As a charity operating in Australia, you might not consider SEO a priority channel. After all, your best marketing likely happens in person at fundraisers and other events, on social media, or via targeted paid campaigns.

But SEO is an important component of a healthy marketing mix. This is as true for charities as for regular businesses.

If done right, SEO can help put your charity on the map without eating into your limited administrative budget.

This article explores the benefits of SEO for Australian charities. You will learn:

  • What SEO is
  • The importance of SEO for charities
  • Tips for getting more out of your SEO
  • How Siteimprove can support your SEO efforts

What is SEO?

SEO stands for “Search Engine Optimisation” and describes the process of trying to make a site rank better on Google and other search engines.

Generally speaking, SEO efforts can be divided into three major categories:

  • Technical SEO: This deals with improving the technical setup of your site, like making it load fast, streamlining its internal page structure, optimising it for mobile devices, and so on.
  • Content (or on-page) SEO: This is about the actual content that goes on the site, including the copy, the headings, image alt tags, etc.
  • External (or off-page) SEO: This focuses on reaching out to third-party sites in an effort to get them to link to your pages, thereby increasing your site’s authority in the eyes of Google (and others).

In practice, all of the above areas work in combination to determine how well search engines access, crawl, index, and rank your council website.

Why SEO is important for your charity

SEO tends to get overlooked because other marketing channels have a more immediate impact. It’s often quicker to solicit donations via paid social media campaigns or in-person fundraising drives.

But this short-term mindset ignores the fact that SEO---when done right---can become a sustained, low-cost source of future donations and brand building.

Here’s why your charity should consider ramping up its SEO efforts.

1. Improve brand loyalty

People usually donate to the same charity multiple times. In fact, as many as two out of three donors go with charities they’ve previously donated to.

At the same time, people tend to focus their charitable giving on specific causes they’re passionate about. Knowing this, you can use SEO to keep your charity at the top of their mind.

By writing consistently about topics related to your charity’s activities, you increase your chances of showing up when these past donors are researching ways to get involved. This helps you build a long-term relationship with these donors and turn them into brand loyalists.

2. Drive new donations

On the flip side, SEO can also help you capture the interest of first-time donors. If someone types “how can I donate to [cause]” and your charity shows up at the top, you’re probably just a few clicks away from securing a new donor.

SEO is also a way to stay competitive against similar organisations. If you’re not present on Google (or other search engines), you’re losing potential donors to other charities that can address their needs.

Another understated aspect of SEO is that it can help you win a subset of donors from bigger, more widely known charities. You can’t hope to outcompete these charities in terms of overall budget and visibility in traditional marketing channels. But SEO gives you an advantage when it comes to niche topics that your specific charity is best suited to tackle. By ranking high on these long-tail searches, you’ll be able to secure highly committed donors for causes that larger charities might not cater to.

3. Capitalise on the growth of online spending (and Covid-19)

Individual cash donations are the single biggest driver of charitable giving. Increasingly, these types of donations take place online, as new digital payment methods emerge and people’s confidence in the security of online transactions grows.

This makes it all the more crucial for your charity to be visible in online search results. By helping donors discover you naturally, you’re improving your chances of securing their involvement.

The spread of Covid-19 during 2020 has only accelerated this trend of donations shifting online. Since it’s currently impossible to hold large physical events in most countries, your charity must turn to new ways of fundraising. SEO is the perfect candidate.

4. Remember: It’s not just about donations

SEO isn’t only about driving donors to your charity. It can also strengthen your other initiatives and channels. For instance:

  1. Promote physical locations: SEO can help promote your op shops or other physical locations. By updating the Google My Business pages for each location, you’ll make them more visible to online searchers.
  2. Make your social media more effective: Your SEO strategy can complement your social media efforts. First, you can gain more social media followers by helping them find you organically via topical searches. Second, you can better engage existing followers by adding yet another point of contact with them.
  3. Ensure a higher quality of site content: Google may well categorise your charity as a Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) page. This means you’ll be held to a higher standard when it comes to the quality of your content. Focusing on SEO helps you address this and avoid any potential ranking penalties.

