SEO in 2016: What Nonprofits Need To Know


If you manage a nonprofit’s website, blog or social media efforts, SEO (search engine optmization) is likely top-of-mind.

The annual Searchmetrics SEO Ranking Factors and Rank Correlations report is a wealth of knowledge for any website administrator. Released annually, the report attempts to identify the factors that most closely correlate with high rankings on Google

In other words, if you want your nonprofit’s website to rank on Google, you should concentrate on the things that the Searchmetrics report identifies.

Before digging into the individual ranking factors, you can see an at-a-glance view of the 2015 report (released earlier this summer) in the infographic below (click to enlarge):


You can see in the infographic that the ranking factors are listed from the highest-correlation (top) to the lowest-correlation (bottom), within five distinct categories.

At a high level, these are the five areas you should concentrate on when optimizing your nonprofit’s website:

  • Content – does your website contain content that is pertinent to a user’s search?
  • User Experience – can the user easily view and interact with that content from any device?
  • Technical – can Google easily access your website’s behind-the-scenes code?
  • Backlinks – how many websites link to yours, and how authoritative are they?
  • Social – does your website’s content get shared on social media networks?

If you have an internal webmaster or an external vendor, you should ask them how well your website operates as it pertains to those factors.

5 Important Takeaways for Nonprofits

1) Content is still king

Blogging has become absolutely indispensable with regards to the SEO conversation, especially for nonprofits.

Frequently adding new blog posts to your website increases your site’s word count and thus increases the opportunity for that content to appear in search results. Craft useful, relevant, educational and/or entertaining content. The more it gets read and shared, the higher its value in Google’s eyes.

If you aren’t yet blogging, be sure to check out our guide to nonprofit blogging infographic.

2) User experience matters

When it comes to user experience, responsive web design is likely the most important consideration. It’s a mobile world, after all, and Google cares whether your users have a good experience viewing your website on a mobile phone.

For nonprofits, having a good mobile experience goes beyond how Google feels about it. Potential donors need to be able to complete your donation forms from any device. Not only could you get higher rankings on Google, but you’ll definitely get more revenue.

3) Stop worrying about keywords

The days of stuffing your website with keywords are way behind us, and still their importance decreases every year. It’s no longer as necessary to have corresponding keywords in the URL itself either.

Of course, when crafting relevant content, you will want to use words and terms that are relevant to that content. When users type in a word or phrase in Google, they expect for those words to appear in the websites that Google returns in the search results. If there is something you want to rank for, those words need to appear on your website. But don’t just stuff your website copy with keywords.

4) Go for quality over quantity with backlinks

A backlink is a link from another website that points to yours. Linkbuliding has been the bread and butter of SEO for as long as search engines have existed. You want other people linking to your website.

However, low-quality links can hurt you, so strive for a low quantity of high-quality links. For example, it’s better to have one link from a major publication or media outlet, than 50 from random directories.

The best way to create links to your site is to publish great content. This is another positive result of frequent blogging.

5) Social media might help rankings, but for how long?

As with all other factors, Google remains mum on exactly how social media signals from the big four (Google+, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest). Based on this report (and others), likes, tweets and +1s do appear to correlate with higher rankings.

However, all four have either decreased or flat-lined for the last two years running, which seems like a shame. After all, is there any more tangible signal of quality than whether a webpage is shared?

Even though correlation ≠ causation, it’s still a good idea to be active on each of the four networks, share your content there, and encourage others to share your content there as well. Social share buttons on blog posts and other webpages is paramount.

It’s easy to get caught up in trying to game the system, but the best way to have a high-ranking site on Google is to simply be a resource for users. After all, Google only wants to show the best websites for the questions being asked. Does your website truly solve a problem, or is it an online billboard?

Be sure to download the 2015 SEO Ranking Factors and Rank Correlations white paper to dig into even more interesting data and insights!

Steven Shattuck

Steven Shattuck

Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang
Steven Shattuck is Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang. A prolific writer and speaker, Steven is a contributor to "Fundraising Principles and Practice: Second Edition" and volunteers his time on the Project Work Group of the Fundraising Effectiveness Project and is an AFP Center for Fundraising Innovation (CFI) committee member.
Steven Shattuck
By |2017-06-10T18:42:31-04:00October 26th, 2015|Nonprofit Marketing|


  1. Dennis Fischman October 29, 2015 at 6:54 pm - Reply

    Steven, I enjoyed the article, but one little statistic kept nagging at the back of my mind. For most nonprofits–especially community-based nonprofits–the search term that leads most people to their website is the name of the nonprofit organization. In other words, people don’t find the organization through search. They hear about it by word of mouth, or email, or social media, and then they go find out more about it. Given that, why is SEO important to nonprofits?

    • Steven Shattuck
      Steven Shattuck October 30, 2015 at 7:21 am - Reply

      I think about it from a services standpoint. Imagine someone searching for “domestic abuse help Indianapolis.” You’d want to be found by that.

      Plus, appearing in search results for your brand name is not always automatic. 🙂

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