Posted by Jay Wilkinson

Determining the best keywords (or keyword phrases) for your nonprofit is the first step to successful search engine optimization (SEO). Once you choose the correct ones, you can optimize your nonprofit’s website in order to climb to the top of search results.

First, let’s define what a keyword is. A keyword is a word that internet users will use in a search engine to find you online. It’s really that simple. Optimal keywords will focus on your name, mission and location of your organization first and foremost.

It’s not that difficult to determine your best keywords, but it does take a little legwork if you want to be accurate. Start with these three tips:

  1. Always include your location. Always. We know that 98% of the people who will search for your nonprofit by name will also include some geographical specification like, “Firespring Lincoln Nebraska.” Users will typically search for you by name, mission and by the location of your organization. So if someone is looking for information on Alzheimer’s, they’ll most likely search for “Alzheimer’s disease” along with some type of geographical tag. This is an easy one: Always include your location in your keyword list.
  2. Think like a searcher, not like an insider. When many nonprofits determine keywords, they think from the inside out. “How are we organized? We have this program, we have that program. We offer this service, we offer that service.” They think about their mission, cause and purpose by how they define those things internally.

    The problem with that is, you end up choosing keywords that a typical internet user would never use in a search query. Your website visitors are not searching for you with industry or nonprofit jargon. When you think about keywords, you have to get inside your audience’s brain. What words would they use to describe your nonprofit? Those words are going to produce the best results.
  3. Use Google’s Keyword Planner. This great tool helps you expand the list of keywords you’ve started to develop, as well as evaluate the terms you already have. For each keyword you enter, this tool suggests more keyword suggestions. Then once you’re satisfied with the size of your keywords list, you can start to evaluate its overall quality. For each keyword you enter into Google’s Keyword Planner, it will give statistics for three factors: the number of global monthly searches, the number of local monthly searches and a competition rating. So you’ll be able to judge which keywords will be most effect for your organization.

One more quick tip: If you haven’t already, sign up for Google Ad Grants. Every 501(c)(3) organization on the planet should be signed up for Google Ad Grants. This program provides free search engine marketing through Google. There’s a lot of talk about whether not that there is value in Google for nonprofits and spending money on search engine optimization. But free? There should be no discussion about that: Take it. All you do is go through a quick sign-up process, and once you do, you get $10,000 per month in free AdWords. If your nonprofit meets certain criteria, you could actually receive up to $40,000 AdWords advertising every month. To get started, learn more about Google Ad Grants here. A few things to keep in mind: Your ads will be text-based (no videos or images). They’ll appear on Google search results pages. And all campaigns must be keyword-targeted.

Still stumped by SEO? Firespring provides SEO services for nonprofits. Give us a call at 877.447.8941 or send an email to