SEO professionals often get a bum rap.

We’ve been stereotyped as nerdy, basement-dwelling techies who make money by flooding the SERPs with robot garble on spammy websites [or is it just me?].

But we’re not all about the “three evil p’s” of pills, porn and poker. Lots of us do good by volunteering our skills to organizations in need.

Let’s stand together and introduce a new “p” to the SEO haters: philanthropy.

If you haven’t yet donated your professional services to a charity, there are many ways you can get involved. And it doesn’t have to eat up all of your time.

How to Help Out

Take a non-profit corporation under your wing and set them up with a strong SEO foundation. You could dig into their site and:

  • ensure it is accessible to the search engines
  • provide keyword research
  • optimize core content, headers, metadata, alt tags, etc.
  • structure the internal linking strategy
  • initiate a link-building plan
  • set up free analytical tools, such as Google Analytics and webmaster tools

Once you’ve set them up with a good SEO foundation, show them what they can do to ensure long-term success.

Spend an afternoon or two showing employees and volunteers how they can boost the site’s rankings thought strategic content development and link building.

Spread Your Knowledge: Create a Non-Profit SEO and SEM To-Do List

If you can’t take on another SEO project (especially one that’s pro bono), you can still help by sending your favorite non-profit an SEO cheat sheet and an SEM to-do list.

(Worried about letting all your hard-earned secrets out of the bag? Ask them to sign an NDA before you turn it over. They’ll understand your position and be thrilled to gain access to your insider knowledge.)

Over the last few years, I‘ve created an SEM/SEO to-do list for the non-profits I run into to. I’ve laid out five of those  pointers below. Please add to this list and pass it on to your favorite charity!

5 Ways to Increase Your Non-Profit’s Online Exposure

Step One: Sign up for Google Grants.

This is probably the biggest thing you’re missing out on. It’s one of the most immediate ways to increase your traffic. Google offers up to $10,000/month in grants for eligible non-profits (most receive about $300/month). Here’s how it works:

  1. Choose the keyword phrases (words that relate to your cause) that you want target. For example, “dog rescue Chicago” would be a good keyword phrase for an animal rescue organization like Alive Rescue.
  2. Write short text ads via Google’s online system and select the “landing page” for each ad (the page people land on after they click your ad). It should closely relate to the keyword phrases you’re targeting.
  3. Watch your ad show up in search results for those related keywords.
  4. Encourage visitors who click on those ads to donate to your cause. Provide compelling content and design.
  5. Monitor your success.
  6. Optimize. Tweak the content of your ads, experiment with different landing pages and test different messaging. You’ll increase your chases of a visitor coming to your site and contributing to your cause.

Step Two: Optimize your website for SEO.

SEO (search engine optimization) can be a complex field, but there are some basics you should know about getting listed in the natural search results:

  1. Start with local search: Take advantage of your location. The search engines are placing more local results (based on where the user is searching from) in general keyword search results. Set up your local profiles with the major search engines (Google Places, Bing Local and Local.Yahoo).Be sure to fill out your profiles to the max. Add photos, video, etc.Don’t stop there. Get your non-profit listed on tons of review sites (sites like Yelp) and encourage people to write reviews and add your location to their Google maps.Be sure to get listed in local directories every chance you get. You want the search engines to see your website associated with your address and phone number as much as possible
  2. Publish new content often: Search engines love new content. Upload new pages to your site at least three times a week (general rule is at least 450 words per page).Make sure each page has unique metadata and your internal pages link to each other. (For example, if you write the phrase “Chicago dog rescue” in your content, make sure you link that phrase to the internal page that best describes that topic.)
  3. Get Other Websites/Blogs to Link to You: The more links that are pointing to your site, the more the search engines will trust you and raise you in the search results.Publish content that people will find valuable and want to link to. Also, encourage people in your network to link to your site, such as: vendors and supporting businesses, volunteers who have websites and blogs, like-minded non-profits, and your local library and government offices.Another way to gain links is to be a guest blogger on related blogs. Write a meaningful blog post and include a link back to your website.

