletion you can go ahead and action, ensuring you 301 redirect the old URL to a page you want to keep.
If you’re not sure whether to delete a page, check Google Analytics to see if it is gaining any traffic. If it’s not, it’s low risk to delete.
If you’ve made it this far, you will very likely find my article on data & Excel tips for SEO quite useful. These tips will help you to use and make sense of your data!
6. Optimise The Site For Conversions
For many of the websites I audited, I kept ending up at dead ends where I would read information but couldn’t see any next steps I could take.
If you look at any successful commercial site you will notice that your ability to take the action they want you to is incredibly easy.
This is because successful sites develop user journeys and CRO (conversion rate optimisation) strategies that aim to achieve the maximum conversion rate from the amount of people who visit the site.
These types of user journeys can be hugely impactful if replicated across nonprofit sites. This will help to maximise donations, petition signatures and any other action you want people to take.
Take a look at The Guardian website:
From clicking on an article you can immediately see 3 clear calls-to-action. At the top they have “Contribute” and “Subscribe”, and covering half the page is a large pop up banner that asks you to support The Guardian with a compelling case as to why you should.
There is a whole industry focused on ‘Conversion Rate Optimisation’, but implementing these basics will make a real difference:
- Put the donate button in the header, footer and any sidebars. Make it large, visible and enticing.
- Use an email signup box as a widget in sidebars or footers.
- Optimise online forms. Data capture is great but if too many fields cause a high abandon rate, delete those which are unnecessary.
- Use trust badges:
The Behaviour Flow functionality in Google Analytics is an incredibly powerful tool when you’re working on your CRO. This is one of the many impactful ways you can use Google Analytics data to optimise your site.
These are some quick wins that can give you a welcome boost. If you have time, budget or willingness to learn, there are a huge amount of CRO elements you can implement.
7. Learn & Implement Good Internal Linking
Internal linking is the act of adding a hyperlink from one page to another. Internal links pass ‘pagerank’ and ‘relevance’ from one page to another, which means that it can boost your pages up the ranking if done properly.
Poor internal linking was a common issue I noticed on nonprofit websites. Many pages were left stranded with no way to access them, and many great pages didn’t link out to any other relevant pages.
- Pagerank: Pagerank is a measure of importance of a page, judged by the amount of links pointing to it. Pages that are linked to from a page with lots of backlinks will receive a share of the authority of that page.
- Relevance: Relevance in SEO terms refers to common topics discussed on pages. For example, a page about “Diabetes symptoms” would naturally link to a page about “Diabetes treatment” because it is relevant. This builds up an ecosystem of relevant resources.
- Inlinks: Inlinks refers to the amount of internal links a page receives from across the website. Typically, the pages with the most inlinks tells search engines that these are the most important.
- Anchor text: Anchor text refers to the words that are hyperlinked in a link. Best practice is to use anchor text for the term you want the page to rank for. For example, “if you have been diagnosed with diabetes, you will need to seek medical attention for diabetes treatment“.
- Link Silos: Link silos are groups of pages about a similar topic that link to one another.
There are great internal linking strategies that are devised by SEO professionals, but you can implement some basic internal linking yourself.
Here Are Some Simple Internal Linking Steps You Can Take:
- Link relevant pages to one another from within content. Simply link existing words in sentences (see anchor text definition). There is no need to write “click here”.
- Add links to your most important pages in the footer to give them the most inlinks.
- Identify pages you think will become core resources and link to them from popular pages such as the homepage. This will pass great pagerank.
- Build ‘link silos’ of quality pages relating to a niche within your topic and link them all together.
8. Set A Meta Description For Every Page
For each audit I conduct a complete crawl of the website which flags up core missing components on pages. By far the most common missing component is the meta description!
The meta description of a page is the descriptive text that appears below the meta title in search results, like here:
When you write a meta description it doesn’t appear in the content of the page, it is purely intended to encourage users to click through. And that’s exactly what you should use it for!
The actual words within the meta description text are not a ranking factor, but the amount of people who click on your page after seeing it in the search results is!
This means that if your description isn’t compelling enough then you will receive fewer clicks and your rankings will suffer.
This handy little meta description section is a space for you to use about 155 characters to convince users that this is the best page to match their search needs.
As such, you can use action words such as “Discover”, “Find out about” or “Get involved” in order to encourage clicks.
If you have pages without set meta descriptions, search engines will pick a random piece of text and display it there for you. So writing meta descriptions can be a simple quick-win that helps you achieve more traffic.
