Want to grow your Church?
At Missional Marketing, we believe that church growth starts with a click. This means that optimizing your church's online presence and leveraging all the various drivers of web traffic will lead new people to find and visit your church. We'll help you prioritize the most important actions concerning your online assets and help you "get right with Google" for successful church growth.
Join the Church Growth Interviews Podcast
Healthy church growth occurs when young new people show up and keep coming back long enough to mature as generous givers, while existing members keep attending, growing, and increasing their giving.
Seven out of ten new people come because they were invited by friends or family. Three out of ten come because they learn about the church through online media.
New people keep coming back and members stay when standards are high for biblical teaching along with strong family ministries, vibrant small groups, and meaningful volunteering opportunities.
Members grow in their maturity and giving when they have opportunities to lead others on pursuing spiritual maturity and generosity.
Join our Church Growth Interviews Podcast to learn what successful ministry leaders are doing to achieve healthy church growth.
Topic Areas include:
- Providing a sticky attendee experience
- Nurturing relationships that promote church growth
- Leadership objectives that support healthy church growth
- Attracting new visitors to the church
- Growing generosity at your church
This podcast features 20 to 45-minute interviews with thought leaders on church growth:
- Lead pastors
- Executive pastors
- Communications directors
- Church growth book authors
- Church growth consultants
- Church growth platform developers (such as Gloo)
How to Grow Traffic to Your Church Website
In today’s world, web traffic growth precedes physical growth. It’s rare for people to visit any place that they haven’t first viewed online. Most people scroll a business’s website and social media pages before ever stepping foot in the establishment. Unfortunately, many churches are lacking an easily-discovered, high-quality web presence, and thus are missing out on multitudes of potential visitors. So before planning for physical growth, tackle these steps to first grow your church website’s traffic.
The first three steps are the most fundamentally important for every church regardless of their size:
The next five steps are also important but their nature requires longer-term planning and budgeting:
The World According to Google
Because it’s the world’s most used search engine by a landslide, understanding Google’s algorithm for measuring search results is critical when addressing the issue of website traffic. Here are a few important keys:
- Google can see how searchers reach your church’s website and what happens after they land on it.
- One way Google determines how well your website meets a searcher’s needs is by measuring click-through-rates to your website via its search engine results pages, or SERPs. A higher click-through-rate for a given search query represents a website that adequately matches the searcher’s intent.
- The bounce rate is another key metric for Google. When visitors to your website bounce, it suggests to Google that your website didn’t meet their needs. When they engage in your website by staying and clicking around to other pages, that signals to Google that your website has met their needs. For this reason, each page should have a compelling reason for people to stay longer and click deeper.
- Ideally, your website visitors will each take an action that counts as a web conversion, because when they do, they’re indicating a high level of interest that registers with Google.
Google uses these measurements (amongst others) to rank and serve search results that will best meet a searcher’s needs.
When people use Google to find local businesses, including churches, Google is able to differentiate between a general information search and a destination search. For example, if you search the term “orthodontist,” you’ll get a completely different type of result than if you search “Johnny Depp.” In the former search, Google will likely give you the address of an orthodontist near you. With the latter search, however, you’re not likely to get the address of Johnny Depp (although it would be very cool if somehow you do.)
In order for your church to show up effectively in a location-based search in Google, we must optimize what we call Local SEO (Search Engine Optimization.) There are three primary actions that determine whether or not your church will have a high rank in local search queries.
a. Localize your website
The first-- and simplest-- item on the local SEO to-do list is to ensure that your name, address and phone number appear on every page of your website. Most often, this is found in the footer of the website. If you don’t have your name, address and phone number on every page of your website, you could be missing out on valuable local traffic. In order for Google to read this info correctly, it should also be included in the form of schema, or structured data that exists in the code of your website. This is a more technically oriented task and may require someone with basic web development skills to execute.
Make sure that your church website also includes indications of locality in as many important places as possible (both city/town and state). These should be included in the browser title, the homepage meta-description, a header element on the homepage, and within regular textual content itself.
b. Manage your Google My Business account
The next important step in local SEO efforts is to focus on managing your Google My Business account. Google’s likely already established a Google My Business page for your church, even if you had nothing to do with setting it up. If your church doesn’t have a Google My Business page, you should set one up immediately. If you already have a page set up by Google, then you should claim it by logging into your Google My Business account.
