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6 Critical Things to Check Before They Kill Your Church SEO

Written by Paul Steinbrueck

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Most of the time when I talk to people about church SEO (search engine optimization), they immediately start asking about what keywords to use and where to put them on their pages. That’s important, but before we go there, it’s important to make sure you don’t overlook some things that could absolutely tank your search rankings.

What are those things?

“Technical SEO” issues.

Technical SEO issues are things related to church website design, that could cause search engines to penalize your website or not be able to read it at all.  To use an analogy…

Failing to address technical SEO issues is like starting your SEO journey with the parking brake left on.

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The good thing is, Google wants to be able to be able to crawl, index, and accurately rank your website, so they created Google Search Console (GSC) which has the tools we need to check all 6 of the potential problems we’re going to look at in this article.

Connect Your Website with Google Search Console

If you haven’t yet connected your church website with Google Search Console, go there, click “Start Now,” and if necessary, create or login to your Google account.

Next you will need to verify you have ownership of the website. Google Search Console provides two options “Domain” or “URL prefix.” The “Domain” option is the better option because it will provide data for all sub-domains and protocols. The “Domain” option requires DNS verification, which means you will have to edit your DNS zone and add some text to it. If you don’t know how to do this, your web hosting company should help you with this.

Once you’ve verified your website with GSC, you’re ready to do your first technical SEO check.

1) XML Sitemap

An XML sitemap is a file that provides information about the pages, posts, and other files on the website in a format (XML) specifically designed for search engines to read. (Note this is different than a sitemap created for human visitors to use as a guild to your website). If your website does not have a working sitemap, Google and other search engines may not be able to find all of the pages, posts, videos and other content on your website.

If your website was built using WordPress, you can use a plugin like SEO Yoast to generate a sitemap for you. If you use OurChurch.Com’s WP-EZ Church Website Builder, it has SEO Yoast built in, and automatically creates a sitemap for you.

Submit your sitemap to GSC:

  • Click the “Sitemaps” option in the left menu
  • Under the “Add a new sitemap” heading enter “sitemap_index.xml” (without quotes).
  • Click the “Submit” button.

On the GSC Sitemaps page, you should see the /sitemap_index.xml listed. If it’s working, the status will be “Success.” If the status is “Pending” you may need to check back in a few hours.

If the status is “couldn’t fetch,” then you’ll need to check to see if there is a problem with your website’s sitemap or if perhaps it has a different filename. Work with your website developer or web hosting company to get to the bottom of the issue, then resubmit your sitemap or submit the correct filename.

Resume Checks in 24 Hours

If you just submitted your sitemap to GSC for the first time, it may take up to 24 hours for Google to process your sitemap. Look on the Sitemaps page under “Discovered URLs.” If the number of discovered URLs in your sitemap is 0, that means your sitemap has NOT been processed. Come back in a day.

If/when the discovered URLs > 0, continue with the rest of the checks.

2) Crawlability

Crawlability is ability of search engines to “crawl” or read a website’s pages. There are many things that could prevent a search engine from reading pages including server errors, the page being missing, or instructions in a Robots.txt file that tell search engines not to crawl certain pages (pages the web administrator doesn’t want listed in search engines.

Click the “Coverage” menu option in the menu on the left side of GSC.

This page will list all the pages Google could not crawl and provide details on why.

3) Manual Actions (Penalties)

On very rare occasions, Google will penalize a website for breaking its rules. Penalties can be as severe as complete removal from Google. In that case, no amount of SEO will get a website to appear in the search results until the manual action has been addressed.

Click the “Security & Manual Actions” menu option on the left side of GSC and then the “Manual Actions” option to see if your website has been assessed any penalties.

For more info, Search Engine Journal has a good article: The Complete List of Google Penalties & How to Recover

4) Security Issues

Security issues include things like malware. If Google detects a web page has a security issue and could be dangerous to visitors, when people using the Google Chrome web browser try to access that page, they will be shown a warning page instead.

Click the “Security & Manual Actions” menu option and then click “Security Issues”

5) Mobile Usability

Google does not want to show mobile users of its search engines website that will be hard for those users to use. Therefore, if Google detects mobile usability problems with a web page, it will lower the position it’s shown in the search results.

In the GSC menu, click the “Mobile Usability” option to see if your website has any mobile usability issues.

Note that if you’ve used Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test, that test only checks 1 page – the URL you enter into the form. It’s possible a site’s homepage could pass the Mobile-Friendly Test but an internal page have mobile usability issues. The GSC Mobile Usability tool checks all pages on the website.

6) Core Web Vitals

Core Web Vitals (CWV) are a set of metrics introduced by Google in 2021 which are intended to evaluate a website visitor’s experience.  Previously Google had Page Speed as a search ranking factor. CWV expands on this.

Google doesn’t want to “recommend” web pages in its search results that are slow to load or give visitors a poor experience, so poor CWV scores can negatively impact your website’s search rankings.

To check to see if any of your web pages have a poor CWV score, click the Core Web Vitals menu option on the left side of GSC.

For more detailed information about the 3 components of CWV, read Core Web Vitals Google Update: What You Need to Know.

Whew! Long post, I know, but I hope you found it worthwhile.

Any one of these 6 problems could totally kill your church’s search rankings and hinder the effectiveness of any church SEO you do.

Do the checks. Fix any problems you discover. Then your website will be primed to win the SEO race!

If you would like to save yourself the time and hassle of doing these checks yourself, OurChurch.Com checks these things and many more in our SEO Audit service and at the beginning of our church SEO service and Christian SEO services for businesses, schools and ministries.

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    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.

    1 Comment

    • Work with your website developer or web hosting company to get to the bottom of the issue, then resubmit your sitemap or submit the correct filename.