This post is primarily a beginning guide to doing volunteer search engine marketing for nonprofit organizations based on my experience, but it is also an effort to convince more companies to donate time and resources to charities. Companies that do so may find significant SEO benefits for their own site, as explained in what follows.
Over the last several years, I’ve had a few chances to volunteer with a fine charity that takes innocent refugees from areas of danger, relocates them throughout the world, and helps them to begin new lives. While collecting and gathering donated furniture was fulfilling, I wondered if I could make a bigger difference.
I began to see that the charity was restrained by a lack of resources and capital, as I’m sure most not-for-profit organizations do. It’s a double-edged sword with charities: if they spend no money on fund raising, they have no funds to distribute. If they spend too much on fund raising, a lower percentage (in greater quantities) of the money goes to the cause, which can hurt a charity’s ratings.
What if there was a way that I could increase the charity’s visibility long-term without them having to pay for expensive fund raising and marketing services? This was my motivation for learning SEO. I hope you will help out, and what follows is a guide to how and why.
Getting The Orgs On The SERPS
When I do nonprofit SEO, I try to target keywords and phrases where I won’t feel bad about taking traffic from the top two or three results. I feel that some charities deserve top spots more than others, and even the charity space is full of spammy blogs, AdSense farms, affiliate sites, and other non-relevant sites that you can de-throne.
Just get over the fact that your chosen charity’s site will be horrible for SEO. It might almost make you cry when you see a PR 6+ page with a title like “Home.” See it as an excellent opportunity and make the on-page suggestion. Don’t take it personally when no one thanks you, or even understands why you’re trying to mess with their site. You’ll probably have to sell thoroughly explain the benefit of the changes, as the non-commercial sphere is typically less savvy on the internet marketing front.
Leverage The Cause
People are much more open to charitable organizations when a link is requested. You can often get links from organizations which, in the for-profit sphere, would be considered partial or even direct competitors.
No luck sending emails? Consider a popular selling strategy, which becomes even more effective when you’re not “selling” anything. I saw the ancient computers that my favorite charity was using, so I hit up a few locally owned stores to see if they could donate any of their older models. I did secure a few new machines, but I was largely unsuccessful. I had expected this, so after putting the pressure on for a big favor, store owners were relieved when I made my next request.
I asked the owner of the store whether he would mind placing a link on his site to the charity. It didn’t cost the store anything, and it actually made them look better. The final text was something along the links of “(Store) is proud to promote the efforts of (site) in (cause)”. The cause was a deep link with targeted anchor text. They didn’t give us a portion of the sales, but even the link was support. Search queries aside, we received a large amount of quality traffic.
Spamming blog networks is not the way to build solid long-term authority. This is good advice for any marketing or SEO campaign, but it is especially true in SEO for nonprofits. Where else can you ask for someone to send some volunteers and expect them to link to you for doing so? People love to show off their good deeds, and we usually like to hear about them. Rankings go up, the charity’s visibility rises, and everyone wins!
Take advantage of the fact that you’re (hopefully) not just trying to enrich yourself. That alone gives you instant credibility in the eyes of business owners and large companies. If you’re willing to organize an event, you can work with college departments and clubs to win some sexy .edu links.
Accreditation And Google Grants
Depending on your role as a volunteer, you can either suggest or push for approval and ratings from a number of charity watchdogs and oversight groups. These pages are usually authoritative and relevant – not just in the eyes of Google, but in the eyes of users.
Being accredited, approved, etc helps when applying for other types of assistance. You might be surprised how often Google approves Google Grants, which come in the form of free AdWords credits. Grants are definitely worth taking the time to apply for. Oh, and did I mention that you could get a Google link when they give you assistance?
Organize The Masses
When you or your charity plan large events or volunteer operations, you can earn some serious blog love. Speak with local businesses, news outlets, and more regarding coverage. If they’re already covering the event, you can even help them target anchor text to the right pages. The people who talk about you are usually willing to help, so don’t be shy about giving them detailed instructions on how they can.
I may be a skeptic, but I honestly believe that most people are generous and empathetic if you can give them a reason to care.
What’s In It For You?
What, you mean warm fuzzy feelings aren’t enough? Honestly, though: never underestimate the impact that this can have on morale, especially if you achieve results for a cause that employees believe in.
Requesting Links To Your Site
I know that this is being read by a group of experienced SEOs, and the first thought is probably that you can earn links from high-authority charities. This is true, but please request links with tact. You’ll probably get better results and avoid shaming the industry of search engine optimization if links are given freely.
What I beg you not to do is approach charities with anything that sounds like “I will do SEO for you if you give me a link.” This is essentially a paid link, and if I have my way it will also get you reported to the BBB, Google, and every consumer watchdog imaginable. Besides, it’s just bad social conduct.
Aside from the nonprofit site, you can get some serious love from the media. Good PR is a part of smart SEO, and no company is too large or too small to benefit from the press. Submit a press release explaining some of the work you have done and are going to do for the nonprofit – with their permission, of course.
You can feel good about the PR in that it will benefit the nonprofit’s SEO campaign and market visibility, in addition to your own. If done correctly, the press release can trigger interest from additional media sources.
If you have additional questions or tips, please drop them in the comments. I’m always open to learning more. Note that I have left out the charity that I keep referring to per their request. If you would like more information on this charity, or if you would like suggestions on local/national charities, feel free to send me a private message.