Beginners Guide to Local SEO for Nonprofits

Billions, yes billions, of searches are performed each and every month just on Google alone! More searches are conducted on mobile devices than on desktop, as of 2015. Today we search for just about anything, from health related questions like “is my toothache cancer” to product searches like “where to find hot pink fuzzy slippers”. The majority of us pick up our phones any chance we get to “Google it”.

If you’re a nonprofit chances are potential donors and volunteers are out there “Googling” for you right now. Not to mention those in need of your valuable services, funders looking for more information and brands interested in partnering with you. The big question is, will you show up in search results for them to find?

That’s where nonprofit SEO comes in. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the practice that marketers go through to improve quality and relevance of their website. This is done in an attempt to send the right signals to search engines so they’ll show your website in search results.

Have you noticed your site not showing up for common searches, or others complaining about not being able to find information about your nonprofit online? We’ll give you tips in this article to help.

Local SEO is Essential for Nonprofits

Many nonprofits thrive on donations and support provided in their local community. It’s not only important to show up in search results for users in your local area but also nationally as well. Focusing on a local strategy with your SEO could prove vital for the success of your nonprofit. Let’s learn a bit more.

How Does Local Search Work?

When you search online there are many indicators you provide knowingly or unknowingly to search engines letting them figure out your location. The words themselves that you use are one indicator, even if you don’t use a city or state in your search. A search for “pizza” or “locksmith” aren’t intended to be national searches. Google is intuitive enough to know when to serve up local or national results with or withou city/state combos. They also know when a map should be shown with business locations, or when the words indicate the need for web page results.

If you’re searching on a mobile device or on desktop for example, your IP address is an indicator of where you are physically located. A search for “restaurants” should show a result with businesses near you. As marketers, we can use these signals and the possible words being searched in our efforts. Let’s dive in a bit further to understand how this works.

Local Search 101 for Nonprofits

You have more power over what shows in Google than you might think. Sometimes all it takes are small tweaks on your website and the result is better rankings for your website and more traffic from search engines.

Anatomy of Search: Keywords & Meaning

Search engines are computer programs developed to scour the internet and understand webpages, their meaning and context. This is done in an effort to show searchers the right results and in priority order. When we understand what a search engine “sees” we can better control the indicators on our website, in our content, and throughout our marketing efforts.

What does a search engine “see”?

Search engines see words on a page, code, images, links and other items that act as the skeleton of a webpage. They also see the links that point to your site, including mentions on social media sites, how fast your page loads, if your site is mobile friendly, and so much more. Search engines infer the meaning of a page based on the context of what it finds, surrounding words and other signals they pick up to tell them when to show the site in search results. In total there are over 200+ signals Google uses to rank websites.

If you’re having a hard time showing up in Google it’s usually a result of the search engine not understanding context or meaning. Providing more meaning and context for search engines will take a little bit of work, and it starts with keywords.

How do you add additional context or meaning to your pages?

Tools such as Google AdWords Keyword Tool and Wordstream’s free Keyword Tool are recommended to discover and select the right keywords you want to be found for. These tools will help you in answering the critical question, “what keywords do people use to find your website?”, “which ones have the highest volume?” and “which keywords are the most competitive?”. Select a mixture of keywords that have high volume and low competition, some with local keywords included and others without.

One or two keyword sets (combination of keywords) are recommended per page, any more than that and Google tends to get confused. For more tips on keyword research check out this beginners guide on

I have my keywords, now what?

Keywords are one of the best tools we have as marketers to optimize our efforts. Well researched keywords can be placed within the content on your page in the following areas. Additionally, other optimization opportunities exist that may or may not include your keywords. They are listed below for reference as well.

Page Title & Meta Title

A meta title is what shows at the top of your browser as the title of the page. Of it’s the same as the page title. Meta titles show in search results pages (SERPs) as the title of a result. Here, the meta title is “Virtuous Nonprofit CRM | Donor Management and Marketing”.

For a national company like Virtuous we don’t need to place local keywords within our meta data. However for your local nonprofit you would want to indicate the city and/or state combo where you’re located in this area.

Meta Description

A meta description is what shows on the search results page (SERP) below the website URL. In the example above, “Ready to see how Virtuous CRM can help save time, raise more money & do more good? Schedule a live Demo 866-329-4009 [email protected]” is the meta description. A meta description should entice the user to click, provide a bit of information about what they will find on the page within and contain a keyword or two giving context to the page’s meaning.

Name, Address & Phone Number

In addition to correctly placed keywords, Google uses the consistency of your business name, address and phone number (NAP) appearing together online to determine what local results your site shows up for. Your NAP should:

  • Be in the footer of each page on your site
  • Be consistent throughout your local profiles like Google/Yelp/Bing
  • Use a local phone number
  • Use consistent spelling for your brand name
  • Choose either an abbreviated or long form street name such as Blvd or Boulevard, and keep it the same on each listing of your businesses name
  • Not change frequently or need to be updated often

Keywords in Content

The actual words on the page are a great indicator of content. Inserting keywords within content in helpful and useful ways is recommended for SEO. Overusing a keyword phrase on a page should be avoided, keep it natural and readable for your visitors. Search engines are intuitive enough to infer meaning without having to see the same word repeated over and over on a page.

Information in Local Profiles: Category, Proximity & Title

Third party information on sites such as Google Business and Yelp (and many others!) are responsible for helping search engines understand your location. Ensuring you have claimed your profile, added the correct categories, set the proximity/radius of where your business services, and have consistent title can make a huge difference in your local performance on search engines. Use a third party like Yext or Moz Local to claim and edit your profiles easily and quickly.

Links within pages to other pages on your site are a great way to enhance your SEO signals. Use anchor text, the text that the hyperlink uses to be linked, that integrates the keywords you researched. Use keywords as an anchor and point it to a page that is optimized for that term.


Search engines have a hard time “seeing” an actual image, but what they can see are the code and description of an image to help it understand context. Fill in image alt tag attributes, use captions, and optimize the file name of the image by including a keyword. An image alt tag should always be descriptive of the image, and not overly stuffed with keywords.

Business Reviews

The number of reviews, quality of those reviews and frequency of them play an important role in helping a search engine determine how authoritative and relevant your company is for local search. Make sure your company receives reviews on Google Business, Yelp and other sites that allow reviews. Reach out to donors, past clients and volunteers to help review your nonprofit on a regular basis throughout the year. Your efforts, in combination with the other recommendations in this article, will help improve your local performance on search.

Additional Factors

  • Mobile Optimization: how well your site shows up on mobile devices can affect where and how it is ranked online. Working to optimize your site for mobile is highly recommended.
  • Page Load Speed: a slow site will have a hard time ranking well. Optimizing your page load speed to improve for users is a key step to ranking well.
  • Backlinks: the number, quality and diversity of the links pointing to your site from third parties help a search engine termine where to rank your site as well.
  • And so much more!

As we stated before, more than 200 factors go into where a site ranks and search engines keep them a secret. It’s nearly impossible to include each and every one of them in this article. But a 2016 study sought to condense them down and found the below weighting when it comes to the importance of signals. Are you addressing the most important?

What you should do now

Below are three ways we can help you begin your journey to building more personalized fundraising with responsive technology.

See the Virtuous platform in action.  Schedule a call with our team for personalized answers and expert advice on transforming your nonprofit with donor management software.

Download our free Responsive Maturity Model and learn the 5 steps to more personalized donor experiences.

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