Church SEO has become an important factor in how churches reach their communities.
People who are looking for a new faith community, help with life’s situations, or Christ centered activities for their children are all searching online before even visiting a website or church building.
In order to make sure that these searchers find the right answers, churches need to make SEO a priority.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It is the process of improving an organization’s website and online presence to increase visibility on the various search engines (Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo, etc.) when a person searches topics related to the content on that website.
The more visibility on the search engines, the more likely an organization is to be visited by the exact people it is trying to reach.
Why Churches Need to Prioritize SEO
We know that ministry keeps you busy and adding one more thing that you don’t exactly understand makes you want to curl up in a pew and take a nap.
However, there are several reasons your church needs to make SEO a priority.
First Impressions are Important
Before the Internet churches placed their buildings on roads with lots of traffic so people could easily find them.
Today, people will search and investigate before deciding on a church. While physical location and appearance are still important, your digital presence is where people are making their first impression of your church.
People who are far from God need to be able to find God-fearing congregations that can help them down the path of a relationship with Jesus Christ.
You got into ministry to help these people more than anyone else, but if they cannot find you, you will never get the opportunity to be the light God has called you to be.
Churches that invest in SEO are also moving beyond just ranking for “Church near me” and going for other search terms where lost people are seeking help. This includes search terms like addiction recovery groups, divorce support, marriage counseling, and much more.
Search engines are the biggest tunnel that people are using to find help. If your light isn’t shining down that tunnel they may never receive the help and relationships they need.
Christians Need Church
Every Christian needs to be plugged into a body of believers. A Christian without a church family is about as effective as Peter walking on the water by himself.
By improving your SEO you are making your church available to unaffiliated Christians to get connected to other believers where they can live out their faith journey.
Competing with Other Religions
Google isn’t a Christian organization. Even though we think of churches as being Christian organizations, it isn’t always the best at differentiating between what should and should not be listed on their rankings.
Unitarian churches, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and even Episcopalians can show up in the rankings (that was a joke! We love you Episcopalians!)
For every ranking on Google a Christian church fills, that is one more non-Christian “church” that is pushed away from visibility.
We want to see fully funded churches. Attracting new tithing members has to be a calculation in your SEO investment.
The median household income in the United States is $67,521 in 2020. If you could have 240 new people find your church each year, you would only need 1.1% of those new attendees to decide to be tithers to cover the cost of SEO for a year. Now imagine compounding that every year.
When you consider that churches we work with are getting at least 50 requests for directions on Sundays each MONTH, you can easily see how SEO pays for itself and can help fund your vision.
Why Churches Should Outsource SEO
By outsourcing your SEO work it gives your church staff the ability to focus on what they do best, ministering to your community and making the church run.
In our experience people who choose to be on a church staff didn’t make that decision to keep up with search engine algorithms and trends in keyword searches.
When SEO gets handed off to a staff member it tends to be, at best, the second priority on their list (and frequently the third, fourth or fifth priority).
As we mentioned above, SEO is one of the few investments in ministry that can pay for itself. Making that investment to take this off your plate and get expert help is a financial and organizational no-brainer.
Types of SEO for Churches
There are three main areas that people consider
Local SEO (Maps Listings)
Whenever you do a search for any type of business that has a physical location and serves the local community there will be a maps listing involved in the search results.
If you are going to attract new people this is your primary opportunity to make a good impression. Let’s look at an example of a maps listing from search so we can see why:
Here we see a search for church services. Not only was this map listing the first thing you see on the page but these three churches are getting all the attention.
How did they get listed here? We optimized their websites and Google Business Profile to make sure the search engine knows who has it together enough to be a good recommendation.
Notice that the top result actually has a snippet from the website where “church services” is mentioned. What you put in your content matters!
Organic SEO is the search results we see below the maps listing or the regular results we see on searches that do not have maps.
Here is the same image as above but focus on the two listings below the map.
As you can see, Living Word Church is at the top of the organic results as well as the maps.
Every church needs to think of these results like real estate; location, location, location. The better your location the more people are going to realize you are worth giving a shot.
In this example Living Word Church is in two of the top four positions. On top of that you can see that they are also listed as one of “The Best 10 Churches” in their area by Yelp (see the description below the title). So realistically they are either occupying or mentioned in three of the top five positions.
When you look at the three churches in the maps, all three also have organic listings, two are listed on the Yelp page, and Living Word Church has their Facebook page and a directory listing at the bottom of the results.
That means by focusing on SEO, Living Word Church has taken up five of the 13 possible positions on page one of Google for this search.
That’s the digital world equivalent of having your main church building, church offices, youth building, Sunday school building, and church gym at different locations on Main St. and each one with a big sign that says BEST CHURCH EVER!
Digital ads are not a part of SEO, but they are closely related. Our experience with keyword research and the needs of people who contact churches allows our team to help build an ad strategy that helps churches reach even more people.
We also have had great success at helping churches qualify for Google grants and get their digital advertising for free.
SEO Tips for Churches
Since not every church can afford to outsource SEO right now, we wanted to provide a few tips to help any church get themselves in a position to start ranking in the search engines.
By doing these things you at least have a chance for ranking in your local search results.
Claim Your Profiles
There are four main profiles that we recommend claiming or creating as soon as possible.These profiles are what shows up in the local maps results for each of the top four search engines in the United States.
The first three should be obvious and Apple maps is used by Duck Duck Go to provide local results.
Any organization with zero reviews is not going to be trusted by people doing the searches. Search engines know this and will not rank you in the top grouping unless there are no other options.
The good news is that reviews are easy for churches to get. Ask a few of your happiest people to provide reviews on the various platforms.
Fix your NAP
In the SEO world NAP stands for “Name, Address, and Phone.” These three things should be consistent on your website, across all your profiles, and anywhere else your churches information appears.
Each profile will have a place to list hours of operation. For Sundays this should be the hours when you have your main church service(s) and evening service.
These details should also be easy to find on your church website.
A Solid Contact Page
Not only do you want to make it easier for people to contact you, but search engines take contact pages seriously.
A good contact page will include:
- Your NAP
- A map you can click for directions
- Service Times
- An easy to use form to send a message
If your church has multiple locations you will want to have a contact page for each location.
Include Your Denomination (or non-denomination)
No matter how your church is named you need to have your denomination somewhere on the site and listed in your profile.
We are all creatures of habit and people looking for a church will frequently search for a specific type or denomination of church.
It will also be easier to rank for denomination specific search terms because there will not be as much competition (ex. “Wesleyan churches near me”).
Basic On-Page Optimization
There are many factors that search engines use when evaluating what is on a website. Three important factors that are easy to update are:
- Title Tag – Determines the main information in the search engine listing
- Description Tag – Determines the description in the search engine listing
- H1 Tag – Is the main heading on a web page and tells the search engine the main topic of that page.
By updating these to include your Church name and location (City, State). You can improve your rankings in your local area.
Most people do more searches on their phones than they do on their computer. This is especially true for local results.
A responsive design means that your website automatically adjusts to the size screen on which it is being viewed.
If a person comes to your website from their phone and they have to move things around to see the information they need, they will bounce and enough bounces will make your search ranking go down.
Why work with Tavallo
Our team is passionate about seeing churches succeed in reaching their communities for Jesus Christ.
While we are now focused on digital marketing, we have experience in helping churches, which gives us insight into how churches function and the obstacles that church staff face in their every day work.
In short, we know churches and love churches and have the knowledge and skills to make your church SEO be an asset to accomplishing your ministry goals.