Regarding your website SEO (search engine optimization), there are a number of things you can do to improve your ranking on Google and other search engines. However, there are no guarantees that any of these things will make your site the most visible in your area. Google changes their algorithms often, so…SEO is really more of an art than a science.
FACT: Google gets over 90% of web search volume worldwide. Yahoo-Bing gets less than 5%. So you may want to focus your SEO on Google and Google-owned services.
- Google Search Console - submit your site to Google
- Google My Business - your free listing on Google Maps
- Google Indoor Maps - upload your building floorplans
- Bing Webmaster Tools - submit your site to Yahoo-Bing
With that said, Google recommends the following to get better search rankings:
- Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines…
- Make a site with a clear [navigation] and text links…
- Create a useful, information-rich site…
- Write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content…
- Use keywords to create descriptive, human-friendly URLs…
This is the best advice: Serve your visitors by creating content they are looking for.
To help people (and Google) find your website, be sure to use the full name of your church or ministry and the location (city/state) that people will be typing into Google to find you. Do the same thing with any other keywords you know people will type into Google. Also, if you hold to specific doctrinal views that you know certain people are looking for in your area, then create content that specifically explains those views beyond a simple Statement of Faith (i.e. define what it means to be a Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist, etc).
Your website is an outreach tool for "others"—so give them what they are Googling.
Another helpful word to keep in mind for SEO is "authority" (or ranking strength). You want to create content that Google sees as an authority for the keywords people are searching for. This is similar to how we see God's Word as our final authority in "all things that pertain to life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3). With your content, show Google that you are the "authoritative source" in your community for what people are searching for.
Fresh content is also very important. Be sure to add content-rich events, blog posts, and sermons regularly (if possible, post your full sermon manuscript or transcript as sermon content). The key is to keep adding new and rich content to your website. Google also likes images and videos. So be sure to use media file names that feature your keywords when you upload them into our CMS.
Additionally, to help Google rank your site there are specific things you can do (see below).
Moz & The Beginners Guide to SEO
Before we dip into the shallow end of the SEO pool, you may be ready to dive right into the deep end. If that is the case, we recommend reading The Beginners Guide to SEO by Moz (the premier SEO resource on the web). You should also bookmark and read the Moz Blog (moz.com/blog) because Moz publishes the most cutting-edge info about SEO every day. Their "Whiteboard Friday" is also very helpful for visual learners.
Now for the details…here are five things that will help you do better in search results.
#1. Solve the Searchers Queries
People are going to Google (and other search engines) with an intent to search for something. Your primary goal with SEO is to help searchers find the answers to their questions. People ask Google for everything they need, so create content that will meet their needs. So if people are searching for "churches near me"—as mentioned above, create content about your area or city (not just content about your church). Ask yourself, "If I were looking for a church, what would I type into Google?" And then create content that puts those things right at their fingertips.
#2. Focus on the Searchers' Intentions
Although it is very important to use a searcher's keywords and the terms related to those keywords, it is far more important to figure out the intent behind the keywords they will type into Google. Then write content that serves the intent that those keywords represent. Think about your content in the same way that you try to anticipate the needs of your guests at your Sunday service; by providing them with a warm greeting, coffee, bagels, a welcome packet, and directions on where to take their children. Write helpful content that anticipates the needs of your visitors.
#3. Use Helpful Names, URLs, Descriptions, and Headings
Page Names: Name your pages, posts, sermons, and events using keywords that people will want to click or tap on. Think about the way you use Google. When you search for something, you usually click on the item that either closely matches what you are looking for or the one that looks the most interesting to you. So keep this in mind when you are creating clickable names for your content.
URL Address: Exact matching URL slugs (domain.org/exact-match-keywords) matter to Google and your visitors. The URL address is listed along with your search results and it does not need to match the name of the page. Try editing the URL to feature your keywords (you can do this with our CMS). So if the page name is "About" you can change the URL to domain.org/about-your-church-name-in-your-city.
