5 Proven Ways To Optimize Your Church Website With SEO
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Optimize Your Church Website with SEO
SEO for churches is a big deal. If you disagree, go to Google right now and type baptist churches near me into the search box. The results you see are most likely due to the efforts of SEO specialists, or someone possessing SEO skills, having done something to get those church websites to appear at, or near, the top of the search results.
Church Search Is Competitive
If you don’t believe church SEO is competitive, you may be misinformed. Churches compete for people in a way very similar to businesses competing for customers. As I’ve heard pastors say before, “cheeks in seats” are important. Granted, in the end we just hope everyone finds a great church and gets planted. But, as much as we may want to believe that churches shouldn’t have to compete for a congregation, we can see that’s just not true. Any pastor who has built a church will tell you competition exists, and it can be fierce.
Big Churches, Big Budgets
Mega-churches spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, or more, on marketing and promotion. A large part of that budget is allocated for online (digital) and printed material — websites, email campaigns, podcasts, video, live broadcast over the internet, and in extreme cases, paid television time. That’s right, churches who broadcast on TV are paying to be there.
This in no way means that every church should have that same aspiration. Many small churches have had a monumental impact on a lot of people. We are taught where two or more gather… so size isn’t everything.
In order to grow their impact on a town, city, region or the world — whatever the appropriate scale is — churches have to have people. That means people to tithe, give, volunteer, minister, and otherwise just be involved in the workings of the church. In order to expand the church’s message to reach more of those people, promotion is a core necessity.
Don't Forget Felt Needs
Technical SEO and local search are both important and a great place to start, but hardly the only place to focus. Don’t forget that many unchurched people — some would said non-churchgoers or non-church-knowers — would never think to look for help with felt-needs at church. So, it’s our job to make sure when they search for relevant terms in Google that your church is ranking for that term so church becomes a viable option to address the felt-need. We talk about felt-needs more here and explain why felt-needs matter in this post.
Five Steps To Get Your Church Website Found
The first place we are going to start is not on the website at all. If your church doesn’t have a website, this step still applies, but by all means, read this article on 11 Reasons To Have A Church Website.
Step 1: Claim Your GMB Local Listing
Claiming your church’s local listing on Google My Business will give you an advantage and provide a head start on your church being found in local search results, and it’s all free. Let’s agree on this premise — local SEO is no longer an option for your church website.
Claiming your listing lets Google know how to display information about the church in search results. This will help the people who are searching for local churches in your locale with basic information about the church including your address, hours, and contact information.
The GMB listing also attaches a local citation record, which is very important when it comes to ranking in local search results, for churches in this case.
Last, claiming your local Google listing will allow you to post information beyond the basic information including updates, events, special promotions, images and video pertinent to the church.
Every church, regardless of size, should claim their Google local listing and maximize its potential.
Here is an example of a local listing search for churches near me:
As you can see, there are results for the search churches near me (I’m only showing the top 3 organic results and the Google Map results), and this gives me a great place to start. I could have been more specific in my search i.e. methodist churches near me or nondenominational churches in savannah ga. The goal is for your church to show up at or near the top of these results.
Note: Setting up your local listing is not difficult but it will require some effort and time. Our agency specializes in GMB listing management and we can help you. Here is a detailed step-by-step GMB guide on what’s required to claim your listing and get it set up.
I would be remiss if I didn’t add this seemingly obvious tidbit under the GMB heading. Make sure your NAP (name, address, and phone number) are pasted all over your website. Preferably it would be on every page in a header and footer, plus a specific contact page with detailed contact information and an online contact form.
Having NAP info on every page will give Google the opportunity to learn who you are, where you are, and how to contact you. This information will validate your Google listing. Make sure that it is always up-to-date.
Step 2: Find Keywords People Are Using To Search
Keyword research is a fundamental step when implementing an SEO strategy — that is, fine tuning your website so that Google recognizes it as a helpful resource and ranks it high in the search results.
Not only will this pay off in people engaging with your online presence, but it will surely bring more visitors into the church.
