Google’s goal is to give the best information to answer a searcher’s question. Google has to sift through millions of websites and deliver the most appropriate websites in descending order. How does Google do that? They have an algorithm.

The algorithm is secret, it is complicated and it changes constantly (apparently 200 times per year). But there are some fundamental principles that Google never changes.

Below are some principles. There is an underlying theme that affects each principle – a website that is easy for a human to read, is easy for a search engine to read. So don’t try to trick Google, or make changes just for Google.

1. An easy-to-understand site structure and a main menu bar that is easy to navigate

Google needs to understand which are your more important pages and which are less important. Not every page is important, and the unimportant pages can dilute the impact of the important pages. Humans have the same need.

If a human is going to spend 30 seconds on your website, make it easy for them to find what they need. For example, a recipient of your service needs to understand quickly what programs you offer. A donor needs to find quickly the answer to their questions (Why donate to you? Your impact? What will you do with my donation?). A potential volunteer needs to understand quickly what roles are available.

The recipient/donor/volunteer will each phrase their Google search requests differently. Structure your site so that Google can judge quickly if you are worthy of placing on their ranking.

Don’t clutter up your site with unnecessary information. If few people search for the history of your organization, then why bother having a History webpage? If few people search for your mission statement, then why bother having a Mission webpage? If few people want to reference other sources, then why bother having a Links webpage?

I have a test that I use to judge good navigation – can I figure out exactly what a charity does merely by viewing the drop down boxes in their main menu?

2. Include key words that searchers would include in their search requests

Key words tell Google what the page is about. That is important to humans too. Place key words in subheads or prominently in the text. Don’t use jargon – use the words that real people use in their searches.

Don’t overdo it. Have one primary key word or phrase per page because that is what makes sense to humans. In the past, some websites tried to trick Google by over-repeating key words. Google discovered the trick and now penalizes those pages.

3. Backlinks from reputable websites

A backlink is a link from another website to your website. If a reputable website links to your website, that proves to Google that your website provides trustworthy content. For example, my bio at the bottom of this article contains a link to the MAS website. The CharityVillage website is highly reputable and every link to our website will improve MAS’s ranking in Google. (So please do MAS a favour and click on the link below!)

But don’t over do it because not all links are treated equally. In the past, some websites purchased backlinks, instead of earning them. Some websites swap links (an equivalent outbound link is suspicious). Google is good at discovering these tricks.

4. Traffic

More popular websites rank higher. How can you boost traffic? Here are two ideas.

  • Convert any good content that is currently in a PDF into a real webpage. That will boost the content of your website (because Google does not read PDFs) and make it more attractive to answer search queries.
  • Convert PDF newsletters into webpages. Then email a link from the webpage to your readers, which will boost your traffic.

5. Good content

Google defines content as text, photos and videos. Google wants good content. Similarly, humans want good content. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Good quality – Is our content original? Includes key words? Is it fresh?
  • Easy to read – short words? Short sentences? A recent study showed that a person’s attention span is down to 8 seconds. Use that 8 seconds wisely. If a person spends 8 seconds on a webpage, they will only read 30 words. A well-designed page will ensure that a viewer’s eyes will be naturally drawn to the most important words.
  • Photos and videos – are they correctly tagged so a search engine can understand them?
  • No clutter – is it easy for recipients/donors/volunteer to find what they are searching for?

A website that is easy for a human to read, is easy for a search engine to read. Don’t worry about Google. Make your website easy for humans. Search engines will figure it out too.

Lelia MacDonald is a Volunteer Consultant with MAS – a pro bono management consulting charity. For 20 years, the Volunteer Consultants at MAS have helped thousands of nonprofits and charities become more efficient in governance, strategy, HR, marketing and fundraising. Lelia helps charities re-brand their websites and create fundraising plans, for free. Apply to MAS today.