The Nonprofit's Guide to Link Building


We've been following Penn State Professor Jim Jansen and his PPC Advertising course for a while now, eagerly awaiting the outcome of his class's competition for the best performing nonprofit PPC campaign. Which got me thinking--those involved in nonprofits understand the difficulty of initiating a PPC campaign for their cause, and as much as I'd like to preach about the ease and importance of PPC for all businesses, nonprofits included, we'll save that until after Jim's results are in (mostly so we can read about the lessons his class learned and then pass them off as our own).

In the meantime, we'll focus instead on link building. In my experience, mentioning "link building" among nonprofit professionals mostly results in blank stares and disinterested looks, so we'll start slow. For a more detailed explanation of link building from our SEO extraordinaire Ken Lyons, visit our dedicated link building page. If you prefer the "Dummy Version of Link Building," you're in the right place.

Link Building Defined: When a website references your website's URL, that's a link! Link building is simply the process of obtaining those links, which are important for search engine optimization (SEO). Below are five common questions every nonprofit professional should know the answers to.

Part of link building is simply asking!1) Why is Link Building Important for my Nonprofit?

Links are one way of telling search engines that your website is legitimate and relevant to its searchers. Think of it as a referral for your business; for an appropriate search query, Google finds your website and the website of a similar nonprofit organization. Your website has 30 people linking to it from various places, and the other nonprofit only has 5. Google's no dummy, and it sees that your website appeals to a larger audience, thus it's more likely to place your website before the other in the search results.

In other words, link building helps your nonprofit's website rank higher, thus increasing awareness, visitors to your website, and ideally, supporters as well.

2) Does it Matter Where the Link Comes From?

Absolutely, links carry unique values that determine how much they'll help your website rank in the search results. If we continue with the referral analogy, let's say you are hiring for a new role within your nonprofit. A highly trusted colleague recommends one person for the job, and a handful of mediocre employees or acquaintances are clamoring for a different person. You're more likely to look closer at that first person, right? The one who was recommended by someone you respect? Search engines are no different--links from respected websites do more to increase your site's rank.

3) How Do I Rate A Link?

While there's rarely a reason to say "no" to a link, some links are worth more than others. I recommend downloading Aaron Wall's (free) SEO Toolbar, which among other things includes a "page rank" feature, ranking pages 1-10. The higher the ranking, the more resepected the site. Keep an eye on your site's ranking as well--you may find it rises as you gain more links! Just remember to be patient as results (sadly) will not happen overnight.

4) How Do I Know who is Linking To Me?

Visit this Yahoo page and enter your website in the following format: For example, we would enter "" Once you enter your site and hit "search," you'll see a list of all the sites that link to yours. Bookmark that page for easy future access. You'll thank yourself later.

5) Who Should I Ask to Link to My Nonprofit's Website?

The most logical answer here would be to ask your existing supporters. Send out a newsletter where the call to action is to link to your website rather than (or in addition to) make a donation. How about those people who love your cause but simply don't have cash to spare? Ask them to link to your website! Don't forget to ask about their:

  • Facebook profiles
  • LinkedIn profiles
  • Personal blogs
  • Twitter feeds
  • Company websites

What are we missing? More suggestions welcome!

MORE: 7 Marketing Strategies for Nonprofits

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Nov 24, 2009

Thank you Susannah

So little time, so much to learn...

I especially liked this suggestion of your article:

"Send out a newsletter where the call to action is to link to your website rather than (or in addition to) make a donation" What a great idea for a non-profit to schedule an annual or semi-annual "link letter" to their supporters.

But this brings me to a realization (correct me if I'm wrong):

Google assesses links to specific web pages, not to websites. So even if a bunch of supporters link to a favorite of mine, (a 30 year old Chicago, IL agency helping homeless youth), the other pages at that website do not "inherit" any linking benefits.

Non-profits need a coherent SEO strategy focusing on keywords (no surprise to you folks) and then need to request links to those pages. So if my friends at TeenLiving had a website page that discussed "homeless Chicago teenagers", and an SEO optimized web page for that topic, if I linked to their "homeless Chicago teenagers" web page, then that specific website page would benefit from links and associated page ranks of linkers.


Thanks again Susannah (and WordStream) for the fine article.

Ted Ives
Nov 24, 2009

Most nonprofits are incorporated and have a board of directors, definitely hit them up for links if they are running companies or are on boards of other companies, should be an easy win.

Susannah Richardson
Nov 25, 2009

Richard, Thank you for your comments! You're absolutely right that incoming links to the homepage do not directly "trickle down" to help other pages rank. This may be addressed in a couple different ways

  1. Give your supporters options regarding which page they should link to and include the preferred anchor text for each page. As you mentioned, each page should be optimized for that specific keyword
  2. Share the "link love" by funneling link equity from popular pages to less popular pages (See Ken's blog post here for more details)
  3. Don't forget your internal links to comprehensively link one page on your site to another. Ever wonder why Wikipedia tends to dominate search results for almost any query? They have a great internal link strategy.
Thanks again, Richard and Ted!