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Finding Your Church On The Internet

 


Do you know that there is a way to maximize your presence on the Internet so that it becomes a very useful tool for reaching new people who have not visited your church yet?

Today there is someone looking for a church in your city.  The chance of them beginning their search on the internet is a very high 80%.  We will call this “someone” Family A.  Family A will type a search for a church in your area using a search engine like Google, Yahoo, Ask or Bing.  More than likely, they will search for a church that is reasonably close to their home. Statistics indicate that individuals will most often choose websites, offering what they are looking for, from the first page that pulls up in that internet search. 

Once the search results pull up, they will visit those church websites.  The visual appeal along with what they read, hear, and see on those websites, will determine which churches Family A will rule out without ever stepping foot in the door. From that list, Family A will also pick 2 or 3 that seem to be most like the kind of church they are looking for. Family A will usually attend a service at those churches and hopefully will like at least one of them enough to plant their family and get involved in that fellowship.


Getting Noticed On The Internet

Search engines are one of the primary ways that Internet users find web sites. That's why having a web site, with good search engine listings, may cause you to see a dramatic increase in website traffic.  Unfortunately, many church web sites appear poorly in search engine rankings because they fail to consider how search engines work.

Currently, there are over 180 million websites in the United States. 85% of Internet users utilize search engines to find websites.  The Nielsen Company reports there were over 10.2 billion internet searches done in the U.S in January of 2010. That is a lot of internet activity. 

Search Engine Marketing was ranked as the #1 website promotional method used by e-Commerce sites and top placement in search engine results provides a more favorable return than snail mail, radio advertising and television.

People who do not know you will not search for your church by name. I have heard church webmasters say how excited they were that their church is #1 in a Google search. However, after further discussion, it turns out they were entering their church name into the search bar.  Well, I would hope they were #1 for their own name. How many other churches are there in your town with the same name as yours?

As a pastor endeavoring to reach the people in your city, it makes sense and would be to your advantage to make sure your church is properly represented and marketed in this venue.   

Most people start their search for a church using Internet search engines. I know of an 83 year old man that found his church on the Internet. No matter how good looking your church website is, if it doesn’t rank well in search engine results, people searching for a church may never see it and may never visit your church.  This is where SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and SEM (Search Engine Marketing) become important. 

As you plan your advertising and marketing budget for this year, a good thought might be to include these two questions in your strategy sessions, “what are we doing to make sure our website is visually appealing and what are we doing to make sure our website ranks high and gets noticed on the Internet.”?


Defining SEO & SEM?

With technology changing at such a rapid pace, SEO & SEM is a fairly new concept to most people.  This article is designed to unravel the mystery of what it is, help you better understand it and reveal how it can benefit your church. 

Because of the potential for misunderstanding these terms, I want to clarify what SEO & SEM are not. SEO & SEM are not the same as IT programming, website development or content management. Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing require a different field of knowledge and expertise in the technology world much like a Radiologist has skills that differ from a Neurologist in the medical field. 

SEO & SEM stand for search engine optimization and search engine marketing. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of editing a websites HTML code, plus the management of multiple internet features in order to increase a websites direct match to targeted search engine keywords. This process increases the amount of traffic to a website through natural organic search engine results. Usually, the higher a website “ranks” in a targeted search, the more searchers there are on the Internet that will visit that site.
Simply put, Search Engine Optimization means ensuring that your web pages are accessible to search engines and that they are focused in ways that improve the chances they will be found.
People are searching for churches every day on the Internet. Current statistics indicate that 74% of the American population has Internet access.  When doing a targeted search on the Internet, they are either finding your church or they are finding another church near you. The key lies in how optimized and marketed your website is. 

The visual side of your website represents what PEOPLE see but search engine optimization and marketing represents what SEARCH ENGINES see. That is why search engine optimization and search engine marketing is so crucial to any websites success. 


How Does It Work

Search engine companies such as Google, Yahoo and Bing don’t pay attention to how long a church has been around or how large or friendly a particular local church is. Search engine companies only look for one thing and that is how well a website matches what their algorithms are looking for.

