SEO: Counter Extremism Project

The Counter Extremism Project (CEP) is a nonprofit policy think tank working to disrupt extremist recruitment and financial systems. They create best-in-class research databases on extremist groups and their leaders. The CEP website features hundreds of research reports and each one took their team hours to prepare. It’s important to CEP that this hard work is recognized and their content is read. So, in the last year, we’ve made search engine rankings for these reports a priority.

cep seo

Keyword Research

Brick Factory worked with CEP to identify dozens of priority reports - reports that are either central to CEP’s mission or where CEP expected to see related news coverage in the coming months. From there, Brick Factory read through the content and pulled several possible keywords for each report.

Some of these keywords were obvious. For example, “Hezbollah” is an appropriate keyword for a report on the organization. However, for many keywords, multiple spellings are used. Hezbollah can also be spelled “Hizbollah.” Brick Factory explored all possible spellings and reviewed the average search traffic for each. The spelling with the highest search volume became our final keyword.

CEP Hezbollah

Global Improvements

Once we had a list of keywords, we wanted to find changes that could have a big impact without a lot of investment. We started by looking for small, structural changes that would affect many pages.

One section of CEP’s site is dedicated to profiles on different extremist leaders. And several of these leaders’ names were on our list of priority keywords. After reviewing a few of the profiles, we found that they had one thing in common: the individuals’ names were coded as second headings. We knew that Google’s algorithm is looking for keywords to be included in a page’s first heading, so we adjusted how the names were coded. This small adjustment improved the performance of the profile pages across the board.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Low Impact, High Reward

We then looked for technical and content improvements we could make to individual reports. Our goal was to not require CEP to overhaul the reports or spend significant time on content updates. Rather, we looked for tactics that required low investment while producing high returns. 

The most common change we made was to the report’s title. Because of the way the website was built, changing a report’s title to include a keyword will include the keyword in:

  • The page’s URL
  • The title tags Google uses to understand what the page is about
  • The first heading on the page

For example, one report was about the group Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. We found that more people were searching for the abbreviated name - AQAP. So we updated the report name to be “AQAP (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula)”.

We also made a number of other small changes like adding the keyword to the meta descriptions on the page, to subheadings, to image alt tags, and more.

cep aqap