When someone moves into a new community, they almost always have a long list of tasks to complete before they truly feel at home. From connecting their utilities to setting up their cable, the moving checklist can feel never ending. And for some families and individuals, finding a new place of worship is another item to add to their moving list. With this in mind, how would a new family that just moved into your community discover your ministry?
In the digital era many people discover and then investigate topics online primarily through search engines. In this example, if that new family searched for Gotham City churches (or wherever you happen to live), would your ministry show up on the first page of Google results? The techniques utilized by marketers and website pros to drive visitors to their website or listing through a search engine are known as SEO.
What is SEO?
To begin, SEO is an acronym that stands for Search Engine Optimization. The goal of SEO is to secure a top ranking in one of the search engines, but primarily in Google, who command a nearly 70% market share.
So what qualifies as a top ranking and do we really need one? Top rankings are a subjective measure, but generally Page 1 results qualify and this would mean you are in positions 1-10 of Google for a specific keyword search such as ‘churches in Atlanta’. Not surprisingly top rankings drive the lion’s share of traffic from Google. Consider this: the top 5 positions in Google account for 57% of all clicks for a term, while positions 11 and beyond only produce 5% of click-share. So yes, top rankings do matter!
How Does SEO Work?
Most SEO experts look at optimization through two lenses: on page SEO and off page.
On page SEO describes all the tactics you can utilize within the outward facing pages of your site. These SEO best practices include keyword rich title tags, well-targeted on page copy, easily crawlable pages, user friendly navigation and the latest buzzword in SEO circles: responsive design. As it relates to your ministry website, the first four factors should be fairly easy to follow. Responsive design may take more investigation but is necessary (beyond the Google ranking factors) given the increasing trend of users utilizing mobile sites to surf the web.
Off page SEO can be described as the behind the curtain factors that Google pulls into their ranking algorithm. These factors include sites linking to your content and social sharing (Facebook shares, Retweets, +1’s). I like to describe off page SEO as a perpetual campaign to gain more votes for your content. For example, when John Doe’s blog links to your ministry, this is a vote for your site in Google’s eyes. A similar analogy applies to social sharing; a Facebook share on your children’s ministry page is a vote for that page. Put simply, off page SEO gives Google an indication on how the world (other websites and users) perceive the particular website. As it relates to ministry sites specifically, this is why setting up social sharing on your website is so crucial; you are letting your congregation and other visitors raise your off page SEO organically.
Does Content Matter?
One final mention on Google’s approach to search engine ranking factors: Content is king! This is not just my opinion, as Google’s own statements about ranking factors and algorithmic updates have always followed with this now tired but important statement. This makes sense for Google as a business because they are always trying to produce the most relevant results, and sites that produce well-written, easily sharable content will produce the best relevancy in the long run (at least in theory!). Given that the goals of ministry sites are not to produce compelling content, this can be a tricky dilemma. One tactic a ministry site can utilize would be to create whitepapers on ministry efforts, case studies on online giving, and anything else that can be produced which raises your church’s profile that people would like to link to and share socially.
No Website? No Problem
Everything I’ve discussed above assumes that your ministry has a website and the skills and resources to optimize it. But to go back to our original question, how would that new family discover your ministry if you do not have a website? Google has a feature called Google Business where you can submit your business, church or location to them and they will list your organization in their search index. Once submitted, Google will list you on a Google map so when an individual searches in your area, they can find you from their web index and from Google Maps. This will not help you with general searches such as the ‘churches in Atlanta’ example, but it can help your discovery on Google Maps and for visitors who already know your ministry’s name.
These are just a few tips on how to optimize your church website for search engines. Just remember that SEO work is constant, but meaningful results can often take weeks and months. But if you keep working to update your site and share your ministry socially, you will have a more informative and robust website, regardless of how Google scores you.