There are a number of ways to go about keyword research, but using a professional here is money well-invested. There are many tools, even free tools, available to get started including SEMRush and UberSuggest — two of our favorites. A couple of other great tools are Moz Keyword Research and Ahrefs.
Some SEOs suggest Google Keyword Planner for free organic keyword research. It’s useful to a degree, but GKP is designed to research a keyword strategy for paid ads. Paid search is a completely different animal than organic (non-paid search) and the return on investment is not really comparable, so I recommend sticking with the best organic keyword research tools or hiring a professional like Delegal Digital.
Best Keywords For Church SEO
Before beginning the process of just writing down keywords that you think someone might use to look for your church, take a moment to put yourself behind the keyboard of someone searching for a church. Ask yourself these questions:
- What questions will they ask?
- How will they distinguish a church like yours?
- By denomination?
- By size?
- By the type of music (contemporary, traditional)?
- Are they looking for a church based purely on location?
- Are they looking for a church with specific mission or outreach programs?
- Are they looking for church that has early, late, or alternative service times?
Which phrases come to mind? Spend some time here and do a real brainstorm by imagining yourself as the one searching. This makes up the start of your keyword strategy and will ultimately be used in the content on your website so Google knows you want to be found accordingly.
If you’re not sure (and it’s impossible to be sure) you can use data to support your decision. Thankfully, you don’t have to guess how people are currently searching. There are many ways you can discover the most popular phrases in your locale and for churches like your church. The most popular way is to use one of the aforementioned keyword research tools, but it’s possible you already have something built in.
If you’ve gotten this far in this introductory how-to, it may be safe to assume you aren’t using Google Analytics on your website — if you have a website. But, for the sake of explanation, let’s say you are.
Using Google Analytics allows you to determine exactly how people are currently finding your website. That is, Google will tell you exactly how every user reached your website and/or what a user searched for when your church showed up in search results.
Also, Google Analytics will tell you how people get referred to your website. If other websites link to your church website, there is a good possibility that Google rewards your website for that (know as authority) and that alone will help you rank higher in search results.
Google Analytics is not fool-proof and they sometimes don’t report everything. However, you can use a tool like SEMRush to get a comprehensive report on referrals, keywords, results, and changes over time when it comes to how your church website performs online.
If you don’t have Google Analytics connected to your website, I highly recommended that you take this step so Google will start tracking all of these relevant metrics and allow you to improve the site over time using that data.
Step 3: Use the Keywords To Optimize Your Content and Website
There really isn’t a lot of magic here. After you’ve gone through a keyword research exercise, you will hopefully come away with a list of keywords and phrases that are optimal for your audience (the people you are trying to reach) and be able to use that information to optimize the content on your website so that Google begins to reward you over time.
The over time comment is important because this doesn’t happen overnight, especially with newer websites. Keywords are fundamental in your website’s ranking, but they are only a single element in a laundry list of other criteria Google uses to determine where your site will show up in search results. This criteria may include the age of your site, the quality of the content, the website’s speed and performance, and the way the information is structured. When considering all of these criteria, you must also consider all of the other churches who may be vying for attention using the same keywords or phrases. Ready to give up? Don’t worry, it’s difficult, but nothing worthwhile is easy.
Here's What To Optimize
Before going any further, I’m going to point you to a couple of reference articles more in-depth than we will get here. The first is an overview of Why SEO Is So Important. The second is the quintessential guide to SEO from Moz.
The elements that you will optimize on your site include:
You should make sure that the keyword phrase for a particular page is included in the H1 tag for that page. If this is overwhelming, it may be time to consult a pro.
Step 4: Encourage Members and Visitors To Review
Reviews are important for churches too. How many times have we asked church members to invite others to church? Well, reviews work the same way, and good reviews help in more ways than one. Good reviews, preferably on the Google listing I talked about earlier, build an implied trust with an audience you may be trying to reach. The vast majority of churches are doing great work, but human beings are now conditioned to rely on reviews as implied trust and authority, for businesses, products, and churches. In that light, you should encourage members to write reviews to convey what they love about the church. Here’s how you start.
