When I start talking about Search Engine Optimization (SEO), most people’s eyes glaze over. Let me explain it in plain language. People use search engines (like Google) to find things on the internet. Most modern browsers allow you to type what you are looking for right into the address bar and then return search results for you. What appears in search results—and the order in which those results appear—is not a random occurrence. Search engines use complex computer algorithms in an attempt to place the most relevant results at the top of the list.
This matters to your church because when people are looking for your church or a church in general, you want to make sure that your church is showing up at the top of the list. Otherwise, people might not find you.
When people are looking for information, they are likely searching with Google. So, do a little experiment to see what they see. Open another tab, go to Google, and look for your church. Try some different ways of searching. Here are a few searches to get you started:
Your church name and city
Your church name only
If you’re part of a denomination, then type in the name of the denomination and "church near me"
“Church near me”
Can you find your church? Are you on the first page? Very few people look past the first page. Are you on top? That is where you want to be.
We are missing the boat if people only find our churches when they are searching for churches. We certainly want to rank high when people are actually looking for a church. But, don’t we want to show up when people are looking for other things like hope, meaning, help, or a sense of belonging? But let’s start with the basics.
How did your church do?
If your church wasn't easy to find, you have some work to do. Fortunately, it is not all that difficult to improve your search engine results. Here are a few first steps:
1. Fill in your site description and your page descriptions.
With modern web platforms like Squarespace and Weebly, this is very easy. You can check the support page for your web provider for more information. Write good, clear descriptions that include important words like the name of your church, denomination, your city, and anything else that makes your church unique.
2. Add your site to Google’s index.
Just go to https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/submit-url?continue=/addurl and type in your website address.
3. Claim your church on Google and create a Google+ page.
When you search for your church on Google, hopefully you will see a sidebar with some information about your church. If you haven’t claimed it yet, there will be a link titled, “Own this business?” Click on that, and it will walk you through verifying your information. Then you will be able to create a Google+ page. Keep that updated, and the updated information will show up in the sidebar. Having a Google+ page will also help with your search engine rankings.
These three are the easy steps. There are a lot of other ways you can get better search engine results. Creating great content, ensuring your site is optimized for mobile, and sharing content on social media will help improve your results as well. But get the easy stuff taken care of first.
Will Rice is the Director of Communications and Media Support for the Rio Texas Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. His passion is helping churches leverage technology to reach the mission field.
For information on church IT strategies and solutions, check out Church IT by Nick B. Nicholaou.
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