Optimizing your nonprofit website for search is most definitely a significant/massive/time-consuming/etc. undertaking. And it all begins with brainstorming keywords. A list of around 500 keywords is a good starting point. Throughout the search engine optimization (SEO) process, you’ll chip away at this list and should end up with a final list of phrases that are good fits for your nonprofit.

When you find yourself staring at a completely blank screen, it can be difficult to know where to start brainstorming keywords for your nonprofit website. So why not start at the beginning?

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Look to Your Current Content for Ideas

You’ll want to include all of your nonprofit’s branded phrases, such as the name of your organization (there’s an easy one for you!), your leadership, popular events and programs. But beyond that, think of all the ways in which a searcher might find their way to you. Try describing your programs, services and relevant topics in broader terms.

For instance, if your nonprofit has a program that provides educational workshops to high schoolers, you’ll want to include more than the name of that specific program on your list. You might try brainstorming keywords like “workshops for high school students,” “educational programs for students,” “learning opportunities for high schoolers,” and other variations of those phrases.

You’d also then want to research phrases based on what’s taught in the workshops, and any other topics relevant to your nonprofit. For example, if the workshops were aimed at recycling, I’d research “recycling fun facts,” “how to recycle,” “what can I recycle,” and so on.

Have Something Meaningful to Say About Each Word

The most important thing to remember about brainstorming keywords is that these keywords should eventually be useful. Ideally, each keyword chosen will have a page on your website or a post on your blog devoted to it. To optimize page content for the keyword, it should appear in the title, the URL and 4-5 times throughout the content of the page. So as you’re brainstorming keywords, choose phrases that you’ll have a lot to say about, whether it’s now or in the future.

Make Broad Phrases More Specific

Unless you already have a strong website in the eyes of search engines, it’s unlikely that you’ll rank for many broad phrases. To give your nonprofit a chance to rank for these topics, try to make the phrases as specific as you can. For example, instead of “volunteer opportunities” you might try “volunteer opportunities for retired teachers” or “recycling volunteer opportunities for high school students.” You can try out multiple variations of these to see which phrasing gets the most searches.

Continue Brainstorming Keywords:

  • For Google, take a look at the “related searches” at the bottom of a search result page to get some ideas
  • Take another pass through your blog and website, searching for topics and page names you might have missed. You can always go back and optimize them for relevant phrases
  • Look through the blogs and websites of organizations doing similar things as your nonprofit
  • Share your list with a friend to help brainstorm other ideas
  • Try formal, informal and similar versions of phrases. For instance, “kids” versus “children”
  • Spell out acronyms (many times, acronyms have multiple meanings)

Expand Your List

Once you have a good base of words, there are tools you can use to expand it. We like using Keyword.io and Yoast Google Suggest Expander. You can enter a keyword into either of these websites, and it will provide you with a short list of similar keywords. Both are handy tools for brainstorming keywords.

At this point, you should have a pretty robust list of phrases to analyze. Now you’re ready to move onto the analysis phase. Brainstorming keywords can be daunting at first, but hopefully these tips and tools will be useful as you move through the SEO process.

How do you brainstorm keywords? Have any tips, tricks or tools to add to our list? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!


  1. Excellent post Christine,

    Very helpful and specific. This is written in a way that helps people know where to get started and how to hone their list. I’m going to be saving to read again later (because I’m supposed to be doing something else right now).

    • Thanks for commenting, Jenette. I’m happy you found it helpful!