Ask volunteers in the church to write a review about their experience, simply explaining why they volunteer and what they love about the church. That will get the ball rolling. Some church leaders indicate this is uncomfortable, but it’s OK to ask the people who clearly see serving the church is worthy of their time. Just do it.
Next, you can find creative ways to roll this out to other members of the church. There is nothing wrong with asking when you remember the reason is to draw others in who may need the right message at the right time. In fact, we are called to do just that.
Many churches have gotten creative with this process by putting signs in the welcome center or establishing a connecting point for members and visitors that remind them to leave an online review. Others actively solicit reviews in regular church communication, and some have even made announcements. You’ll likely know what’s right for your church and there is very little likelihood that anyone will be offended if they are asked, or even nudged, to leave a review — for the right reasons.
Step 5: Get Backlinks To Increase Authority
There really isn’t a more powerful way to climb the ladder of Google search results than having high-quality backlinks. You may be asking, what’s a backlink? Simply put, it’s when another website creates a link to your website. But, there is much more…
When Google crawls the nearly 2 billion websites on the internet, part of that routine is understanding how websites are connecting, who is pointing to whom, and why. Through a very complex algorithm, Google recognizes whether or not your site has been referenced by other sites, how many times it’s been referenced, and which content or page on your site is being referenced. It then uses the result to determine how important your website is and ranks it accordingly.
This is a wildly oversimplified version of what’s actually going on, but the concept is accurate. To cut straight to the bottom line, your church website will benefit from being referenced by other websites Google views as useful. SEOs call this “link juice.”
There are some things to be aware of here. Most backlinks are helpful, but quality backlinks are monumental. Getting those valuable backlinks takes a little work.
What Is Domain Authority?
It’s difficult to explain domain authority, or it’s importance, without a technical SEO discussion, so I’m going to be brief.
Think of domain authority as a rating for a website from 0 to 100. This metric was actually created by a company called Moz, not Google. Domain authority considers three primary elements: website age, website scale or size, and website popularity. To put it another way, it’s a credibility indicator for your website, or a specific web page, given a particular subject.
To create authority there are two ways to do it. One, have a website for a long time (years) with lots of content that is well-written and that people flock to, or two, borrow authority from other sites who have already done this and point to your website as an extended source (backlink). The former is the ideal way to go, but may be difficult if your website is newer and doesn’t yet have much content. That leaves us to finding good backlinks.
Where Can I Get Backlinks?
Simple right? Create content that others think is valuable and you will eventually get backlinks organically. Not quite that simple. Most websites that have put in the hard work to build their own domain authority are usually not likely to pass along that authority so easily.
Backlink strategies are overdone. They’ve been written about, thrown around, and have far too many chefs (experts) in the kitchen. I will offer this. Backlinks work. In the church community, it’s easier to get quality backlinks than in other business circles because we’re all after the same result — getting The Word out. Here are a few ways to get backlinks to your site.
Church Website SEO Must Start Somewhere
As I wrote earlier, all backlinks are not created equally. Websites with higher domain authority willing to link to your site will prove phenomenally more valuable than others. But, any backlink will likely be useful, especially in the beginning.
Wrapping It All Up
Being found online is important for churches and for the church website. Don’t be fooled into believing the old adage “if you build it, they will come.” Some will, some may, but as a church leader you know that growing the church in order to get the Good Word to as many people as possible is why you’re there.
Don’t be afraid to compete. It’s quite reasonable to believe as long as people are being fed with the Word of God it doesn’t matter where they eat. But, you also know that churches require resources in order to grow and reach more lost souls, and those resources come from church members. The more members, the more resources, the more lost souls saved.
You aren’t necessarily competing with other churches. You’re competing with the world — the crazy world that would rather have someone else’s attention on Sunday. When you think of it like that, SEO for church websites should be all-out competitive warfare, so get to it!
We Can Help
If you have any questions or would like help planning, designing, or optimizing your church website, you can contact us here at Delegal Digital. We work with churches, non-profits, and other charitable organizations in Savannah and around the country and would love to help you as well.