If your nonprofit generates online content – and if you have a website, you generate online content – then one of your jobs is getting said content found on search engines… and getting people to click through to your site when they see your listing in the rankings.
Because if search engines can find you, then so can your donors and prospects. Once they find you, and your search engine listing is decent, they can click through to your online content… maybe sign up for your e-news… and if you do a really good job, they may even give.
Over the years I’ve provided – and still provide – online content writing and online content editing for nonprofit email newsletters (both monthly and weekly) and the supporting online articles.
And I’ve found many organizations don’t take even basic steps to ensure major search engines find what they publish online – namely, the use of meta-tags.
So I thought it would be helpful to walk you through the steps I follow when writing online articles for my clients’ e-newsletters and websites, and/or when repurposing print materials for use online.
Please note: SEO/SEM is complicated stuff, and I am no expert – nor do I profess to be. But most small and many mid-sized organizations can, armed with basic tips, do a whole lot better in getting found online and generating better click-throughs. That’s what this article is designed to help you with.
Step 1: Use a Title Tag
The title tag is your page title, or in other words, what you see at the top of your screen when you visit any page of a website. For example, if you look at the top of your screen right now, you'll see the title tag for this article/page:
Get More from Your Online Content: 3 Basics for Nonprofit Websites | Lisa Sargent Communications
Search engines use your title tag to look for keywords, and that’s what shows up in the ranking lists. According to website seomoz, keyword use anywhere in the title tag is one of the top five ranking factors.
So if your page doesn’t have a title, or it’s got a cryptic, one size fits all title, you’re losing traffic.
Using an example of an article on 3D cleft surgery that I wrote for Shriners Hospitals for Children® back in August of this year, let’s look at an example of how I set up the copy I send to clients for online articles.
First I do some quick research for keyword phrases on Google Adwords' Keyword Estimator. (This is free and not nearly as precise as pay-for-use services like Wordtracker.) Then I use those in the title tag if possible.
Below, in Image 1, you'll see that I include title, meta description and (sometimes) keyword tags as part of the draft copy for any online article I write:
Then after the article is uploaded, and the title tag is added to the page, it looks like this in the search engine rankings:
For the record, you’re allowed about 65 characters for your title tag; Google won’t display more than that, and will truncate with the ellipsis (as you can see above).
So if you have to include the name of your organization as part of the title tag (and you should), try to ‘frontload’ the title tag by getting the keywords first. In the image above you’ll see how I handled frontloading for the Shriners Hospitals for Children® article: by knowing about where the title tag will get cut off, I can plan for at least a piece of the organization's name to appear.
Step 2: Include a Meta Description Tag
The meta description tag gives a reader a snapshot of what he or she will find when clicking through to your content.
Again, I include keywords when possible – but only because they help guide the reader. If you ‘stuff it’ with keywords, it just looks spammy. Plus in late 2009 Google noted it doesn’t use meta descriptions in its search algorithms, so write the description for your readers and you’ll be a step ahead.
Re: length. Strive to keep your meta description tag around 150-160 characters.
In Image 1 above you’ll see how the description tag looks when I send draft copy to a client, and in Image 2, how it appears when it’s been properly uploaded.
Step 3: Verify
To check whether the pages of your website have proper title and meta description tags, simply go to the page and click on View>Source. You’ll get a pop-up that looks a lot like one in the top left corner of Image 3 below. I’ve added arrows to the title and meta description tags, so you can see how the code appears. And lastly, the source code pop-up is overlaid atop the actual online article after it's been taken 'live' -- you'll see the page title along with part of the article in Image 3 below, as well:
Note in Image 3 above: you’ll also see an arrow pointing to ‘keywords.’ Google doesn’t use ‘em, but if a client already has the field coded in to their site, I offer them up as an option, so it won’t be left blank. Not necessary to include though.
Keep in mind that once you begin to make these changes to your online content, results are not instantaneous. But keep at it, and over time, if you’ve got it right, you should begin to see an improvement.
I hope this brief and basic tutorial has been helpful for you… and most of all, that it will help your nonprofit get more traffic, more prospects, more subscribers, and more donors from your online content in the months to come.
© Lisa Sargent and Sargent Communications.