Link Building Tips for the Nonprofit Niche
Before I became a link builder, I spent my days working with literary nonprofits (and my nights bartending, but that’s another story.)
I taught children to write poetry through The Cabin, a literary center. I read manuscripts for Ahsahta Press. I still write grants and pretty much run the show over at Big Tree Arts. To say that I think these nonprofits are important is a gross understatement. I felt guilty when I had to reduce my level of participation in pursuit of full-time work.
Nevertheless, when I informed these nonprofits that I found an exciting, writing-related job in SEO, they looked at me all dreamy-eyed and said something like “Oh, SEO! I wish we had enough time/money/patience to do that for our site.”
I admit, I initially thought something like, “But you’re the good guys! Link building is for those who want to sell things and destroy the democracy of the web for their own gain!”
With time and training, this matured into “I wish I could help you guys for free--”
And that’s what I’d like to do with this piece. Smart nonprofits know that building relevant links will help them become more visible in the organic search results. Ranking well in the SERPs is especially important to these organizations because they likely struggle with an undersized advertising budget and an oversized amount of rad activities, events, and actions that people should be able to discover via Google.
So this one is for you, my do-gooder friends. Here are some link building opportunities that work well for nonprofit organizations, some of which you can build in the time it takes you to call me a “sell out” behind my back (or give a poem to an orphan or whatever.)
Find Relevant Directory Listings
I’m assuming that if you work for a nonprofit, you’re somewhat familiar with the wealth of nonprofit directories online. These directories provide information about nonprofits to those who are interested in donating, volunteering, or comparing the salaries of executive directors to fast food managers.
There are many benefits to listing your nonprofit on these sites, and link building is certainly one of them. Even GuideStar, which is perhaps the most comprehensive and reputable nonprofit directory, allows you to list a website and a blog URL as part of your listing:
While GuideStar includes information for all nonprofits registered with the IRS, it can only include the information provided by the IRS unless you opt to help them out a little. Most other directories will require you to register with them, usually for free. These directories are easy enough to find via Google. A search for “nonprofit directory” yielded the following top results:
You can see that I failed to search incognito, as “Idaho Nonprofit Center” turns up as the third result. If Google knows your location, it can (and will!) turn up results relevant to your nonprofit’s location. If you dig a little deeper into just these results, you’ll find that The Idaho Nonprofit Center does list links to the sites of their current members, but you have to pay to play.
Idealist, however, lets you add your organization for free and will list a link or two for you:
You can see that I couldn’t use any of my favorite nonprofits as an example because they aren’t listed there. Listing your nonprofit on Idealist could help your organization both attract volunteers and build an easy link!
GuideStar, Idealist, and Idaho (or whatever your state is) Nonprofit Center are just a sample of high-quality nonprofit directories on the web. Just keep digging through the results, perhaps with these link prospecting tips in mind. Be wary of anything that seems low-quality. If it doesn’t list any nonprofits that you recognize, it may be wise to steer clear.
Still, you never know where you might find a legitimate site. I found Great Nonprofits through this blog post, aptly titled “Using Great Nonprofits for Link Building.” This article summarizes how link builders can use Great Nonprofits to build links for their for-profit clients on the websites of nonprofits. Which leads me to the next section...
If you’re a nonprofit that links to the websites of its donors, it’s possible that you’ve received a donation from someone who was in it for the link. This isn’t all bad, and not just because you received money from them. You now have a relationship with this company, even if it is only one URL deep.
And these are the kind of relationships that are wonderful to leverage when link building. You’ve already given them the link they wanted. Do they have a spot on their website where they could give a little link love back to you? Don’t be afraid to ask for it, especially if they’ve mentioned you by name but not by link (which I’ll discuss more in the next section.)
This tactic could work especially well for those companies that have gone to the trouble of forming some kind of partnership with you. If they’re helping you with an event, why don’t they write about it on their company blog with a nice link to your website? And if we’re thinking deeper than “you scratch my back, I scratch yours,” it wouldn’t hurt to give a local blogger a free ticket and personalized invitation to this hypothetical event with the understanding that they will cover it on their blog with a link to your site.
