church search marketing

Why AdWords IS Worthwhile for Churches

Google AdWords for Church GrowthLast week in Church Growth by Google AdWords I wrote about a story that first appeared in Christianity Today describing how Radiant Church in Colorado Springs used Google AdWords to draw new visitors to their church.  ChurchCrunch responded with an article claiming Google AdWords is not worth it.  However, there quite a few points in that article that I disagree with and lead me to a different conclusion.

Banner blindness – not on Google

Much of the criticism of Google AdWords in the ChurchCrunch article seems to have come out of a frustratingly unsuccessful campaign with Google AdSense.

To clarify, AdWords is the Google program where advertisers pay per click to display ads along side Google’s search results.  AdSense is the Google program where publishers can display Google ads on their sites and earn a portion of the advertising revenue.

The ChurchCrunch article refers to “banner blindness,” which is the notion that users have gotten so used to ads on websites they don’t even see them any more.  However, that is only relevant to publishers’ websites.  Users are not blind to the “sponsored links” that are displayed along side the natural search results when a user searches Google.  In fact studies show anywhere from 15% to 30% of searches result in a click on a paid link.

Banner blindness – who cares?

If you do an AdWords campaign, you do have the option of allowing your ad to be displayed on publishers’ websites.  If you do, then “banner blindness” is a factor.  The click-through rate for ads on publishers’ websites is much lower than the click-through rate on the search results pages.  But who cares?

If you are only paying for each click, then does it matter if your ad is only clicked on once every 1,000 times it’s displayed?  No.

Yes, it sucks for publishers.  I feel bad that John (ChurchCrunch) only earned $29.70 in a month from AdSense.  He’s a good guy and writes one of the best blogs I know of.  And trust me I feel your pain because OurChurch.Com sometimes uses Google AdSense to fill unsold ad space.  But all that is irrelevant for the advertiser.

What maters to the advertiser (the church) is ROI – Return On Investment.  What are your results and how much are you paying for them?

Bid prices not “through the roof” for most churches

Contrary to the generalized claim in the ChurchCrunch articles that “cost to buy space on sites and went through the roof,” in most parts of the country, there is not a lot of AdWords competition among churches.

For example, my church is located in the 17,000 resident suburb of Safety Harbor, FL and if it decided to do AdWords for “safety harbor church” and safety harbor churches” the cost would be $0.05 per click.  Safety Harbor is right next to Clearwater, which has 125,000 residents.  Cost per click for “Clearwater churches” is $0.47 but the cost for all other keywords related to “Clearwater church” is only $0.05 per click.

So, for $50 a month my church could get 1,000 visitors to its website.  (And for what it’s worth, I’m trying to convince my church to do that.)

ROI – Return On Investment

Now those 1,000 visitors to the church website are worthless if none of those people ever visits the church.  This is where tracking and analytics are key.  To determine whether AdWords or any other marketing/outreach is worthwhile, you have to know what your return is on that investment.

What percentage of visitors to the church website visit the church?

If it’s 10%, then for $50 my church could have 100 new families visiting services each month.  On average each person comes to church with at least one other person, so we’re really talking about 200 new visitors a month.

Let’s go worst case scenario… say your church is in an area where there’s a lot of competition for church keywords and you have to pay $1 per click.  And let’s say only 4% of those people that visit your church website visit your church.  We’re still talking about 2 new families a month.

I hate to do this because outreach is not really about money, but from a purely economic standpoint, if only 1/10 of the visitors to your church become tithing members and we estimate the average family income to be $50k, under the above assumptions a church would spend $600 a year on AdWords and end up with 2 new families each year as members contributing $10,000 a year.

More importantly, though, is it worth $50/mo for the opportunity to present the gospel to and connect in Christian community between 2 and 100 new families a month?

Blogging is better, but not free

Now that I’ve made the case for AdWords, let me add that I am a huge advocate for churches doing search engine optimization (SEO) so that the church shows up in the natural search listings.  In fact, I do believe that being in the natural search results is better than paying per click.  That’s why OurChurch.Com provides the Top Church Search Rankings service to churches.

However, there are some challenges associated with getting good rankings in the natural search results.

1) Most churches don’t have anyone on staff who really understands search engine optimizations.  If you can’t optimize your church to the top of the search rankings, then why not pay for it with AdWords.  (Though I would encourage churches in this situation to pay for local search optimization first.)

2) Even if you do optimize your church website, it still takes time for the optimization to take effect and your search rankings to improve.  With AdWords, you can have a link to your church at the top of the search results in 24 hours.

3) Blogging and optimization are not free.  It takes time, and time is money.  If your church decides to blog, you are probably going to want to post at least once a week.  Depending on how in depth the posts are it could take 30-60 minutes per post.  If you have a staff member making $40k doing the blog, you are essentially paying $40-$80 a month for those posts (not including comment moderation).  Plus those blog posts also have to be optimized to have the same effect as AdWords and, as mentioned in point 1, most churches don’t know how to do that.

Go for the trifecta

Google gives churches 3 opportunities to show up in the search listings.  First there are the general/natural results.  Second, there are the local search results, which appear along side a map.  When searching for a church in a specific city, the local results will usually be displayed above the natural results.  If you know what you’re doing you can optimize a church site to get it to show up in those two areas.

google search results

The 3rd opportunity is in the “sponsored links” section with AdWords.  While not as important as the other 2, why wouldn’t you want your church to appear in all 3 areas?

I’ve already shown the ROI on AdWords is almost certainly worth it for most churches (though you should track your own costs and visitors to be sure).   Go for the trifecta.

About the author

Paul Steinbrueck

Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck and add him to your circles at Google+ as +Paul Steinbrueck.

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