The article will return to these points in more detail later.

SEO tips for your charity

Now that you know how SEO can help your charity, what can you do to win the battle for organic traffic?

1. Know your visitor’s search intent

Face it: Simply putting a “Donate Now” button on your site and hoping for the best just isn’t enough.

You must understand the underlying search intent of your website’s visitors. Are they looking to make a donation now or are they trying to learn more about your cause?

In general, you’ll want to create content that fits with the following major phases your potential donors might be in.

Google micro-moment for charities

1. Looking for information
People in this phase are only just starting to research a cause.

They know that they care about the issue, but they’re not sure exactly how they can contribute. Can they volunteer or participate in other ways? How widespread is the issue they’re worried about? Which charities cater to this cause?

Your job at this stage is to provide your visitors with in-depth, objective information. You’re not as much trying to promote your own charity as you’re expanding people’s knowledge of the cause and their ability to make an impact.

You can certainly tackle the donation aspect at this stage, but it will take the form of discussing which options exist for making donations, what the tax benefits are, and alternative ways to contribute to a charity.

2. Navigating
At this stage, people know that they want to get more involved, but they may still need help to select the right way of doing so. How do the different charities compare? Which one should they pick?

Your content for such visitors will focus on positioning your charity against similar organisations. What do you stand for? What projects are you currently working on? How do you make sure that your donor’s contributions are spent in the best possible way?

This type of content helps to nudge potential donors into picking your charity over competitors.

In a more literal sense, navigational searches can also be concerned with finding a physical store for donating second-hand clothing and the like. SEO can help your op shops and other physical locations stand out in such searches.

3. Taking action
People in this stage have made a decision to act: becoming a volunteer, donating clothes, contributing money, and so on. All they need to know is exactly how to go about it.

This is where you’ll introduce them to the full spectrum of ways to get involved with your charity. Can they join your volunteer team or sign up as a member? Can they help you spread the word via social media? Can they make a single donation or opt in for a recurring monthly one?

Your content here should be specific and use clear call-to-action elements to make it easy for them to move from reading to taking action.

4. Making a transaction
Once someone’s made a decision to donate, your job is to make doing so as smooth and confusion-free as possible. For SEO purposes, you’ll want to have a dedicated page describing the donation process and how that money will be spent.

In addition to this, your other on-site elements have to effectively facilitate the donation process. This will increase user engagement, which in turn sends a positive ranking signal about your site to search engines.

Make sure your “Donate” buttons are clearly visible and easy to interact with. Your registration forms should only ask for information that’s absolutely necessary. Your checkout should have as few steps as possible and offer multiple payment options. You can’t afford to lose committed donors just because they’re unable to use their preferred credit card or can’t figure out how to complete the donation process.

In practice, you can use behaviour maps to identify exactly how potential visitors navigate through your donation process. This will shed light on which page elements get a lot of attention and which ones get overlooked. Armed with this information, you’ll be able to design better conversion funnels to improve the user experience and get more value out of your donation pages.

2. Focus on local SEO

Many online searches have a local element to them. People are generally likely to be more interested in charities that operate in their city or region. This is especially true when it comes to charities with physical locations.

For instance, if you operate an op shop, you’ll be competing with similar charities that have nearby locations. That’s why it's important to incorporate local SEO into your overall content strategy.

Here are just some elements that can help you win the local SEO game:

1. Use Google My Business (GMB)
First, make sure to claim the Google My Business pages for every local op shop you run. These should be set up within the appropriate business categories and use relevant, unique descriptions. You also want to target the right local keywords such as “op shop Melbourne” or “donate clothes Sydney.”

Second, encourage people who buy things from your op shops to leave reviews on your GMB pages. Such reviews build customer trust in your brand, but they also help Google better rank your pages. That’s because reviews are likely to include relevant keywords and because Google prefers to display highly reputable businesses to its searchers.

2. Take advantage of your local presence
If your charity is especially active within a certain geographical area, use that within your SEO strategy. If you host local events or have projects focused on a specific community, you’ll have an easier time ranking for local searches.

