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The world of Search Enging Optimization (or SEO) has changed dramatically over the last few years. The genesis of SEO really begins with search engine technology. It may sound scary, but it doesn’t have to be.

SEO is probably a term most nonprofit leaders are familiar with but tend to depend on the resident technology expert, marketing pro, or even an intern to understand and manage. With the recent changes Google has made to its search engine technology, an SEO strategy that worked well just a few years ago may not be generating the same results today.

Your ability to be found online directly relates to your ability to engage your target audience and engage them through service, donations, and leadership. That means SEO is critical to achieving your mission and should be a top priority for nonprofit leaders.

Let’s quickly review those changes. (I promise not to lose you in geek-speak.)

The Early Days of SEO

Early on SEO was a programmer’s domain. Coders could gang the search engine algorithms (how it processes search requests and delivers results) by pasting keywords into the code. The user did not know they were there, but search engines would recogize them and rank organic (not paid) results accordingly.

This was a commonly accepted practice for years. Then Google decided to begin a series of corrective actions to eliminate the abuse that had become rampant and seemingly unmanagable.


The first wave of corrective action took place in 2011. It was called Panda. (Note: There is no real significance to the name other than Google prides itself on being clever.) The goal of Panda was to eliminate duplciate content. Having the same exact content in multiple places would be plagarism in a paper-based world. However, it worked well in the digital world because it played to the fault of the search engine cacluations.

Panda’s implementation caught the attention of those who had come to depend on search traffic to drive conversations and business. Companies who had built their search rankings using these unruly approaches were penalized greatly. And when you move from a top spot (above the fold) on the first page to the second page…or worse…well…you practically don’t exist anymore.


But Google wasn’t finished yet. The next corrective action came just a year later when Penguin was released in 2012. The goal was to cut down on unnecessary “link baiting” that was taking place. Companies would spam digital websites, leave phony reviews, and place links to their website just about everywhere. The more times your links appeared, the search engine treated you as more “credible.” While clearly not true, this was the logic used at the time.

The results of this move by Google were devastating to some. Let’s just say that Google really turned the SEO market upside down and upset just about everybody in the industry. But they weren’t finished.


The most current wave of corrective action took place in 2013 and was called Hummingbird. It was grounded in connecting original content with the original author. It was a chance to humanize the process and give a lift to legitmate people and organizations who were contributing valuable content to the marketplace.

The goal of Hummingbird was to personalize the search experience in a way where Google knew what you meant even if that wasn’t what you said. It is based around the discipline and theory called semantic search.

With Hummingbird came new initiatives like Authorship and Author Rank. Google Authorship is a way to verify and connect a human being and the original content they create. Author Rank is still a theory at this point but rests on the idea that influence can be quantified and should influence search rankings. There still is a lot of work to be done related to this before Author Rank is ready for its debut.

Given these changes, it makes sense to ask yourself: what should I do about it?

Five Steps Nonprofits Should Take

There are five immediate steps you should take to ensure your web presence is consistent with the corrective actions Google has taken in recent years:

  1. Discuss these changes with your current SEO consultant or company who supports your digital rankings. Verify their habits and practices have changed. Ask them to explain what they are doing differently today than they were 12–36 months ago.
  2. Discuss these changes with your internal staff responsible for SEO. Make sure they understand the implications of these changes and that appropriate adjustments have been made in search strategy.
  3. Conduct a code audit to ensure no keywords have been painted into the foundation of your site. If they have, remove them. Also, ensure proper Authorship tags exist in the header, so Google can appropriately connect original content with the original author.
  4. Develop a content marketing system that will ensure you are consistently producing original content and that it is connecting with real people. You need a system; otherwise, you won’t be able to sustain your effort. SEO isn’t a separate initiative from content marketing; they are deeply connected.
  5. Increase your budget for web strategy and web development. We live in a digital and mobile-centric world. If you can’t be found online or in a way that is easily consumable based upon my device of choice, I won’t find you nor interact with you if I do.

You don’t have to be scared of the SEO conversation. It is a maturing one that is becoming more human—a natural progression if you will. Just like other types of marketing, never lose sight of the people you want to reach and the impact you want to make. Those two things will carry you through these changes and those that will follow.

Are you confident your SEO strategy is working for you and not against you?

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