9. Fix Or Redirect Broken Internal Links
I see this issue a lot. As sites grow they often leave a trail of destruction in their path in the form of error 404 pages, broken internal links and redirect chains.
Put quite simply – if you unpublish a page, consider what happens to the links that were pointing to that page.
Not redirecting an unpublished page can lead to poor user experience with error 404 pages, a loss of pagerank and you risk losing all backlinks that were pointing to that page.
The best way to combat this is to 301 redirect URLs for unpublished pages so that they go to a live page that is relevant. Then, if you know where the links to this page are, replace the link to avoid causing redirect chains.
Google Search Console can give you a list of error 404 pages to redirect, but these only become apparent once it has crawled the site. You can use it to fix 404s retrospectively, however. And it should be an important part of your website clean up.
If you can get these error pages fixed then you might notice a free boost in traffic as a result.
10. Get Yoast SEO
Yoast SEO has so many advantages that I won’t begin to list here but some of the best value you can get for it is the technical features it installs in the background.
For example, it will create an XML sitemap for you, automatically add canonical tags and pagination tags, and create schema markup.
Most users find Yoast incredibly useful for creating meta titles and meta descriptions for every page. Yoast not only makes this very simple but it also gives you a handy colour-coded bar to let you know if you go below or over the recommended character length.
Here’s how Yoast looks for the page you’re reading right now:
It also gives great tips on the SEO-friendliness of the page you are writing with hints to improve your content by adding keywords, length and improving readability. Some of these features are perfect for those not too familiar with SEO.
Yoast also gives you options to edit how the page looks when shared on Facebook or Twitter which can be unbelievably useful.
You should be careful not to consider Yoast the God of SEO, however. It can help you improve your page and content but it’s not a magical wizard that can guarantee you top rankings for your search queries if you follow it’s suggestions.
If you don’t already have Yoast, I highly suggest you install it and start using all the features. This will help get failing websites up to a minimum quality standard required to rank.
11. Add Alt Text To All Images
Optimising images well can be very impactful for the SEO of a page. Not only does it improve user experience but there are also elements within an image that can be used to boost relevancy of the topic.
The image URL and title play somewhat of a role in adding keywords but optimising the image alternative text is the most impactful.
From auditing charity websites, image alt tags seemed to be an area that was almost entirely ignored, with my crawls showing hundreds or thousands of images without!
My recommendation: Spend some time manually going through site images and adding relevant, keyword-rich sentences in the image alt text.
I should also mention the importance of image sizes too. Pages with heavy images on will load a lot slower which will affect user experience and ultimately SEO.
When we talk about optimising image sizes we are mostly talking about the file size, not the dimensions. You can use free online image editing software to crop and resize your images to optimise them for a page. My favourite tool for this is Pixlr.
12. Beef Out Thin Content
If you’re trying to rank a page that has only 200 words, forget about it.
Unless it’s a category page, a page with miniscule search volume or an e-commerce page, 200 words is almost never enough words to get on the first page of Google.
Lots of people contact me asking why their website isn’t receiving any traffic. When I look at their sites, each page only has about 6 paragraphs on a topic. Essentially, they are not providing a high quality resource.
SEO isn’t easy. It takes time to build quality resources and so it’s important to focus on creating very thorough, extensive content that attacks a subject from all angles.
This is what search users want to see and what will keep them on the site for the longest.
My recommendation: Go through your site and identify any thin pages. Create an action plan to write 1,000 words for each of these pages.
This not only hugely increases your chance to rank for your main keywords but as content becomes more thorough it opens up possibilities to rank for keywords you might not have considered.
This means you can appear in search results for hundreds more terms, generating clicks from all manner of search queries.
Quick Tip For Beefing Out Thin Content
Pick a page to optimise and then locate it in your Google Search Console under “Performance” > “Pages”. Click the page so that it creates a filter and then click back to “Queries”.
Here you will find a big list of search terms that this page has been appearing for and which you can use to further optimise the content.
Add these keywords throughout your content, in headings and in your meta title and you’ve got a quick win! Of course, professional on-page optimisation is a lot more thorough than this but if you’re budget limited then this will be effective.
Write long articles but most importantly… write quality content.
I really hope these 12 SEO tips are useful and can help your charity to boost online visibility. If these tips can result in increases in donations or registrations from beneficiaries then it is a job well done!
If your CMS doesn’t allow you to make any of these fixes yourself, this can be a problem and you should potentially consider switching CMS.
Remember, SEO best practices are for the long-term. These tips should be performed regularly and integrated into the website strategy.