Category Archives: Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Nonprofits and the power of search

McKinsey has a new report out quantifying the gargantuan value of search worldwide (a free download if you register but not a must-read).  It serves as another reminder to nonprofits to pay attention to how people use the Internet and use search find and create communities of cause.  All of us who communicate about nonprofit organizations need to remember to “think keywords” — those phrases people use to search and find out about issues, ways to get involved, or consider donations.  And beyond the need to keep websites fresh and interesting, we need to remember that much of what we do now is to create content that can be “broadcast” in one-way communications or used to pepper social conversations.

A few tidbits:

  • In 2010, an average Internet user in the United States performed some 1,500 searches.
  • Some 90 percent of online users use search engines, and search represents 10 percent of the time spent by individuals on the Web, totaling about four hours per month. 
  • Some 30 percent of US Internet users now use social networks to find content, and 21 percent use them to find videos. 
  • When people search online, they are signaling information about themselves: what they are looking for, when, and in what context—for example, the Web page they visited before and after the search. Such information can be harnessed by those seeking to deliver more relevant content…

There’s some good stuff in the report about the future of search.  It starts to feel like Carl Sagan’s “billions and billion” (or “billions upon billions” depending on which account you believe)… only it’s about trillions and trillions of gigabytes of data.  How will search remain relevant when there is so much stuff out there — and so many SEO experts chasing your attention?  Will people turn more to aggregated (or vertical) sites that they trust?  What will that mean for nonprofits?

Those questions are out there in the cosmos for nonprofits, at least for now.  But McKinsey’s report is a salient and current reminder: as you choose communications media and messages, bear in mind that search is firmly embedded into most people’s daily rhythms.

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Want to reach influencers? Don’t forget about news releases, and be sure to incorporate key words

Today’s post is for people who want to influence opinion about their cause, attract media attention and drive traffic to their websites.


Bottomline:  news releases are still a critical weapon in your communications arsenal – maybe more so than ever.  What’s new is this:  you need to understand and include keywords.  When you develop and distribute news releases either to targeted media outlets or via PR newswire or similar services (following all the usual rules about newsworthiness and format), you need to understand how search engines look for and respond to keywords.


Here’s the why:


1)       Attracting the attention of online newspaper websites is particular important to driving opinion about your cause.  According to the a study conducted by Millward Brown of 1,501 adults last year, readers of online newspaper sites are 52% more likely to be “influencers” than non-newspaper website readers.

2)       Given cutbacks in traditional newsrooms, more journalists are migrating to the Web.  Just one example, discussed in the New York Times on November 17, is the rise of local websites that serve as watchdogs over particular communities – such as

3)       News releases have a long after-life on the Internet.  Google anything and you’re likely to see a news release .pdf on the first page of results.  News releases, posted to your website, attract traffic.


Here are some tips about what it means to write with the needs of online search engines in mind, offered by the folks at WordTracker through their free online publication about using keywords:


1)       Focus the news release on a primary keyword and include it in the headline.  They also suggest you intersperse the word throughout the release (but don’t overdo it).

2)       Include a summary that includes the primary keyword as well as a few secondary ones.

3)       Make sure you distribute to the online news channels such as Google News, Yahoo News and MSN News.

4)       Identify niche websites that are interested in your particular topic and that publish editorial material.  These sites are in a constant battle to find and post fresh content.

5)       Likewise, identify blogs that are interested in your cause or topic.  But be prepared to stay engaged as comments are posted.

6)       Don’t forget social media sites like and which “can drive fantastic levels of traffic” according to WordTracker.

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The last word on keywords… almost

I’m going cross-eyed from working on keywords right now, so soon I will jump back up to 10,000 feet and talk about how strategy maps can be a useful tool for non-profits that need to ensure their sustainability and think carefully when planning for growth.  I need the break and you probably do, too.

But I came across an article on keywords that addresses something I’ve been wondering:  how do you choose the best keywords, the ones you should concentrate on first, if you don’t have an experienced Search Engine Optimization (SEO) person who can devote lots of time and energy to ensuring you compete well against other sites and pages?

Ken McGaffin has an 18-month old post — an article, really — on WordTracker’s academy forum, Choosing Your Best Keywords.  You don’t have to buy WordTracker to review the article.  He offers three strategies to choosing the best keywords:

1.  Include the most popular keywords in your website copy, even though you may not rank well for them.  He suggests that, by doing so, you lay a foundation for the future so that your rankings will rise as you add content.

