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052 – SEO Secrets for nonprofits, with Brandon Leibowitz

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We’re happy to have Brandon Leibowitz on the show! Since 2007, Brandon has been running and operating SEO Optimizers, a digital marketing company based in LA that focuses on helping small and medium-sized businesses get more online traffic, which in turn converts into clients, sales, and leads.

We bought him to the show to talk about the importance of SEO for nonprofits, backlinks, analytics, optimizing your website for conversions, and more!

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Episode Transcription

David Pisarek: Welcome to the Nonprofit Digital Success Podcast. I’m your host David and in this episode, we’re going to be covering the importance of SEO for nonprofits and charities with my guest, Brandon Leibowitz.

Since 2007, Brandon has been running an operating SEO Optimizers. They’re a digital marketing company based out of LA that focuses on helping small and medium-sized businesses get more online traffic, which in turn, converts into clients, sales, leads, etcetera. It’s a little bit different in the nonprofit and charity world than in the business world, but it’s really important to think of yourself as a business.

You need to drive traffic to your site, you need volunteers, you need to get people to come to your events, you need donors and very similar lessons. Brandon, thank you for joining the show today, looking forward to hearing from you.

Brandon Leibowitz: Yeah, thanks for having me on today.

David Pisarek: So, what is it that gets you really excited about SEO?

Brandon Leibowitz: SEO is a way to get free traffic, so you don’t have to spend money on ads. Like helping people save money because the ads work, but they’re just expensive, and once you stop running ads, you just disappear. Whereas with SEO, you stop doing SEO, you’re not just going to disappear completely, you’re still going to be ranking for the most part until your competitors do more SEO than you’ve done and try to outrank you. But SEO, search engine optimization, is just a long-term strategy to help tap into that free traffic from Google.

David Pisarek: So, SEO is Search Engine Optimization. Can you define it for everybody in case anybody hasn’t heard of it before?

Brandon Leibowitz: It is ranking websites on Google. When you search on Google or any search engine there are ads at the top, those are all paid ads, right below the ads are organic, the free listings, and SEO is getting you in the free listing, so you’re not paying for the ads.

David Pisarek: One of the things I think a lot of people think about, is: they’ll go to Google, and they’ll search for their organization name, and if they come up, that’s really great. But is that a good strategy?

Brandon Leibowitz: Searching for your own company name is called “Branded Search” where “This is your brand”, If you’re not showing up for your brand name, that’s a big red flag that something’s wrong because you should show up for your brand’s name unless it’s a really common name. Then Google might mix you up with other people and not know what your company name is, but you don’t really want to rank. I mean, you want to rank for your brand name, but that’s not going to get you new eyeballs.

To get new people you want non-branded keywords, keywords that don’t mention your brand name because imagine you search for Target: you know Target, you’ve been there before, and you might not have been there, but you know about Target. You’ve heard of them versus someone searching for “men’s sunscreen” and then Target ranks for that. That’s going to get them a sale versus someone, or a new eyeball hopefully. I mean, they might have been to Target before in the past, but they’re searching for a keyword that doesn’t include the brand name.

And that’s really what you want to focus on: making sure that you show up for non-branded keywords because that’s going to get new people, and new eyeballs on your content. It’s good to have your branding, you definitely want to make sure you have that one ranking, but, ultimately, it’s the goal for SEOs and non-branded keywords.

David Pisarek: Right. And I think that’s a really great point, you need to think about what it is that people are going online and searching for that you want to show up for. What are those keywords? Do you have any strategies in terms of what people can think about in terms of researching the keywords that they might want to show up for?

Brandon Leibowitz: I would just go into Google search for your keywords, see who’s on that first page of Google and look at it. When you search on Google, there are ads. Skip over the ads and look at the organic free listings, and you could see this blue clickable link, which is called an SEO title tag. That’s where everyone puts their keywords.

You could just quickly search for your keywords and see what other people are using. You could see synonyms, plurals, variations, and industry jargon that you maybe never heard of, and that will give you ideas.

