Customers often ask us for advice about how to help improve the ability of supporters to find their platform via Google. We've created this guide with suggestions for where to get started and how to approach your ongoing search optimization strategy.
Start by setting goals and strategy
Any Search Engine Optimization (SEO) process should start with a clear understanding of what strategy your organization is pursuing. What sorts of queries would you like the platform to rank for? Which pages are you most interested in supporters finding?
While thinking about the strategy that you will pursue, it's often helpful to make a list of the "search intents" that you might like to rank for. Which of these intents – things like signing a petition, donating, or creating an event would you prioritize? How valuable in monetary terms might it be if someone completes these intents on your platform – is it worth spending money on paid search ads to attract supporters who use particular search terms?
Formulating specific goals for your search engine optimization program is vital because it will inform the strategy you should pursue. Most customers will not have the time or resources to rank for all possible searches, including very generic searches, so identifying specific search intents is key.
Explore the landscape
Once you've set the goals and strategy you'd like to pursue, there are a variety of techniques that can be used to understand the search terms that supporters are currently using to find your site. There are also tools that can help you identify the search activity that presents opportunities for site visits that your platform might rank for.1
Understanding how supporters are currently searching, and the potential relevancy of your pages to those queries, is essential while optimizing your content.
It's also critical to understand the competitive landscape. Are other platforms also trying to rank for the same search terms? Are other organizations using paid search ads for those keywords?
The sweet spot for search engine optimization with a high return on investment involves creating carefully-crafted content that satisfies search intents that no one else on the web is doing a good job of fulfilling.
Many of our customers focus their attention on connecting with supporters who are looking for a platform on which to create a campaign, via search terms like "start a petition." For many organizations, petition creation is the flywheel through which the platform operates – gaining petitions that might otherwise be created elsewhere by ranking highly for petition creation intents can be an important way to find organic petition creators.
Unfortunately, there is very strong competition for these keywords in most languages, with a number of commercial companies, advocacy groups, and others trying to land at the top of the search rankings. Change.org in particular maintains an enviable page rank for these sorts of queries in many languages. Organic search optimization around petition creation may only be viable if you're working in a language without many other petition creation platforms active in that language or region of the world.
If your organization would still like to try to compete for search traffic for petition creation related search intents, paid search ads may be your best option. In the United States, in English, even this option can be expensive, given the number of other organizations bidding for placement in these search results.
Sometimes, customers jump directly to technical SEO techniques before they've thought through what they're trying to accomplish with search and what strategy is being pursued. Ensuring that whatever tactics you pursue are aligned with your high level goals will set you up for success, and allow you to spend your attention on things that are likely to be worthwhile.
A well researched guide to the research process
Improve site authority
Search engines sort search results by the perceived authority of the site that contains the search term. Luckily, the organizing best practices that help your petition creators be successful will also have significant positive impacts on search authority rankings.
The number one thing you can do to improve your search rank is to invest in getting high quality, high page rank sites to link to your content. The most successful strategy our customers use is leveraging PR to get journalists to write about your campaigns and link to the petition when they do. Because news sites have high page rank, this will confer authority onto your domain as well. Several of our customers have had a lot of success with this, and it's also a great way for news readers to learn about your campaign and the platform itself.
Often customers use a strategy of centering the petition creator in their pitches to news organizations. Local people with compelling personal stories who have created campaigns are often more compelling stories for the media to cover than professional advocacy organizations creating petitions on their own. While pitching petitions to local media might not seem like it would impact search engine performance, it is one of the most effective steps you can take to improve the authority of your platform overall because news outlets are almost always among the most authoritative sites from a search perspective.
If your organization has an existing brand with strong search engine authority, it is also a best practice to use your organization's brand identity and domain name while creating a petition platform. We also recommend linking to your platform from your organization's homepage and hosting it on a subdomain of your organization's primary identity. Some organizations create a sub-brand or a completely separate identity for member-led petition work, but this prevents your member-led platform from benefiting from your organization's hard won authority – both with search engines and the public at large.
In the same way that convincing news organizations to link to your platform can improve your site's search authority, working with partner organizations can also be a great way to improve your site's page rank. When partners host their campaigns or events on your platform, always make sure to ask them to link to their petition or event from their own organization's site. This will slowly increase the search authority of your site overall, as well as for the specific sorts of topics that those partner organizations also campaign on.
Craft content to satisfy search intents
Organizations can use keyword analysis tools to find variations of the search terms you might rank for that have less organic search competition than others or high volumes of query traffic. It's important to stay focused on your previously-identified goals when investigating potential search intents to optimize your content against. For example, you might be focused on driving petition creation generally or you may be optimizing for signatures to specific petitions.
