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Online Fundraising: Attract donors with search engine optimization

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Search engines are the most common way that potential donors will find your website. A nonprofit website that appears near the top of search engine results will witness a dramatic increase in traffic compared with competing websites that appear further down in the results.

Like every other charity, you want a high ranking on the search engines. Unfortunately, many charity websites appear poorly in search engine rankings - or not at all - because they are not written and designed to take advantage of how search engines work.

So how do search engines rank your web pages?

Among many other things, search engines pay attention to the location and frequency of keywords on each of your web pages. Keywords are simply those words that characterize your mission. If you are the American Cancer Society, for example, then "cancer", "breast cancer", and "cancer treatment" are some of your keywords. If you are a human rights charity, then "death penalty", "free speech", and "torture" are among your keywords.

When your potential donors search online for information about you or about the cause you champion, they type into a search engine the keywords that they associate with you and your work.

As far as the search engines are concerned, web pages with these search terms in the HTML title tag are more relevant than pages without them. Pages with these search terms near the top of the page (in the headline and first few paragraphs of text) are more relevant than pages without them. And pages that contain these search terms frequently on the page are more relevant than other web pages.

Your goal is to discover what keywords the majority of searchers type into the search engines when they are looking for information that you can help them with. Then put these keywords into the most strategic parts of your website, which include:

  • Domain name
  • Page title tag
  • Meta description tag
  • Meta keyword tag
  • Headings
  • Sentences and paragraphs near the top of your page

This process is called Search Engine Optimization (SEO). It makes sure your web pages are easily found by search engines, easily indexed by search engines, and given a high ranking by search engines, so your site appears at the top of searches.

Alan Sharpe publishes Direct Mail Fundraising Today, the free, weekly email newsletter that helps nonprofit organizations raise funds, build relationships and retain loyal donors. Alan is the author of Breakthrough Fundraising Letters and 25 handbooks on direct mail fundraising. Alan is also a speaker and workshop leader who delivers public seminars and teleseminars on direct mail fundraising. Sign up for Alan's newsletter at

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