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Top 5 SEO Best Practices for Nonprofit and Think Tank Websites in 2021

Big changes are coming to the world of SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, in 2021. What does this mean for you—nonprofits, think tanks, research institutes and foundations—seeking to strengthen your website’s SEO?

Taking some time out to adapt to the evolving SEO landscape will augment your organization’s reach and visibility, and as such, its impact. Being well-optimized for search will elevate your brand presence by ensuring that your content reaches the right audiences. This, in turn, will guarantee increased traffic—of new and returning audiences—interested in your work.

Increasing search visibility for your organization involves keeping tabs on several features such as keyword optimization, links, tagging and more. With so much information out there on how best to optimize for search, what are the most important things you can be doing right now to enhance your performance?

Optimize your On-Site Experience

You may wonder why our first tip involves such technical punchlist items as page load time, mobile-friendliness, rendering time, image file optimization, and security protocol loading. Good technical builds are always important for your nonprofit’s website, and what’s under the hood of your website matters as much as what people see.

Google recently announced that Core Web Vitals will be a major ranking factor going forward, meaning that how well your website is built is more important to SEO than ever. Simply put, good Core Web Vitals means that the faster and more efficiently your site performs on a technical level, the more likely your pages are to appear at the top of search results for keywords relevant to your organization. And ranking high is synonymous with higher visibility and augmented impact for your organization.

So, what can you do to improve these metrics for your site? Well, before you try to create a solution, take a step back and diagnose your current situation. A great place to start is with this free tool Google provides called PageSpeed Insights.

PageSpeed Insights scores your nonprofit’s website according to page load times and other important technical metrics. It even breaks down page load times into individual components so that you can identify which technical elements (is it your code? is it the servers?!) are contributing to any slower-than-optimal speed. The example below shows you some of the information PageSpeed Insights will give you.

Long-Form Content is King

It used to be that SEO gurus preached the gospel of the 500-word article (sometimes the 250-word article!) with a very strict keyword density. But times have changed and long-form content has seen major gains in terms of search visibility recently. This makes sense as the more in-depth a piece is, the more authoritative, and hopefully useful, that content will be to audiences. Google search has always prioritized authority and relevance in its rankings, so this trend was perhaps inevitable. Fortunately, for most nonprofits and research organizations with content-heavy websites, creating high-value and high-quality long-form content isn’t a massive hurdle to overcome. 

To take advantage of this SEO trend, think about which topics may be of interest to your audience that you also have in-depth knowledge of and a unique perspective to speak from.  Then go ahead and compose content that’s over 500 words (the sky’s the limit with regards to length, although you don’t have to write a book or dissertation to get noticed!). You can do some basic keyword research first to either discover topics of interest or finetune your content to capture keywords that your audience is searching. 

It’s also a good idea to review the content you already have in place that you know you’d like your audiences to find when searching. If you’ve already got substantial long-form content on your website and it’s not seeing the organic search traffic you’d expect, think about re-optimizing the page with an eye towards search terms readily used by your audience related to the content. All the best practices for SEO content development still apply—you can (carefully) update page URLs, titles, description tags and even headers and see improvements in web traffic, even for older content.

Mobile Matters!

It can be tempting in the desktop computer-heavy world of nonprofit organizations to assume that your mobile website comes in a distant second, in terms of importance, when optimizing your experience.  But Google continues to make it clear that mobile websites will be treated as the “face” of your website more and more going forward.

It’s also important to remember that about 50% of all web traffic is on mobile devices today.  While that number is often lower for think tanks and research institutes due to office environment use, the trend towards mobile is picking up everywhere and has been majorly accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic (which sent many formerly office-bound users home or to “beach offices”).

So how should nonprofits handle this new mobile-first world? It’s absolutely essential, for one, to make sure that every piece of content available on the desktop version of the website is accessible from the mobile website. This means no “crib notes” versions of your website for mobile any longer. All of your website’s content needs to be available on the mobile version of your website—and, of course, your site also needs to load quickly and be easy to navigate on a mobile device.

Featured Snippets

Answering your audience’s questions has always been a good way to increase your search visibility. With the added prominence of featured snippets and the increasing tendency of users to input questions into the search box, answering questions on your website is now a must for nonprofit websites that want to rank higher in search results.

Take for example this search:

The website above dominates the search result to this question-formed query by posting Q and A content on their websites. 

A great way to hop on this SEO trend bandwagon is to ask: What are the top questions that your audiences have when learning about your nonprofit’s work or the issues you focus on? Once you’ve identified these questions, backpedal and use them as the bedrock of your content strategy. Make sure that the content you’re creating for your website helps your audiences answer these questions. This will help ensure that the content you’re creating is truly focused on your audience’s needs, and search engines will reward this alignment between your content and your audiences by ranking you highly and boosting your visibility. 

Let’s Get Meta!

Meta data has long been a core component of SEO. You’re probably familiar with Meta Title tags (which determines the words in your browser tab and the words in the blue link in Google search results), Meta Description tags (which determines the short sentence under the blue link in the search result for your page) and the Meta Keywords tag (which is now totally useless but many years ago tagged your page with relevant keyword terms).

But metadata has evolved far behind these basic tags.  Today’s most optimized websites feature Schema.org markup languagemetadata that permeates every page of a website and shares all kinds of important information about your nonprofit’s website and content.

What kinds of things can markup communicate to the search engines? It can classify the content on the page, or tell the search engine about the content’s author (and their authority). It can link your content to your Wikipedia and social media pages or even tie your content to a physical address in the world (for example, the location where a seminar is being given).

Why should you care about all this invisible-to-humans data? Because the search engines use it to both rank websites and organize information about your website in the search results. Take for example this search result:

Ever notice that some organizations see a second box about them on the right hand side? That’s the Knowledge Graph.  It often pulls information from Wikipedia pages about organizations, including logos. When search results look like this, audience trust increases, as do clicks from search results. 

So where is this data and how do you optimize it? Your audience will never see it; it lives in the code of the website and is only communicated to the robots out there that classify your website. Optimizing it begins with implementing markup language on your website. There are a number of ways to implement it, but it is a back-end technical implementation which is built to automatically populate information from the content you produce.  So it’s not a quick one-and-done project but the long term benefits can be enormous.

Final Thoughts

Implementing just one of these tips will give a huge boost to your nonprofit website’s search visibility, which in turn means more people will be engaged with the work you do. Give it a try; you can thank us later.  

Want to learn more about how strengthening SEO for your nonprofit or think tank’s website can increase your visibility, reach, and impact? We hope you’ll get in touch.    

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