An important yet simple step in raising your church’s online profile is to claim and optimize your Google My Business profile. Here’s all you need to know about Google My Business, important features, and how to claim your listing.
What is Google My Business?
Over the years, Google has provided different products and platforms for local businesses and organizations. Many have failed or have been phased out, but the most recent iteration is Google My Business (GMB for short).
Google My Business is a way for your church to present approved, accurate information to your potential audience. Information from GMB is populated in a Knowledge Graph, which shows up on the right hand side in desktop search and at the top of the search results page in mobile. GMB data also shows up in Google Maps.
Google My Business is great for two types of searches: discovery and direct. Discovery searches are searches for broad answers; examples include “church [your town]” or “christian concert near me”. Direct searches are searches when people are looking for your church; this includes search terms like “[church name]” and “[church name] directions”.
First Impression Ministry
Most churches have a First Impressions Ministry, designed to create a warm, welcoming experience for guests. The problem is that your guest’s first experience with your church doesn’t happen on your campus, or even on your website. Their first impression often happens on the search results page and on your Google My Business profile.
Your visitor’s first impression doesn’t happen on your campus; it happens online.
GMB for Multiple Locations
Having updated and accurate GMB profiles are also important for churches with multiple locations. Each profile should have the right address, phone number, and service hours, along with following a standard naming convention. This way a potential visitor can easily identify which campus is closest to them.
Anatomy of a GMB Profile
The Knowledge Panel can vary based on the industry, with different features for corporations, hotels, and celebrities. Here are the main features found in a Local Knowledge Panel like the one for your church.
Name, Address, Phone, Website (NAPW)
The main features of your GMB profile is your church’s basic information: name, address, phone, and website (NAPW for short). Ensuring this info is correct on your GMB profile and across the internet is a crucial step in search engine optimization for churches.
Map and Directions
This is the most important feature of your church’s Google My Business profile. If a potential visitor finds your church and likes what they see on your profile and website, the next logical step is to find out where your church is and to plan a visit.
As we’ll see later, you can see how many people click for directions from your Knowledge Graph. This, along with data like clicks to your website and phone calls, gives you a better understanding of how your profile is leading potential guests into actually visiting your church.
Photos and Videos
Google allows you to upload photos of your church to your profile. I recommend adding your logo as well as photos of the outside and inside of your church. This gives first-time visitors a better understanding of your church’s culture, attire, and worship style.
A recent update to local Knowledge Graphs is the ability to upload videos. Videos must be under 100 MB and should be horizontal, and you upload them in the GMB dashboard like a normal photo. I think this is a perfect place to upload your sermon series trailer.
The Knowledge Graph often displays two sets of hours: open hours and popular times. The open hours in the GMB profile are typically your office hours and are editable in your dashboard. The popular times is a graph showing how popular the organization is by visits. You cannot edit this, as Google creates these graphs from user behavior.
Google recently allowed you to add a short description to your GMB listing. This description, which must be under 750 characters, shows up at the bottom of the Knowledge Graph on desktop and in the About tab on mobile.
I recommend adding a short description of your church, including service times and mention any visitor-friendly ministry.
Details and Amenities
In addition to basic contact information and description, your church’s GMB can also feature highlighted details and amenities. Some are editable by you within the dashboard, while others are added by Google when they crowdsource info from local contributors.
Questions & Answers
A recent addition to the Google Local ecosystem, Google’s Q&A platform is a way for individuals to pose questions about a local business or organization. This is a great opportunity for your church to answer questions about upcoming events, service times, and your beliefs.
There are a few challenges with Google Q&A. First, anyone can answer the questions, which means someone else can write an answer – which may or may not be accurate. Second, Google has not set up a robust notification system, so most questions are left unanswered on most Google My Business listings.
My recommendation is to constantly monitor your church’s questions and promptly answer any questions that appear. If you don’t have any questions currently appearing on your GMB profile, you should write some of your own and answer them with your owner account.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- When are your services?
- What is the style of your worship?
- Do you offer ministries for children and teens?
- Where should I park?
Online reviews are becoming a main way people evaluate and make decisions about local businesses and organizations. According to one study, 97% of people ages 18-34 read online reviews to judge a local business.
Reviews on Google are a way for visitors to hear about your church from others. People often write about your church’s friendliness, ministries, and even the state of your facilities.
As a church, you should encourage visitors and long-time attenders alike to leave a review on your Google profile. Ask them to leave their honest opinion, with potential visitors in mind. There are some rules to follow when you ask for reviews, so be sure to follow them or else the reviews can be removed.
Sometimes, the Knowledge Panel brings in reviews from other platforms, including Facebook. That’s why it’s important to establish an online reputation management plan to generate more reviews on the most important platforms.
There are some additional ways you can extend your GMB profile to get even more features.
Google is now incorporating upcoming events into the Knowledge Panel. Most of this data is being produced through structured data and Schema. More on Schema for Churches in a future article.
Google Posts is a game changer for local businesses. Since launching in the summer of 2017, Google Posts are small social-like posts published by the business and reside in the Knowledge Panel. Most posts are up for 7 days, while event or offer type posts can stay up for longer.
Within the Google My Business dashboard, Google shows helpful stats and insights into how people are finding and engaging with your profile. For churches, the most beneficial stat is the graph highlighting where people are searching from. When you zoom in, you can see the most popular zip codes people are searching for directions to your church. As you zoom out, the data is segmented by community.
With this data, you can see at a glance where people are most interested in your church are coming from. I’d use this data to inform community outreach, Facebook ad campaigns, and even campus expansion opportunities.
How to Claim & Optimize GMB
Are you ready to optimize your church’s Google My Business listing and attract more visitors? Great! The first step is to claim your profile.
If your church is older than a few months, chances are there is already a Knowledge Panel for it. Find out by searching for your church’s name. If a panel does not pop up, search for your church’s name and your community’s name.
When you find your Knowledge Graph, you may see the words “Own this business? Claim it now.” This means the listing is unclaimed and needs to be verified. The verification process is pretty simple, though it usually requires a phone call or entering a code from a post card Google mails to you. Once claimed, you can then edit and optimize the listing.
Proof that even the largest churches forget to optimize their GMB Listing.
If your church’s GMB is already claimed, chances are someone else in your organization has already claimed it. You’ll need to find the email address that owns it so you access the dashboard.
Like your church’s Facebook page, you can add multiple owners and managers of your GMB listing. I recommend you make a universal email address to claim and own the listing – something like webmaster@ or contact@yourchurchdomain. You can then add your own email address as an owner or manager so you can make updates on the fly and on your phone.
Do you Qualify for a GMB Profile?
Not all churches or locations qualify for a GMB profile. To create and claim a Google My Business listing, your church needs to have a phone number and an address where you can receive mail (PO boxes and UPS boxes do not count). This may limit church plants and campuses that rent space on Sunday from creating a listing.
Got Questions about GMB for Churches?
Have questions about your church’s Google My Business listing? Feel free to reach out; I’d be glad to help. The best way to connect with me is on Twitter: @brandonschmidt