It's helpful to be as specific as possible while identifying the search terms to try to rank for on particular pages, rather than trying to write generic content that might rank for many different search terms.
The ControlShift platform allows customers to carefully craft the title, description, and other text on the petition creation page, and most customers should optimize these elements to match the specific search terms that your keyword research indicates might represent opportunities for search optimization. For pages that already have good page-rank search authority, crafting the content to match what you've learned about the search behaviors of users can be a worthwhile optimization exercise. Even in a highly competitive language like English, you may be able to find a new way of talking about petition creation that others have not yet discovered or optimized around but that represents a meaningful niche. For less competitive languages, you may have success optimizing this page with content that satisfies a more straightforward set of terms.
If there is a specific viral petition on a subject that is experiencing a lot of search traffic, or if you expect that you might be able to host the canonical petition on a subject that many others are campaigning on, it may also be worthwhile to try to optimize the petition text, title, and description for search purposes as well. This likely only makes sense for specific situations. In general, we've found that other channels (social media, email marketing, etc.) often have a much higher return on investment for driving petition signatures rather than search optimization for petitions themselves.
We encourage customers to always begin by spending time by increasing the number of links to the petition in news articles, links to the petition by partners, and links to the petition from your own organization's site, before attempting to optimize the content itself. Link backs are the most critical and defensible part of page rank. Others might be able to create content with similar words, but your search authority, if built up over time, will be hard to replicate.
Optimize page performance
Improving front-end page performance is the single most important technical area you can invest in while optimizing your site for search. Search engines use the speed of your site as one of the key metrics for determining page rank along with backlinks and the content itself.
The out-of-the-box page performance we provide to customers as scored by Google Lighthouse is quite good, but we frequently see a few common issues that can cause specific customer sites to be slower than they need to be, negatively impacting your search engine rankings when compared to your competitors.
- Ensure that the logo uploaded to the platform is an SVG or other efficient vector format rather than a png or jpeg.
- Ensure that your site is only loading the fonts that are required to render the page, and that your design uses only a few font variations.
- Ensure that images that you upload to the platform are optimized and as small as possible.
- Only use third-party tracking js, a/b testing libraries, tag managers, and other optional add-ons when absolutely necessary. Many of these third-party tools cause significant slow downs to the page. We frequently notice that customers configure these integrations and then forget to remove them once a project is complete and they might no longer be necessary. Therefore, it's worth auditing what may be slowing down your site.
- Use a CDN like Cloudflare in proxy mode if you're using ControlShift on a custom domain name. We do this automatically for customers using a controlshift.app domain. This can have a significant positive impact on page performance, especially if your audience is outside of North America.
In general, focusing technical SEO optimization on page performance will have the highest return on investment when compared to other technical interventions.
Measure your impact
The search ecosystem is not a static or random environment: your competitors are also continually improving their backlinks, making tweaks to their content, and doing their own analysis in order to come out on top of the search results list. Search engines themselves are also continually tweaking their own algorithms. What might work now is not likely to work forever, so it's worthwhile to pay attention, track measurements, and update your search optimization work over time.
Organizations can measure how search performance changes over time using a variety of tools from search engines themselves, like Google Search Console and analytics software like Google Analytics. It's important to track the click through rate from search and whether supporters are taking a desired action, like signing a petition or creating one of their own, after they arrive on the page – rather than leaving immediately. Search engines will rank your content lower if supporters tend to immediately leave the page after they click through from search results rather than making a meaningful interaction.
It's possible in many analytics tools to separate organic search traffic from traffic generated from other sources like email marketing or paid search – which will be helpful when doing analysis.
Keep investing in well-crafted back links
Finding ways to get highly ranked domains to link to your "start a petition" page or individual petitions is an activity that your team will need to invest in over time. Search engines associate continued and sustained linking to a site over time with the sense that the page remains relevant for a particular set of keywords and has not become stale. Getting press coverage for your supporter’s campaigns also demonstrates recency and fresh relevance to search engines.
If possible, depending on the site that is linking to you, it’s worth ensuring that the link that is used contains the search terms that you’re trying to rank for within the link text. The link text that other sites choose while referring to your content is a strong signal for the search engine about what terms are most relevant for the link destination.
For this reason, it’s worthwhile to edit your content for web anti-patterns in text you control to avoid phrases like “click here” and instead use intent-oriented language like “start a petition” that is aligned with the search intent you’re trying to rank for. This also improves the usability and accessibility of your content aside from the search optimization benefits.
If you have any questions, feel free to reach out.