Why SEO is Harder For Non-Profits Than Businesses


By Jay Adamsson

There is certainly no shortage of search engine optimization tips, tricks, advice, and rules available on the internet. However, the vast majority of the articles you will find are oriented towards business sites, not non-profit or charitable organizations. Despite there being a large overlap between the SEO tactics for businesses and non-profits, there are some fundamental strategic differences.

The most fundamental difference, of course, is the purpose of the organization. Businesses exist to make money. An investment has to have a positive financial return, bringing in more money than was expended. Money is the objective. For non-profits, this is flipped on its head. Money is not the objective, but it is the constraint. Whatever the objective of the non-profit organization, there are very few that have an unlimited pot of money, so they have to figure out how best to achieve their goals within the constraint of their budget.

Optimizing for non-profits is, in my opinion, a much more difficult problem. The objective is often more difficult to quantify, making evaluation more difficult.

So, how does this affect search engine optimization. On the surface, it seems that it is the same beast – get the highest rankings and the most visits possible. But that’s only the first layer of the puzzle. Not all visitors are equal. While the business has the option of just increasing their budget and ignoring the bad hits (so long as the overall profit keeps growing), the non-profit does not have that flexibility. Increasing an investment in one area means reducing an investment elsewhere.

That means that evaluating your effectiveness is even more important. But it’s also harder.

Many non-profits invest in SEO or pay-per-click advertising, and judge the impact of their efforts through website hits. But that isn’t good enough. The organization has to go further, and determine the value of a visitor. Since it’s not about the profit, this is not an easy task, but it is possible, especially if the website is developed with this in mind.

Search engine optimization is not just about increasing your ranking and hits. It is much more difficult and complex that that. And if you’re a non-profit, the task is even more difficult.

So, what can you do? Many of the business-oriented tactics do apply, which is good. But evaluating their effectiveness is somewhat different when you don’t have a profit objective. It all comes down to determining a value of your visitors, which comes from your organization’s objectives. Why do you exist? What is a first-time visitor worth? Does a repeat visitor indicate success more than a first-time visitor? How about a subscriber? Someone who donates? What are the different levels of engagment, and what is each of them worth? These are all very difficult questions for an organization to answer, but they are essential for a true SEO effort for non-profits.