We recently wrote about the role of a website in creating a sense of nonprofit credibility with your donors and a wider audience. But there’s another part to the credibility equation that’s all about establishing trust with a less human crowd: search engines. If you want to strengthen your organization’s reputation and attract new supporters to your cause, you have to know how to build website authority with your top frenemy, Google.

But… Is Search Engine Optimization Worth It?

Whenever we’re talking about search engine optimization (SEO), I feel it’s necessary to give this disclaimer: making a website that regularly shows up on the first page of search results is a great idea. Now, the ways that you go about doing that may or may not be worth your time at a busy nonprofit. Conducting keyword research and writing pages that target specific keywords isn’t often high on the priority list for a lot of organizations—and that’s OK.

But if you’re working hard to look professional and legitimate to grow your supporter base and reach more people, it makes sense to find ways of showing up in Google. After all, when someone is searching for a topic related to your mission or the community you serve, there’s a good chance that you have something to offer them and can start to build a relationship from there.

Website authority and trust: the practical SEO solution

So what’s “website authority” really about? Search engines only want to serve up content from reputable websites that people can trust. Google, for example, partially relies on guidelines that assess website quality based on expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness, known as E-A-T.

Unlike targeting keywords for SEO, working to improve your website authority and trust doesn’t have a standard formula for success. But there are practical things you can do on your site without needing any expertise, such as keeping pages up to date and providing contact information. That’s not too intimidating, right?

And, as you’ll see, pretty much anything you do to improve authority and trust for SEO will reassure your visitors and supporters, too.

How to Build Website Authority & Trust for Nonprofits

Whether you’re looking to up-level an existing website or create a new one, website authority should be part of your vision of success. The better your site does in search results, the more likely it is that you’ll start to bring in new people who are eager to learn about your organization. Here’s where we suggest making an effort for the best returns on your time investment.

Earning links to your site from other high-quality sites is really the foundation of authority when it comes to search engines. Think of them as tiny seals of approval that make search engines feel good about showing your content to other people. Consider asking partners, the media, and organizations who talk about similar issues or offer related resources to link back to your site.

In addition to getting links from other websites, don’t forget about creating links among your own website pages. There are many perks to internal links, from showing search engines how to crawl around your content to giving visitors a nice overall experience.

Share your contact information and location.

It’s tempting to put a contact form on your website and think that’s enough. For newer nonprofits, it might be because you don’t have an organizational email address and you’re relying on personal emails and phone numbers. But sharing actual contact information on your website along with your location indicates to search engines (and regular people) that you are, in fact, real. If it makes sense, embedding a Google Map is a nice touch!

Use a secure website domain.

Whether you do it for credibility and trust with your donors or for SEO, your website should use an SSL certificate. If Google doesn’t trust your site’s security (and displays a warning), visitors probably won’t either. Don’t ask your visitors to decide whether they want to “continue anyway”.

Write unique meta descriptions for every page.

Meta descriptions are short snippets that summarize the content and intent of pages on your website. Search engines can choose to display them in search results, and they also show up when sharing links on social media. A tool like the Yoast SEO Plugin makes it easy to add them without getting into the technical weeds.

Encourage online reviews and recommendations

Take a tactic from strategies for local SEO and work on increasing the number of online reviews for your nonprofit on third-party websites and directories. For example, Google and Facebook reviews or testimonials are effective signals to potential supporters and search engines that you are who you say you are and that your work is impactful.

Keep web content fresh and up-to-date.

No one likes to arrive on a page that was last updated in 2003. It doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence for readers or search engines. That’s not to say that you need to constantly overhaul your pages, but work to make sure that you‘re sharing the most recent dates, statistics and other time-sensitive details of your work. Use our template to keep track of pages that tend to need housekeeping.

Reference external sources to validate your content.

As you’re keeping that content fresh, are there opportunities to link to external sources (like publications, reports or news articles) that support what you’re saying or to provide additional context? Not only do those links help visitors read more if they’re interested, but they also help search engines connect the dots between your content and other reliable experts.

Authority + Credibility = Growth

While you’re not going to completely forget your donors, carving out a little of your attention to work on SEO can have real long-term benefits for website traffic and raising awareness. When you have authority with the robots and credibility with the masses, I’m not sure there’s much that can stop you from growing.

What types of practices have you implemented to increase the authority of your nonprofit’s site? Any questions about how to build website authority with limited time or budget? And, if you avoid SEO work like the plague, what keeps you from diving in? See you in the comments!