I was debating for a while whether I should write this article. It just sounds weird to me to grow a congregation through SEO. I truly believe that He will grow His church and I truly believe in evangelism and that prayer is the way to go. I am firmly convinced that those churches that are not on the streets sharing their faith like Jesus and the early church did are not walking in the Spirit. A church without outreach is just a social club!
Alright, now that we got rid of those who got mad at me for the statements above, I am glad that you are still with me. Let me just start with a great story. One of my pastor friends overseas was organizing a conference. The leadership said that they needed X thousands of dollars to create billboards, radio ads, flyers, etc., to bring in a large audience.
My friend (who is the overseeing pastor for them) told the elders: “Okay, I can do it, but what if we pray first and ask God. Ask Him if He wants us to do that, or do a one week prayer meeting four times a day for an hour each.” The leaders went back to him the next day having decided to do the prayer meeting. The conference attracted 750 visitors with no advertisement. That was double the attendance of the previous year.
Ok, now that we have laid a foundation for what I believe, I am not afraid to share the “geek” stuff with you that can help you to rank better. Now that I see you have a good church, let’s do it!
The Search Engine Philosophy
Google continually changes. However, one thing has not changed since the beginning of the Internet – people go online for content. Whether they want to watch a funny YouTube clip, listen to a podcast, read a DIY blog, or buy something based on the reviews, they are looking for content. One big mistake you can make is starting to communicate to search engines instead of to a live audience. Just be genuine and real and that will bring great results!
Content has some very important functions. It has to be:
- Interesting & Relevant
Your responsibility is to create content on a consistent basis on your website and in other places. When you create content, you have to follow some basic rules that I will outline here. The best way to create content that fulfills all three of these requirements is through a blog. Yes, I know it sounds boring, but it actually works!
Interesting & Relevant Content
When you drive people to your website, it matters how much time they initially spend there. If you promote your page with a link advertising “Free Bible College Classes” and when they get there all they see are blog posts, they will close the window. That disappointment will hurt your rankings.
Google also can monitor the amount of time spent on the website. If your content is boring and people are not going from page to page and are not totally engaged with your site, then you are not doing well in the eyes of the mighty Google. Make sure you use a lot of images, videos, charts, and downloadable content.
Use “share” and “like” plug-ins on your website. Be brave about your goal and share your vision with your congregation. Tell them that from now on you will continually post on the church website and ask them to like and share ALL content that is published. Google really cares about how many people are talking about you on social sites.
Now we shift to the details of off-site SEO:
The Power of Social Media in SEO
One of the major things that Google pays attention to is where the biggest buzz is around a topic. For example, there are many churches in Silver Spring, MD. But what if one church has a lot of social followers, they are creating content all the time, and the congregation shares and likes everything that they do. Then the objective Google comes in and when someone searches for “church Silver Spring MD” then that church will most likely come up first.
Ask the congregation to follow you on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google +, and YouTube. Record and transcribe your sermons, take pictures at every event you do, and share short clips from your messages. A normal church has at least two services a week, so that should be at least two messages. You can do a lot with that. In larger, more active churches like ours, we have close to 20 messages preached in a week. If you are one of these churches, then you have no excuse for not creating content and being very active on social media.
Advanced Geek Stuff
There are some basic rules that you have to follow when you do SEO. Here are the ones that I consider the most important:
Always use images. Every time you use an image, whether on your own site or on one of the social media channels of your church, make sure you do the following:
- The image file name has to be one of the keywords that you are targeting.
- Every time you upload an image, give it an alt tag that is also a keyword.
- Before you upload the file, right click on it and give it a title, tags, and ratings. Guess what – use keywords here too.
- Geo tag your images with the GPS coordinate of your church.
- Upload the images to Panoramio, Flickr, and other sites where you can include the physical address of the church and the full URL, including http://.
Do the exact same thing that I listed for images aside from the last point. When you upload the files on YouTube, make sure to fill in all of the fields, even on the advanced tab. Read this YouTube Cheat Sheet From Heaven blog post for more details.
Stop gathering useless junk links from other sites. Google hates that and will penalize you for it. But it is very important to have incoming links from other places. Social media is one source and local directories are another (see below). Also, what works like a charm is guest blogging. There are scores of Christian blogs out there (you are reading one) that would love to have you as a guest author on their site. These are very valuable incoming links.
These include resources such as Merchant Circle, Yelp, Angie’s List, and HotFrog. Yes, I know you are not a pizza restaurant downtown, but believe me, it is important. When we talk about Church SEO, it is crucial to appear as many places as possible. There is no better way than these local business directories/citation sites. You can register with Yext.com and they will take care of the 40 major ones for you for $500 a year. The other idea is to go on WhiteSpark.ca and get a relevant list of directories and either do it on your own, or order the service from them. You might end up spending more than if you go with Yext.com, but you will end up with many more listings.
Good Tips If You Decide To Do It On Your Own
- Open a new Gmail account when your register on these sites. You do not need 100 extra spam emails a day on your main account.
- Follow the image and video rules I outlined above.
- Be consistent with all your data. If you say 123 Main Street on one site, do not say 123 Main St. on another.
- Never fall for Yelp or the other nasty sales people that will end up calling you to try to convince you that you absolutely need to spend money with them. It is a bunch of baloney.
The 900 Pound Gorilla
I am not here to debate about Google, so just take it as is. Use everything that Google offers. Be active on Google+, set up Google authorship for your blog, use YouTube, create a very compelling Google Local Business Page for your church, and so on. It does not matter if you do not agree with what Google does. If you want to do SEO, follow their rules and use their devices. That’s it. Easy deal!
If you have any specific questions, feel free to post them below.
Photo by: 1) church-marketing.info & bertamfinancial.com