Getting that traffic is a major concern for many nonprofits, and one of the most common ways to do so is to invoke SEO practices. We've talked about SEO (search engine optimization) before. Basically, it's practices you can use in developing and maintaining your site in ways that help you secure better rankings in search engine results. If someone is searching for "youth sports in Baltimore," for example, and your organization provides these types of programs, you want to make sure that you show up in their search results-the higher your ranking, the better.
No one knows for sure what the algorithm is that search engines like Google use to rank pages, but there are some educated guesses. These have led to a variety of practices for making sure that your site ranks well. Using keyword phrases in your content and photo captions is an example of these methods. Having lots of inbound links can also make a difference. It makes sense to utilize these tools whenever possible. BUT, you want to make sure that you are playing by "the rules."
There are other tactics that can be used, too. Referred to as "black hat SEO," utilizing them can get your site penalized, and even blacklisted, by search engines. They consider black hat methods to be unethical and won't hesitate to punish you for using them. In a nutshell, doing the following things are "gaming the system," trying to get an unfair advantage over other sites.
- Keyword Stuffing: While you certainly want to use relevant keywords in your site's content, you don't want to go overboard. Some site designers will use long lists of keywords (sometimes that's all the site includes) to get the search engines to notice their page. Unfortunately, once the user clicks to the page, they find little useful information. Instead, work your keywords into the content in a natural way.
- Invisible Text: Invisible text is related to keyword stuffing, the main difference being that the words are made to be the same color as the background of the site. This means that users won't be able to see them and realize how "spammy" the site is. The search engines will still "see" the text, and the theory is that the page will rank higher for those terms. While this may have been the case in the past, it is now a major no-no.
- Doorway Pages: These are web pages that are created for the single purpose of being ranked by search engines and are geared specifically to that purpose by using other unscrupulous tactics. Once a user clicks to the page, he or she will be immediately redirected to a different page altogether, because that doorway page will not be useful.
These are just some of the more commonly used black hat SEO tactics. They are typically used by those who want to make some quick money and are not really all that worried about their sites being blacklisted or banned from search engines. For a nonprofit organization that is making a long-term investment with a web site, utilizing black hat tactics can kill their web presence and all the benefits that come along with it.
Your organization may be approached by SEO "experts" who will offer to get you higher search engine rankings. It is good practice to fully investigate any such company before agreeing to turn your site over to them. Look at what they're proposing and then do some research to make sure that their techniques are not considered black hat.