Once you own your Google My Business page, you should manage it just like you would any other social media account. Make sure all your information matches what’s listed on your church website, and then continue to make updates. Google will reward you for playing in their sandbox. Update photos, hours of operation, and events and activities. Add posts to your Google My Business page regularly. Consistency is key as posts are not permanently saved. Event posts on Google My Business will automatically disappear 24 hours after the event takes place. Other types of posts will last for 7 days.
It’s also important to encourage your congregation to write reviews on your Google My Business page. When they do, you should also respond to their reviews. Once again, this demonstrates that you’re playing on Google's terms and Google will reward you with higher local search rankings. Within your Google My Business account, you can access a direct link to your reviews page, which you can include in your regular weekly or monthly email newsletter to your church family. Explain that writing reviews will help more people find your church online.
c. Manage your citations
Finally, as it relates to local SEO, you should verify that your church is listed in Google's most important citation directories. In addition to checking your name, address and phone number on your website and cross-referencing that with what is on your Google My Business page, Google will also search hundreds of other directories online to verify this info, ensuring that all are correct and consistent. So make sure your church Facebook page info is up to date, as well as any citations in Yelp, Bing Places, Apple Maps Connect, and Mapquest.
Perhaps you have little to no budget for advertising, or you’d like to expand your reach beyond what your current budget allows for. Let’s review one underutilized and highly impactful option: the Google Ad Grant. Google offers a grant for non-profits that can be used for pay-per-click advertising campaigns. Churches that qualify can receive up to $10,000 per month in FREE advertising value!
However, the grant comes with a lot of regulations to ensure that it is being used correctly, and the vetting process is strict. Among many other rules, the grant eligibility criteria require your church to have a 501c3 status and a secure website. We offer a Google Grant Eligibility Checker Tool for Churches and can also help you with your grant application and ad campaign management.
Here are some tips for making your website Google Grant-ready:
- Make sure you have relevant content on your church website that will match a potential ad. For example, if a person is searching for “men’s ministry” they don’t want to be sent to your church’s homepage. Instead, they want to see an ad that says, “Looking for a men’s ministry?” with a link to a church’s men’s ministry.
- Bulk up your content on any page you plan to use for a Google Ad Grant. Aim for 300-1000 words on these pages, and utilize your H1 and H2 headers and other metadata, incorporating the primary keyword you plan to target with the associated ads.
- Consider using sermon videos or messages as a way to build traffic through the Google Ad Grant. We can help you set up your Sermon Video Library, which we’ll discuss more below.
As social media touches every demographic and streaming becomes a preferred method of watching TV, people are spending more time than ever online. Smart businesses understand the need for digital advertising and churches, in particular, must learn to build brand awareness through online channels. In today’s world, online advertising isn’t just an “extra”, but should instead be a standard part of any major church service or event budget.
Statistics show that 75% of American adults are on Facebook every day — if we’re aiming to meet people where they are, this is it! Churches with an outreach orientation have traditionally spent thousands of dollars mailing postcards or flyers and advertising in newspapers and on billboards. Facebook advertising allows a much more strategic and targeted audience at a fraction of the cost. This is both good stewardship and smart business sense.
Here are some facts about church advertising:
- Individuals will attend your church or upcoming event if you invite them.
- The more people know your church exists, the more likely they are to attend whenever they’re ready.
- Digital advertising allows you to reach unchurched populations that you wouldn’t normally be able to access.
Every person's reason for visiting your church website is different. People are coming from different places and looking for different things. Understanding your church’s website traffic is a powerful way to learn about individuals interested in your church.
Utilizing statistical data from Google Search Console and Google Analytics allows you to better understand your audience as well as evaluate your digital marketing spend. By finding out what keywords people have used to end up on your website, you can gain valuable insight and start tailoring your content to meet these needs. Finding out what pages have the highest and lowest bounce rates can also help you improve your church website.
Here are the top 5 questions to ask Google Analytics and Google Search Console about your church website:
- Is your organic search traffic growing?
- What are those who discover your church actually searching for or querying?
- How often do people click on your church website in search results when given the opportunity?
- What types of relevant searches are you not receiving traffic for?
- Where on your website are people landing when they first arrive, and how are those pages performing?