2.  Use the most popular words along with “qualifiers”, either geographic or sector specific.  In my last example, an organization might try to own:  “charities for children Sacramento”  or “children’s charities Sacramento.”

3.  He says to look for niche keywords or markets that others haven’t yet found.  For this, you would have to use a keyword analysis tool, which will cost you $59 right now for a month’s access to WordTracker.  WordTracker includes the keyword effectiveness index (KEI) in its product, and it helps you identify keywords (usually phrases) for which there are searches, but few (or fewer) pages competing.

Even if you don’t want to spend the time or money to pursue his tip #3, his other two ideas are helpful.

In the words of Colbert, “That’s the word.”

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Part 2 of 2: What keywords do people use when they’re looking for a cause or non-profit organization to support?

If you’re doing a news release this holiday season – and many non-profits are, given that many organizations collect about 40% of their donations in November and December – you should consider keywords that play well in search engines.  My last post dealt with a hypothetical charitable organization that seeks to ease the burden of suffering dogs everywhere.


Like most non-profits, our hypothetical organization needs not only to provide services, but it needs to raise money to support its mission.  We want our website not only to attract people who would use our services – which are available as a community service – but people who want to give money to support suffering dogs.


Thought of the day:

Websites for charitable organizations can’t just concentrate on keywords related to their mission or even those they serve.  They also have to attract people who are actively “shopping” for a source for their charitable or volunteer impulses.


A lot has been written about the growth of the donor marketplace.  While there are websites that seek to channel the energies and interests of those who want to do good, but who are not already loyal to a cause or organization, presumably there are also people who will skip Charity Navigator and similar sites, and directly look for organizations related to their interests.


Using the same process described in Part I, which relies on the free WordTracker tool here are some findings about keywords related to charity that may be of help as you write website copy and news releases:


“Charity” received the largest number of searches in the past 100 days, with 7,809 searches.  Interesting that the top term within the related search group was for “charity ratings”, with 657 searches.  Potential new donors are out there doing their research.  “Rating charities” followed just behind that one in popularity.  “Charity” was searched for 651 times, and “charities” 400 times.  Some of these were phrases where someone was looking for a charity to donate something specific, like “charities to donate…” or “donate XYZ to charity.”


“Donate” was a close second, with 7,355 related searches.  Note that the most popular searches were “donate for…” where someone wanted to donate things like a car, furniture or toys.  Didn’t see “donate money” in the top 100 searches.


“Relief”, which might be a useful term for aid-related organizations, had 5,718 searches, but many of them were for physical or mental relief rather than charitable types of relief (and there are the dogs again – 121 searches were for “pain relief for dogs”).


“Donation” had 5,293 searches

And this was interesting.  Looking at the individual terms that were most popular, “donations” outranks “donation” in searches.  It’s wise to write copy with both singular and plural versions of the same term.


“Support” wasn’t very useful because most of the searches were for support groups of one type or another, or physical support, like ankle support.  Likewise with “aid”.   These terms might be included in a keyword phrase but they aren’t specific enough to be useful.


Charitable donation” was too specific – only 16 searches were conducted in the past 100 days.


And what about the way we refer to our non-profit organizations?  Those are keywords, too.


Charity, noted above, can be used in several contexts – as in “gift” or as in “organization.”  Charitable organizations” had 80 searches within the last 100 days.


Non profit without a hyphen received 1,690 searches, 89 of which were for “non profit organizations”


Non-profit with a hyphen yielded 1,372 searches, of which 189 were for “non-profit instiutions” (misspelled) and 124 were for “non-profit institutions.”  116 were for “non-profit”.


No, people don’t search much for 501 c 3 (49 searches) or variations thereof.



Keep in mind that WordTracker captures searches from only the last 100 days.  Since giving is highly seasonal, terms related to giving would likely be under-represented.


“Give” had a lot of matches, but they were mostly pornographic terms….

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Part 1 of 2: When keywords go to the dogs…

In doing research into the best words to improve search results for three organizations (two related to non profits and one for a commercial site), I stumbled into the apparent popularity of searching for problems related to dogs.  Eight-four people in the past 100 days have searched for information on “dog separation anxiety” while 121 searched for “pain relief for dogs”, for example.  (In fact, far more people search for info about dogs’ separation anxiety than children’s.)


