Whenever anyone downloads our nonprofit website guide, they get an email from me asking what their biggest wish is for their organization’s website.
It’s fun to see what different organizations are working on, plus it’s a great way to keep a pulse on what’s weighing heavy on nonprofit workers when it comes to their digital fundraising.
And yes, I really do read and reply to all of ‘em!
A recurring theme among the responses goes something like this:
“I wish we had more traffic on our website!”
Not exactly surprising, right? Anyone who’s ever run any kind of website will tell you that they’d love more visitors. Visibility can be a very good thing. If you build up an audience, properly nurture them, then tell them an engaging story, digital fundraising can be a consistent revenue channel for nonprofits.
It’s not the end-all, be-all by any means. Having an audience is far different than having the right audience. But the right audience can be a very powerful force for change.
So if your goal is to increase traffic, who better to learn from than the 10 most visited nonprofit websites in the country?
But before we dive into that, let’s play a little game.
Before you scroll down and see the list of the 10 most visited nonprofit websites (based on rankings from Alexa, let’s see if you can guess some of them.
I asked my co-workers to name few of the top 10, and it turned out to be a tough task.
How’d you fare? Surprised by the results?
Let's check out the list of the top 10:
The 10 Most Visited Nonprofit Websites
This list is simultaneously full of surprises and “oh, duh!” names all at once. Once you see names like Wikipedia, NPR, PBS, Khan Academy, or Mayo Clinic you think “Oh right, those are all nonprofits too. Of course they get lots of traffic.”
Then there’s the names like AARP, Archive.org, and LDS.org and you think “...huh? How are they ranking so high?”
There’s something that ties all of these websites together though, and it’s not anything that you’d think would make for a popular nonprofit website. It’s not their branding, their marketing, or their funding. In fact, none of the top 50 revenue nonprofits make the list of most visited nonprofit websites.
Why do these nonprofits get so much web traffic? Simple: they give people a reason to visit and visit again.
If you go down the list and visit each of these sites, every last one of them offers some sort of utility to their audience. Wikipedia being the most obvious example: we visit Wikipedia because it fulfills a need for us to quickly learn about an infinite number of topics.
But Wikipedia is not the only one. Khan Academy provides free online classes. NPR offers podcasts and articles. Mayo Clinic provides countless health articles and dominates search results for most health inquiries.
That’s where the secret lies to driving higher amounts of traffic to a website, nonprofit or otherwise.
It’s not dissimilar to a movie theater. We return to the movies again and again because there’s something new to see. If a theater never changed what was showing, how often would we go check it out? Websites that never offer anything new or any kind of useful service to users typically end up with a revolving door of one-and-done visitors.
Let’s breakdown each site on the top 10 list to see what they’re offering visitors that keeps them coming back:
Wikipedia is the big one on the list. Not only is it a top 10 nonprofit site, it’s a top 10 most visited site, period. Wikipedia, as an online encyclopedia, is used by visitors to research any topic imaginable. For many people, it’s their first stop when looking to quickly learn about a topic.
NPR.org serves as the online home for National Public Radio. As such, visitors to the site can read news, listen to their favorite shows, or see some behind-the-scenes action from their favorite radio voices.
Similar to NPR, PBS.org is the online home for the Public Broadcasting Service. Visitors there can watch shows, including PBS’s impressive line-up of children’s programming.
Who would ever think a hospital’s website would be a huge traffic magnet? MayoClinic.org is not your typical hospital website. It’s chockful of thousands of health articles and dominates the search result for any kind of health inquiry.
This was a surprise for me. Your gut instincts might tell you that a website aimed at seniors and retirees wouldn’t be one of the top ten most visited nonprofit websites, but think again. AARP.org, like the Mayo Clinic site, is filled with articles aimed at their target audience offering advice and entertainment. Remember, Baby Boomers need tech love too.
Another surprise for me, just because I’ve never even heard of this organization. Archive.org is the website for the nonprofit Internet Archive. This San Francisco-based organization’s mission is to bring about “universal access to all knowledge.” One of the ways they’re doing this is through their “Wayback Machine” that allows users to search internet archives to be searched. In 2014, they had 400 billion web pages saved in their archives!
Khan Academy was started in 2006 by Sal Khan with the aim of bringing free, world-class education to anyone with an internet connection. You can take classes on everything from finance to music history. Cool stuff!
Kaiser Permanente is a healthcare organization. Similar to the Mayo Clinic site, they offer lots of free resources for health education and tracking.
LDS.org is the home to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It’s a very media rich site, featuring videos, articles, pictures, and more. With regularly updated content that helps their target audience, LDS.org keeps visitors coming back again and again.
Mozilla is a nonprofit behind one of the most popular web browsing softwares in the world, Firefox. On Mozilla.org, users can download the program, as well as read educational materials and see upcoming events organized by Mozilla in their area.
What You Can Learn
It’s important to remember that these sites have massive audiences that they’ve spent years building, and breaking into the top 10 is a near impossible task for all but a handful of international nonprofits.
But the strategies these organizations use can still be applied to nonprofit sites of any size.
If you want people to come to your organization’s website, you have to give them a reason to visit and visit again.
If building a larger online audience is your goal, it’s simply not enough to just provide a static collection of pages that explain your mission. You need a tool on your site that people can use again and again.
This is not a small task, and requires a certain level of commitment and resources, to be sure. That’s why it’s wise to consider whether more traffic on your nonprofit’s website is really something your organization needs and will help further your mission.