Not only that, but you’ll likely attract people who are proactively searching for nearby volunteering opportunities or other ways to support their community.

3. Align your SEO and PR activities

SEO and positive PR often go hand in hand. By aligning your PR strategy with your SEO efforts, you’ll benefit from their combined effects.

First off, SEO is great for PR. By creating quality SEO content that casts your charity in a positive light, you’ll build trust with the public. You can write in detail about how you spend the donated funds. You can highlight your previous successful projects and explain the ways you help local communities and broader causes.

All of this adds up to indirect PR. In time, you’ll see other websites pick up and promote your SEO content, giving a boost to your charity’s overall reputation.

Similarly, active PR efforts may lead to better SEO rankings. By distributing your press releases and other PR stories to a wider network, you’re automatically building backlinks to your site. These external links are a significant ranking factor. They boost your charity site’s authority in the eyes of search engines. As such, the more news outlets and other sites link to you, the higher your SEO rank will be.

4. Embrace the idea of “Your Money or Your Life” (YMYL)

According to Google, YMYL refers to pages or topics that can “potentially impact a person’s future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety.” Google holds sites or pages categorised under YMYL to a higher standard of content quality.

Your charity---especially if it touches upon sensitive topics like people living with disabilities or groups facing discrimination---may well fall under this YMYL umbrella. As such, you’ll have to live up to the higher quality standards that Google expects.

On the one hand, this puts you at an increased risk of getting a ranking penalty. If Google thinks your pages contain poor information (or even if they’re simply not detailed enough), its algorithms may end up demoting your charity site to a lower rank. This makes paying careful attention to your SEO and the quality of your content especially critical.

But there’s a more positive way to look at it: Having to follow the higher YMYL standards gives you a chance to truly stand out and differentiate yourself. Since competing charities are likely to face similar scrutiny by Google, you can gain an advantage by ensuring your content is top notch.

By following Google’s YMYL guidelines, you’ll increase your site’s authority and SEO visibility. Here’s what you can do to create better YMYL-level content:

  • Add quotes from subject matter experts like doctors or scientists
  • Link to valid supporting data, credible sources of information, and use relevant citations
  • Make your content highly readable and improve its grammar and spelling
  • Dig deeper into the topics and add more information to make your content as comprehensive as possible
  • Ensure your titles are clear, relevant, and engaging
  • Increase the site’s visual appeal by adding photos, infographics, charts, screenshots, and other elements that make your information easier to digest
  • Include videos for visitors who prefer to see and hear the information instead of reading it. Adding videos also increases the time users spend on your site, which is a ranking factor in its own right.

How Siteimprove can help

SEO can be tricky for newcomers to get started with. You’ll often have to use multiple third-party tools to get the right information about relevant keywords, competitors, your site’s performance, and so on.

To make things easier, Siteimprove has developed an all-in-one tool to take care of your SEO needs. This lets you manage your SEO efforts through a single dashboard.

Siteimprove offers the following SEO features:

  • Keyword Research

Keyword discovery: Find relevant keywords and spot content gaps (keywords that you’re not currently addressing).

Keyword suggestions: Identify new keywords with good ranking potential (high search volume and low competition).

  • Competitor analysis: Find out who your organic competitors are and see how your site stacks up against them.
  • Content optimisation: Bring structure to your content by targeting pages to rank for specific keywords, as well as tracking your improvements in one place.
  • Content similarity: See which of your pages are competing for the same keywords. This helps you avoid keyword cannibalisation and suboptimal pages showing up on Google.
  • Internal searches: Get insights about what keywords and terms people use when searching internally on your site. This lets you develop better content to address user needs.
  • Backlinks: Understand your website’s backlinks profile immediately. Identify high-value and potentially harmful backlinks and avoid losing valuable links that might point to wrong or undesired pages.

Choosing the right SEO tool for your organisation’s needs is the key to turning one of the most demanding digital challenges into a manageable task in 2021. Download this eBook to discover everything you need to know to make a well-informed decision, when choosing the SEO tool.