About a year and a half ago, I Googled “churches in Greenville, SC,” which is the city where I live. My church didn’t appear in the first 25 pages of Google listings. (I have a strong feeling it didn’t appear after those first 25 either, but I didn’t have the patience to soldier on.) Those first 25 listed a lot of other churches in my city – many I’d heard of and many I had not – and I began to wonder if there was a high number of people using Google to look for a new church and never even having a chance to see our website.
There were. An average of about 1,000 Google searches per month for “churches in Greenville, SC” at the time. (If you’re curious about this for your city, check out Google Keyword Planner as a first stop.)
Now, I live in one of the fastest growing cities in the country with tons of new residents invading each year, and I was floored that 1,000’s of people were searching for a church using the Internet, and we weren’t hitting their radar. We decided to make some changes. We needed to implement a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy. We needed to show up in the listings, and especially in the listings for even more specialized listings, like “churches in
I feel it’s important to note, when talking about search rankings, that optimizing is not about competing with other churches. It’s about helping people who want to find you, find you. If people are starting on the Web, you should be investing in finding out how they’re searching, what they’re searching for and how you can reach them. Let’s get more strategic than posting something on a sign outside of the building and assuming it’s “reaching” all the motorists who truck by it each day.
An Even Better Reason…
I’ve written before about making the Gospel viral. And here is further evidence it’s necessary. Tens of thousands of people use Google each month to ask questions like “Is God real?” and “Who Was Jesus?” and “What Is Christianity?” And they find all kinds of answers – some good and some not-so-good. Chances are, there are people who attend your church who are asking the basics in their hearts but are afraid to ask out loud. Could you proactively answer their questions? You may also answer the questions of people you’ll never know.
We Got Results
Our church went with a new custom, WordPress website (there are plenty of other options, but this one worked well for us), and paid special attention to the titles of pages, copy on the homepage and other areas that impacted our search engine ranking. We started a blog and ramped up social media posting. After several months, we’d moved from Nowhere-to-be found to Page 2 of the search results for “churches in Greenville, SC.”
Tips for Getting Started
In the time since I worked on my church’s website, I’ve talked with a significant number of pastors who have admitted they had no idea if their website was working for them. I am not even close to being an SEO expert, but I know this to be true: Every person searching for an answer to a question in our culture today starts with the Internet. I believe word of mouth is still the driving factor for new people visiting your church, but if you live in a growing area like me, ignoring search engines is a miss. Here are a few tips for getting started.
- Hire an SEO expert to take a look at your website or pay for SEO training for someone on your staff who manages the web content.
- Google your church and searches like “churches in [city, state]” regularly, depersonalizing the search so you see what other people see. (It’s difficult to completely depersonalize your search results, but logging out of your Google/Yahoo accounts, browsing in an Incognito window or using a public computer are a few ways you can try.)
- Set up your Google Local listing. If people search for “churches” while in your city’s downtown, they’re going to get a different list of churches than when in the suburbs because of Google’s Maps integration. You want to show up in those lists. You can also ask your church members to add “reviews” they feel would help a newcomer understand what they love about the church. (E.g. Outstanding children’s volunteers and facilities!)
- Maintain a blog and write answers to the questions people are asking. You won’t see overnight results from this, but if even one person searching for answers about God finds it through your writing, that’s a win in my book. Plus, there are probably people in your church asking difficult questions they are afraid to ask out loud.
- Take social media seriously. Your social media accounts help spread your blog and website content, creating opportunities for more and more people to see it.