My message du jour is this (441 people searched for something “du jour”)…

If you’re trying to promote non profit organizations and causes, you need powerful keywords because you want to come up high in a search when someone starts typing words into his or her favorite search engine.


Quick “keywords” def:  Those golden little words – or phrases —  that people (and reporters) type into search engines to find what they’re looking for.


Why you should care:  Most of us either never think about how well our elegant copy performs in Internet searches, or we guess.  The consequence is that we lose out to other organizations when people surf the Internet for resources or places to make charitable donations.  This post talks about a free tool that can help you expand your list of potential keywords, so that you can make a strategic choice about the words you build into website pages and news releases.  (News releases are an excellent tool for increasing website traffic, and they aren’t bad for attracting media attention either.)


For this post on keywords, I’ve created a hypothetical non-profit that aims to ease the burden of suffering dogs everywhere.  I’ll call it the Suffering Dog Society.


Our hypothetical Suffering Dog Society needs to think about two things.  Step one, we need to figure out what words people use when searching for help with dog problems.  Tomorrow, we’ll talk about step two:  identifying keywords related to the fundraising aspects of our charitable organization.  No money, no mission, after all.


Initially, our keyword list might include “suffering dog,” “suffering dog relief”, “dog support agency” and so on.  (You can guess a list of 25 or so words or phrases, and if there are other similar organizations, you should see what terms they’re using.)  But how do we know which terms people are really using in searches?  How do we crawl into the minds of suffering dog owners everywhere?


Enter a free tool offered by WordTracker (  You plug in the keyword or phrase that you are considering, and it will tell you how many searches in the last 100 days used that word or phrase.  It will also show you, in descending order of popularity, related terms that people used.  WordTracker is a metacrawler system that checks multiple search engines for you, and combines the results.  Supposedly there are 100 million searches a month, so it’s got a whole bunch of data that can inform your keywords decision.


Turns out that “suffering dog” and “dog suffering” aren’t very popular terms.  There were only nine searches in the last 100 days using either term.  Let’s say we broadened our thinking to certain kinds of problems that dogs might suffer from:  “dog anxiety”, “dog stress,” “anxiety in dogs,” and “dog behavior problems.”


I type “dog anxiety” into the free keywords tool and press “hit me”.  Ah!  It tells me there have been 202 related searches in the past 100 days.  The top term is “dog separation anxiety”, for which there were 84 searches, followed by just “dog anxiety,” with 22 searches.  Note that “dog seperation anxiety” (incorrectly spelled) had 12 searches.  Because people often misspell when searching, some people intentionally put misspelled words into website meta-tags (coded info picked up by search engine robots behind the scenes of a website, but which can’t be seen by us mere mortals unless we know how to view source code).


I try a variation on the theme:  “anxiety in dogs”.  57 searches.  The most popular is “separation in dogs”, followed by “seperation in dogs.”  (By the way, the free tool will periodically make you verify that you’re a human and not a robot…)


I doggedly labor on and try “dog stress”.  While there are 36 related searches, “dog stress relief” had only 11 searches in the last 100 days.  Not good enough.


I think a little more broadly and try:  “dog behavior problems”.  That phrase had 40 searches, of which the exact same phrase was the most popular with 28 searches.


So what’s it tell me?  If I was working on a website or news release for my Suffering Dog Society, I would want to be sure that I find a way to smoothly write copy that includes “dog separation anxiety”.  Or given that not that many people seem to be struggling for help with suffering dogs, I might give up on the idea of starting a non-profit to help them.


There’s more I could do to identify the very best phrases, but I’d have to buy the WordTracker service for at least a few days.  The big thing is this:

Expanding our thinking about keywords that people use in searches would have saved us from using terms that either no one uses (in the case of the Suffering Dog Society), or that so many organizations use that we would be lost in the noise as a small, start-up non-profit.  That is the bigger risk for small organizations and causes.


Next:  Keywords to assist in fundraising – what keywords do people use if they want to give money and are searching for opportunities to “give”, “donate,” “support,” etc.?


Disclaimer:  I am a dog lover (but I still poked a bit of fun at dog owners in this post)!

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