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Use search engine optimization to drive the "right people" to your site

I'm sure you've heard a thing or two about search engine optimization (SEO). For many, SEO is a murky concept at best, and downright confusing at worst. It's true, SEO is a complex topic with a lot of moving pieces. It's also often an afterthought when it comes to a nonprofit's content strategy.

But it's time for that to change.

Simply put, SEO is the process of improving your chances of ranking better in search engines and driving more of the "right people" to your site. It's one of the best ways out there to increase awareness since you're driving more folks to your site who are likely interested in your cause but may not be looking for your organization by name. They are actively looking for a particular piece of information or solution to a problem. And you have the opportunity to provide it to them.

The following are a few easy fixes you can make to your site to improve the likelihood you'll show up in Google.

1. Use the language of your visitors

Remember, you are not the target audience for your website. Many of your visitors won't know your jargon or acronyms. Figure out your target audience and use the words and terms they're likely to use. Infuse this language into your page names, headings and page content.

Not only is plain language better for user experience (since your visitors will actually know what you're talking about), but you're also far more likely to drive them to your website through search since you're using the language they're typing into search engines.

2. Publish helpful content regularly

If you want to rank well in search engines, commit to publishing content regularly. If you have a blog, I'd recommend blogging once per week at a minimum. If you can manage more (and can maintain that pace without burning out) go for it. Not only do search engines like fresh content, but the more content you produce, the more content you have to potentially rank.

That said, make sure your content is providing value to your target audience, not just your nonprofit. Think about the questions you get asked all the time. Provide answers. Consider aspects of your cause that may be confusing to those not familiar with it. Share your insight.

Don't simply share news about your organization. In order to attract visitors looking for information related to your cause but not your nonprofit by name, think about the types of info they'll be after. Provide it on your site.

3. Carefully consider your page titles

There are not many factors on your website that matter to search engines as much as your page titles. Think about the keyword phrase your visitors are most likely to use for a specific page and incorporate it into your page title.

Make it clear. Keep it short. And make sure it's free of jargon. Clear page titles will give both visitors and search engines a much better idea of what a page is all about.

4. Use strong URLs

Another key ranking factor is the structure of your URLs. Search engines will use your URL to get a feel for what a page is about. Make sure you use the keyword phrase from your page title in your page's URL as well. Also, be sure to remove unnecessary words like "the" or "and" whenever you can and separate your words with a dash.

For instance, let's say you're targeting a phrase like "winter clothing donations" in a blog post.

A page with a URL like this: http://yournonprofit.org/blog/winter-clothing-donations is more likely to rank than one with a URL like this: http://yournonprofit.org/?p=9502.

That said, it's best to polish your URL before a page is published. Once it's published, don't change the URL unless you work with a programmer to implement what is called a "301 redirect." These redirects will forward all traffic from the old URL to the new one, making sure no visitors who follow an old link or click a saved bookmark end up on a dead page. It's also a way to pass the page's "link juice," or value in the eyes of search engines, through to the new URL.

5. Avoid deleting pages

Along the same lines as changing an existing page's URL, you'll generally want to avoid deleting pages from your website. When you delete a page, you run the risk of visitors looking for a particular piece of information and landing on a dead page. You also throw away the search value that page was adding to your website.

If you have to remove a page, implement 301 redirects and forward visitors to the most similar page on your site. Doing so will provide visitors with the best possible experience and salvage much of the page's value from a search perspective.

This also applies to launching a new website. During the process of creating a new site, you'll often consolidate pages or eliminate them altogether. Make sure you discuss 301 redirects with your developer to ensure your new site maintains as much value as possible.

6. Include keywords in image alt text

When you upload an image through your content management system (CMS), many systems will allow you to edit what's called the "alt text." The alt text (short for "alternative text") is the text that shows when an image can't be displayed. This may be the case when a visitor is using a screen reader or when images are disabled in their browser.

Not only does using your keyword phrase in the alt text help visitors who can't see the image get a feel for what content is contained in it, but it also serves as another signal to search engines trying to figure out what your page is all about.

7. Craft internal links

Internal links are those links from one page of your website to another one still within your site. They can be a great way to push visitors to relevant content related to the information they're reading. But they can also help with search.

First off, they are an excellent way to pass link juice (ranking power) between pages on your site. If you link from Page A to Page B on your site, some of the link juice from Page A will flow through to Page B. By distributing link juice throughout your site, you can help improve the rankings of more pages.

The text you use in your links is also important when writing your internal links. The actual text that you use for your link that visitors can click is called "anchor text." This anchor text helps signal to search engines the topic of the page on the other side of your link.

Sticking with the example of winter clothing donations, instead of: "To make a winter clothing donation, click here," try the link as: "Please make a winter clothing donation today!"

Doing so will benefit both your visitors and search engines.

For more from David Hartstein, visit Wired Impact.

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MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.

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Content strategist devoted to helping organizations leverage web technology