Google can also see what happens after someone lands on your church’s website. When visitors bounce (or leave quickly without engaging anywhere deeper into the site), that suggests to Google that your website didn’t meet their needs. When they engage in your website, that signals to Google that your website has met their needs. So when structuring your website, keep in mind that each page should have a compelling reason for people to stay longer and click deeper.
Google Analytics offers the ability to establish customized conversion goals that record the completion of very specific desired actions by your church website’s users. Here are the top 5 conversion goals you should be tracking:
Homepage Above-the-Fold Call(s) to Action Completions: These exist within the most valuable real estate on your entire website. To measure their performance, you’ll need to create an individual custom event trigger for each one, and then map a conversion goal to each event within Google Analytics.
Users Reaching Your “Plan a Visit” Page: The action indicating the highest likelihood of new site visitors’ conversion to an in-person visit is their arrival to your Plan a Visit page. To track this, simply select a “destination” type goal, and then use a destination URL of your Plan a Visit page. No custom events are necessary.
Users Reaching Your Sermons/Messages Page: Potential visitors frequently watch a sermon as a “preview” of what the church is like before making an in-person visit, so this level of engagement is telling. Like Goal #2, this is a simple “destination” goal that doesn’t require creating a custom event.
Visits Longer Than Two Minutes: Two minutes is the threshold value for this goal. Two minutes may seem short, but typically a visit lasting this long indicates that a new visitor is really engaged in your content. Select the “duration” goal type, and enter a duration of greater than two minutes.
These goals are designed to be as universal as possible, but there are likely countless goals specific to your church website you can use to further analyze and glean direction for improvements. As you get familiar with Google Analytics and Search Console or work with one of our experts, you can track additional metrics.
In the business world, it’s no secret that generating regular content on your website will attract more site visitors. Yet in the church world, even though we’re creating new content every single week that’s shared through our services and ministries, we often miss out on the best ways to use it in order to reach people online. Landing pages built around specific keywords can increase organic traffic to your site and help connect those searching with meaningful ministries made to address their specific needs.
Here are two frequently underutilized ways to take your existing content and optimize it for search engines:
a. Add Felt Needs Content to Your Web Presence:
Building optimized pages on your website for your ministries are a great way to help more people find you online. Millions of Google searches are performed by people who are seeking answers or solutions for their individual “felt needs.” They may be looking for marriage support, help with addiction, or parenting tips. Churches often have ministries that directly respond to these needs, yet not enough content about them to come up as a Google search result.
Tip: Write every page on your website with a keyword in mind. Create a persona for each page’s intended audience. Ask yourself, “For what Google search would this page be a relevant answer?”
b. Optimize Your Sermon Videos for Google:
Repurposing your sermon content in the form of written articles or blogs is a great way to help more people find your church website. Sermon videos offer some of the most relevant content your church can provide, connecting online searchers in your community to your church through their specific felt needs. Sermon videos are also an excellent way for searchers to gain familiarity with your church and its leaders so they’re more comfortable attending in person.
Tip: Since Google doesn’t “see” video, you need to explain to Google what your sermon video is about using SEO metadata so that it shows up in relevant search engine results.
Google speaks a specific language. If you choose to speak Google’s language, then it will gladly pass on your relevant information to anyone searching for it. A church website that doesn’t speak Google’s language is like an English-speaking American inviting people to church in a public square in China. A few people might show up, but not nearly the number you’re going for.
There are three things that Google loves on a church website: security, speed, and crawlability. Let’s look at each of these in detail:
Website security has two parts: ensuring your website itself is not compromised and ensuring that the data sent between your website and its users is private. Site security has everything to do with your organizational practices and the quality of your infrastructure, and it’s critically important. But an additional piece that churches often miss is secure communication with site users. Google wants all website communication to be performed securely over the HTTPS protocol. Here’s how you can achieve that:
- Always have an SSL certificate installed on the website and make sure that it’s installed properly. Communication must happen over an HTTPS protocol. Your host or CMS may automatically handle this for you, or you may need to obtain an SSL/TLS certificate yourself and install it manually. Some environments can support the free certificate provider Let’s Encrypt. Regardless of what you’re using, consider this step mandatory for your church website.
- Making sure that transmissions to and from your website actually utilize the HTTPS protocol is another best practice. You can do this by forcing usage, or redirecting HTTP requests to HTTPS. Not only does this guarantee that transmissions are private, but it also creates consistent URLs for Analytics tracking and other purposes. There are multiple ways to force HTTPS, depending on your environment. For Wordpress, you can use a plugin-driven solution like Really Simple SSL.
