What is a backlink?

The most effective means to improve your Google ranking, has always been and still is, generating backlinks to your content. Sounds easy enough. But first, you must understand what a backlink is. Then you can avoid accidentally causing more harm than good.

A backlink is when a site other than yours hyperlinks their users to your site. In order to count as a backlink, it must be on a different domain. Each time someone else links their users to your content, it’s like a vote. A vote for your content being the best on the internet for that topic. The reason you’ve heard the name “Google” is because they were the first to realize this as a ranking factor. They use backlinks to bubble the most popular content to the top – a system called PageRank.

What makes one backlink more valuable than another

But not all votes are equal. A backlink from a very reputable website is worth more than one from an unknown. A single link from whitehouse.gov or apple.com could be worth a hundred or even a thousand regular links. Some backlinks can even have a negative impact if they’re from spammy or malicious websites. In that case, disavow them to tell Google you didn’t ask for nor do you want those backlinks.

There are two important aspects of a backlink – the URL and the anchor text. The anchor text is the actual text you click on to follow the link. Typically that would be blue and underlined. If the anchor text relates to the URL, title, metadata, and content, it’s like a boost to the vote.

How to generate more backlinks

It sounds easy enough to generate a few backlinks to your content. You can ask your friends with websites. You can leave a few comments on some open forums. Or even easier, you can hire one of those link building services online. What’s so hard about that? The problem is that every ranking system is eventually reverse engineered and gamed. So Google has ways of detecting malicious attempts to disingenuously improve your rank. Not only can it be ineffective, it can actually result in penalties being levied against your domain. Most SEO services promising quick rank increases or miracle jumps to page 1 are using networks of spammy websites. They only care about creating a temporary short term bump. This will have a negative impact long term.

That’s not to say that you can’t reach out to relevant and related webmasters and request a backlink. But, the best way to generate backlinks is always to write great, engaging content that people want to read. Then they will want to share. It can take longer, but the benefits of playing by the rules are bigger, better, and longer lasting.

Optimize every image for SEO

Optimize every image, every time. Make this a rule for your website. You’d be surprised how much image optimization can influence SEO – not only for regular search engine queries, but especially for image-only searches. To date, Google has not formally released any image or optical character recognition (OCR). That means there are only a few ways it can query images.

  1. File name
  2. Alt text
  3. Page content

Optimizing images for SEOTake this picture, for example. I’ve left the file name unedited for better attribution to the artist on Pexels.com. But if you were using it on your website, you could consider the context, placement, and keywords you are attempting to rank for. It might make sense to rename it with one of these methodologies:

  • Literally what is in the image: stethoscope-pen-appointment-book.jpg
  • What it might be used for: making-medical-appointments.jpg
  • What keywords you are targeting: doctors-without-borders.jpg

Use dashes in place of spaces. If you make it a habit every time to stay disciplined and choose a descriptive file name for every image, your site will be higher quality overall.

Alt text can be a bit more free form, but follows the same methodologies. You set it in the image tag like <img src=”stethoscope-pen-appointment-book.jpg” alt=”Stethoscope and pen on top of an appointment book”> Alt text is good for both SEO and site readers for the visually impaired. In our example, additional alt text examples might be “Making medical appointments,” or “Doctors Without Borders taking appointments.”

The rest is based on the content of the page. Keep images relevant, and supporting the central theme of your page. That will help your images rank giving you another stream of organic traffic to discover your message – both image searches and knowledge tiles!

Google My Business without an address

Google My Business is a great way to reach your customers when they are looking for services near them. You might have heard the term, “Local SEO,” before. Showing up for searches “near me” is a big piece of maintaining your local SEO profile.

But what if you don’t have a physical location? Maybe you’re a massage therapist who does in-home sessions with clients. Or a physical trainer who works out of several gyms but doesn’t necessarily have a store front. Are you still able to use Google My Business?

Luckily, yes! Google has an option to verify your business with a service area as opposed to a physical location. It’s easy. Just select the option, No, in response to whether you want to add a location customers can visit.

Google My Business without a physical location
Google My Business allows for you to advertise your business without a physical location customers can visit.

You do still need to provide an address to Google, however. They still need to verify your identity using a post card sent through snail mail. You can provide your home address, since it will never be shown on your business profile (unless you decide later to change your settings). Once verified, you can define your service area so people within range of your services can find your business.