I would just make a big list with as many keywords as possible. Don’t hold back, just write down as many keywords as possible. Searching in Google is going to let you spy on your competitors, and if it’s on that first page of Google, they’ve done something right, and they’re more than likely to do it in keyword research.

They’re not just picking around keywords, I mean, some people are, but to get to the first page you are going to do some stuff. I would look at what they’re doing and then use different tools like the Google Keyword Planner, it’s a free tool from Google that will show you how many people actually search for those keywords.

Just because your competitors are using it doesn’t mean it’s the most accurate or relevant keyword. It might have been good five years ago, but maybe it’s time to change where people search for different variations of that word.

You are going to always double-check using different tools, the Keyword Planner from Google it’s a free tool, and it’s from Google. I would use that one first, but there are plenty of other paid tools. If you want to buy a paid tool that will show you how many people search those keywords, they just make it look prettier/nicer, but they’re just taking their data from the Google Keyword Planner and just making it look more presentable.

David Pisarek: If you’re listening, we’re going to have a link for Google Keyword Planner on our show notes page, just go over to nonprofitdigitalsuccesspodcast.com and search for this episode, and we’ll have all the links that Brandon and I chat about today. So yes, it’s important you go into Google.

If your organization focuses on dementia, let’s say June is Alzheimer’s awareness month, go in and search for that and see what other similar organizations are doing and the words that they’re using. I think that’s a good piece to pull out.

Brandon Leibowitz: Yeah, it’s a quick, easy way to do it without, again, being too technical. Just searching Google, Google will then pretty much show you everything you need to know.

David Pisarek: Fantastic. And one thing to mention is SEO is a long-game strategy, right? You start making some changes to your site. It’s not going to happen overnight, it does take time. So, Alzheimer’s awareness month, if that’s something that you want to focus on, you need to be working on that a few months in advance. Do you have any tips with regard to how far in advance an organization should be thinking about things?

Brandon Leibowitz: Yeah. SEO is not immediate, unfortunately. If you want immediate results, paid ads will get you that immediate traction. SEO takes a couple of months. If you’re a new website, it could take six months or a year. I mean, it just depends on how competitive the keywords are that you’re trying to target, because it’s not really a “one size fits all” SEO, it really just depends on your website versus the competitors. How much SEO have you done versus the competition?

That’s all that matters. We don’t care about Google (or its algorithm) because it changes every single day, and if you try to figure out how Google works, tomorrow’s going to change, and every single day it’s going to keep changing. But who’s on that first page of Google? That’s really what matters: Who’s on that first page of Google? How much SEO have they done? And if you’re a brand-new website, it really comes down to these backlinks.

The backlinks are what rank websites. Backlinks are clickable links from other websites that point to yours.

If you’re reading an article like the LA Times, and it says Brandon Leibowitz and you click on it, and it goes to my website, I’d be getting backlinks from the LA Times. The more websites that talk about you, the more trust Google’s going to give to you, and then they look at the keywords on your website to figure out how to rank you, but it doesn’t really work the other way around.

Without backlinks, it’s almost impossible to rank on Google, and the way to figure out how long it’s going to take you to rank is, you have to figure out how many backlinks you have versus the websites on that first page of Google.

If you’re a brand-new website, and you only have five backlinks and your pairs have 500 backlinks, it’s going to take months, maybe even a year to rank. If they have 5,000 backlinks, it might take a couple of years because they built it up over the years with so much trust and authority from Google that you have to find keywords that just aren’t dominated by big players. If you are a new website and your competitors only have five backlinks, and you have five backlinks, you should be able to rank for your keywords within maybe a month or so, but it just depends on those backlinks.

Backlinks are really the biggest factor with SEO, it’s trying to figure out how many backlinks you have versus the competitors.

Usually, people say on average, it takes about six months to rank a website, but again, it’s not really a “one size fits all”, every website’s different, and every keyword search is going to be different. So you just have to figure out where the disconnect is between you and your competitors.

