Ask an expert or an employee at Google how to improve your SEO ranking and you’re likely to get a lot of different answers. It used to be much simpler - conduct a site analysis, produce a lot of content, stuff in a few keywords throughout, build a few reciprocal links and you were good to go. But SEO has come a long way since the early days of the internet. Google’s algorithms are a complex system to retrieve data from its search index and keep on feeding people the most relevant results for their search. They are constantly evolving to keep up with the vast amounts of content now being produced and how people are searching for and viewing it, and as a result organisations need to work a lot harder to prove that their content is worth the ranking, and that it’s good quality and valuable. Charities need to be found by the people they want to serve and help. We’ve broken down a few of the key things charities can do to start improving their search engine rankings.
In 2019, it’s more important than ever to ensure your content is truly valuable and engaging. Create content for people, not bots. Here are a few tips on what Google considers quality content. As for the ‘keep creating’ bit, maybe you don’t, but Google rewards sites that regularly update pages.
While Google won’t share the exact algorithm for search rankings, they are very good at giving information about it in some select areas - much like how Coca Cola put the ingredients on their bottles, but won’t give the exact formula for how much of what goes into it. Fortunately, Google created Google Search Console to give you some important clues. This is another free product from Google that provides data and analytics - the difference from Google Analytics is that Google Search Cosnole is focused more on how your pages rank in Google search, as well as the sorts of things you can do to improve that ranking. Sign up now if you haven’t already!
In 2015, Google released a significant new ranking algorithm that highly favours sites which are mobile-friendly, to reflect the fact that mobile became the most popula way to browse the internet. Google Mobile-Friendly test is the best free tool for seeing how well your site works on mobile, and it also lists what elements need fixing if you have any. You might also want to check out Google PageSpeed Insights, which checks how quickly your pages work on mobile devices (and desktops) and also lists the specific elements that need fixing with how to fix them.
Though a lot has changed about the way Google understands keywords, they are still important. What would people most likely search to come across your charity’s site? To find out, a good tip is to integrate your Google Search Console with Google Analytics, click ‘Acquisition’, then ‘Search Console’ and then ‘Queries’, and follow the instructions. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be able to see what people are searching for to come across your site. If there’s a real mismatch, consider updating the content on you pages so that it more specifically relates to what you do and the people you want to be able to find you. Avoid going overboard, however! In 2019, Google’s algorithms recognise and penalise ’keyword stuffing’ as a way to manipulate a site’s rankings. Ensuring your content is good quality and readable is far more important.
Having 404 errors (missing pages) on your site can be damaging to your ranking. To remedy this, you should redirect those pages to an appropriate page. 404s spring up all the time if you change the URL of specific pages on your site, or if your URLs are auto-populated using certain fields that change. As an example, you might have articles with a url like charity.org/bakeoff-fundraising/article-name; if you change the url path from ‘bakeoff-fundraising’ to ‘bake-off-fundraising’, it will change the url for all of your pages with that path. In that instance, you’d want to redirect any articles with that path to the correct, new URLs.
If you only operate in the UK, then a good quick fix is, in the Search Console, to click ‘Search traffic’ on the lefthand bar, then ‘International targeting’, select the ‘country’ tab and choose the UK. Doing that will mean that you show up more prominently when people search in that country, but lower in others.
For all of the main CMS platforms, there’s a plugin or a module that you can install to help. If your site uses WordPress or Drupal for example, then Yoast offer a great plugin/module to use. Each of these SEO plugins have slightly different functionality, but generally, they’ll have an area where you can index your pages, change their meta descriptions easily, and change your pages descriptions on Google so that they’re perfect from an SEO point of view as well as useful for people browsing.
Here’s a simple formula: the easier it is to share things, the more likely people are to share them. You really want people to share pages on your site, whether it’s your homepage or a donation page or a page about your latest news. Those shares equate to people encouraging their networks to pay your website a visit. Hopefully that means more people will visit your site, which is a good thing in itself. But it’s actually a virtuous circle; the more people visit your site, the higher your search ranking. The higher your search ranking, the more people click onto your site. The more people on your site, the more people share content. And on and on and on. As an added bonus, the links to your site on social media do give a tiny boost to your site’s ranking as well.
To get a site that’s perfect for your users, nothing really beats sweet, boring data analytics. It’ll tell you which pages people regularly visit and which they ignore. Google Analytics is perfect for doing that. It’s a good idea to get some sort of heat mapping plugin as well so you can see exactly where people are clicking on your site. HotJar offer a tool for doing this, with free plans for eligible non-profits. Making your site as useful as possible is a good idea for all the obvious reasons. Also, if people can access the information they want easier, they’ll hopefully give up less immediately, which means your bounce rate will get better, and so you get another boost to your SEO ranking.
And one final tip – make sure you sign up for Google ad grants and set them up properly. They’re only available to charities and will give you slightly more real estate in search results. (This article is a rework of our 2015 blog originally on CharityDigital.org.uk)