Moz Link Explorer for Nonprofits

Moz.com is one of the leading authorities on Search Engine Optimization (SEO). How well your site performs on Google, Bing, and other major search engines can directly impact how much traffic you receive. The more traffic you receive, the more opportunities you have to convert visitors into new donors or volunteers. Monitoring and managing your SEO performance is an important contributor to your organization’s success in today’s digital landscape, and Moz is just one tool that can assist you.

Moz is free to use, and has a host of SEO tools that can help you monitor and maximize your performance. Link Explorer will tell you a lot about your website’s reputation. After you’ve registered for a free account, click on “Free SEO Tools” in the header, and then choose “Link Explorer.”

A free account is limited to just 10 searches per month, but if you are just maintaining one domain, that should not be a problem. Enter your root domain (your web address without https, www, or any folders, like example.org). Link Explorer will give you a few pieces of data.

Domain Authority

Domain Authority is a unitless number from 0-100 that predicts how well your site will perform on major search engines. It is mostly a measure of how many other domains link to yours, as well as how authoritative those domains are. A high domain authority score means you are likely to rank well for a lot of different keywords.

Inbound Links

You can see exactly which domains and pages on the internet link to your content, and what content they link to. This can help you identify your most valuable content and tell you where to spend your limited time. Does your canned food drive page have the most backlinks? Then it makes sense to hire that photographer for the next event, add some picture and videos to the page. A big button calling for volunteers can tell your users which call to action you want them to take.

Ranking Keywords

If you are ranking for certain keywords – even if you’re not ranked #1 – this can tell you where to focus your attention in the future. Add more content around keywords that you’re already ranking well on to boost yourself onto page 1. It’s a lot easier to know what to target by what you’re already doing quite well and push it to great! Page 1 rankings will give you significantly more traffic than anything below Page 1.

Explore Moz’s full offering and see how the data it provides can help you direct your efforts on advertising and content. Need help interpreting the report? Contact us today!

Choose a new domain name

Choosing a new domain name

First things first. When entering the realm of digital marketing, you need a website so people can learn about you and your mission, and that website needs an address. When selecting a domain, there are a few loose rules to abide by, and a couple of things to consider that are specific to charities and nonprofits trying to spread their messages.

Be unique

The first rule may be totally obvious, but your domain name must be unique. That means you need to make sure nobody else has already registered this domain. If it’s already taken, even if there is no website at that address, brainstorm another domain name. Procuring a taken name can be time consuming, and usually very expensive. There are a number of domain look-ups available on the internet. Just enter your desired domain name and find out if it is available.

Avoid approximating your desired URL through tricky or clever means. For instance, instead of charity.org, don’t register charlty.org (with a lowercase ‘L’). That can be confusing to your audience, and may be seen as spammy or untrustworthy.

Stay focused

Second, make sure your domain name accurately describes your organization or mission. It should do so easily without lots of explanation needed. If you have to add “but with two S’s instead of one, and a dash between the first and second word” then it’s not a great domain name. In general, domain names should be all one word, without dashes, and be as short as possible. For example, a charity named Project Inspire should register projectinspire.org. That is easy for others to link to, or share over the phone without a lot of explanation.

Get creative

Last, consider the top level domain (TLD) name. This might be .com, .org … or even .ninja. In general, reserve .com for commercial businesses. For nonprofits, the better designation is .org, as originally intended. Other TLDs like .edu, .gov, or .mil carry firm restrictions. But there are a whole host of new TLDs to choose from, so if it makes perfect sense for your organization you can explore these, or use them to get around the preferred .org being taken. Take an organization called Kids Camp. They could snag kids.camp as their domain. Just prepare to add to the end of every conversation, “Nope, just kids DOT camp, that’s the whole address, no .com on the end.”

In the end, don’t agonize too long over the perfect domain name. It is just one piece of a larger tapestry of digital marketing strategies and even a poor domain name can make it to page 1 of organic results with the right mix of tactics. Need help choosing or registering a new domain? Contact us today!

When to use a subdomain

When to use subdomains

There are two main ways to subdivide content – subdomains or subdirectories. I will henceforth refer to “subdirectories” as “folders” to avoid confusion between two similar “sub” terms. Folders are easily understood. They appear as slashed organizational groupings on your domain, just like folders on your PC. If you have several events to share, you might group them all under an events folder.

