Russell Munroe summarised in his web comic xkcd the underwhelming experience of users when visiting many charity sector websites. Is your organisation affected by this problem? Are you delivering a disappointing digital service to your beneficiaries and potential donors?
Having a well-optimised website is an essential element for any charity in order to keep providing its services and growing its network. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is all about making your website visible to the people who you want to find you.
But how can you make that happen? Here is our list of top tips:
1) Use the language of your target audience
In order to be found on search engines you need to research and understand the language that people are using and the questions that they are asking when they are searching for information – the keywords. You should carefully select your keywords when putting together your website content.
For example, you might think that a young person worried about their alcohol intake might search for the words “effects of alcohol on the body”, but keyword research shows that people tend to search for the answer to the question “Am I an alcoholic” – 1,800 against 700 average monthly searches.
2) Address their questions and make the answers visible and engaging
Once you have learned your audience’s language, think about their intent and build your website to address this.
Your content should pass “the 5 seconds test”: the title, the subtitles, and the first paragraph of the page need to address their query, otherwise users will leave the page. Search engine ranking is affected by whether people stay on your website for a while or whether they go back to it straight away.
3) Think about their user journey and provide links to their next query
You have learned the language of your audience, the questions they ask, and you have provided helpful information and advice at their time of their need. Now take them on a journey beyond the answer to their initial question. It could be more information or directing them to yours or others’ services.
A parent has entered your website on suspecting that their child is suffering from depression. They typed “signs of depression” into Google, a phrase that has 14,000 monthly searches in the UK, found your page and sadly learned from your information that they might be right. You are now able to provide information on how they can support him. You could also provide a link to your one-to-one helpline, or your drop-in centre. These links are very relevant to the user and make the page a better landing page for users; search engines will reward you for adding them.
4) Optimise your homepage and your navigation
You have optimised your content pages, and your users found you in Google when they needed you. Your organisation should also be easy to find if they want to come back for more information and the content should be easy to navigate. Your keyword research will come in handy once again for this.
You could also look at making your website mobile friendly. So many people own a smartphone and use their phones to search the internet. They may choose to leave your site if it is not easy to read or navigate via their mobile.
5) Build a strong network online
At this point, you should look for potential partners to build a strong online network with. These could be groups that are similar to you, or organisations you have worked with. Like the offline world, your online work can be greatly enhanced by some successful partnerships. Think, for instance, of a local housing association and how important it is for their services to have a link to their local borough website, or the local church site.
This network will help you build your authority online through their links, which are, for Google, a vote of trust. Search engines measure your authority by the number and the quality of the links / referrals to your content. The higher your authority, the more likely you are to appear first in Google.
Our SEO tools can help you discover who the main digital players are, those that will refer to you, and those that you should refer to online.
6) Make your donate button easy to find
Online giving is growing in popularity as other channels decrease. It is also one of the most cost-effective fundraising methods. In an optimised website, you should always be one click away from the donate page – a subtle suggestion, contextual, not disrupting.
If your website is built for your users and for search engines as well, you will be able to offer your services to people when they need them.
Your well-optimised website will be found organically, through searches and partners.
Good keyword research and an optimised user experience will help you to be relevant in a world where the online and the offline experiences are only divided by a very blurry line.
Manuela Rotstein is Head of Digital Strategy at open-commerce.org. She has worked with the BBC, Classic FM and UNICEF UK, among others, to boost their SEO and put together a content strategy that resonates with their audiences.