Hi everyone, my name is Kurt and I’m the Director of Marketing Services at OurChurch.Com. My job is to get websites listed in the search engines and get them to rank well for the targeted keywords. Paul Steinbrueck and I were discussing the blog the other day and thought, “We’ve been talking about how to have a useful and effective church website, but how effective can a website be if people can’t find it?” So we decided I should make my blogging debut with an article about how to best get people to find your church online.
For more and more people, the quest for a local church begins with a web search. This includes people in your area, people about to move into your area, new believers looking for their first church, people who have drifted from God and are looking for a way to reconnect with Him, and people who are seeking God for the first time. In fact, in many places people are more likely to search online for a church than they are to use offline guides like the phone book. This can be a great advantage for you. After all, in a phone book you are just a name, number and address. If you cough up the additional fee, you may even have a small ad. But with your website, a visitor can learn everything about what your church has to offer, where you are, when services are and even see the people of the church or listen to a sermon. You can’t put all of that in a phone book!
When considering what terms you want to show up for in the search engines, think about the geographical area you serve. Sure it’s temping to want to become the number one search engine result for “Baptist church” or “Lutheran church,” but what good would that really do? After all, when a person finds your church by searching for “Catholic Church,” what are the chances they are within driving distance of your town? But if your website is number one for “Non-denominational church in Statesboro, Georgia,” the person searching for that term is probably in the Statesboro area and can come to your church the following week. Also, Google, MSN and Yahoo! all now have a local search feature, which is becoming more and more popular. So being well established locally in the search engines is becoming more and more important.
So what do we do?
Here are some helpful tips to ensure people looking for a church online can find your church:
- Put the location and denomination of your church in your website’s Title tag. For example, “First Presbyterian Church of Paduka, Kansas” This is an important part of ranking well for local search terms.
- Put the location, denomination, and other defining information in your website’s description tag. Here you want to include the same info as the Title tag, but you can also include other close cities and your county. In large metro areas especially, it is not uncommon to have parishioners from several of the surrounding metro area cities. Many search engines display the description tag in their search listings, so be sure to make the description readable, and include descriptive information about the church that will catch people’s attention. It shouldn’t just be a jumble of keywords and phrases, but very concise, keyword-filled sentences. After all, people will read it.
- Put your location, denomination and other local search terms on your homepage. This will further help you rank well for the local searches. This information should be presented to your visitors on the page in a way that makes sense and is helpful to your visitors as well as the search engines.
- Register with the major directories and search engines. Don’t just wait for the search engines to find you; that could take months! Registering with the search engines can greatly speed up when you will listed in the search engines.. Also, some search engines and directories do not search for websites, but rather wait for you to register with them. If you’re not sure how to do this, there are companies like OCC that can do search registration for you.
- Register with Christian search engines and directories. Many Christians prefer to use Christian search engines to support Christian businesses and organizations and to avoid the more worldly things you often stumble across in the major search engines. Unlike many of the major search engines, who search to find websites to list, nearly all Christian search engines and directories require you to register with them. This can be a challenging and time-consuming task, which is why OCC developed a Christian search registration service.
- Contact city and county website managers and request links. Nearly all city and county websites list the churches in their district. This is another place people go to find a church.
- Contact denomination and association website managers and request links. Even if you aren’t ranking very well in the search engines you can still lead people to your website by getting a link to your local church on your denomination or parent organization’s website. Some people will search for the specific denomination of the church they want to attend and then use the denomination’s official website to find a local church. This will not only help people find your church, but will make your denomination’s website more helpful to people.
- Put your website address on your church’s outdoor sign. Today many people want to find information about groups before they have to make contact with them. They’d rather look you up than just pop in. Putting your website’s address on your church sign allows them to become more familiar with your church. It also can give people information during the hours when no one is actually at the church to give it to them.
- Put your website’s address on your phonebook listing and in any advertising you do. This again gives people a chance to learn more about you and for you to convey a lot more information than you can in the phone listing or advertising alone. Also, many phone books are also online now, so their link to your website will help you to rank better for local searches.
- Finally, avoid search engine tricks to rank well. I’ve seen a lot of webmasters try to trick the search engines into ranking them well. The webmaster isn’t necessarily trying to be deceptive. Maybe they don’t want to display certain information to their visitors, but they know it would be good to put the information on their site to rank well in the search engines. Or they are just trying to be creative and don’t realize it’s a “no-no.” So, no hiding text behind graphics, making the text the same color as the website’s background, making the text so small no one can read it, or simply putting a bunch of keywords on your page for the sake of putting a bunch of keywords on your page. The search engine people know about these tricks and don’t like them. Simply put, don’t do it. Just include the important keywords in a natural way that is helpful to both your visitors and the search engines.
Search engines are a great way to help you reach many people with whom you may not otherwise come in contact. The tips above will help get people to your website. The rest is up to you. Of course, once a visitor finds your site you want to be sure it’s welcoming and provides the information a visitor is looking for like service times, a map, beliefs, Sunday school/child care options, and other info about your church.
Have a great day and God Bless!
Director of Marketing Services