Many current web developers will concentrate on keyword placement within their websites and call it Search Engine Optimization.  Don’t be fooled.  Search engines DO NOT operate solely on keywords. That is a myth. Search engines read over 100 different areas of your website content, navigation and linking to determine your search engine placement.  Keywords are just a small percentage of what they look for.   Search engines process and rank website pages based on something known as mathematical algorithms. They apply varying percentages to the different technical features found within a websites structure.  Keywords are only about 15% of that algorithm process. If all your church does is work with keywords, your website may go ahead and rank well in some rural markets but probably won’t rank well in more heavily saturated city markets, especially if there are other churches on the internet in the same area.  Any pastor who desires for his website to consistently rank well in targeted internet searches in his city should seriously consider having his website fully optimized and marketed.


Search Engine Marketing

Once a website is optimized, it should also be marketed on the internet. Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing go hand in hand.  This involves national & international search engine submissions, directory submissions, social media activity, profile development, Google MAPS optimization, internal and external link development.  All of these areas are a vital part of Search Engine Marketing.

I heard someone say once, that to launch a church website without search engine optimization and search engine marketing is like filming a television commercial without purchasing the airtime to show it to the world. He could not have been more right. Without properly marketing your website on the Internet, it will be very difficult for individuals searching for a church like yours in your city to find you. Instead, they will most likely find another church that pulled up easily in search engine results. 


Find Out Where You Are At

Here is a practical exercise to identify where you currently rank.  Do a search in your city for a family church without using any church name. For example, type Family Churches in your city.  Now do another search for a non-denominational church in your city. Try a search for a Spirit filled church, community church, charismatic church and Christian church all in your city. Lastly, type a search for a Word of Faith church in your city.  As you look these up, make a note of whether or not your church was part of all of those targeted keyword searches.  What about within a fifty mile radius of your community? Do these same searches for other communities near your church and note if your church shows up in those searches.

Each of these targeted keyword searches represents the multiple ways people will search the internet when they are looking for a church.  People will use keyword searches based on their level of education, their current social influences, media opinions, Christian television programs, Christian articles, secular articles, etc. Each keyword that is used by an individual represents a different church market in your city. 


Search Engine Optimization and Marketing Are Ongoing

Because society, people and technology change continually, one thing is certain… the Internet is always changing.  Therefore keeping your website optimized and marketed should also be an ongoing process.  Do you have a staff member who is following all of the internet markets for your church? Is there someone who is continually customizing and updating your website for those markets? Do they understand how to do that? I personally know of websites that have the site strength to rank very well in a national market but because their website has never been optimized, they are having a hard time ranking well just in their local city markets. 


Things To Think About If You Hire An SEO/SEM Company


A lot of companies, businesses and churches choose to hire an SEO/SEM company to take care of all their Internet marketing for them.  However, this field is so new that it has not been regulated yet and there are SEO companies out there that are taking advantage of this.  They are charging outrageous fees and many of them are putting very little effort into a client’s site.  I’ve even seen some well known companies calling their services Search Engine Optimization and all they are doing is placing a few keywords into a site and then charging a monthly fee for it.   


If You Choose To Hire An SEO Company, Here Are A Few Tips 

First of all, make sure the company you are considering values the local church. A company will never go the extra mile in promoting something that they do not value. You want a company that has a passion for the local church and its mission.

Second, make sure the company specializes in SEO & SEM. Ask for a specific list of the tasks they perform monthly for their clients. Do they set H1 tags? Do they optimize your image alt tags? Do they change your site navigation? Ask them what kind of tracking reports they send you each month so that you can see the progress on your site? Does the company help you re-write your website content to ensure you are using words that are compatible with search engines? Are they fair in their pricing?  You should not be paying thousands of dollars a month for a local market. 

Does the SEO company consult with you about their strategies? Some companies use shady search engine optimization techniques like hidden text, keyword stuffing, doorway pages and cloaking. They also use fraudulent linking strategies. Once a search engine identifies techniques like these in your site, it could get you permanently banned from a search engine index.

Make sure the company has a solid track record in marketing companies and particularly churches and ministries.  Ask them if they have experience in marketing churches into the top ten positions on the internet? How well does the website of the company you are considering hiring rank in the search engines? Chances are, if they have a difficult time ranking their own company well on the internet, they probably will have a difficult time ranking your church well.

Lastly, be patient and market carefully. It takes search engines anywhere from seven days to two months to read, process and then rank web pages in a website. It can take up to three months for external back links (these are links from other websites that link back to yours) to fully register. This makes it important to optimize and market your church website correctly and over a process of time. Otherwise it can take several months before search engines will read and rank you well.