Search engine optimization is one of the murkiest components of the website design process for many nonprofits. Sure, most folks know what a search engine is. Many likely use “Google” as a verb on a regular basis (“I’m not 100% sure, can you Google it?”). But is search engine optimization, or SEO, worth the time and cost it’ll tack onto your website overhaul?

The answer really depends on your website goals. But hopefully a bit more clarity around SEO will help you determine if it’s right for your project.

What is the Point of Search Engine Optimization?

SEO is all about raising awareness that your nonprofit exists. Simply put:

It’s a way to drive people who are looking
for the type of work you’re doing
but not for your organization specifically.

So someone searches for “helping kids in Africa” and gets Save the Children. Or they search for “saving endangered species” and see World Wildlife Fund at the top of their search results.

This is called unbranded search. These searchers aren’t looking for these organizations in particular. They’re simply interested in a specific cause.

And capturing the interest of these visitors can be a game changer for your nonprofit. Whenever we talk about the way search engine optimization benefits nonprofits, unbranded search is where we start.

Why is SEO so Powerful?

SEO has the potential to bring droves of visitors interested in your cause to your website. We’re not talking about passive website visitors that happen to stumble upon your site here. These are visitors who are looking for a specific piece of information or facing a particular problem.

Through SEO, you have the opportunity to give them exactly what they’re looking for in the moment they’re looking for it.

Will SEO Truly Help Your Nonprofit?

It most definitely can. Let’s look at an example.

Say your nonprofit provides shelter for abused animals. You maintain an active blog and share all kinds of information related to pet care and animal abuse. At first, you start to drive some search traffic for phrases like “healthy puppy tips” and “best new toys for kittens” to posts on your blog. Your content is strong and people enjoy it. They start to link to these posts, which increases the overall strength of your website in the eyes of search engines. This boosts the likelihood you’ll rank for other phrases. Over time, you start to rank for broader phrases like “caring for a pet” and “pet care tips.”

So how does this benefit you? Well, first off, it helps to establish your authority in the pet care space. Second, it’s connecting you with your target audience – animal lovers. Once they’re on your website, you can use compelling calls to action to further engage them and convert them into supporters.

But these sorts of things also compound over time. Eventually your site could start ranking for phrases like “donate to a pet shelter” or “saving abused animals.” There’s a very good chance the people searching for phrases like this are going to be interested in your nonprofit and what you have to say. You’re reaching an audience that is significantly more likely to become supporters.

And as I mentioned before, you’re capturing their attention when their interest is at its highest. They’re actively seeking the information you’re providing.

If raising awareness is a major goal of your website, there’s a good chance search engine optimization is a sound investment. Doing it in conjunction with a website redesign is typically easier and more cost-effective than as a standalone project.

Download Our SEO For Nonprofits Primer

Not everyone has time to become an expert in SEO for nonprofits. Get our list of recommended reading and how-to tutorials for search engine optimization basics.

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Have you seen the benefits of search engine optimization? Or do you have questions about how SEO can help your nonprofit? Share them in the comments below.


  1. Thanks David for helping me understand SEO a little bit more. Very well written. I am new to web design and all the terminology that comes with it.

    • Thanks a lot Christy! There is certainly no shortage of jargon in the world of web design. Glad to hear our post helped to demystify SEO a bit.

  2. great article. Thanks for the info.
    I have a non-profit that I have also shared this with.
    Your words say exactly what I have tried to explain to them. Basically we need more content on the what not the who. Appreciate this very much.

    • Thanks for the comment Todd! Really glad to hear the post was in line with what you were looking for. Hopefully the nonprofit finds it helpful as well.

  3. Great blog post David!! I agree with previous comments in that you write in a way that is easy for all to understand. Thanks for sharing!