Who Is This Blog For?
I was recently hired to solve an SEO problem for a global nonprofit. With their permission, I wanted to explain the problem and EXACTLY how I solved it (step-by-step); so that if your nonprofit is suffering from a similar issue, you can use this blog as a walkthrough to help you fix it.
This blog is for you if:
– Google knows your nonprofit is important, but doesn’t understand what it’s about
– You’re ranking for a lot of keywords, but most of them are irrelevant
– You’re not ranking for relevant keywords for your nonprofit, even though you’ve got a well-established brand and lots of links from reputable sites
When I started working with them, Girl Rising already had an internationally recognized brand. They had worked with Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway on their award-winning documentary Girl Rising. They had partnered with Michelle Obama on the #62milliongirls campaign, and had generated over 5 billion global media impressions.
That authority translated to their website, too. They had an Ahrefs domain rating of 70, and 2,665 referring domains.
When they hired me, Google knew Girl Rising was important…but had trouble identifying what they did.
The site ranked #11 for ‘girl’.
It ranked #10 for ‘girl from it.’
It even ranked for some NSFW terms, like #22 for ‘girl on girl.’
But Google had real trouble understanding that they were a girls’ education charity. The site ranked on page 1-2 for only 10 ‘education’ terms, and 0 terms around ‘charity’ or ‘nonprofits’.
Google knew they were important; you can’t be a mom-and-pop and rank on page 2 for a head term like ‘girl’ with 1.5 million searches/month. But Google didn’t understand what they offered, so it just threw a bunch of mud at the wall and hoped some of it was relevant.
The Solution (Complex Diagnosis, Easy Fix)
This was a complex diagnosis; it took time to dig through Girl Rising’s hundreds of rankings and figure out what was going on. And it took longer, because nothing on their website screamed ‘girl from it’ or NSFW. Their website looked clean and relevant.
After the diagnosis, the fix was easy. Not simple; it involved a fair amount of technical work. But it was fast to actually implement.
My hope is that by walking you through the technical work I had to do, and the above diagnosis, you can skip to the fast and easy implementation.
Of course, if you’d like to talk to me about fixing it for you, I’m available. I have 6 years of SEO expertise and I specialize in helping nonprofits.
Step #1: In-Depth Keyword Research
The first step was to identify the keywords that Girl Rising actually wanted to rank for. I already knew their brand, so this was just a case of figuring out how their target market searched in Google.
To identify a big list of relevant keywords, I used SEMrush. I plugged head terms (ex. “Girls’ education” “education nonprofit”) into SEMRush’ Keyword Magic tool, looked at Broad Match and Related Match, and exported them all into Excel.
I supplemented this by scraping the keywords that other orgs in this space (ex. Malala Fund, She’s the First) rank for and exporting those into Excel as well.
Then I just picked out the relevant keywords that Girl Rising wanted to rank for, and mapped those to specific pages. The home page was by far the most important.
(if you’d like an in-depth guide to keyword mapping, check out this blog I wrote, about halfway down the page)
Step #2: New Information Architecture
Once I had my relevant keywords mapped, I went through and wrote new titles, meta descriptions, and H1 tags for each page to conform to those keywords.
For example, I knew I wanted the home page to rank for keywords around “girls education” and “education nonprofit,” so I changed the title tag from “Girl Rising” (old) to “Girl Rising | Girls Education Nonprofit” (new).
This simple change, done across 160 pages, helped Google understand what Girl Rising did. The beauty of this strategy is it involved very little elbow grease; I didn’t have to rewrite tons of on-page content, I just had to tweak some short titles and descriptions.
One big change was changing their default title tag from, “Girl Rising – NAME OF PAGE” to “NAME OF PAGE | Girl Rising Education Nonprofit.”
(normally you don’t want the same phrase, like “Girl Rising,” in the title tag twice; in this case it was important because the name of one of their films is “Brave Girl Rising.”)
What’s important wasn’t changing the order of the terms, or replacing a dash with a vertical line.
What’s important was changing the default branded title tag from, “Girl Rising” to “Girl Rising Education Nonprofit.” This made it impossible for Google to miss the fact that Girl Rising was a girls’ educational nonprofit.
It also helped with branding, because Girl Rising’s documentary was SO well-received that lots of people thought that was all they did. By adding “Education Nonprofit” to many title tags, we showed users that Girl Rising is more than just a documentary.
(Hey, if you can kill two birds with one stone, why not? 😉 )
Step #3: Revised URL Structure
When I started with Girl Rising, most of their URLs were doing what’s called, “hanging off the root.”
Almost every URL was top-level; ex. https://girlrising.org/board and https://girlrising.org/financials and https://girlrising.org/brave. There were almost no subfolders.
This confused Google because Google looks at URL structure and subfolders to help it understand a website. A site with only top-level URLs is like a company hierarchy where every employee is called a vice president; if you want to get a sense of how that company operates, it’s not very helpful.
Ideally you want a site structure with subfolders like this:
I changed the URL structure to leverage subfolders and create a real hierarchy.
This helped Google to better understand Girl Rising’s website and what they offered.
The beauty of this strategy is that, again, it took SEO know-how but not much elbow grease. It required developing a comprehensive new URL structure. But actually writing and implementing the URLs only took a couple of hours across the whole site.
So, what happened once we updated the information architecture of girlrising.org?
Giving Google a new information architecture was like moving the rudder on the world’s largest aircraft carrier. The ship didn’t change course overnight, but over the next few months Google learned what Girl Rising is.
Total keywords they’re ranking on page 1-2 for rose 60.29% (from 340 to 545) from July 2021 (the month before I started) to February 2022.
Total keywords around “charity” and “nonprofit” that they’re ranking for rose 305.88%, from 17 to 52.
Total keywords around “education” that they’re ranking for rose 52.6%, from 114 to 174.
The net result is that by ranking for more relevant keywords, we substantially increased qualified organic traffic to the site.
Organic traffic rose 54.96%, from 2,973 visits in July 2021 to 4,607 in January 2022.
Not bad for a few hours of work!
DIYing Your SEO, Or Outsourcing the Problem
If your site’s ranking for a lot of irrelevant keywords, then I hope this blog gives you an in-depth blueprint to follow. If you follow these steps in a strategic way, I think you’ll see substantial gains.
And if you’d like help with this issue or SEO more generally; OR if you just want someone to do it for you and get your SEO working the way it should, feel free to reach out. I have 6 years of experience doing SEO full-time, I’ve seen and solved a lot of complex problems, and I’m happy to help.