Search engines are very particular. They know what they like and only really care about those things. It can start to feel like tiptoeing through a minefield. However, knowing the search engine optimization terms and following best practices can help you navigate like a pro.

Search engine optimization helps your website rank higher in search results for the specific keywords that you choose to target. Search engines, such as Google, Bing and Yahoo, look at links, keywords (including how many times they appear on a page), meta descriptions, the strength of the domain and more to determine which pages to rank and in which order for particular searches.

Did any of that leave you scratching your head? Before you can actually optimize your pages for search and reach more potential supporters, you need to know the lingo.

Search Engine Optimization Terms

We put together a glossary of essential search engine optimization terms to know and love. Plus, we’ll fill you in on why they matter. You can refer to this list as you brave the minefield that is attempting to gain favor with search engines.

Anchor Text

The text that contains the link to another webpage is called anchor text. And it can make or break the search engine boost you (or the website you’re linking to) will receive for that link. For the best results with search engines, make this text as specific as possible to the page you’re linking. Never use vague or general terms like “click here” or “see this page.”

Click Through Rate (CTR)

When it comes to search engine results, the user has the opportunity to click on your site or click on a variety of other results or ads. A high click through rate means that when given the opportunity (when your ad or webpage appeared in the results), users clicked on your result or ad from a search engine. A high click through rate means your result is doing a nice job of piquing interest and getting attention.

Domain Authority

The strength of a website’s domain is used as a prediction of how well it will rank in a search engine. How strong your overall domain is in the eyes of search engines can help or hinder your specific pages from ranking over other sites.

You want your website’s domain authority to be as strong as possible! Unfortunately, the only way to accomplish this is to slowly build up your linking profile and staying vigilant with SEO best practices. This means actively trying to build links from authoritative websites and deleting the spammy or irrelevant links to your site.

Inbound Link

This is a link to your nonprofit’s website that lives on another website. Search engines use inbound links in their algorithms to determine and rank webpages listed in search engine results. Inbound links give your domain authority a boost and help your website rank higher and for more keywords. Their reasoning is that if multiple websites are linking to your information, you must be producing strong content that people want to read. And the higher the domain authority of the linking website, the more of a lift it’ll give your website.

To up the number of links to your site, put together a plan for building links to your nonprofit website.

Keyword Phrase

A keyword phrase is the word or phrase that you’d like to rank for in a search engine. Find the right one by conducting SEO research. Look into the monthly search volume and search engine results pages of all the keywords you brainstorm to choose the right one.

Be sure to consider long-tail keyword phrases as well. These phrases are very specific, but may have a lower search volume than more general phrases. However, the volume they do have will be more likely to convert since the phrasing is so specific. Take, for example, the phrases “flowers” and “buying daffodil flowers online.” If your nonprofit sells daffodils online, you’d most likely rather attract those people specifically looking to purchase the flower you sell than those people searching for the vague “flowers.”

meta description

Meta Description

Check out the Yoast SEO example above. The blurb that appears with the page name and link on a search engine results page – that’s a meta description. If you don’t write one, the default description will be the first 160 or so characters on the page, which doesn’t always give a good description of the page or convince people to visit. You wouldn’t want that!
While your meta description won’t actually help your page rank higher, it can have a profound impact on click through rates. The more interesting your meta description, the more likely a visitor is to click on your result than someone else’s.

On-Page Optimization

As the name would suggest, this practice looks at optimizing individual pages to rank for a specific keyword in search engines. Generally, this includes things like using the keyword at least four times within the content, plus using it in the page name, the URL and the meta description.

Organic Search

The whole point of search engine optimization is to increase traffic to your website from visitors using search engines. Organic search encompasses all of those visitors that make it to your website by searching for a keyword relevant to your organization and clicking on your page in their search results. The alternative here is paid search, which is traffic from a visitor clicking an ad that shows up in search results.

Search Volume

You may have already figured this one out (hint, hint – it’s the number of searches for any given keyword). When doing your research and deciding which keyword you’d like to target for a page or blog post, looking at the search volume is often the first step. After all, if no one is searching for that term, there’s not much point in chasing after it.

It’s not always best practice to go after the keyword with the highest volume. Other factors can play in as well. A better phrase might be a very specific long-tail keyword more likely to attract conversions. The search volume may be lower, but the higher conversion rate may make the long-tail keyword phrase the better option over more general or vague phrasings.

Search Engine Results Page (SERP)

This is the list of results that a search engine returns once you type in a keyword phrase. Ranking for a keyword means your website appears in these results. The goal is to make it onto the first page of results, which can be anywhere from one of the top seven rankings to one of the top ten. The number of results depends on a variety of factors, such as how many ads or images are being shown for that particular keyword. Use SEO best practices to make it into the SERP!

Unbranded Search

When a new visitor arrives on your website through a search that didn’t include your organization’s name, we call it an unbranded search. And to attract new traffic and visitors who may not have ever heard of you, unbranded search is key. This means going after keywords and long-tail keywords that describe what you do or how you do it, but that leave out your organization’s name. Unbranded search takes full advantage of search engine optimization and holds unlimited potential for new traffic to your site.

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.

"*" indicates required fields

Receive Weekly Nonprofit Marketing Tips?
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

We hope these search engine optimization terms will help you and your nonprofit on your quest to ranking number one in those SERPs relevant to your mission. (And now you know what that sentence actually means!) Best of luck on your SEO journey!

Did we miss any essential search engine optimization terms? Or have you run into any search engine optimization terms that don’t make sense? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.


  1. I am learning so much from your post. Your teaching is easy to follow and you’re giving lots of helpful information. Appreciated!

  2. This is the first time I am seeing this term: unbranded search, did not know it affects seo. This is definitely an interesting concept to keep in mind.

  3. What a great introduction to SEO terminology, not just for those wanting to optimize their websites, but also for people who’d like to be able to participate in conversations around SEO, since it comes up a lot.

  4. Gave myself a little test, trying to see if I could give as good or better explanation or description of everything you listed. Went pretty close 🙂 although I had never heard of ‘Unbranded Search’. makes sense, thanks for that, I’ll put that in my small but building base of knowledge.

  5. Thanks for sharing this. I’ve been trying to learn SEO strategies. Great post for me and people who are learning SEO or digital marketing. I have a question kindly guide me
    Which is the perfect structure for the url?

    • Hi, Jerry. In a perfect world, you’d want the keyword as close to the domain as possible — option 2. However, I would not recommend sacrificing your website structure to improve your SEO ranking. If visitors have a poor experience on your site, your search engine rankings will likely also suffer. Check out our guide to organize the pages on your site in a way that will please both search engines and real people: Good luck!

  6. Hey, nice article about “Seo terms”. I will definitely follow this for my company to give the best possible services to my customers. Keep on adding this type of valuable content again and again. Hope to read more from you. Thank you!