Getting your church on Google – some tips from @bowyerp

Your church on google

 Appearing at the top of Google’s search results is high up on the agenda for any website. Statistics abound showing how few people ever look beyond the first page of results (25% according to this article), and e-commerce sites spend huge budgets keeping their storefront ahead of the competition.

That’s obviously important for Amazon and eBay – but how important is it for your church or ministry site?

Well, the answer is ‘it depends’.

There are some more fundamental questions to answer about your website before it makes sense to start measuring search engine rankings.

The first (and sadly, often neglected) question is pretty fundamental – what is your church website for? In other words, what part or parts of the overall church mission does it contribute to? In an ideal world this would be an easy question to answer, because it should underpin what you do every time you lift a mouse to work on the site. But it’s not always that simple – websites evolve from their original concept, especially when new people get involved and bring fresh ideas.

Church websites usually have a number of different jobs to do, with a number of different audiences. For those which are mainly aimed at existing members of the church (for example, the ‘church noticeboard’ equivalent), ranking on search engines is not particularly important. But for others, it’s vital.

Searching on Google or other search engines is increasingly the main, or the only, way people find facilities in a new locality. That’s how they find a plumber, a florist, somewhere to have their car serviced. It’s also how they find a church. If you want your church site to be the one people find (or at least, high up in the list), you need to know how to optimize things – the art of Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

This isn’t going to be a tutorial on SEO – there are countless of those around. Just search Google…. But there are a few things to think about that are pertinent to church websites.

  1. What searches do you want to rank highly for? In other words, what search terms are people likely to be looking for, that make your site the one that they’ll find? Probably best to concentrate on the simple stuff  (eg ‘Churches in Anytown’) because that’s probably the most common. Make sure every page on your site has a header or footer with basic contact details, and page titles with the important stuff in, such as “St Thimgummy’s – Anglican church in Anytown”.
  2. Use language on your site that people are likely to search for. This is good general SEO advice, but it’s particularly important when you’re trying to attract those people looking for a church for the first time. They’re unlikely to use ‘churchy’ language in a search, so your site needs to avoid it, too.
  3. Keep your site fresh – search engines favour regularly-updated sites. Add new pages, update existing pages regularly.
  4. Make sure your site is listed in all relevant church directories. Many denominations and alliances have their own listings and search engines (eg for Church of England churches), which often have very good SEO themselves and attract significant amounts of traffic to church sites.
  5. Get listed in every local directory you can find. This increases the number of ways potential visitors can find your site, and also gets you bonus points with the search engines.
  6. Try to include the church website URL every time the church is mentioned by other websites. If you’re writing a press release, make sure the website is one of the places listed for ‘further info’ (and make sure the further info is actually available on the website, of course…)
  7. Consider promoting the website as the primary way of passers-by finding out more information about what you do. A banner that’s easily readable by passing motorists, for example. Don’t rely on people walking up to the notice board in the porch to read the 12-point font.

I hope this has given you a few ideas. SEO is a big topic, but if it’s done right with some thought, can really help your church website play its part in the mission of the church.

About Peter Bowyer

Peter Bowyer is an IT consultant by profession, with a strong interest in digital inclusion and online evangelism. He writes about using the internet and social media in a Christian context.