Content organized by folders

  • www.mycharity.org/events/food-drive
  • www.mycharity.org/events/car-wash
  • www.mycharity.org/events/fund-raiser

Is there ever a time when you wouldn’t want to use folders, but instead a subdomain?

Content organized by subdomains

  • events.mycharity.org/food-drive
  • events.mycharity.org/car-wash
  • events.mycharity.org/fund-raiser

The short answer is: No. I never advocate for the use of subdomains. Subdomains divide your domain in the eyes of Google. You must monitor and maintain the authority for each subdomain separately. Your ranking can suffer as a result. Most small non-profits already struggle to gain authority with limited content and backlinks. Dividing it even further makes no sense.

There are times, however, that require a subdomain. Subdomains are configured easily across different platforms or technologies. That is typically the #1 reason they are used. It usually stems from someone wanting to create a new or different web experience for a particular program or event. They might go out and purchase a dedicated (different) domain. Instead of having a different domain, subdomains can bridge the gap between them while maintain your branding and identity. If WordPress hosts your site, but Squarespace hosts a new event page, placing them side by side on your domain only requires a single DNS setting.

The best thing you can do is anticipate these needs, get in front of rogue web activities, and concentrate all of your content and users onto a single platform and domain. Your audience easily finding your content more than makes up for the small sacrifice in autonomy!

Google My Business optimization

Optimize your Google My Business listing

If you haven’t claimed your address on Google Maps yet, take a look at an early blog post titled Claim your address on Google Maps. There you will find instructions on how to set up ownership of your address. But once you do, what should you do to make the most of the opportunity?

Steps to Optimize Your Listing

  1. Make sure your information is correct. This includes:
    • Name of your business
    • Service categories
    • Address and service area
    • Operating hours (including any holiday exceptions)
    • Phone number
    • Website address
  2. Add a profile photo, cover photo, and long-form description of your business. This is a form of free advertising so make sure your brand is consistently applied across your web, social, and My Business listings to users can easily find and recognize you.
  3. Check your Insights to see how customers are finding you. Since 2013 Google has basically stopped sharing searched queries for organic search, but this is one of the few opportunities you will have to see what terms were googled that led to your listing being shown. You can then create or adjust your content to better serve your top queries.
  4. Check your reviews and reply! Users increasingly rely on online reviews for decision making. Even a scathing 1-star review can be an opportunity to attract more business. If you do have a couple of bad reviews, think about your brand’s tone when replying. Are you factual and defensive? Sarcastic and funny? Deferential and apologetic? Replying to a poor review shows that your business is active, online, and cares about customers. Offer some more information, an apology, and invitation to let you do better next time. You might be surprised how quickly you can turn public opinion with sincerity, but only if you are monitoring and replying.

Google My Business as an extension of your website

Think of your Google My Business listing as an extension of your website with serious draw for organic search. Offer the most requested information through your listing, but also in a very easy-to-find format on your website. A lot of users, especially on mobile devices, will click through the map listing to see your website. Whether it’s business hours or address, make sure that is prominently displayed (and double check it on mobile). Need help claiming your address or optimizing your listing? Contact us for help!

Claim a Google Maps address

Claim your address on Google Maps

Google Maps is one important way your audience will find you. Whether they are navigating to your physical address or not, the Google Maps widget on search results pages is some valuable real estate that you can claim ownership of. Once you’ve verified your ownership of an address, you can edit the information that is shown, upload nice pictures, and respond to any reviews that might have been left (especially if they were negative).

Claiming an address is fairly straight-forward, but it may take one to two weeks because it involves receiving a postcard via snail mail. To start:

  1. Go to https://www.google.com/business/
  2. Log in with the Google Account you want to manage your business with
  3. Enter the name of your business
  4. Depending on whether your business is already list on Google or not, you can either select it from an existing entry, or elect to create a new one.
  5. Enter all of the requested information from address to service area to contact information
  6. Finish and request a verification

When the postcard arrives, you’ll need to enter the code in the same interface and the the ownership of the Google My Business address will be complete!