David Pisarek: If you get a Spam-ish kind of email, and it says, we will rank you number one in Google in a week, ignore it. It’s not true. Throw it out, forget about it and move on. If we can just geek out for a second, Brandon, there’s something called Domain Authority, right? And what is Domain Authority, and how does that play into your SEO backlink strategy that you’re talking about?

Brandon Leibowitz: Google made page rank, that’s how they rank websites, and that would be a scale of zero to 10. Unfortunately, they stop showing you what your page rank is. In the past you could see “oh, I’m a page rank four” or “I’m a page rank seven” which is really high up there, but Google took that away a long time ago.

Other third-party tools came in and made their own ranking system where they’re trying to guesstimate what Google is, but these are all third-party tools that are not Google.

You can look at them, and take them with a grain of salt, but just because you have a high Domain Authority doesn’t mean anything with Google because there are ways to manipulate that Domain Authority. People sell backlinks and the higher the Domain Authority, the more someone’s going to buy it for. There’s Moz, which has Domain Authority, and page authority.

There’s Majestic, Trust Flow, Citation Flow, there’s Ahrefs which has its own metrics. What I do is I look at all of them because if it has a high Moz Domain Authority, it might have a really low trust score and citation score from Majestic, which is really important and that’s where a lot of people don’t look at. I would look at that one over Moz, is mandatory, because it gets so spammed and all of them are spam, they’re not Google’s. It helps, but just take it with the grain of salt because it’s not accurate at all, just guesstimating and there are ways, unfortunately, to manipulate it.

David Pisarek: Right? Domain Authority, ultimately, is like how trustworthy your site is and how popular you are. And if you can get a link from a big name like LA Times to link to your organization, that would have a higher trust factor in terms of Google and their secret sauce algorithm that nobody really knows what the right formula is.

If you can get listed, if you can get some media attention, if you can get somebody somewhere on a big enough site to drive backlinks back to you for a specific article or a topic, or maybe a profile of your CEO or executive director, you might be able to increase your SEO ranking.

Brandon Leibowitz: Yep, a scale of zero to a hundred for Moz, Majestic, and Ahrefs. All these other third-party tools. They go from zero to a hundred. Google went from zero to 10, similar, but they’re just guesstimating it. It is looking at different metrics like Majestic, looking at Trust Flow. And then they’re also looking at Citation Flow because they don’t want to just look at one aspect. They want to make sure that you’re getting good backlinks and that they’re also trustworthy and not spammed because if you get the wrong type of backlinks instead of ranking higher, you actually drop down in rankings. But the biggest part with the backlinks is relevancy, making you find websites that are related to you.

You just don’t want to be on any website, you have to be on websites related to you, that’s really number one.

Authority is definitely important, but relevancy is the most important because Google looks at relevancy for everything. How relevant are the keywords on your website? The keywords that people are searching, how relevant are the backlinks to your website? Because if you’re a mechanic, an automobile shop, and then you’re getting backlinks from a doctor, that looks a little weird. Why is it a doctor linking to a mechanic? But if the mechanic has other automobile shops or car manufacturers linking them, that makes sense. You want sites that are related to you, and that authority is great too.

Again, the big publications help out a lot because those are just so trusted, Google looks at the big websites and trusts them a lot more than smaller websites. Bigger websites get a lot more SEO value that’s passed onto your website.

David Pisarek: For sure. If there are any associations or governing bodies for your organization, connect with them, and see if they can list you on their site, because then you’ve got the relevancy factor in there. There might be other organizations that you have partnerships with. Maybe they’re not doing the same type of work that you’re doing in your nonprofit or charity, but maybe they’re doing something kind of similar, or you have a bit of a joint venture type of thing going on. Have conversations with them about linking back and forth with each other. And that’ll help you and that’ll help them.

Brandon Leibowitz: Yep. The more sites like that, BBB, Chamber of Commerce, any of that stuff. And as for spying on your competitors, is going to show you all of their backlinks, seizing tools like Ahrefs or Moz or Semrush, all these paid tools. You could throw anyone’s website in there and see all their backlinks.

