3 Local Search Ranking Factors Every Church Should UnderstandLast Updated: January 14th, 2021

When someone searches “church near me”, the first thing that they see is Google’s local 3-Pack, which is made up of the top 3 search results along with a map, placed in an order determined by Google’s algorithm. 

Local SEO efforts help improve search engine rankings for search terms that pertain to someone’s location, such as “church near me” or “church in Lincoln Park, IL”, as opposed to search queries like “Is God real?”. Non-location based searches are best targeted by efforts in On-Page SEO. 

According to Think With Google, “4 in 5 consumers use search engines to find local information,” and according to SEO Experts, “92% of searches will pick businesses on the first page of local search results.” This means that being on the first page of local search results or in the Google 3-Pack is extremely important for your church. 

Google uses 3 main factors to determine local search rankings. These are relevance, distance, and prominence

Relevance is how well your business matches what someone is searching for. If someone is searching for pizza, a church is not going to show up because that is not relevant to their search. 

Distance refers to how far your business is from either the user’s location OR from the location term used in the search. 

Prominence is how well known your business is. Google calculated this based on reviews, links, articles, citations, and more. 

Distance as a Local Search Ranking Factor

Next, we’ll take a deeper look into the key factor of distance. Moz found that the searcher’s distance (miles) to a place is the #1 overall ranking factor in location-based searches. Search results for the local pack can vary based upon the device, the precise location of the searcher, and the wording of the search itself.

First off, let’s take a look at the difference between searching the same phrase on a phone vs a computer. 

This is a search result done in Lincoln Park, IL with the term “church near me”. The first screenshot was taken on her iPhone and the second on her Windows laptop. Keep in mind that she performed this search from the exact same spot in her apartment.  

As you can see, the only one that is the same in the local pack is Saint Clement Church. 

The majority of people allow their cell phones to have their exact location, which is why when you search on your phone with location settings enabled, you’ll see a little blue dot with your exact location. This means that Google can give you your results based on exactly where you are.  According to Think With Google, “30% of all mobile searches are related to location.” This means that more and more people will be using their precise location when searching for location-based results. 

Depending on the settings on your computer, this may not always be the case. Some people have allowed Google to know their precise location, but most people do not have that setting enabled. 

Google then has to use the information it knows about your device to then pinpoint your location to the best of its ability. Google uses information such as your IP address, Wi-Fi network’s IP address, GPS, Bluetooth, and other location signals that it can gather from your device. 

Even though you are in the exact same spot, Google may think that you are in a different place and therefore give you different results in the local pack. 

Now let’s take a look at a location example. In this example, you’ll see that the location of the phone was extremely close but far enough that it was a different zip code. 

As you can see from the screenshot, Google produces the same local pack in each place but in a different order depending on where she was. 

When search terms that include “near me”, one of the biggest factors Google takes into consideration is the location of the searcher. Google wants to give you the best search results so that you’re encouraged to keep coming back to use their site. 

Relevance as a Local Search Ranking Factor

Local SEO is extremely important for churches because the people who are searching “church near me” are the ones who are most likely to show up in church on Sunday, and we understand this thanks to the relevance of the search term. It can be helpful to consider the various phrases that your target local audience might use to search for your church.

Take the last example from Michigan. She searched the term “churches near me” and google gave the top 3 based on her precise location. Now from across the country, the term “churches in Clinton Township Michigan” was searched and produce a different local pack. 

Even though these are both location-based searches, one of them uses the precise location of the searcher while the other one was used using location-based keywords. 

This is why your church may be in the local pack when someone who lives in your zip code searches “church near me”, but may not show when someone searches “church in city, state”. 

Prominence as a Local Search Ranking Factor

Another crucial component of Local SEO revolves around citations, backlinks, reviews, and Google My Business, to help your church be seen in the local pack and in the organic results by improving its online prominence. The more places your church is mentioned with 100% accurate name, address, and phone number details (or NAP information), the more trusted its local search presence becomes, which can also help greatly improve search engine rankings. 

Remember – Google wants to serve 100% accurate results, so Google needs to trust that they’re sending searchers to the correct place, and trust is built by confirming NAP information again and again across many directories and websites. However, Google will still take into account the location of the searcher as one of the biggest factors for location-based searches, which is why one person may see your church in their search and another may not. 

Getting Your Church Started with Local SEO

It’s important to make sure that your Local SEO is constantly up to date and that you’re taking full advantage of location-based searches. If you aren’t sure where to start or how to go about improving your Local SEO, check out Missional Marketing’s Local SEO for Churches.

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