Let’s say your nonprofit serves a specific city or region with no grand ambitions to reach a national audience. You might assume that you don’t need to spend marketing energy on something like search engine optimization (SEO). The truth is that local nonprofit organizations can benefit from search marketing, too—and it’s not as much work as you think!
The ways that people search for information is more localized than ever before, whether they are looking for restaurant recommendations, nearby service providers or things to do. Making sure that your nonprofit shows up in search results is just another part of serving your community with relevant and helpful information right when they want it.
Learn where to focus your SEO efforts even if you don’t care about reaching the whole internet with your cause. We’ll dive into some local SEO techniques that can help you make sure you connect to the right people in your area.
What is Search Marketing for Nonprofits?
Search marketing is a way to bring visitors to your organization’s website by way of search engines. This traffic can be organic, meaning that people naturally see and click on a link to your website on a page of search results. Or it can be paid search traffic, meaning that someone comes to your site from an ad that shows up on a page of search results, like with the Google Ad Grant program.
(You can get up to speed on more SEO terms with our vocabulary list.)
Nonprofits looking to reach people across large areas often turn to organic and paid search marketing to increase their visibility. For example, a national-level group that supports families affected by a rare disease might prioritize SEO as part of a marketing strategy to find new members in other states or educate healthcare professionals on symptoms and treatment. They could write content for their website that’s optimized for disease-related keywords (bringing in organic search traffic) as well as run Google ads (paid search traffic) that drive doctors to resources on diagnosis.
So what about a nonprofit that wants to target a few specific areas or counties? Say you’re a regional food bank, church, school or animal shelter. There’s a whole subset of search marketing that’s perfect for you and doesn’t require as much work as you think: local SEO.
SEO for Local Nonprofit Organizations
Local SEO is a way to optimize your website and overall online presence so that your nonprofit shows up in search results for people near you. Organizations with a physical location that offer public programs, services and events have a lot to gain. In a nutshell, if you are a nonprofit and you want people in your service area to be able to find and visit you, local SEO should be a top consideration in your marketing efforts.
The good news is that implementing a local SEO strategy isn’t as hard as you think. Unlike more traditional search marketing, local SEO is all about sending small and consistent signals to search engines that you are who you say you are—and that you’re relevant and helpful to the people you want to reach. It really is something that you can get started on today, and here’s how to do it.
Fill out your Google My Business profile
Make sure that your nonprofit has claimed and completely filled out your Google My Business page. In addition to getting you to show up on Google Maps, the page is almost a mini website where you can post business hours, photos, types of services and have people write reviews. It’s a key part of Google’s local search rankings.
Most importantly, make sure that the information you provide here is consistent across everything you have online, like your website and social media channels. You want the way that you write out your organization’s name, address, phone number and website URL (also known as NAP + W in the SEO world) to be exactly the same in every spot.
If you can only do one thing, this is it!
Get listed in other directories
Use your standard NAP + W information from Google My Business to list your organization in other relevant online directories (plus update any outdated listings). There are a lot of free directories out there, and you can think of it like being added to a phone book. Directories not only help spread your name out there and give you control over your information, but they are also an easy way to build links to your website (more on that below).
Again, focus on relevant directories and avoid spammy ones that could actually hurt your rankings.
Encourage online reviews
Whether they are on Google, Facebook or elsewhere, online reviews are part of proving your nonprofit’s identity and legitimacy in the eyes of the public as well as search engines. It could seem scary to ask your supporters or community to weigh in on your organization, but there are lots of ways to make it work for your cause.
Consider asking people to review you as part of your regular follow-up communications, but stick to the rules and don’t dangle incentives in exchange for glowing testimonials.
Build links to your website
To succeed with any kind of search marketing, local nonprofit organizations need links from websites that look respectable and high quality to search engines like Google. Part of the equation is having other high-quality websites link to you.
Building links from trusted sites can be as easy as asking partners or funders to add you on their websites and asking reporters to link to you in media articles (even retroactively). Event sponsors could also be open to some shared link building to meet their own local SEO goals.
Create authoritative web content
Writing for search engines isn’t something that a lot of nonprofit marketers feel comfortable with, nor does it always seem like a good use of time for small, local organizations. So rather than rewriting your site, look for opportunities to naturally incorporate phrases and keywords into your existing content that help connect your mission to the local area.
Have a page about after-school programs? Be clear about the location in the page title and accompanying text. Writing a blog post about places to donate food items? Make sure your list is comprehensive, accurate, and includes phrases like “where to donate canned goods in [location]” or “[location] local food bank.” There are lots of ways to find and use relevant keywords without being an SEO expert.
Consider voice search
As you review your existing website content, look for opportunities to rework your text for voice search optimization. More and more people are using voice search on their phones and home devices to find quick answers to questions like “what’s happening in [my city] this weekend?” or “what time is Mass on Sunday?” or “where can I donate used furniture?”. Think about questions that your audience might be asking and be sure that your website is set up to provide a helpful answer.
Stay active on social media
You don’t have to be everywhere on social media, but it helps to be regularly active on the channels you are using. (Don’t miss our tips for filling up an editorial calendar.) Like other local SEO tactics, your social media activity and claimed profiles signal that your organization is legitimate. If you already have a social media strategy in place and your NAP + W information is correct, then you can skip right past this step.
Write meta descriptions
Each page on your website should have a meta description—a super short summary that search engines look for and can choose to display in search results. Use this opportunity to reinforce the location of your nonprofit, programs or events, which helps searchers determine that what you offer is the most relevant option for them to click on.
This tip is last on the list only because it has the potential to be A LOT of work. If your nonprofit’s website isn’t responsive to different screen sizes, search engines aren’t going to give you as much love and attention as you otherwise deserve. Having a mobile-friendly site is increasingly important to search marketing, no matter if you’re targeting a national or local audience.
While SEO isn’t the only reason you’re likely looking to make a new website, it’s certainly a consideration if you want to build awareness for your cause. Get some more tips for making a pitch for a site that does more for your brand, fundraising and reputation.
Finding Local Search Success
As you start to chip away at these local SEO tactics, there are a few ways to know if your efforts are paying off:
- Google Analytics. Try out our free Visitor and Acquisition Dashboards to easily learn more about the visitors to your website and where they are coming from, both in terms of physical location and the types of traffic, like organic search and referrals from other sites.
- Quality website leads. Have you noticed an uptick in local people reaching out to you through your online forms or even on the phone? An increase in visibility in search results, including your Google My Business page, could be driving more people your way.
- Search result rankings. Curious what keywords are working for you or what kinds of questions your site is answering? You can use a free tool like Moz’s Domain Analysis to see how your web pages are doing in search. Or simply start Googling phrases that you think your nonprofit should show up for and see if there’s room for improvement.
Local nonprofit organizations have just as much to gain from search marketing as large nonprofits who want to grow their reach and community of supporters. Even just a few small tweaks to your online presence can get the ball rolling and help you start showing up in search right when someone needs you. At the end of the day, local SEO is as much about marketing as it is about being accessible for the people you serve.
Are you thinking about taking on more SEO work for your nonprofit? What challenges or successes have you seen with search marketing for a local organization? See you in the comments!