This season of social distancing and physical isolation from one another has presented churches with both challenges and opportunities. Pastors and other church leaders accustomed to the joys and benefits of personal contact with their congregations have been forced to re-imagine what “doing church” looks like. That’s been the big challenge.
The upside? This pandemic’s happening at a time when there’s plenty of technology available to help bridge this gap. (Imagine how churches would have handled this just a couple decades ago!)
Through the power of digital imaging, wireless communication, teleconferencing platforms, and robust Internet connections, church leaders have managed to stay in touch with their flocks. Live streaming worship services have allowed congregations to “go to church” together, while video conferencing makes small groups, support groups, and even one-to-one pastoral counseling possible. Church personnel has been stretched to lean into technology for everything from children’s ministry to tithes and offerings.
Here’s another upside: Amazingly, some churches have actually grown during this pandemic. People are inviting their families and friends all over the country (and the world) to “visit” their church. Word is even spreading within communities that exciting, life-giving encouragement is being broadcast from churches right down the street! While this is sometimes happening organically, there are some steps you can—and should—take to maximize this unprecedented opportunity. Making your church visible online is at the top of this list.
How can you ensure that people find your church when conducting local searches? This first step is bolstering your local search engine optimization (SEO). Local SEO is aimed at making sure your church gets found online by people searching for it in that locality. This includes searches with certain geo-qualifiers, such as city, state, zip code, and “near me” searches, where Google picks up the geo-location of the person and provides search results from that area.
Local SEO is extremely important for churches that want to be visible to prospective visitors in the community. According to a study done by Forbes, 95% of smartphone users have used their device to perform local searches, out of which 61% called the business and 59% visited. SearchEngineWatch found that 70% of mobile users click to call a business directly from Google search results using their mobile phones. Clearly, leads from location-based searches are a major avenue for reaching people who are specifically searching for you.
Additionally, local SEO can help your church appear in Google’s local 3-Pack, which is the method Google uses to display the top three results, one of the most coveted spots when it comes to search engine results. This local 3-Pack is a set of three results (marked on a map) that appear above all other search results. This local pack only contains results that are geographically near to the searcher, ones that Google has confirmed actually exist at this location. For instance, if a user searches “churches near me,” the Google 3-Pack will display three churches near the user’s current location.
You can optimize your web presence in a way that will increase your chances of appearing in the 3-Pack when it comes up for a query that is applicable to you. Focusing on the following three priorities will give you a strong start.
Google My Business
A well-optimized Google My Business page can offer a variety of benefits. Your church’s Google My Business location is incredibly important in helping Google understand the details of your church (for example, your denomination and service times) which in turn will help more competitively. Additionally, having a vigilantly maintained Google My Business ensures that people who discover your church through a local search (using the local pack or Google Maps) have accurate and complete information available to them about your church. In managing your church’s Google My Business location, you should:
- Claim and verify your church’s Google My Business location
- Write a quality description of your church. This description should incorporate important keywords in a natural way.
- Upload quality images of your church, special programs, people, and special services that you provide.
- Make sure that your hours, name, address, and phone number (NAP) are all accurate. Hours of operation should include church office hours where applicable.
- Encourage “raving fans” of your church to leave you a review in Google. Make a habit of responding to content-rich (meaning, reviews with textual content rather than only a rating) reviews in Google My Business – both positive and negative.
Be sure your church website is optimized in the following ways:
- Ensure that the NAP (name, address, phone) information of your church is clearly available on your church website. Making this information available in a format that is favorable to search engine crawlers (such as structured data) is even better.
- If your church has multiple campuses, create a unique landing page for each of the campuses with the NAP (name, address, phone) information specific to that location. Configure the Google My Business of that location to point to the website URL of the campus-specific landing page.
- Be thoughtful and intentional about using important locality and denomination based keywords in website content and metadata (headings, browser title, meta descriptions, etc).
Manage authoritative online citations for your church by taking the following steps:
- Perform an audit to locate existing citations in authoritative directories. There are too many of these for us to list, but outside of Google My Business some of the most authoritative directories include: Apple Maps, Bing, Yahoo Local, Mapquest, Foursquare and Yelp. You can find out more information about directories and data aggregators here.
- Review all of the citations, confirming the NAP information of your church is consistent and correct. When problems are discovered or your church is not present in an authoritative directory, pursue manual correction/addition if possible.
This tool will produce an overview of your church's local search presence. This includes factors such as your online citation profile, local search rankings, and online reputation profile. Local search results are a primary driver of new visitors to your church website and as a result Local SEO is of great important to churches.
Local SEO will maximize how often your church is found in local type discovery searches, in which a user is searching for a keyword that matches what your church is, does, or offers. It could be a search like “church near me” or more specific searches like “non-denominational church in San Diego.” With these types of searches, people are looking for a church but are not specifically looking for your church (they may not even know about your church!). With strong local SEO, people searching will be able to find your church.
If you’re committed to making your church’s ministry and benefits visible and available to people in your community who need them, you’ll want to take a close look at your local SEO. We are pleased to offer a Local SEO subscription service for your church, you can find out more about this service here.
Whatever you choose to do, we urge you to address this absolutely critical need for your church. Now is the perfect time!