SEO and Good Search Engine Ranking

By Richard Hamel

I’m often asked by fellow nonprofit professionals which SEO (search engine optimization) practices contribute to better positioning within search engine results, e.g.: Google, Yahoo, Bing. And though years of SEO tricks for elevated organic (i.e. non-placement purchase requirement) results have been offered up by marketing firms (for substantial consultant fees), the fundamentals of producing good ranking has not changed all that much. That said, when it comes right down to it, you simply need to look at some key factors—such as how long your website has been around and is it continuing to produce abundant content. But, it’s not quite that simple. The following are key factors to keep in mind.

Rich content: This is the most important part of a website’s overall position. Larger websites with a lot of content will naturally attract the attention of search engines. Content is why a person seeks your website in the first place; therefore, content is the yardstick by which search engines judge many sites. Moreover, more content means more opportunities for such SEO opportunities as page Titles, Meta Content, and keywords.

Use of Title: The Title (that’s what you see at the head of your browser when you visit a web page) of the web document is considered the key attribute in positioning your page within a search engine. And the key to a good Title is part instinct and part common sense. Your Title should tie-in well with your anticipated best search phrase. That is, the search phase you’d expect a person to type inside a search engine’s search field should be the title of your web page or Home page.

For example: If you’re organization is called “Midtown Homeless Shelter” and you’re located in Los Angeles, it is unlikely that a person would use that particular search phrase to locate your services. Sure “Midtown Homeless Shelter” is the name of your organization, but a search such as that would produce thousands of shelters within thousands of “midtown” locations. Rest assured, however, that since the name of your organization will no doubt be peppered throughout the website, if one elects to search for you by the organization’s name, he or she will still be able to locate you easily. That said, a far more logical Title might be: “Homeless Services in Midtown Los Angeles.” Within the Meta Description you would have: “Midtown Homeless Shelter serves the homeless within the midtown area of Los Angeles, California.”

Use of keywords: When Google (as one prime example) indexes your pages, they take into account the placement of the search phrase on that page. If a phrase is in the page Title, in a big heading (using “h1” header tags) and/or repeated many times on the page, then it is likely to rank higher than a page where the search phrase is not prioritized (e.g.: in smaller font size, mentioned infrequently, and placed at the end of a page).

Age of the Website: The longer your website has been live on the world-wide-web, the higher priority it receives. I often find that a website which has many competitors will usually begin to crawl onto the first page or two of Google within three years, even if they’ve not changed their SEO practices.

Link Popularity and Quality: The more pages and websites link to yours, the higher your ranking will be. And if a website is very large and prestigious (e.g.: The Los Angeles Times, The Journal of Philosophy, et cetera) it carries more weight in the ranking decision. And it’s not just external links that help your ranking. Linking your pages, from one to another, will help your ranking. The use of internal links is very important.

The bottom line is that a website that has plenty of content (the use of a blog provides a great opportunity to produce content and links), has prioritized content, and is cross-linked to other relevant websites will be granted preference in SEO web ranking.

Other significant factors include: the age of your web page (the older, the better), topical relevance with regards to inbound links (a link to another homeless services organization is better than a link to an ice cream shop), and adding content to the “Alt” tags of images.

Organic search engine optimization is vital to the success of any website—especially for the nonprofit ones since bidding for top ranking position is generally cost prohibitive. Rest assured, however, the above stated SEO practices are generally applied to all dot org Web Works productions.