Search engine optimization is a strenuous task for any business, regardless of industry vertical. This is particularly true for non-profits, which normally need to focus on making sure that they are putting as much of their budget towards providing their much needed resources towards whatever their philanthropic cause might be. Depending on the size of the organization, this can make it particularly difficult for them to retain a SEO professional, not to mention an entire digital marketing team.
This month’s audit is for the website of one of the most well-respected and largest non-profits currently active today – Doctors Without Borders (or Médecins Sans Frontières). Founded in 1971 by Bernard Kouchner, the organization has gone on to become a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and is known for the fantastic work they do in war-torn regions and developing countries that are facing endemic diseases. They are active across many different countries and as a result they have a number of different websites to cater to each language - including an international website at http://www.msf.org that is in English. However, for the purposes of this audit we're going to focus on the US version of their website - http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org.
Just as we’ve been doing thus far with the rest of our “1 Hour SEO Audit” series, we’ve based our grades on the following categories:
- Site Speed
- Meta Tag Issues
- Title Tag Issues
- Screaming Frog
- Majestic SEO
- Open Site Explorer
- Microsoft IIS
Creating tons of unique, entertaining and educational content on a website is one of the best ways to keep audiences engaged while building brand loyalty. It is also one of the best ways to boost SEO rankings for relevant long-tail keywords in a way that gets new and existing audiences to come to your website in droves. It can also help in terms of visibility on social media and with amassing relevant and authoritative natural links that will help flush out a website’s overall backlink profile.
Doctors Without Borders definitely understands the importance of great content marketing in the context of how it will help grow their donations and it shows in the amount of time and effort they take with their “News & Stories” section, which contains field news, a blog written by volunteers, videos, audio pieces, and even a section that contains slideshows of the work they’re doing. The blog content is constantly updated across the entire section and just reading it for a couple of minutes provides significant insight into what Doctors Without Borders does and how their volunteers are making a difference around the world every day.
The only frustrating thing about the blog is that much of their blog content is hosted on the international version of their website, and so it provides very little value from an SEO standpoint to the U.S. version of their website. It would be nice if they could host a lot of the great content they have on their U.S. website as well, much like they've done with the rest of the content that is on their "Field News" section.
As we’ve mentioned in various editions of our audits, one of the biggest things we’ve seen websites missing is schema markup. Particularly with a non-profit that may or may not have the resources to take the time to add what is seen as more of a luxury than a necessity by most businesses, this is understandable given the amount of manual work that needs to be put into schema. Although the payoff is that Google can better understand your content when schema markup is included, and therefore adds extra information to certain pages SERP results, this is often not enough of a payoff for businesses with limited resources to take the time to take advantage of these tactics.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways for businesses to take simple steps to get extra real estate on the SERP. The first and most obvious is to make sure that they have a Google Business page. Having one helps a company's branded search engine results page (SERP) provide more information about the business - such as location, hours of operation, and images of offices and work. For Doctors Without Borders, this is something that is missing from their search results almost entirely with the exception of a wikipedia snippet that only provides the most basic information about the business. Interestingly, when one searches for "Medecines Sans Frontieres" a full snippet appears:
This should be translated across to the English version of their brand name as well if possible - particularly because the closest location is very close by and if someone in the New York City area wanted to go to the offices for some reason that's key information that people should be able to find when searching for the English version of the organization name.
Most SEO-savvy businesses know that in order to succeed in the world of SEO their websites need to feature robust backlink profiles that are filled with naturally amassed equity-passing links as well as nofollowed links. These links should come from a variety of different websites that are somewhat relevant to the specific business in question. Furthermore, the anchor text of each link should feature a good mix of targeted keywords, brand name, and other natural words and phrases. This should vary on a link by link basis so that businesses don’t start to look like they are actively trying to indulge in black-hat SEO practices.
Given the widespread brand recognition that is associated with Doctors Without Borders, it should come as no surprise that they have a phenomenal amount of domain authority which translates into one of the strongest backlink profiles we’ve looked at on this series so far. With a domain authority of 85 and 157,000 links from 4,501 root domains, they have a ridiculous amount of high quality relevant links. It would be nice to see a bit more root domain variation given the amount of links that they have amassed, but this is a small issue in the grand scheme of their backlink profile.