Descriptions: Use the description field for real descriptions that will serve people who are searching. The "description" is what Google displays under the main title link in search results and it can be 150-160 characters long. Write whatever you want people to read on Google about your page. Use your keywords and your city/state in your descriptions, but make sure every description is different.
Headings: Be sure to use the paragraph font for most of your content, but make sure you strategically use the Heading 1 and Heading 2 fonts. These are not only for looks to dress up your content, but those heading tell Google and your website visitors what your content is all about. On your "New Here" or "What to Expect" page, be sure to use a heading font for questions and the paragraph font for answers.
#4. Use Related Words, Phrases, and Concepts
To discover what Google has cached as related keywords, go to Google and search for "church in my area" and look at the bottom of the results for the words "Searches related to church in my area." Copy those words and use them in your content. Do this same test with all of the keywords people might be searching for. In addition, you should add strategic content describing your local area or city.
Location: When you sign up with Church Plant Media, we add your city/state to your account. This displays in your website ID and footer. Google looks for this information to classify the site for local searches. You should also use the text on your homepage to talk about your ministry in your city/state. Talk about your location in pages, sermons, events, and posts. It is also helpful to have a section on your website about your local area and cultural or scenic attractions. This helps your guests if they want to learn about where your church is and what they can do after they visit. But it also helps Google see you as an "authority" on your city because you are showing how much you care about your city and what people can do there.
#5. Focus on the User Experience
Google cares about how people use your website, so make sure your website is easy to use. Pay special attention to how people will find and use your content. Everything people need should be easily found in as few clicks as possible. If your website visitors can't find your content, then neither can Google. So be sure that all of your pages are either in your navigation or easily found via a text link. If pages are not in your navigation, be sure to Delete them or set them as a "Draft" so that Google cannot see them.
Final Four Things to Consider
There are over 200 things Google looks at when classifying a website for search results. Although the following things were very important for SEO after the turn of the century, now they are only somewhat helpful (but not as important as what we have outlined above).
- Domain: Google still highlights exact match domains. If your domain name matches what people are searching for (at least in part), it may help your rank. Using a domain name like www.churchcityname.org should help your local area search results. But if the name of your church is very long, you may want to choose the most prominent word in your name to combine with your city name. But you definitely do not want to use a domain name with abbreviated letters (unless people will only be searching for those abbreviated letters). For multi-campus churches, Google tends to favor domains over subdomains. So keep this in mind when considering what domain to use for your campus websites.
- Links: Aside from your domain choice, having external links to your website is helpful for SEO. Ideally, you want many links to your site from high-quality sources elsewhere on the Internet. So talk to your denomination about a link and encourage people to link to your site from their personal websites and blogs. If possible, the anchor text (the text of the live link) should match either the name of your ministry or the keywords people are searching for.
- Keywords: As mentioned above, adding keywords in key places on your website is helpful. But quality content that people are actually looking for is far more helpful. So-called "link-bait" tends to be at least 350 words long. But if you are targeting certain keywords, DO NOT stuff them into your content over and over! Google will decrease your rank if you do this. Keep keywords to only 1% to 3% of the total words on the page or post.
- Tags: Although Tags are prominently featured in our CMS, they should only be treated as the "sprinkles on the cupcake" of your SEO. They are nice, but not really necessary. But feel free to add a few Tags for each page, sermon, event, and post. But use a variety of Tags. These don’t display on the public site, but they do within the code. The Tags are site-wide, so once you use a Tag for a page, it will also be available for sermons, events, posts, and vice versa.
One last note…if you live in a large city in the "Bible Belt" of the USA or a major metro area, it may be much harder to show up on search engines with all of the other ministries in your area competing for the same search engine traffic. Build a website with content that serves people and always use every field in the CMS. Do this and you should do just fine.
And remember: God is sovereign, even over SEO.