When disaster strikes across the globe, the internet can become a very competitive place. Charities often put increased effort into gaining exposure and support for their related interests, and the search engine results pages can get clogged up with authoritative news pages and multi-media content.

This climate can make it difficult for a charity to gain the exposure they need, so here are six things you can do to make sure your charity website is doing as well as possible in the search engine results:

1. Get your keywords sorted

Create a list of keywords that relate to the way your charity is helping with the disaster. In SEO-speak, a keyword is a phrase, not a single word. The longer and more specific the phrase, the more targeted it’s likely to be. Whilst a longer keyword may deliver fewer visits to your site than a generic keyword, people searching with it are likely to have greater intent and it may well lead to a greater percentage of conversions.

You should include generic keywords in your list, such as ‘East Africa Crisis Appeal’, as they’ll provide the context for your campaign. But remember that these keywords will probably be difficult to rank for because they’re so generic. Other charities are likely to be producing content around that subject and the news sites certainly will, so the keyword will be competitive and difficult to rank for: sites with higher authority will do better than you in the search results, just because they are more authoritative.

2. Get your content strategy sorted

In a moment I’m going to talk about driving traffic to your content but before you begin to do that, what are you going to drive people to? Begin by considering two sorts of content:

  • a single powerfully written page on your site: a strong story with a clear call to action that compels people to do something.
  • a constant stream of news updates as the disaster unfolds. In this scenario, velocity is everything. Aim to publish a few times a day or even hourly. Make sure that the pages are easy to tweet, easy to comment on, share, and bookmark.

Ideally your site should present a combination of these, a base-page providing visitors to your site with context and background, where they can spend time reading around the subject if they chose. This can then be balanced with short, frequent, topical updates on your blog or news pages.

3. Optimise your pages for people and for search engines

Whatever you content strategy, make each page as easy as possible for search engines to understand and prioritise, and for people to read and respond to:

  • Title tag: make sure that the title tags for your pages contain 60 to 70 characters, including spaces. Use relevant keywords to construct readable, descriptive and most importantly, make the title unique.
  • Page description: not a ranking factor in the search results but an important contributor to click-through-rate from search results. Make sure your description is between 150 and 160 characters long, including spaces. It should summarise the content of the page and ideally provide a reason for people to click from the search results to the page it relates to.
  • Headings and sub-headings: remember that many people want to scan a page, and often don’t get round to reading the content properly. Use headings, sub-headings, bold text, paragraphs and white space to make pages easy for people to to scan and for search engines to understand.
  • Links around your website: link to the page from strategic points around your site, remembering to use keywords in the links and not just using click here.
  • And… remember to include appropriate calls to action

Now you’re ready to begin driving traffic.

4. Pay per click

Pay per click advertising with a platform such as Google Adwords will be an expensive way to drive traffic to your site during a disaster, since it’s an obvious choice and bids on generic keywords will be high.

To get the best value for money here, try sponsoring the more specific specialist keywords that you came up with in part 1, above. You may wish to spend a bit of time developing your list of keywords using a tool such as the Google keyword tool. You should also consider setting up groups containing just one or two  keyword phrases, each of two or three words and using the modified broad match on all of them.

Finally, make sure that Google Analytics is reporting on the exact phrases searched for by setting up the filter.

5. Email newsletters

Your email database is one of your most valuable assets so be careful not to annoy them and risk them unsubscribing by cranking up the send frequency too high. But they will want to know what’s going on so maximise your use of email newsletters by:

  • providing pithy and relevant teaser text in your email newsletters, linking directly back to the content on your website. The sooner people are on you site, the sooner you’ve distracted them away from their other email and the greater the variety of content and calls-to-action they’ll have in front of them related to your subject matter.
  • make sure the online version of your newsletter sits on your own website, in a template that you control. Hosting the email newsletter somewhere else creates a potentially longer and less convenient journey to your conversion page or donation funnel, and provides more opportunities for people to drop out early… before donating.

6. Get your social on

Social media was made for disasters. Sorry, it sounds a bit grim but it’s true. It’s all about the velocity. At the very least, you need to be sending out constant updates into the Twittersphere. Keep your Twitter and Facebook followers informed with up-to-the-minute updates, and make sure you link back from your posts to the relevent page on your website. Get a discussion going if possible.

If you have or can create any relevant video content, make sure it’s optimised for search engines, and finally, for sites that have something unique to say and the resources to put into it, consider submitting your news content to Google News.