Are you looking to grow your church’s congregation and reach new people in your area? Do you want your church to show up in search results for people looking for a church nearby or the unchurched? If the answer to those questions is yes, then you’ve come to the right place. As a pastor or leader, you likely already have some understanding of the importance of your church needing a strong online presence but you might now know how to do so or have the time to allocate to SEO. By optimizing your church’s website for search engines, you’re able to generate high-quality web traffic that might lead to an in-person visit. In this basic guide to church SEO, we’ll break down some simple strategies to improve your online outreach.
What is SEO?
SEO is short for Search Engine Optimization, a practice of implementing specific actions and strategies to give your church’s website the best possible chances of ranking highly in organic search results to drive traffic to your website. Organic search results are the ones below the paid advertisements as seen in the below example:
Since most users do not click past the first page of search results, it’s important to rank on the first page for relevant keywords. Every search engine has an algorithm that determines rankings in search results. In this blog, we’ll be focusing on Google since it’s by far the largest search engine.
There is a wide variety of factors that play into the search results displayed for each user such as their geographical location, device, and past online activity. Google’s main goal is to deliver the highest quality answers and the most relevant search results for a user’s question. There are some standard best practices that every website should put into place to be successful in search results.
On-Page Vs. Off-Page SEO
SEO strategies can be broken down into on-page and off-page SEO. On-page SEO is the actions that you take on your website to optimize it for search engines. An example of on-page SEO is creating blogs and landing pages that are optimized for specific keywords you want your website to rank for. In contrast, off-page SEO can be defined as strategies you implement for SEO that don’t directly take place on your website. Examples of off-page optimization include backlinking, social profiles, and Google My Business.
For your website to be found in Google search results, it has to be indexed by Google. Google bots crawl websites across the internet and index the pages into their search inventory. The easier it is for bots to crawl your church’s website, the more pages of your site will be indexed. To ensure your site is fully indexed, you can submit your sitemap to Google on Search Console.
Google also places importance on website security to make the internet a safer place for all users. You can make your church’s website more secure by adding a special certificate to your site that’s known as an SSL certificate. You might have noticed as you browse different websites that some URLs begin with http:// or https://. The “s” in https:// means that the site you are on is secure and encrypted. This signals to both users and Google that your site is safe and will give your website a slight boost in search results.
If your church is new to SEO, the first place you should start is local SEO. Since most people go to a church close to where they live, your church needs to be easily found in local search results. When a user is searching on Google, it takes into account their physical location and prioritizes nearby results by showing them above the other organic listings. You want your church to show up in Google for discovery searches like, “church near me” or “best churches in [city].
One of the most important elements to local search is having a Google My Business listing. If your church doesn’t already have a GMB profile, now is the time to create one. This free business listing service allows you to verify and manage key information about your church so that people on Google can easily find what they’re looking for. You can easily add information like your church’s address, phone numbers, hours, photos, and updates. Users can also interact with your listing directly by leaving a review or asking a question.
By having a fully robust and active GMB profile, your church will be rewarded by ranking higher in local search results so it’s important to keep everything up to date and frequently post new photos and posts to the listing, in addition to being responsive to users. Since GMB is connected to Google Maps, this will automatically also allow your church to easily be found there, as well.
When it comes to on-page SEO, content is king. The content on your church’s website should be both user friendly and easy for search bots to read. Google bots read at an eighth-grade level, also known as the Flesch Kincaid Reading score. To help tell Google what your site’s content is about, all pages should be fully tagged and titled with appropriate H tags, alt tags, and meta tags.
Google likes to see that websites are kept active and are frequently posting fresh content. In addition to having strong core page content, a great strategy for ranking for new search terms is through posting blogs and landing pages that are optimized for specific keywords.
Felt Needs Landing Pages
One way to reach the unchurched who are searching the internet for answers to tough questions is by creating felt needs landing pages. Although your church may be able to help users who are searching for their felt needs on Google, if your site isn’t properly optimized for these keywords, it may not rank in search results.
By creating landing pages specifically targeted to these keywords with highly relevant content, your church’s website can rank for these terms and reach users directly when they need it most. Some examples of felt needs keywords include, “parenting a difficult teen”, “how to cope during a divorce”, and “what does the bible say about finances”.
Another great way to build your church’s SEO content is to leverage Missional Marketing’s Sermon Video Library for users to be able to stream sermons. In addition to being great for user experience and engagement metrics, these sermon videos, when optimized with transcriptions and proper metadata, can rank in search results for keywords that the sermon topics are relevant to – whereas typical sermon video players lack metadata or any words on the page whatsoever, making it impossible for Google to know what the sermon is all about. This is a great way to reach new users online and the unchurched. For example, if you have a sermon on overcoming anxiety through God’s peace, this could rank in search results for a user searching “how to overcome anxiety” and be a great resource for them. If a new person likes the sermon they watch online, they might decide to attend an in-person service.
Another great way to build your church website’s SEO is through getting backlinks to your site. A backlink is when another website links to your church’s website. Backlinks increase your domain authority by signaling to Google that your site is being viewed as a quality resource on other websites. When it comes to backlinks, quality is the key component. It’s better to have high-quality backlinks from domains with high authority than having a large number of backlinks from poor quality sources. As an example, let’s say that your church was featured on Good Morning America for doing mission work. The story was shared on their website and it linked back to your church’s site. This would greatly boost your church’s domain authority since Goodmorningamerica.com is a very established website.
Obviously, it isn’t the easiest to get sites like Goodmorningamerica.com to do a spotlight on your church. Over time, your website will get more backlinks by producing high-quality, shareable content. In the meantime, you can solicit backlinks by creating directory listings on sites like yellowpages.com, usachurches.org, and churchfinder.com. You can also reach out to other webmasters to try and build a backlinking partnership or get a guest posting opportunity.
In addition to backlinking, it’s a good idea to create social profiles on other platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. Social profiles help to grow your online presence and develop your church’s brand. Even though Google has not directly stated that social media is a ranking factor, it has been shown by SEO experts to carry weight in search results. Google and other search engines like to see that you’re active across the web. Although not directly synced, social profiles are also often pulled in to your Google My Business listing. It’s not uncommon for reviews on Facebook to be featured on your GMB listing in the knowledge panel.
We recommend creating as many social media accounts as your church can keep up with. At a minimum, your church should have a Facebook and an Instagram account that you can post to multiple times a week. It’s important to keep engagement high on social media and frequently interact with your followers.
Take the Next Step
If you’ve found this basic guide to church SEO helpful and want to get started implementing these strategies, Missional Marketing is here to help. Our team will partner with you to improve your church’s visibility online to help grow your church and bring more people to Christ. Take the next step by getting a free audit of your church’s website to see what could be improved for SEO. If you’d like to learn more about our digital marketing services, give us a call at 480-420-2007.