David Pisarek: And these tools are not very expensive either. We’re probably talking like $40, $50, $60 a month kind of thing, somewhere kind of in there. Or you can hire an expert that’s already using the tools like Brandon and his team over there at SEO Optimizers and have them help you out with a solid strategy that will help you. I think it’s obvious what the benefits of SEO are, but Brandon, do you want to talk about that a little bit?

Brandon Leibowitz: Well, it’s just really getting that free traffic. That’s the main thing, so you don’t have to keep spending money on paid ads. Tapping into that free traffic. People trust the organic more than the paid ads on Google, but the main benefit really is the free traffic you’re going to get.

David Pisarek: Who wouldn’t want free traffic, right? You don’t have to take out ads, you’re just putting some content on your site that’s rich in keywords. And what it is that people are looking for on your site? Take a look. If you don’t have analytics installed on your site, get analytics on your site and look through the data on a weekly/monthly basis. See what people are searching for that are coming into your site and produce more content around that because that’s obviously a topic of interest that is going to drive more traffic to you.

Brandon Leibowitz: Yep. You have to have analytics. If you don’t have Google Analytics or Google Search Console, both free tools, you’re really kind of just going blindly. Their data is there to show you what’s working, what’s not working, what pages get the most traffic, which pages get the least amount of traffic, and which pages get the most traffic but have the most amount of people leaving immediately, which you’re not going to get if you’re just running Facebook ads.

There’s a thing called the bounce rate, which shows you how many people came to your website and left immediately and a lot of people don’t know that their bounce rate might be like 90% of the traffic that they’re sending from Google Ads or Facebook Ads, leaving immediately. That’s where you have to really dive into, the analytics.

Look at the data and just make more statistically informed decisions about what’s working and what’s not working.

David Pisarek: And that’ll also give you some details in terms of referring domains, you can see where you’ve got backlinks coming in, and it’s built into Google Analytics for free. If you don’t have it already, go and sign up, it’s free. Get it on your site right away and start looking at the data, give it a couple of weeks so that you have a bit more robust information in there. And you know, talking about websites, it’s great! After listening to this episode, you’re going to go “ok”, and you’re going to start producing content that’s rich in keywords, that’s going to drive traffic to your site.

But then we need to convert, right? And we need to turn those into people that are either going to be following you or donating or looking to volunteer or getting more information about a program or a service that you might be offering. Do you have any tips on how people can optimize their websites for conversions?

Brandon Leibowitz: We just really make sure that you have all the information at the top of your website because what people see on a website is called “above the fold”. Most people will never scroll down, so have all the important information at the top of your website: a good call to action, a value proposition, explaining what they’re going to get out of it. Maybe have a video up there or just really minimal, less is better.

And then you could have a bunch of text and stuff below that. But the top above a fold needs to just really be having the most important things. Not having too many distractions, especially with mobile. You don’t want to have it cluttered, less is better, but it’s all about just testing: seeing what’s going to work, and what’s not going to work.

You could AB test your website and split test traffic: half the traffic gets one version, and half the traffic gets another version. You can see which one converts better because there is no perfect website, you should always be testing and tweaking it.

David Pisarek: And that’s where the analytics can help you out, right? You can take a look at the data and see what people are clicking on, and what might resonate more than others if you’re going to do split testing. You can take a look at the colors that you’re using, or you can take a look at the wording that you’re using on those calls to action, that will make it stand out and work better.

One thing to note, scientifically you should only change kind of one thing at a time so that you can properly know “okay, well, this is what it is”. If you want to change the color, change the color, but don’t change the color and the words and the position of it, because then you don’t know what it is that actually increased the click-through rate or the conversion from that.

Brandon Leibowitz: Yeah, one at a time. You don’t want to go too crazy unless you’re getting a ton of traffic, but even then it’s still going to be complicated. If you have a ton of traffic, you could test a lot more, but usually, it’s best.

