An Open Letter to Charities about SEO
Dear Charities of all kinds,
We love the work you do. You do everything from saving our artistic heritage, to finding stray cats and dogs homes, to helping minorities like Christians struggling in Kurdistan and Muslims in need in Xinjiang province.
But because you’re doing all this great and wholesome work, you sometimes forget that however much you dislike it, the internet is a competitive place, and if you want to make proper use of it, you need to learn the tricks of the trade.
You need to blog. You need to post. You need SEO.
Yes, I know that can seem grubby, and the realm of businesses looking for profit first and people second, but the truth is it’s practical, it’s personal, and it’s already being used by many highly successful donation platforms and charitable causes.
To help you along in this endeavour, here’s three important tips to keep your website from being an empty storefront, and actually make it something useful, practical, and fruitful in the goal.
ONE – Content for clicks
A mistake that lots of blogs and websites run by charities make is that they think blogging is purely for informing your donors. Just for keeping them updated with forthcoming events, letting them know about ongoing struggles, and generally just a news source.
However in the competitive SEO marketplace, blogs primary purpose are to tell search engines firstly that yes, your website is active and up-to-date, and isn’t some abandoned attempt to ‘modernise’ that got left behind lo these many years ago, and secondly it’s content that contains the kind of important keywords that people might be searching for.
If you think about this, it makes sense. No matter how relevant to a given netizen’s search your charity’s website might be, if it is not receiving a regular turnover in content, there’s good reason for Google, and the average web user, to suspect that the ship has sailed, the website has been abandoned, and any donations made via any inviting pages will just go into the ether, never to be used by anyone.
Think of a real world analogue – would you feel comfortable visiting a shop where the displays and staff had moved so little in the last year that a thin film of dust was caking everything from the manakins to the cash register?
Some charities have a natural edge here, since when you are responding to immediate events like say Cyclone Idai or the floods in Bangladesh, you generally have to make new content, but even working for a disaster relief agency doesn’t mean you don’t need to blog when things seem relatively calm. Think about what people are googling for, why they might be googling it, and then write about it. This brings us neatly to point two…
TWO – Keywords are king
When writing SEO content you need to think less about what you want to tell the world about what you do, and more about what the world might want to know about you. Charities have a natural tendency to think the other way around because even among the most self aware and worldly-minded of the philanthropic community, there is a belief that the natural righteousness of their work will bring people in regardless.
There certainly is truth to that, but there’s plenty of other truths out there too. People want to know a great deal about what’s being done with their money if they decide to just give it away, and you need to take on more of an attitude of an advertiser in that moment.
Keywords are also seasonal. There are going to be times when certain things are more searched for than others. Everything from St Patrick’s day to Chinese New Year and the birthday of one Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. It might seem like this kind of thing is tangential to your work, and obviously there are stretches and reaching that will move from the obvious to the obscure, to the downright overbearing, but including references to some of these things in your blog posts and other online content will improve your search results and add to your overall online presence in nothing but a positive way.
THREE – Local doesn’t mean low key
Many charities mistakenly think that the internet in general, and SEO in particular, is only for the big boys club. Your Red Crosses and Red Crescents. Your international disaster relief efforts. It makes sense why you might want to be building a website that could be reached everywhere from Bolton to Bogotá if you need to have a planetwide pull of resources to get anywhere. But for the smaller scale actions, some charities can think of this as overkill, and simply rely on real world contacts in places of worship, town halls, and community centres.
However this would be to not realise that even local businesses, from Sheffield based plumbers to Santiago settled silver engravers, have their own websites and use them to drive traffic and business their way.
There are a lot of tools to help you here. Google maps allows you to direct people towards your office as well as any centres, outlets, or other sites where volunteers are either desperately needed, or at the very least could be useful.
Just try googling for charities and causes like yours in your area and see what, if anything, happens. There are lots of guides out there to help you get the very most out of all possible ways of solving this issue further, but what such a google will quickly tell you is that plenty of other organisations are already doing this. While it might be tempting to take a kumbyya attitude of “well if we’re all doing the same work, there’s no need for competition” but if you entered into this role in the first place, you must have been at least partially of the belief that you had something specific to offer.
If you want to keep offering that to the world, techniques like this will be essential. Don’t let ideas of supposed nobility and seeming elevated style distract you. Make content. Optimise your site for search engine. Help as many people as you can.