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Brand Cohesion Applies to SEO Too: Bridging Your Nonprofit’s Brand & SEO Strategies

When I first started working in marketing I knew little about search engine optimization. Like many others, I assumed it must just be a largely technical endeavor. I never thought that SEO actually related closely to branding. The two practices operated in far away universes in my brain. One is a right brain activity and one is a left brain activity, right? 

I was wrong. 

As I learned more and more about search engine optimization I kept seeing experts refer to it as an “art not a science.” And it’s true, there are clear best practices for SEO and some mostly agreed upon techniques, but SEO is not cut-and-dry. It’s largely subjective and it requires concerted effort, just like branding. When you’re building a brand, you start by looking at your larger organizational goals, mission, and vision, and you let these ideas turn into strategies and eventually tactics. And to build an SEO strategy, you follow the same path, but with different ultimate strategies and tactics. The two—your SEO strategy and your brand—are deeply intertwined. Strong brands build strong SEO foundations, and strong SEO practices eventually strengthen your brand. 

As somebody who’s spent years working at a branding agency and leading our SEO practice for nonprofit clients, I know that the branding process often produces clarity around who your audiences are, what they want to hear, and how they want to hear it. But let’s push our thinking one step further: How do you actually reach those people? 

For many nonprofits, we reach them through our websites. And in my years of digital strategy in a design agency I’ve learned that your website is an extension of your brand. Of course, all the work you’ve done to make branded content, design, imagery, and messaging present on your website will only connect with audiences if they actually land on your website. That’s where Google and its algorithm come into play. 

When you integrate the two strategies, your branding can inform your keywords, your metadata, and of course, your content—creating consistency across every step of a potential visitor’s journey to your website. Taken together, your branding and your SEO strategy can strengthen each other, and in turn, further accelerate your organization’s goals for engagement and brand cohesion. Let’s explore how your brand strengthens your organic search, your metadata, and your content publishing—and vice versa. 

1. SEO strategy lets us reach the audiences we define in our brand strategy

At Constructive, our brand strategy process involves identifying your key audiences and building the messaging that will define how you’ll talk to them through your brand’s voice, personality, and tone. In this phase of work, we define how nonprofits connect with audiences on a higher level. And in a robust brand process, you also ID audiences’ needs — what do they come to you for, and what questions do you answer for them?

But on a practical level, one of the most common ways we actually reach our audiences is through online organic search traffic, which is informed by our keyword strategy. For each piece of content we publish to our website, we choose a dedicated keyword. This keyword tells Google what our content is about, from there, Google determines when to serve someone the content depending on their search query. Keywords allow us to ensure that we’re not shooting in the dark when it comes to reaching our audiences. Instead, we’re showing up (literally, in the search engines) for the people that we need to connect with, offering them what they’re looking for. 

An SEO strategy that’s aligned with our brand lets us meet our audiences where they’re at, and that means not only knowing who our audiences are, but also what our audiences are looking for. Quite literally: what are our audiences looking up on Google to find the information they’re seeking? Once we know what our audience members are searching, we can set SEO keywords that will help them to us. Otherwise we may be bringing a lot of people to our website through SEO, but whether those are the right people or not is anybody’s guess—that is until you find you’re not getting enough engagement from your target audiences. 

Let’s think about an example: let’s say our organization publishes robust climate research downloads for PhD professionals and we’re trying to improve the number of our audience members who come upon our web pages with these downloads from organic search. We’re not going to set our SEO keywords to target very introductory search queries such as “what is [climate change topic we’re publishing on]?”

Instead, we should choose keywords that from our research seem more aligned with what an individual highly educated on the topic may search to learn more or discover new research. While these types of queries and keywords may have much smaller search volumes, they make sure that we’re actually reaching our target audience. When you align your brand and keyword strategy, you’re prioritizing quality engagement over quantity (and potentially increasing quantity too). 

2. SEO metadata is branded material, and we should treat it as such

Now that we’ve talked about how aligned brand and SEO strategy can help you reach audiences, it’s time to shift our focus to: what our search results look like for our audiences in their search browser. 

Even if it’s subconscious, brand consistency across an organization’s materials and channels is critical for building brand trust. Our website, the posts across our social media channels, our newsletters, our printed materials, are all extensions of our brand. But so are our search engine results. When one of your pages appears in someone’s search results, the first thing they’ll see is the metadata that you set—the SEO title, meta description, and URL. It might not be as design-forward as an Instagram post, but its appearance and content are just as important for getting your audience to engage with your website. And, for new visitors, it’s possibly the first branded experience someone has with your organization. 