Just one thing: keep it less, simple is better, and then you could just keep testing and testing and see what’s working.

Test out against something else and then find the winner. Test out against something else, find the winner, test out again and keep on testing because there’s no perfect website.

David Pisarek: And that’s true for your email marketing as well, right? When you send out an email, if you’re using Mailchimp or Constant Contact, and you’re sending stuff out, try changing maybe the time of day or the day of the week that you send that message out, and do it three or four emails in a row, and then you’ll have some pure data to really identify what it is that worked.

Brandon Leibowitz: Yep, you just have to think about who is your audience. Are they parents? Then maybe you want to send it before they’re sending their kids to school or maybe in the afternoon when they have some free time, or after they pick up their kids. If you’re selling concert tickets, maybe you want to send your emails out on Thursday to let people know about the concert on Friday or if it’s on the weekend.

Just have to try to figure out who is your audience. When are they going to be aware? And how do you get to them at the right time before it’s too late? Just try to take a step back, and put yourself in the user’s point of view.

David Pisarek: I think that’s really solid advice. Take a look at your analytics. Well, first have analytics, then take a look at the analytics and make iterative changes over time so that you can better improve what it is that you’re doing. And in terms of improving what you’re doing, social media is kind of all over the place. It’s in our faces. It’s getting more and more popular, and more people are using it, certainly during COVID over the last three years. How can you use social media to help grow your organization?

Brandon Leibowitz: Well, it just depends if your audience is on there or not.

Take a step back and think, who is my audience, and where are they going to be?

If you’re a dentist or something like that, probably not going to get too many people coming to you on social media, like Instagram or Facebook, or Twitter. They are probably not looking for dentists through there, but if you’re selling a product or something where it might go viral, that works really well. Or if you’re like a musician or sports, those work really well on social. But like myself, I’m an SEO company, many people are going to go on social media to find me, but I use social media to put a face to the company, to let people know that I’m a real company, that they can ask questions, they can read reviews, they can see status updates.

Social is usually a way for once people have found you online. Then they vouch for you and check you out on Yelp or social media or TripAdvisor or whatever it may be to check your reviews and make sure you really are who you say you are. Social helps in a way that just builds trust and gets new clients too, but really get to run paid ads, for the most part, because there’s no reach, there’s no engagement anymore.

So social has really become a pay-to-play platform. If you want visibility and exposure, you have to advertise just because your reach is so low, like on Facebook. Five out of a hundred people that like your page will never see what you post, so boost it up and advertise. It’s really tough to get that engagement. You spend all this time getting a hundred likes and five of those people will never see what you post, the rest of the people will never see it unless you advertise to them.

Kind of tough to do social nowadays, but if that’s where your audience is at, you need to be there. It’s just really trying to figure out who is your audience and where are they at and what platforms are they on. You don’t need to be everywhere, just need to be on the ones that they’re on.

David Pisarek: And I think that’s a very fair point. Find out where your donors, your volunteers, the people that care about the work that you’re doing, where they’re hanging out and going to those spaces. It might be TikTok, or it might be Twitter, or it might be LinkedIn. You can reach out to your donors, you can reach out to your volunteers and ask them “Hey, what social platforms are you using?” and do like a little bit of a survey, try to dig in and get some information about that and go after one of those platforms to start.

Then maybe go after a second platform after that, but connect with them, and let them know that you’re on those platforms. And even if you have staff, let them know that you’re on there and when you post something, if it’s big enough, maybe send an email to all of your staff and be like “Hey, if you have a minute, go on and like this, or share it” or something like that. I know it seems a little disingenuous to do that, but you need to start building your audience from somewhere.

Brandon Leibowitz: Yep. It helps out cross-promote as much as you can and try to tap into as many sources of traffic as you can. Just make sure that’s for your audience, that’s the main thing. Just figure out where are they and how you want to get in front of them at the time. If they’re on Google, Yelp, TripAdvisor, or Amazon. They all have algorithms. It’s just making sure that you optimize to get yourself rank higher.