It can be as simple as asking whoever is covering your event anyway if they could insert a link to your webpage because you want people to be able to find more information. Or, if, for instance, The Cabin and Big Tree Arts were to partner up for a summer camp or some other kind of event, they could both cover it on their sites and include a so-relevant-it-hurts link to the other.
For more information on leveraging relationships in order to build links, check out this article.
Monitor Fresh Web Mentions
So what about those people that are already writing about your groovy nonprofit online but not including links to your website? Link builders like to turn these instances, what we call “fresh web mentions,” into links. And finding these mentions just involves setting up Google Alerts, which will let you know via email when someone mentions your organization, or specific keywords related to your organization. This is a great basic tutorial on finding these web mentions.
If you have an hour to burn and would rather find these mentions right away for free, you can also use good old fashioned search. These mentions won’t necessarily be fresh, but the can be revealing! Try a query like this that includes all possible variations on your nonprofit’s name:
-site:thecabinidaho.org -site:facebook.com -site:twitter.com "The Cabin" AND "Idaho" OR “Boise” AND "literary" OR “Log Cabin Literary” OR "thecabinidaho.org" OR "http://thecabinidaho.org/" OR "http://www.thecabinidaho.org/"
It may lead you to a mention like this one in The Idaho Statesman:
When looking at this clip, I immediately notice that they aren’t really linking out to anything, even where they want to. Notice that “readmetv.com” isn’t hyperlinked. The Statesman doesn’t link out within the copy of its web edition, but it does provide a list of “Related Links”:
Read Me Treasure Valley is, in fact, listed here. The Cabin is not. Why shouldn’t they be? They’re related to this piece. If I were building links for The Cabin, I would draft a quick, friendly email to the author of this piece asking that they include a link to The Cabin on this list. This should be easy to argue for; the Cabin’s site would give visitors more information about Susan Orlean’s upcoming reading, which is related to the fact that her book is the subject of Read Me Treasure Valley.
Searches like this may also unearth results like this:
This page, which talks about the origins of The Cabin’s building, mentions the site’s URL, but doesn’t link to it. This could be an error of omission, or could be because the image is linked back to its source-- The Cabin’s website.
Either way, it’s important to note that this is a great link from a .edu site.
Seek .edu and .gov Links
Ah, .edu and .gov links. For-profit businesses with the resources to build links want them because .edu and .gov sites tend to be looked at more favorably by Google (not because Google sets out to favor them, but because these sites tend to be more established and authoritative.)
As your nonprofit status implies that you are not looking to make a profit off of the links you build, it can be easier to argue that a link to your site adds value to these authoritative sites. In turn, links from these sites will help boost your rankings in Google.
The easiest way to ensure that you are getting these kind of links is to leverage your relationships and see where you’re already being mentioned. For instance, if you’ve received a grant from the Idaho Commission on the Arts, found at http://www.arts.idaho.gov/, chances are that they’ve mentioned this on their site:
None of these items are paired with outbound links, however. You could let the ICA know that they’re losing out on an opportunity to connect Idahoans to the projects they support. You could also look for other places they might link out to organizations on their site. The ICA, for instance, hosts a “Non-profit Arts Organization Directory” on their site, and both Big Tree Arts and The Cabin are listed on it. But the Cabin’s URL is out-of-date:
The Cabin’s website can be found at http://www.thecabinidaho.org, as reflected in the email address above. If I were building links for the Cabin, I would draft an email to the ICA’s Community Development contact person and ask them to update this URL (and the name of The Cabin’s executive director, too!)
In addition to their nonprofit directory, the ICA also has a page of “Writers’ Links,” which links to both Ahsahta Press and The Cabin. I can’t imagine that it would be difficult to get a link to Big Tree Arts’ site added to this page. The lesson here? Sometimes these sites can provide more than one link opportunity (but be careful with this-- you want links from a variety of unique domains.) However, if the link makes sense and would add value to the page, then there’s no harm in asking for it.
If you’re interested in seeking out .gov and .edu links that aren’t connected to previously established relationships, check out this article.
I’m sure that I’m not the only one who would like to see more poetry and positivity in my search results. Friends, by seeking out nonprofit directories, leveraging your relationships, tracking fresh web mentions, and taking advantage of .edu and .gov linking opportunities, you can help boost your ranking in Google without breaking the bank, which will draw more attention to the value you add to your community and the internet.