More and more churches are discovering new opportunities for outreach through digital channels. They invest time and money to create a great website, slick graphics for the next outreach event, and maybe even an app. But few have taken the time to focus on Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which is a simple way to make sure these digital efforts perform their very best.
In this article, I’ll introduce you to SEO, what is involved, and how churches can leverage it to reach more people.
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What is SEO?
Search engine optimization is a method of improving the search visibility of a website or organization within Google and other search engines.
There are dozens of tactics and strategies for improving your search ranking, depending on the type of website, audience, and goals. For most churches, the SEO tactics that work for local businesses would also work for them. Called local SEO, these tactics will raise the visibility of your church within a target geographic area.
Should Churches Invest in SEO?
Having been in full time ministry for a decade, I understand how valuable resources like time and money are to a local church. So why should a church invest in SEO?
I think there are several important reasons why SEO should be seen as a valuable Kingdom investment for a local church.
Get Found By People As They Search
People search for your church online in several ways. Sometimes they search by typing in your church name (“First Baptist Church”); this is called branded searches and are typically performed by people that already know your church. Other searches are much broader (“church in [community name]”); these are discovery searches and are performed by people that might not be familiar with your church.
I was working with a church who was proud of the fact that they showed up #1 in Google Search for their church name. I said “That’s great, but where do you show up when people search for “church [community name]”?” They were on page 2, which means hardly anyone new to the community would find their site.
With SEO, you can increase your church’s search visibility and target these broader, community-focused keywords. Since these searches are done by a portion of your community that does not know about your church, this is a great ministry opportunity to take advantage of.
Do you share a similar name with other churches in your area? Are there more than one church from your denomination in the community? Do people get your church confused with another?
SEO helps clarify Google’s understanding of your church, including alternative or past names, your exact location, and denominational affiliation. This, in turn, allows Google to present more accurate information about your church in the search results, so your audience can better find you and not the church down the street.
If you have multiple locations or campuses, local SEO provides clarity to Google, so that searchers find the location nearest to them.
Advertise your ministries, events, and outreach opportunities.
With SEO tactics like on-site updates, structured data, and additions to Google My Business, you can better advertise your upcoming events and outreach opportunities. In some cases, you can even have your next event show up when people search for community events in your town. This is a great way to connect with people unfamiliar with your church and build relationships within your larger community.
What is involved with SEO for Churches?
While you might already be familiar with the term SEO, you might not know what it looks like for a local business or organization. Here are 5 key areas to focus on for local church SEO:
1. Google My Business
Google My Business is a free service from Google that allows local businesses and organizations to provide relevant information. Once you verify your account, you can add images, hours, links, videos, and Google Posts to your Google My Business (GMB) account. This information shows up in the Knowledge Graph for branded searches (right sidebar on desktop searches, or top of mobile searches) and in the Map for broader searches.
2. On-Site Improvements
Your website is your church’s online home base for reaching your community. You should make it as easy as possible for your potential guests to find your site and find the information they want.
There are plenty of on-site improvements you can make to increase your website’s rankings and search visibility.
A. Title Tags & Meta Descriptions
The easiest is to craft unique title tags and meta descriptions. The title tag of a page shows up as the blue link in search results, while the meta description is the 1-2 sentence description that appears below the link. Both are crucial elements that can make the difference in whether a person clicks and visits your site or does not.
B. Internal Architecture (IA)
Make sure you have the right structure to your site, including the most important pages being easily accessible in your main navigation and footer. If you have an important page – like your contact or visitor pages – buried in your site, it’s less likely that Google and your potential visitors will be able to find it. For most church websites, it should only take 2-3 clicks to get to any page on the site; any more and the page might as well not exist.
C. Clear, Concise URLs
Have you ever visited a website with strange looking URLs? Most users think that weird, unrecognizable URLs are either for safety (like financial transactions) or are spam sites. Creating page URLs that are easy to read and understand help build trust in your church’s site, plus they make the website more SEO friendly.
Depending on your website platform, you may or may not be able to make these changes to your church’s website. While some church website platforms are easy to work with and can make beautiful website experiences, if they make it hard or nearly impossible to rank well, I would stay away from them.
3. Off-Site Updates
The internet is filled with thousands of directories that list out local businesses and organizations, much like the telephone once did. Some (like Facebook and Yelp) are the most popular websites on the planet, while others are rarely visited by humans, and still others are extremely specific – like ones for your denomination or local directories for your community. All these online directories provide important SEO value for your church.
Very often, these directories can have inaccurate or missing data. If you’ve ever changed your church’s name, address, telephone number, or website address, chances are this old data is still out there. Moz provides a free resource [tk]
4. Schema & Structured Data
Structured data is a type of code that helps Google better understand specific information about your church. With Schema or structured data, you can give Google very accurate info concerning your office hours, associated social profiles, campus locations, job openings, events, and more.
5. Reputation Management
In communities of any size, churches can establish a reputation within Christian circles: the hip one, the traditional one, the one with great worship, the one with awesome children’s programs. Nowadays, the reputation of your church or organization can be found digitally in the reviews left online. Google, Facebook, and other platforms allow for unsolicited reviews of your church through star ratings and comments. And your potential visitors can see the ratings and reviews and make up their mind about your church – before they even step foot on your property.
While it might be unfair and not right for people to make a snap judgement on your church based on a few star ratings or the words of a stranger, but it is the culture we live in. That’s why reputation management is so important: it gives you a chance to create a better first impression of your organization online.
Reputation management involves asking your church members, attendees, and visitors to leave honest reviews of your church online. I recommend starting with Google and then Facebook as the two places for people to leave reviews.
Learn More about SEO for Churches
In this post, I’ve provided a brief overview of what churches can do to improve their search visibility and connect more with their local community. Look for some additional posts, scheduled to publish in the next few weeks, which will dive deeper into how to make these updates for your church’s website and online presence.Tweet