5 Simple Steps to Take to Get Discovered Online
Every week, people in your area search for a community of faith to visit. Will they visit yours? Only if you take the necessary steps to ensure you will be found.
Here are the 5 key SEO (Search Engine Optimization) steps you need to take to make sure your church is found on Google and other search engines. Do these right after launching your new website or if SEO just hasn’t been on your regular to-do list. Plan on spending at least two hours to get through these introductory steps, by the way, in order to cover the essentials. If you get stuck or want the help of our Church SEO Specialist, contact us to start a project.
1. Submit Your Church Website to Google
Every day, search engines crawl the web in order to index millions of web pages. Eventually your church’s site is likely to be discovered by Google (and other search engines) without you doing a thing. However, you will speed up the indexing process by submitting your site to Google.
If you aren’t sure which of the “Crawl request methods” to go with, choose the first option to “Use the URL inspection tool.” It’s easiest for users with less technical knowledge and is fine for most smaller websites.
A sitemap is a page of code (XML, to be specific) that tells Google and other search engines where to find content and how it is to be organized. Choose “Submit a Sitemap” if you know how to create a sitemap or if you have a lot of pages that aren’t part of your menus. You can create a sitemap using this free tool.
If you don’t update your website regularly (at least once every week or two), you may re-submit your site when you do make changes. This keeps Google up-to-date about your site and ensures it has been accurately indexed.
Once you’ve submitted your site to Google, go ahead and submit it to Bing too. You’ll need to create a free Bing Webmaster Tools account first if you don’t already have one.
By the way, even though this is listed first, you really should do #2 and #3 first. But if you’re in a hurry to make sure your website can be found, go ahead and submit your site first and then start on the rest below.
2. Select Your Keywords and Tweak Your Site Content
When people search for a church in your area, it’s possible they could search for any number of terms.
- Some might type in the name of your church, if they know it.
- Some might simply type a phrase like [your town name] followed by the word “church.”
- Some may search for descriptive terms, such as “family friendly church,” “LGBTQ church,” or “church youth group.”
- Some may search for location-based terms, such as “[denomination] church near me.”
These short terms and phrases are keywords, and they need to appear in your site’s content. Ideally, they will be some of the more common words you use in your headings and text, as they help search engines to know what your website is all about. As Google and other search engines crawl your website, they use those keywords to help determine your site’s ranking in comparison to other similar sites.
If you are unsure about the words or phrases people have used in the past to find your church, ask some of your most recent guests and members what they searched for in order to find you. To go deeper, though, you’ll need to use a tool called Google Keyword Planner, which requires that you first have created an Adwords account.
With Keyword Planner, you can get ideas about the terms people search for. Once you know them, you can add these relevant keywords to the content in your church website.
Not sure where to begin? Here are some other examples of keywords people may be searching for that might lead them to your church, depending on your ministries. Any of these would be good to check in Google Keyword Planner for your community:
Pro tip: you know how Google gives you autocomplete suggestions as you type in the search bar (as in the graphic at the top of this article)? Use that to your advantage – those are some of the most common terms people search for. Just start typing a phrase like “churches near” and then make note of all of the suggestions it gives you. If you don’t already have content related to those terms, consider creating some!
Finally, a warning: use keywords naturally, or Google may penalize you for trying to game the system. In other words, don’t try to fill a post with these phrases or put a section filled with keywords at the bottom of your post.
3. Fill in Your SEO Settings
An amazing number of websites do not bother to take one of the simplest and most important steps: filling in the SEO settings for each page. The exact process varies from platform to platform, so ask your webmaster for instructions if you don’t see the settings. Two fields should definitely not be neglected: the Title and the Description. Here’s an example of what that looks like in WordPress.
Create Your Page Titles
In Google, you have up to 70 characters including spaces, with 50-60 as the recommended length. Your title should contain the most important words you think someone might search for to find your content on that page. Each page title should be unique. Here’s an example for a homepage:
First Church of Anytown, Iowa | Grow with Us and Go be Love
Home page of First Church
Many platforms will automatically create the title for you, but that doesn’t mean you have to use it! Customize it so you’ll stand out in searches.
Create Your Page Descriptions
If you don’t create a custom page description, which becomes the description for a page that people see in search engines, Google will simply take the first bits of text it finds. That causes results like this:
Not exactly ideal, is it?
Your description fields should be keyword-rich (though not necessarily the same keywords you included in the title and URL) and engagingly written to welcome guests. The length of the description that people will see will vary, but generally 150-160 characters is a good length, with 320 as a maximum. Opinions vary on what a church should include, but we think putting worship times, phone number, address, and church name are NOT the best option for your home page description. You goal is to get people to your website, not to Google. So, let people know what they’ll discover if they click the link.
4. Create Links Between Your Church Website and Social Media
A general SEO rule of thumb to remember is that you want to have as many external links pointing to your website as possible. (Internal = your church website. External = any other website.) Hopefully, your church is already using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other social media sites to share information. These are terrific places to post updates when you make changes to your church website, such as adding a blog post. Search engines visit these pages regularly, so this can help your changes become indexed more quickly.
Be sure your profile pages also have at least your church’s website address included in the settings.
5. Get Your Church Listed in Online Directories
If someone is searching for your church, there’s a high likelihood that they are from your area. So, be sure you are listed in any local directories. For example, your Chamber of Commerce or the town itself will likely have a local business directory. Find others by searching for “[town name” directory” or “[town name] businesses”. Also, just ask your members and friends what local websites they frequent.
There are also many online directories that specialize in churches and other faith communities, some generic and some specific to one denomination. For example, here’s the United Methodist directory, and here’s one popular general church directory. Some of these websites will offer free listings, while others offer both free and upgraded, paid versions. In general, don’t bother paying for these listings unless you are clear from your research that they have been beneficial in driving traffic to your website.
After Those, Here’s What to Do Next
The tasks above will absolutely ensure that your church gets indexed by search engines, but they won’t guarantee you’ll always be at the top of the list. That takes a combination of creating great content people want to read, sharing your content regularly, keeping your site updated with appropriate keywords and up-to-date plugins, and much more. There are many great guides to SEO, so get a recently-published book, sign up for a course, or read blogs to learn a lot more.
Because all of this can be time-consuming, your most important next step is to enlist the help of others on your staff and in your congregation. Get everyone committed to making your church website the best it can be, and you’ll soon see your rankings rise!
Finally, SEO is a technical and specialized field. Doing all of the tasks listed above will be a terrific start, and in many towns this will be enough to boost your ranking. However, if you’re in a larger town it can be much harder to get a top ranking. Consider hiring a Church SEO Specialist to do keyword analysis, content creation and optimization, Google maps optimization, and so on for you.