- If you’ve completed both of the steps above, you still might be missing something. An HTTPS-enabled protocol that forces usage for page requests doesn’t necessarily mean that all the resources necessary to load an individual page will be referenced over HTTPS. “Mixed content” is the term for unsecured resources being referenced on secure pages. When mixed content is detected, browsers will not display the padlock icon in the URL bar that indicates a secure site. You might address mixed-content problems manually, or you may be able to use a plugin-driven solution to help.
You’ll also want to ensure that your website is built to load quickly-- meaning that images and videos are properly optimized for fast loading and that you have no dirty scripts confusing the browser. In today’s world, people expect efficiency, and that means websites that don’t make them wait. Here’s how you can achieve this:
- Website speed should be measured from the user’s perspective. For example, a website that takes 8 seconds to fully load but becomes interactive and displays its above-the-fold content after 1 second will feel very fast to a user. But a site that takes only 3 seconds to fully load, yet doesn’t present any content or become interactive until that time, will feel slow. GTmetrix is a free and helpful tool for measuring advanced metrics.
- TTFB, or time-to-first-byte, reflects how long it takes for the user to first receive a response from your website. This can be impacted significantly by caching and determined by the quality of your hosting environment. Aim for a consistent TTFB value of under 500ms. Frequent values of more than 2s should be immediately addressed.
- FCP (First Contentful Paint) or the more advanced FMP (First Meaningful Paint) timing reflects when the first significant webpage content is visually displayed to the user. This is typically the above-the-fold content. A FCP value of under 1.5s is generally considered acceptable.
- Simply put, transmitting all the data necessary to load the page (often 50-200+ individual resources) to the user takes time. The less data you have to send, the faster your webpage will load, and your mobile users will thank you for not consuming more of their data plan. Optimize your images by resizing their proportions to match their intended use.
The World Wide Web is, quite literally, a giant web of information, and your website is a miniature web inside it. Google robots or “spiders” need to be able to easily navigate into your website and through your website without running into dead ends, roadblocks or confusing pathways. Here’s how your content should be structured so that Google can understand it:
- Optimize browser titles to describe the page within 50-60 characters. The browser title is used as the display title of the page’s search result. Use local keywords on your homepage or any campus-specific landing pages.
- Meta-descriptions matter. Each important page on your website should have a unique meta-description of up to 160 characters. These are displayed in search results as the description, and will often be the difference between someone clicking or ignoring your website. If you don’t set a meta-description for a page, Google will attempt to do this for you, but it often fails to represent what the page is really about.
- Heading tags indicate the major topics of the page’s content and provide a guideline as to what the page is about. These headings (<h1>, <h2>, etc…) should communicate what the page is about and how the content is organized.
- The URLs of your website’s pages can both indicate what the page is about and establish relationships between different pages on your website. Through a URL, Google can discern organizational relationships in the structure of your site and users can get an idea of what the page is all about.
All of these factors-- speed, security, and crawlability-- can heavily influence search engine rankings. Doing some SEO work upfront can ensure that your site is primed and ready for Google searches.
Every time someone visits your website and engages with it, you’re acquiring SEO “juice.” Your website and pages are gaining authority online over time. When you move to a new website, whether through a website migration or a rebuild, you risk losing all the search engine rankings you’ve established, and the resulting loss of web traffic could be devastating to your organization’s growth. Simply put, this risk is the reason for a 301 redirect.
301 redirects act like a forwarding address for the post office. You probably spent years building up trust and SEO value with Google, and 301 redirects will pass on all that existing SEO “juice” to your church’s new URLs. When building a new church website, it’s essential to implement 301 redirects from the old site to the new one, pointing forward that all-important SEO value. Without a plan for 301 redirects, your church can lose a meaningful amount of SEO value and its associated web traffic, making it one of the biggest mistakes a church can possibly make when investing in a new website.
Due to the importance of this step, it’s a great idea to have it handled by church SEO experts. Our 301 Redirect Planning and Implementation services can help you make sure this process is done correctly and effectively.