Note: This is just a start to revving up your SEO. There are more than 200 ranking factors that come into play, and those factors are constantly evolving. Once you get the basics down, an SEO professional can help you get the next level.

If SEO services aren’t in the budget, the best tip is to go after local keywords. For example, instead of going after the big keyword phrase “animal rescue”, shoot for a local option, such as “animal rescue Chicago” or “rescue a cat in Chicago”.

Not only will you have a better chance of ranking in the top of the search results for those local terms, but you’ll also be connecting with a more targeted audience.

Step Three: Fire up your social media efforts.

The two musts:

  1. Set up a Facebook Causes page. When friends see friends supporting charities, they often join in. When it comes to what you post there, be conversional and promote your events, but don’t overwhelm your supporters. One post a day can go a long way.
  2. Twitter time. Set up a Twitter profile, link back to your non-profit’s homepage and start recruiting followers. Go to search.twitter.com, search keywords related to your industry, then jump into the conversation. The key to Twitter is contributing relevant comments and passing on (re-tweeting) relevant links. If you scratch other people’s backs, they’ll scratch yours when you want something to be promoted.

Step Four: Tell your supporters to search via GoodSearch.

Your supporters can earn you money just by downloading a Yahoo GoodSearch toolbar. Then, every time a supporter searches the Internet via Yahoo, your non-profit receives some change (the money comes from the advertisers).

It’s a penny or two per search, but if you get a good number of people to participate, those pennies turn into real cash.

The real money is in GoodSearch’s “GoodShop” where participating companies (Amazon, eBay, Staples, Apple, etc.) donate a percentage of your supporter’s online purchases to your organization.

The Math: GoodSearch estimates that if you get 100 supporters to use the toolbar, you could receive about $1,500/year. 1,000 supporters could add up to $15,000/year, and 10,000 supports could add up to $150,000/year.

Get busy and spread the word. This is a real way for people to contribute to your cause without them having to spend a dime.

Step Five: Get to know Grassroots.org.

Once you get more traffic to your site, the next step is making sure those people stick around and contribute to your cause.

Grassroots.org has helped more than 3,500 non-profits beautify their sites by offering these free services:

  • Free professional web design by volunteer designers. They’ll create a new website for you or revamp your existing site.
  • Free graphic design. Need to boost your brand with a new logo? Grassroots will pair you with a volunteer graphic designer.
  • Free web hosting. No-charge hosting and 24/7 support for free.

What Did I Forget?

OK, so there are some of my tips for non-profits who don’t have much to spend on search marketing.

Let’s make this a valuable resource for charities that could benefit from increased exposure. What are some other “search marketing musts” or SEO tips you would give non-profit organizations?

Meaghan Olson

Meaghan Olson is a writer and digital marketer living in Chicago. She's a believer in the power of words – and in the technology that makes those words matter. Meaghan is the Digital Marketing Director at SEM Visibility and GroceryCouponNetwork.com. On the weekends, you can find her in section 157 at U.S. Cellular Field cheering for the White Sox.

Dog Psycho.

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3 Responses to “5 Ways to Increase Your Non-Profit’s Online Exposure [SEO Philanthropy]”

  1. Bruce Jones says:

    Meaghan, You hit the nail on the head with the long tail local keywords. Often times I find most non profits are not even aware of SEO or how many website visitors they have. But once I educate them and then spend a little time helping them rank for the right keywords they are the best champions of my business.
    .-= Bruce Jones recently posted: Web Design Discounts and Free Hosting Offered to Naperville Non-for-Profits =-.

  2. Deepak Gupta says:

    Meaghan,

    This is good stuff. About 2 years ago, I consulted for a small non profit in New York and they actually sent me to Google's headquarters in Mountain View for 2 days of NPO Online marketing training. It sounds like you and I were in the same couple of sessions. :)

    Anyway, thanks for sharing.
    .-= Deepak Gupta recently posted: Looking at dating as marketing is one of the classic dating traps =-.

  3. Meaghan – great idea ! I've been sitting on a technology committee for a small local non-profit for about a year helping to facilitate a website being built by another volunteer (experienced professional). Although I helped get their Social Media underway, it (duh) just never occurred to me to volunteer to help out with the SEO. :P