Published: 17 June 2011

How can you get to the top of Google for anything?

You can’t, says Matt Haworth. Sorry about that.

Plenty of people make lots of money telling charities that fooling Google is as simple as stuffing your pages with key words and buying some new web addresses. If that worked, then the results for any search would just be sales pitches.

Follow these five steps to create valuable content instead and get rewarded with more visitors to your website.

1. Get real!

If you’re a gambling addiction charity, you’ll never get to the top of Google for the term ‘gambling’ no matter how hard you try – gambling companies have more resources.

Set your sights on more specific terms such as ‘gambling addiction’ or ‘gambling support’, even though searches for ‘gambling addiction’ are 20 times less popular than for  ‘gambling’.

This works to your advantage. There are fewer websites competing to get to the top of Google for ‘gambling addiction’  and people searching are more likely to be looking for support than to play online.

You’ll find it much easier to get results if you focus on 20 more specific search terms instead of one general term. The visitors you’ll get will be more targeted too. Check the popularity of search terms specific to your charity using Google’s free Keyword Research tool.

2. Give them what they want

It sounds obvious, but we use Google because we’re looking for something. Try to consider what someone searching for ‘gambling addiction’ from the privacy of their computer is looking to achieve.

Perhaps they’re looking for support there and then. Maybe they’re looking for a support group for someone they know. If you create useful, relevant and interesting content that responds to these needs, you’ve taken the first step to search engine success.

For our example you might consider writing articles titled ‘Five signs you have a gambling addiction’ or ‘Recovering from gambling addiction’.

3. Use your reader’s words

Working for a charity, it can be all to easy to slip into using jargon.You can have the best-crafted and most professionally-written support guide about ‘cognitive behavioural interventions’ on the internet, but if people are searching for ‘counseling’ then they’ll never find it.

Writing in plain english, using your reader’s words, is kind to your readers, as well as Google. People search using language they’re familiar with, often in a conversational style – sometimes even typing full questions into the search box.

 Good writing for search engines is just good writing.

4. Get to the point

Organising your content will make your article easier to read and easier to find on Google. Keep your title descriptive. People don’t search for puns, and as smart as Google is, it doesn’t have a sense of humour. Use your page title to make it clear what people can expect when they click.

A short introduction should follow your page title, summarising the key points of the article, leaving the detail until later. This writing style is called the inverted pyramid and helps Google as well as your reader. Breaking up the text with headings adds white space to your page, makes it easier to read and the main points easier to find. Google also looks for headings to guess the important themes of your page.

Create a descriptive web page address (URL). Tell Google your page is about making a donation to your charity by making the location of your page yourcharity.org.uk/donate. Shorter, friendly-looking URLs also look good on your leaflets, brochures and annual reports.

5. Build trust with links

If you build it, they won’t necessarily come. One factor Google uses to promote pages in its results is popularity. The more websites that link to your page, the higher up search results that page will appear.

Many charities strive to be featured in the news and big media websites like bbc.co.uk or guardian.co.uk, as they have a big impact on search engine positioning. If you’re featured in a breaking news story, ask for a link to your website. Today’s newspapers are tomorrow’s chip wrappers, but online news will send visitors to your website for months, even years.

It’s not all about big news, though. It’s easier to share your pages on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, and bloggers might pick up on your interesting article and feature it on their blogs.

In summary…

Search engines pay the most attention to two things: relevance to the search and the trustworthiness of your site. Get these two factors right using the tips above and get more, targeted visitors to your website.


Matt Haworth, co-founder, Reason Digital

Reason Digital is a digital communications agency especially for not-for-profits.