David Pisarek: Exactly. And on those platforms, you want to be posting content that you have on your site to drive traffic back into your site. The social platforms have their own part to play in Google’s algorithm as well. And you know, that kind of pulls it all together, and I wanted to ask you: does SEO work in 2022? Is SEO still something that people should care about?



Brandon Leibowitz: As long as there are search engines, and as long as the search engines aren’t full of ads, SEO still works, but if Google’s just full of ads, then SEO’s not going to work. But I don’t think Google’s going to do that because people don’t want just a page full of ads, but we’ll have to see what happens in the future. If there are no more search engines, then there’s no more SEO.

Just trying to figure out what’s going to happen, are there still going to be search engines? Are people going to be searching in the future or are we just going to be tapped into something and don’t have to search, or living some alternate reality in the metaverse, or who knows?

David Pisarek: I think it’s important to still focus on SEO. I think Google and Bing, which also powers Yahoo in terms of database, I think they’re still going to be around for some time, people are using the platforms, and they’re monetizing them by selling ads.

Maybe down the road, they’ll probably have more ads and try to drive more revenue that way. But I think probably for the next year or two, we’re probably safe with how things are, but then again, who knows? Maybe they’ll go and just shake things up and kind of stir the pot a little bit.

Brandon Leibowitz: Yeah, we’ll see. But ever since I’ve been doing SEO since 2007, they’ve been saying SEO’s dying out, and I don’t think SEO’s going anywhere anytime soon, but who knows? Ever since I’ve been doing it, people said SEO is going to be done, that was in 2007, and they’ve been saying that even before I started doing SEO, so I feel like people just say that to scare people off because they don’t want them to do SEO or if they want them to run paid ads and make Google more money.

David Pisarek: One thing to pay attention to, in my opinion, is don’t just put a bunch of keywords into an article. You want to make sure that it’s relevant to the content that’s in there. Do you have any “what you shouldn’t do” moments that you can mention?

Brandon Leibowitz: Don’t build backlinks that are low quality or from irrelevant websites, the backlinks are really the tricky part.

For the content, the main thing is just don’t have duplicate content, don’t reuse the same content on multiple pages on your website. Don’t throw keywords in there. Spamming people. Don’t hide your content in font size 0.01, and white background, white text, and stuff like that, which is pretty obvious that you’re manipulating or tricking Google.

The backlinks, you could be getting backlinks, and you think they’re good backlinks, but they’re actually bad ones. Just gotta be very, very careful making sure they’re relevant, making sure they’re not from spammy sites, making sure they have some trust and authority, you have to be careful. That’s the tricky part of the backlinks.

David Pisarek: Some amazing insights today, Brandon, thank you so much. Everybody listening, I want you to take action on something that Brandon spoke about today. Go, maybe change the title of your homepage, just a little bit, just tweak it just a little bit to put that keyword, maybe as the first word in the title, and see over the next two months, what happens? Or three months or four months, what happens with your website, with your traffic? I don’t think that you’re going to regret it at all.

Brandon, during our pre-show we were talking a little bit, and you’ve got a special offer for everybody listening, the gift. Can you tell us what that’s about?

Brandon Leibowitz: Yeah, so everyone that’s listening, I created a special gift for them. If they go to my website, SEOoptimizers.com/gift, they could find that there, along with my contact information and I do a lot of classes, all those classes are up there for free. If they want to learn more about digital marketing, they could find all that there.

David Pisarek: That’s awesome. Free SEO resources, everybody. Go and get it. Go, go, go, go, stop listening to this podcast… Alright, finish listening to the podcast (we’re almost at the end here) but then go and check out Brandon’s site SEOoptimizers.com/gift. And we will get you the links also on the show notes.

Thanks again so much, Brandon, for hopping on, it’s been great having you on the Nonprofit Digital Success Podcast.

To everybody listening, as I mentioned: notes page, links, and resources for Brandon as well as his contact information. And until next time, keep on being successful.

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