So you work at a small nonprofit organization, and the website is one of your many responsibilities. Everybody has been happy with the website. It looks good, it’s easy to navigate, and you keep the content fresh. The Board is proud of it.
Then one day the Executive Director asks, “How many people are seeing our site?” You check your site’s analytics (perhaps for the first time). The answer is: not many. So now you have a new responsibility. Somehow, you want to get more people to view the website. How do you do it?
Is SEO the Answer?
You may have heard the term search engine optimization (SEO for short) bandied about. What does it really mean? “Search,” of course, means looking for something on the internet, and “search engines” are the tools you use when you look: Bing, Ask, Goodsearch, or the giant of them all, Google. Search engine optimization means making your website more likely to show up in searches, not by paying for it, but by taking advantage of how Google and other search engines work.
That used to be easy. At first, search engines relied on keywords and other data that you chose for yourself. But some websites gamed the system.
For instance, they would “stuff” their pages with keywords that they knew lots of people were searching for–whether or not those words had anything to do with their organization. Or, they would pay SEO optimizer companies to get other sites to link back to their own (because the search engines would rank your site higher if other people found it useful enough to link to it).
These days, Google and the other search engines use complicated algorithms to rank websites. They also track each person’s previous searches to come up with the search results that are most likely to be relevant to that person. (That means there is no one “ranking” for your website: it depends on the interests of the person searching.) And most recently, Google has come up with new algorithms to penalize websites that try to manipulate search results. More changes are inevitable.
So, if anyone tries to sell you SEO services–and especially, if they promise to make your site come up at the top of the page when people search for you–be skeptical. You could end up paying a lot of money to make your site worse for the people who do land there…without ensuring that new people find it.
To Be Found, Be Known
I’ll let you in on a secret. The single search term that’s most likely to bring people to your website is…the name of your organization! You own that already, and it’s free. The trick is not to get people to stumble upon your website. It’s to get them to want to look for it.
Use your social networks to invite people to your website.
- Start with the people who know you best. Do your board members check out your website regularly? How about your staff, your volunteers, and your loyal donors? Ask them.
- Make those close connections into your ambassadors. The people who know you best can mention your website to their friends, in person or by emailing them the link. They can post links to it on Facebook or their favorite social media. They can quote useful information from your site and link back to the source.
- Let everybody know about it. When you send out email, include the URL for your website in your signature. Make sure it’s on your stationery and in your newsletter. When you send out press releases, say, “For more information, see our website at….”
- Use social media. It’s more than okay to post links to interesting items from your website on your agency’s Facebook page, or tweet the link with an intriguing title, or post the same video on your website and Youtube, or share your photos on Instagram or Pinterest. You don’t have to do all of these. Just make better use of the social media you already use.
What will they find there if they look?
You wouldn’t invite people to a gala and have no food and no program. You shouldn’t invite people to your website and have nothing for them to consume there, either. The best way to get people to come to your website–and to keep coming back–is to post what they are interested in.
If you don’t know your audience well enough to be sure what interests them, stop worrying about your website. Go do the research!
But if you can picture the people you want to view your website, then post the articles, announcements, photos, videos, and even tools they can use. Post your best stuff, and put it out there, and you will grow your website traffic in a way that’s organic and sustainable.
And in case you’re still wondering, yes, SEO can play a supporting role in the content that you post. Here are ten tips for writing content that ranks in 2013. Notice that about half of them are about good writing and promotion–not about search. Even Google says in its own guide to SEO, “You should base your optimization decisions first and foremost on what’s best for the visitors of your site.” Make the experience of viewing your website worthwhile and more people will seek you out.