All of Doctors Without Borders’ anchor text is branded. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it shows they are amassing lots of links naturally, it would definitely make sense for them to do some outreach to some of the sources that are linking to them to see what they can do to get more keyword rich phrases in their links as well. Another issue that we saw on last month’s ReturnPath audit rears its head again in this audit as well – the amount of links with no anchor text at all (a substantial 93,592 links). This is a lost opportunity in terms of helping to build keyword ranking and should be addressed.
When it comes to site usability there are few things that are as important as website speed. The fact that it can play a role in SEO ranking is just another reason why businesses need to pay attention to their site’s load speed and do everything they can to optimize so that their website is as fast as possible. Particularly with Google’s new mobile algorithm updates, site speed is an ever-changing and interesting factor in SEO and needs to be taken seriously by online businesses – particularly those who have large audiences on mobile devices.
Compared to last month’s Returnpath audit, Doctors Without Borders ranks a lot worse, receiving a 62% Page Speed grade and a 69% YSlow Grade (Returnpath had a 76% and 76% grade respectively). Doctors Without Borders definitely has a lot of room for improvement and needs to address a myriad of speed-related issues quickly.
Meta Tag Issues
Optimizing meta descriptions is important for any online business that wants to make sure that search engines and users can understand what their pages are talking about. The expectation should be set for users to navigate to their page from an organic search due to a strong CTA or keyword rich description text that is highlighted for specific keyword searches.
While Doctors Without Borders does a decent job with meta descriptions by the standards of other websites that we’ve featured, they have a lot of work left to do. Most specifically, they are missing meta descriptions on 32.96% of their website. While this isn’t as bad as ReturnPath for example, who had meta descriptions missing on 99.37% of their site, it would be nice to see more unique meta descriptions from Doctors Without Borders.
Title Tag Issues
Despite all the changes in Google’s algorithms over the years, title tags remain one of the most important parts of good SEO. Having a title that is properly optimized for keywords that have been identified as valuable for driving qualified traffic to the content on a page is often the difference between a website attracting tons of traffic and failing to get seen by anyone at all.
Doctors Without Borders fails when it comes to title tags. They are missing title tags on 93.79% of their website and have 7048 pages that feature title tags above the recommended 65 characters. Compared to ReturnPath, who weren’t missing a single title tag and had 32% that were duplicative this is pretty poor – and indeed, this is pretty poor by any standard. There is a lot that needs to be done by Doctors Without Borders to rectify this, and unfortunately because the site is so big (more than 25,000 pages) this is a process that could feasibly take quite some time for them to optimize appropriately.
Doctors Without Borders is one of the most well respected non-profits in the world, and is certainly a brand we have a lot of respect for in terms of the work they do. While we're under no illusions that their work in war-torn and developing countries comes before the SEO prowess their website, they still have a lot to do to fully get their online presence to where it needs to be in order to be optimized for SEO purposes.
Outside of the factors we’ve already touched on there are a lot of other smaller things that Doctors Without Borders can do to get extra value out of their website – both for SEO and general usability. The first is image-centric – they have tons of images on the site that are missing alt tags and are not named appropriately – by naming images with filenames that reflect what that image is actually about, Doctors Without Borders can bring in more organic traffic through the multitude of images that the website boasts.
Another major issue is the amount of 404 errors on the website – a staggering 2.81% of the site currently has 404 errors. This should be rectified using 301 or 302 redirects or by removing these issues altogether.
In terms of general best practices there are a couple of general issues as well, the strangest of which is that Doctors Without Borders decided to use uppercase letters in 21% of their URIs. There isn’t inherently a reason that this would hurt a site, but it definitely makes it much harder to navigate the website and for people to link back to it correctly. In general, all urls should be lowercase, so the decision to use uppercase numerals is pretty odd all things considering. The other strange usability issue the site suffers from is that about 30% of the website is 10 pages deep from the start URL. In general, most of the website should be as close as possible to the homepage, so it seems like an odd decision to force people to navigate so deeply to find the pages or information they might be looking for.
Doctors Without Borders has an extremely strong brand, and it shows in the amount of natural links and authority they have built up online without much clear SEO effort. If they start monitoring things like site speed, title tags, and meta descriptions a little more closely they will get even more effort out of their online presence than they are currently enjoying and will become even more authoritative in the online non-profit space.
Overall Grade: B-