In terms of first impressions, your two most important pages are the homepage and the Plan a Visit page. New visitors navigate to these pages first, and quite often they’re the determining factor in a visitor's decision to attend your church in person. Remember, you always want to think about your website from the user’s point of view.
With that in mind, let’s review what makes a great user experience on these two pages:
Above-the-fold content — everything that’s immediately visible without scrolling-- on your church homepage should be designed with the unchurched in mind. Use language that anyone would be comfortable and familiar with, even if they’ve never in their lives known God, or been to a church. Include a “benefit statement,” something clear and concise about your church’s identity and what you’re offering to an unchurched visitor. Weave in a high-quality image or video to support this statement-- ideally one of the people having a good time. Finally, include a call to action, like “Plan a Visit” in your above-the-fold content.
Menus should be easy to navigate. Your site should provide potential new visitors with intuitive access to areas that they’re interested in, including Plan a Visit, Messages/Sermons, About Us, and Find Help. These types of pages are most commonly navigated by seekers and shouldn't be hard to find.
Below-the-fold content should include multiple sections with calls to action, offering a path for deeper engagement. Highlight opportunities to connect in person with small groups, first-time visitor meetings, or classes. Dedicate one content block to your latest sermon video as well as providing access to your live stream, if applicable. Finally, include events, which speak to all three rings of your website audience. Organize your event listing in a clear, easy-to-access way.
Felt needs are often the reasons that users are visiting your site in the first place. Include content about how your ministries provide help in regards to prayer, counseling, assistance with addictions, parenting needs, and more.
Plan a Visit Page
Service times are key pieces of information for those visiting your church website. Be clear about any differences between services if you offer multiple styles.
Getting there is a concern for new visitors in particular. Provide clarity to put their minds at ease with a Google Map, parking instructions, and anything visitors can expect when entering the building.
What to expect is another helpful section to include on this page. Potential visitors are much more comfortable walking into an unfamiliar church when they know details like the length of the service and style of music, whether childcare is provided and if pre-registration is necessary, and how they should dress or what they’re expected to give during an offering.
Your 3 Audiences
It may sound simple, but one of the most critical tasks in effective digital marketing is determining who you’re trying to reach. When it comes to church websites, there are generally three different groups of people that churches should target. When we talk about these audiences, we speak in terms of three rings.
Ring 1 is your inner circle-- people who already know you. You already know them. They’ve attended your church and are connected to you in some way relationally. They might be your Christmas-Easter crowd or they may be the folks who show up 52 Sundays a year. Chances are, you’re pretty good at communicating with this group. When they need information about your church, your ministries, events, and activities, they don't have to look far. They navigate right to your website or your Facebook page to get the information they need.
Ring 2 is made up of those in your geographic area who are actively searching online for a church. They might be searching for a place of worship or spiritual growth support. They may simply be looking for a venue for a wedding or a funeral. Whatever the case, their Google queries typically contain words that we would associate with church or Christianity, and they’re the group that’s the most likely to show up on Sunday because they’re actively seeking a church. Your church website could be effective in reaching this audience, but only if you’ve been intentional about designing it for that purpose.
Ring 3 consists of everyone else. This group encompasses all those in your community-- the thousands or tens of thousands-- who have no idea that you exist. They likely don’t have church on their radar in any way and are using Google to find a solution to a problem or challenge they’re facing in life. In Luke 15, Jesus likens these people to lost sheep. These, He says, are the people we’re called to reach. And in some cases, effectively reaching Ring 3 might mean making some sacrifices on your website by communicating less to your Ring 1 audience, since there are meaningful differences in the language and wording to which these 2 audiences can relate.
Where to Go From Here
We hope this list of pointers proves useful, but we also want to leave you with a few greater takeaways.
Firstly, try not to be overwhelmed by all there is to do on your church website to grow traffic. Prioritize steps, assign responsibilities among your team, and map out where you’ll need to outsource additional help. Figure out what you’re willing to spend on advertising and where else you can cut back for a short time in order to focus your efforts on growing traffic. Break down each of these steps into bite-sized items on your to-do list to make them more manageable. And finally, remember that you don’t have to go it alone. Missional Marketing offers a vast array of services to help manage every phase of your church growth and we’re always here to help.
Reach out to us if you’re interested in enrolling our church growth experts to execute any of the steps above, or if you’d like to find out more about what we do. We’re here to serve you and use our expertise to help your church connect with those who need it.CONTACT US