We live in an era where a baseline SEO strategy is a must-have. Search is a crucial traffic source for many organizations, and is important for reaching new audiences beyond those you are already connected to via email and social media.

But how can you reach these audiences in such a crowded, noisy place like the Internet? That’s where keyword research comes in.

Keyword research for nonprofits: a 7-step breakdown

How to research keywords for your nonprofit organization #NPMC #SEO Click To Tweet


1. Know Your Priorities

The more general the keyword, the more crowded the space on the Internet. As a result, it’s useful to hone in on what your nonprofit’s priorities are for the year, as they can help differentiate you from others in the space. Consider:

  • What are your organization’s marketing and fundraising goals for the year?
  • Are these goals evident in the type of content you’re publishing on your website?
  • What words are you using to describe these initiatives – are they clear and concise to your audience?

2. Look at Your Data

It might look like a sea of numbers, but Google Analytics tells a dynamic story of your nonprofit’s relationship with your audience in the digital space. For example:

  • How are users entering your website – and from where?
  • What are they doing once they get there?
  • What pages are the most – and least – visited?

Having an understanding of these details can help you understand what pages may already have strong SEO value, and which ones may need more strategic keyword use.


3. Make a List – But Get Specific

As you might guess, starting with a long list of every word associated with your nonprofit and/or focus area is not a great use of your time. These types of general keywords are likely to be saturated already, so this strategy will not help target audiences find your organization quicker.

A good way to steer clear of those oversaturated keywords is to increase your usage of long-tail keywords, or phrases that more clearly refine – and narrow – a user’s search. For example, let’s say your nonprofit organization collects food donations in Brooklyn. You’re not likely to rank high by targeting terms like “food donation” or “food charity” because both are too broad – those terms could be used by any similar organization anywhere in the world. However, if you target terms like “food donation brooklyn” or “food pantry new york city”, you’re honing in on a niche audience that is more likely to be searching for these terms and, ultimately, more likely to take action on your website.

Also, focus on keywords that help show how your nonprofit is unique. You can brainstorm this list by asking a few questions first:

  • Who/what do you serve?
  • What are you doing for them?
  • What opportunities does your organization have for donation, volunteering, and/or advocacy? Are any of these different than other organizations in your space?
  • What do these opportunities ultimately support?
  • What is your main call to action?

Answers to these questions are more likely to result in long-tail keywords because they are more specific prompts. These could be a blend of cause-related, geographic terms that are more refined. These could include:

  • An environmental nonprofit in Chicago promoting annual beach cleanups: “beach cleanup chicago” (NOT just “beach cleanup”)
  • A museum promoting a new exhibit: “the met rock and roll” “rock and roll exhibit new york” (NOT just “rock and roll”)
'A good way to steer clear of those oversaturated keywords is to increase your usage of long-tail keywords' #NPMC Click To Tweet

4. Think Like Your Audience

For many organizations, visitors who arrive via search include audience members who are interacting with your organization for the first time. And even for those who are already familiar with your work, they may not think about it – or talk about it – the same way that you and your team do internally.

To navigate this, try to think about how you describe your work to new audiences in other communications. Do you have brand messaging and/or mission and vision statements that concisely explain your nonprofit? What is your 30-second “elevator pitch”? Thinking about these things can ensure that your keywords are relevant to new audiences and rooted in your brand. This exercise also limits the amount of internal programmatic jargon on your keyword list.

5. Keyword Tools are Your Friend

Although this initial list will help you create long-tail keywords, there are a number of tools that can help you search for other keywords that you might not have thought of yet. Google Keyword Planner can help you find new keywords related to those you’re already using, as it suggests other keywords based on your organization’s focus area and/or location. Google Trends allows you to see what people are searching for in real-time – certain “trending” keywords that might be popular or timely based on a recent event, for example. Although these won’t be specific to your organization, if they are related to your focus area, they might be worth adding to your keywords.

Tools like Moz and SEMrush also suggest alternative keywords based on those you enter, and also share data about these keywords. This includes things like search volume (how frequently a keyword is being searched) to help avoid oversaturated keywords.

Refine and Repeat

6. What’s Working? What’s Not?

Keep an eye on your website’s digital analytics, looking for changes in traffic sources and most-viewed content over time. Are your keywords helping audiences finding the content that is most relevant to them? Or, are these keywords having little effect, or further complicating their journey to taking action on your website? This data is important for keeping track of your SEO strategy, and for making adjustments to it going forward.

7. Diversify Keyword Sources

As Animalz wrote recently, however, the journey doesn’t stop there. Even for organizations with a strong SEO strategy in place, constant refinement is the key to staying high in search results. A great way to do this is to look beyond those initial keyword planning tools mentioned earlier in this post. Those are a great place to start, but they are also being used heavily by marketers and content creators everywhere.

Consider other places that might shed light on what your audiences are looking for, such as question-and-answer sites or group forums – these are even more effective if they are localized geographically or are specific to your cause. Users often post questions looking for guidance on how to find something, and these questions can be key to creating the right long-tail keyword to guide them to your organization.

Getting Started

Keyword research and SEO might be completely new to you and/or your organization – and that’s okay! By taking the steps above and collecting internal priorities and data first, you’ll set yourself up for success. They may seem like small steps now, but you’ll be well on your way to boosting your search rankings – ultimately connecting with your target audiences more quickly and inspiring them to take action.

Keyword research for nonprofit organizations: a 7-step breakdown #NPMC Click To Tweet
Rosie Powers

Rosie Powers

Consultant at Rosie Powers
Rosie Powers is a mission-driven digital marketing strategist, content creator, and project manager. Equal parts storyteller and data nerd, Rosie believes deeply in the power of digital to help organizations tell stories that inspire change. Through her collaboration with companies such as Mission Minded, DevCollaborative, Tiny Windows Consulting, and Wethos, she works exclusively with nonprofits, foundations, and schools to help them further their mission in the digital space.
Rosie Powers

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