If your page lands in a user’s search results, the little bit of metadata and content you include will determine whether or not they engage with your brand. 

Thinking about your metadata through the same brand lens that you’ve used to create content can help you turn your audience’s curiosity into content engagement. When you write SEO titles and the meta description blurbs, it’s important to make sure that they’re both aligned with your brand’s voice, tone, and personality while accurately representing the content they link to. 

For example, if the value proposition of your web page is that it provides healthcare resources for patients, make that extremely clear in your title and blurb. When writing your title and blurb, ask yourself the question “If I were a patient looking for healthcare resources, would I click on this search result? Would I think this would answer my questions?.” 

And finally, do not let Google choose these pieces of information for you. More often than not, Google will determine the metadata using snippets of content that are unclear, incomplete sentences, and without strategic positioning. When you pay attention to these pieces of content as you would any other branded assets, you can strengthen your brand’s consistency not just across channels, but across the layers of those channels. It’s an investment of time and effort upfront when uploading content, but investments have returns and this return manifests in your brand’s consistency. 

3. With brand and SEO alignment, we can establish a strong content topic strategy

What do your audiences need? What do they get from your organization? What can they learn from you? These are all audience attributes that we explore when we define a brands’ audiences. And they can play a huge part in producing and publishing the content that actually engages and activates your audiences to convert them in whatever way you define a conversion.

For many nonprofit organizations, publishing content on a regular basis to their website is an integral part of disseminating their research or promoting their work. Whether those publications are blogs, research pieces, articles, news, or any other type of content, the content you’re publishing represents another important reason that your brand and SEO strategy must be in alignment to reach the right audiences with the right content.

Of course, all of the content that your organization publishes presents another opportunity to strengthen your brand cohesion. The content should align with your voice and tone as well as the topics you’ve agreed to speak about as an organization. And, to make sure people actually engage with the content, these pieces of content need to be tailored for organic search. For that reason, we recommend that at the beginning of the content creation process you think about your audiences and their needs as defined by your branding process, while keeping potential SEO keywords and metadata top of mind. To create brand-aligned, strategic content we need to consider both our audiences at a higher level (what topics are we writing on) and our SEO strategy at a more granular level—the two considerations need to work together, not against each other. 

For example, let’s say your organization is trying to reach teachers to offer them open-source history education resources. We need to learn what teachers are searching for in order to determine what topics we should cover to meet their needs. If we try to reach history teachers with the proper content but discover we’re trying to reach them in the wrong places, we might be thinking about our brand the right way but not our SEO. And if we successfully reach teachers, but with content that has a high bounce rate, we need to turn our head back to focusing on our brand and creating content that meets audiences’ needs or answers their questions. 

If your brand is in alignment with your SEO strategy, you’ll have a strong sense of both what to publish and how to get it to the right readers. 

Some Closing Thoughts

Between your keyword strategy, your metadata, and the actual content that you publish, your brand can inform every step of your SEO strategy. I like to think of your SEO strategy as a sort of extension of your branding, and eventually, your branding may be altered by what you learn through your SEO strategy and results. When these practices aren’t siloed off for the more creative or more technical folks to handle separately, we can build cohesion across one of your most important channels: your website. And don’t get me wrong, there is a more technical and less branding focused side to SEO that is also important, but that’s only one part of it. When it comes to your content, SEO and brand must work together to get your organization speaking to the right people where they’re at right now. 

And ultimately what does alignment here look like? Well it may look like your organization more successfully reaches your audiences and engages them online. You’re reaping the benefits of all the work you have put towards building out your brand and you’re letting your audiences help steer your work since after all, it’s for them.  

Interested in learning more about how to align your brand with your SEO strategy? Get in touch to connect with our brand and digital strategists. 

About the Author

Kaylee Gardner

Kaylee Gardner

Kaylee is Constructive’s Digital Strategist, specializing in combining quantitative and qualitative research to drive audience engagement and sustain brand relationships that create positive change. She combines analytical and creative thinking to identify trends and patterns—translating what the research can tell us to deepen understanding of how social impact brands can connect with the needs and motivations of their audiences. Kaylee is a graduate from Stevens Institute where she received a B.S. in Business and Technology with concentrations in Marketing and Information Systems, and then an M.B.A. in Business Intelligence and Analytics. As a student she dedicated herself to volunteer work—serving for four years on a student advisory board focusing on school and student experience improvement, curriculum changes, and bringing administrative attention to student concerns. Outside of work she can be found taking dance classes, working on crochet projects, reading, or drinking iced coffee year round.

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