If you ever want to see a Google employee squirm, ask them how to improve your SEO ranking. It’s a guarded secret, locked away in a vault with the Coca Cola secret recipe and a yeti in Area 51. Probably.
Thankfully, lots of clever people dedicate their careers to working out how to succeed at it anyway. Here are some of their thoughts that can help your charity:
1. Sign up for Webmaster Tools
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.
We do know the most important ingredient for performing well in Google search results is having a site that’s easy for Google bots to read. To help in that pursuit, Google give you Webmaster Tools.
This is an area that’s specific to your website, similar to Google Analytics in that it’s got various tabs on the lefthand side of the page that each tell you something different about your site. The difference to Google Analytics is that Webmaster Tools 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!
2. Make sure your site is mobile-friendly
A short while ago, Google made a relatively large song and dance about the fact that sites’ performances on mobile devices would directly affect how high they rank in search results.
Hopefully you won’t need to redo your whole site to suit, but you might need to update some elements. The most important factors are having a site that loads quickly and buttons that are spaced appropriately.
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.
3. Figure out your target keywords
What would people most likely search to come across your charity’s site?
To find out, a good tip is to link your Google Analytics page to your Webmaster Tools page. To do that, in Google Analytics, click ‘Acquisition’, then ‘Search Engine Optimisation’ and then ‘Queries’, and follow the instructions (note that where it talks about ‘Search Console’, that’s just what Webmaster Tools used to be called).
Once you’ve done that, you’ll be able to see what people are searching for to come across your site. Great!
In Webmaster Tools, if you click on ‘Google index’ on the lefthand side, then ‘Content keywords’, you’ll be able to see what keywords are most prominent on 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.
Note: Don’t go overboard! Try to avoid the trade-off between using particular words and providing good content. There’s an old joke that goes: “how many SEO copywriters does it take to change a lightbulb, light bulb, light, bulb, lamp, glow, socket, illuminate, torch?” Don’t do that!
4. Fix your 404s
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.
In Webmaster Tools, if you click on ‘Crawl’ on the lefthand side and then ‘Crawl Errors’, you’ll see a list of the 404 errors (missing pages) that Google has detected. You can then export all of these errors and either redirect them to the correct page if you know it, or to another page like a ‘sorry – wrong turn’ type page or to your homepage. You’ll be able to do that in your website’s CMS platform, whether that is WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, etc.
5. Target the right country
If you only operate in the UK, then in Webmaster Tools, a good quick fix is 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. Simple!
6. Install some free help
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.
7. Leverage infographics if you can
Infographics began blooming a couple of years for a couple reasons.
One is that they offer a really good way to get across important stats and summarised info quickly. That means they’re good for readers. Plus, as images, they’re inherently pretty easy to share on social media.
But also, they’re good for encouraging links back to your website. If I create an infographic with Creative Commons attribution, other people can post it on their websites but should include a link to my original article or site. The more sites that link to yours, the better for your search ranking position (unless you’re using underhand means to build links, but let’s assume you aren’t).
There’s more information on creating shareable infographics here. It’s worth considering a free tool like infogr.am, which makes it quite easy to create infographics you can use. As an example of what you can do, we made this infographic on the state of digital uptake in the charity sector using it.
8. Make your site shareable
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.
Of course, it’s important for the content on your page to be interesting too, otherwise no one will want to share it in the first place. We’ve recently written a whole guide to social media strategy with content here.
9. Keep creating relevant content
You should really be doing this anyway, or at least the ‘relevant content’ part.
As for the ‘keep creating’ bit, maybe you don’t. It does take to create new content after all. Google rewards sites that regularly update pages so long as they’re correctly mapped for Google bots.
The key is to remove old content correctly too (see the point about 404s above). If you keep creating content and never trim the edges, it’s easy to develop an unwieldy behemoth of a site that loads slowly and makes it tricky for users to find what they’re after. So keep your site trim by removing excess baggage, but do it in a way that doesn’t confuse Google bots. In return, Google will look after your ranking.
10. Make the most of your analytics
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. SumoMe offer a free tool for doing that, which I’d recommend.
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. Great!
Thousands of factors affect your SEO ranking and the rules change constantly, which makes it pretty easy to wander into a SEO-based rabbit hole. That said, you should at least do the things above.
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.
- Related post: 5 tips for getting the most out of Google Analytics
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