What is SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It is the shorthand way to describe the process of improving how well a site, like your church website, appears in search engines. Since 88% of searches in the USA are on Google, this often means maximizing how your site ranks in Google. Because it is the most common we’ll talk exclusively about Google in this article. Fortunately all of these tips will help you rank better in Bing and Yahoo as well. We’ll cover the basics of SEO for churches.
Key SEO Terms
There are many technical terms needed to master SEO, but here are the basics. With these five terms you should have the basic language to start thinking about people finding your website and taking steps to connect with more people.
Key Words: The words that someone will use be actually searching for. The goal of SEO is to do work so your site ranks higher for specific key words.
Algorithm: Google and all search engines uses an algorithm, a complicated process to determine what users are searching for and what results to show them.
Impressions: An impression is when your page is visible on a search page.
Clicks: When a person actually clicks on a search result link to your page.
For more terms visit this SEO glossary.
The Basic Search Process
Before diving into how to fix your SEO, lets first take a walk through of how a search goes.
Someone may be looking for a new church. They pull out their phone or maybe sit down at their computer and start searching in Google. In this case, they type in “church near me.”
Instantly Google’s algorithm goes to work. It recognizes that this is a search for a local business, specifically a church near the user’s location (which Google knows). The key words for this search would be “church near [location].” Google’s goal is to offer the best results for the user so that they will continue to use Google.
Since this is a search for a local business Google will show Google My Business (GMB) results linking to local churches. They will then show church websites and websites that list churches such as churchfinder.com or yelp as top results.
Any results on this page, even if the user doesn’t scroll down to it, count as an impression. The user will look at these results and click on one whichever result(s) they think might offer what they are looking for.
The question for you is how you can guarantee that your church website is visible and clicked on. That’s what SEO is all about!
The Three Pillars of Good SEO + Bonus
There are a lot of ways to improve your SEO, some which are pretty challenging. Fortunately, the most important steps require are also the most straight forward!
To get started I recommend focusing on these 3 basic areas. I’m also suggesting one extra which is a bit more advanced but probably the biggest way you can super-charge your SEO.
These steps are not overly difficult and yield huge results.
1. Links to Your Site
One of the main factors in ranking higher is the authority of your site. A key ways Google determines this is by how many websites link to your site and quality of these links. On top of that, these links can hopefully generate traffic on their own bringing people to your site on top of your visitors from search engines like Google.
The simplest strategy to improve links to your site is to be sure that your site is listed on citation sites. You’ll want to ensure that all of the following information is accurate: website address, physical address, phone number, and hours.
Once you’ve updated this always keep an eye out for how you can create links to your website. Your local newspaper or denomination may be a great source for links. If you have ministry partners such as a local charity be sure to link to them and see if you can get them to link to you. Google may rank these links differently, but any links to your website from credible places sites will be of value and can signal to Google that your site is a better fit for what search users are actually looking for.
2. Good Content
The dirty secret most “SEO Experts” won’t tell you is that the best way to rank well isn’t secret SEO tricks. It is good content. If your website is hard to navigate, loads slowly, and doesn’t offer anything to your site visitors Google won’t want to show your site to search users. On the other hand, if your site has good content it will naturally rise to the top.
The good news for you as you try to rank your church website higher is that your competition field is very low. You will only be competing with other churches in your area and my experience is that the vast majority of church websites do not have strong content.
- Go deep, not wide. Have fewer pages but make sure each page you do have is well done with good visuals and written content that is truly meaningful to site visitors.
- Focus on these pages first: Home > About > Staff > Contact. These four pages will likely make up 95% of your traffic.
- Include good video, image, and written content.
- Most pages, with the exception of your contact page, should have at least 300 words per page.
3. Drive Traffic to Your Site
Organic search results are fantastic, but they aren’t thee only way to drive traffic to your site. Be sure to use Facebook (both posts and paid advertising) and email to intentionally send people to specific pages with clear purpose in mind.
One reason to do this is you take Google out of the equation. Mastering SEO is not your goal, reaching your community is. By sending church members and guests to specific pages you have much more control of the process and can connect intentionally.
The other reason is that this will help people find you as well. The more people who visit your site and spend time engaging with your content the more Google will want to show your site to their search users.
Bonus: The Secret SEO Ingredient for Churches
Churches have one huge SEO advantage over other local businesses: event programming. Having good event pages on your site offers three huge SEO wins.
Generate Good Content
First, it’s the easiest way to generate good content on your site. By creating pages for events your churches are doing you have an easy way to write several hundred words and feature great images. Church members and guests are naturally curious about what you church is doing. Your church does events year round so you have an easy and natural content creation machine. Most local businesses have to work hard to come up with this type of content, but churches have a massive advantage by having ongoing events.
Rank for More Search Terms
Second, event pages allow you to reach new search terms. Only a regular basis most churches can rank for some combination of these terms: “church” + “location” + “denomination” and you will only get found by people actually searching for this. By adding pages on your site for events you can greatly increase what you are ranking for. You can rank for specific terms like “fall festival” “Christmas eve service” “VBS” “photos with Santa” “Free Easter Egg hunt” “free yoga” and more. Some of these terms will have MUCH greater search volume. You may find 1,000% increase in search traffic with people searching for Fall Festival vs people searching for churches.
In addition to high traffic seasonal event searches you will start ranking for ongoing terms like “church events” “youth activities” “children’s ministry events” etc.
Rank for More Search Terms
Lastly, on top of improving your SEO, events are also huge for your social media and email. Events are the only type of content you create on Facebook to reach your community for free. If your regular posts are getting hundreds of views (all of which are people who already like your page) you can expect events to reach thousands of people. Events are also the type of content that people would most want to receive emails about and are most likely to click links in email about.
Boost Your Church Website SEO Today
SEO can be tricky and there are a lot of technical elements that are hard to master. If you’d like help with that we’d be glad to talk with you. But don’t think you have to master SEO to get your church website ranked on the first page of google. If you start with these basics of good links, good content, driving traffic through Facebook and email, and feature your events on your website I guarantee you your site will begin to rank better on Google within the next six months.