Permanent 301 Redirects

The importance of 301 Permanent Redirects

It’s inevitable. Eventually, some how, for some reason, your pages are going to move or change names. You might reorganize your site structure. You might migrate to a new domain. Or you might just rename a blog name to something snappier for better SEO. Whatever the reason, any time you change a URL, the old link will break and present a 404: Page Not Found error.

404 Page Not Found Error

Reasons 404 errors are a problem

  1. First and foremost, it can be disruptive to your users. Even if you update all of your navigation, they might have bookmarks. Errors appear when visitors click on old bookmarks or emailed links.
  2. There may be a plethora of links back to the page you just moved. You may or may not ever know about them. Anyone on the internet can link back to your site (and that’s a very good thing). It could be an old tweet or Facebook post someone will reference years from now.
  3. Google’s bots crawl and evaluate those links to see how valuable your site is. Every backlink is a vote in favor of your domain being high quality. However, they ignore and delete any link that leads to a 404.
  4. If your page has Pagerank mojo that’s gotten you onto Page 1 of Google a 404 will remove it from Google’s index. Restoring that prestige can be difficult and time consuming.

How to avoid problems with 404s

Luckily there is a way to avoid these calamities when you’ve moved content. It is a 301 Permanent Redirect. (Note: You don’t need to fully understand the different kinds of redirects. Just remember that ONLY a 301 will give you the benefits you seek.) A 301 redirect will redirect all of your users to their desired content at the new location instantly and seamlessly. Don’t worry if the bookmarked link is out-of-date. They arrive at the new location. They won’t even realize they’ve been forwarded. It will also redirect all of Google’s bots so they can continue to crawl and value your content. It signals to Google to update the address they’ve stored in their index. The new page is associated with the old. This carries almost all of your previous SEO link juice with it … almost.

The truth is, the worst thing you can possibly do for SEO is move content. Before you embark on reorganizations or migrations, ensure it’s for a good reason that truly benefits you or your users. If there’s not a really good reason to move content, DON’T. However, if you must, then a 301 redirect will be your best friend. Not sure how to implement 301 redirects or accidentally tarnished your SEO in a migration? Contact us for help!

Meta descriptions impact CTR

Metadata Description can increase CTR

What is a metadata description? It’s a blurb about your page that tells a user what it is about, what they will expect to find, or what you want them to do when they arrive. Google often displays Metadata descriptions on the search results page just below your HTML Title. Here’s an example from the homepage of Dijon Marketing today:

metadata description

Here, we’ve explicitly set the metadata description to read, “Dijon Marketing specializes in digital marketing for registered 501(c)(3) charities – hosting, domain registration, email, web design, SEO, PPC, and more!”

How Metadata Descriptions Impact Search

In doing so, we hope that users who are searching related queries will see this description and want to learn more about the digital marketing offers we have. You’ll notice in this example, the words “Dijon Marketing” are in bold. That’s because the Google query used to pull up this result was “Dijon Marketing.” Google highlights where your query shows up in the results. This additional formatting helps you determine which result is most relevant to you at this exact moment.

If we had searched “domain registration” or “digital marketing for registered 501(c)(3) charities,” these terms might be highlighted in the metadata description. Keyword: might. Something else might happen when you alter the query to test your site’s performance on Google. The metadata description can change entirely. Google reserves the right to interrogate your page and try to find the best blurb it can compared to the user’s exact query. It might grab the first sentence of a paragraph, a heading, or piece together its own description from content on your page. In general, that’s a good thing! It can help people who don’t know your brand yet discover you and click through to your site.

The ultimate goal of the metadata description is to increase the click-through ratio, or CTR, to your site. Calculate CTR by taking the number of times someone clicked on your site divided by the number of times you were shown as a result.

Best Practices for Writing Metadata Descriptions

  1. Always manually populate the metadata description. Don’t rely on auto-generated or leave the field blank.
  2. Think about the description as an advertisement, an enticement, or a call to action.
  3. Place the most important or impactful language towards the front
  4. While Google has played with the length of characters they will show (from 160 to 320 back to 160), aim for around 160 characters. If you run on a bit long, Google will truncate you in the display and all that hard work after the “…” will be for naught.
  5. That said, a good description is better than a short one, so don’t fuss too much over exact character counts.

Need help identifying the right keywords, verbiage, and content for your metadata description and beyond? Contact us!