Internet Evangelism Day search marketing

So, your church has a website. Great! Can anyone find it?

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If you’re not sure, you’re not alone.  Pastors and church leaders need to know that just because their church has a website doesn’t mean it will be displayed in the search engine results when people in their community search for a church online.

As we near Internet Evangelism Day (April 27), if you pastor a church or administer a church website one of the best things you can do for IED is facilitate a meeting to discuss how to better use your church website to connect with people in your community.  A key part of that is assessing your church website’s visibility in search engines and developing a plan to improve it.

You may be saying to yourself, “Uhhh, that sounds like a good idea, but I don’t really understand search engines, I don’t know how to assess my church website’s visibility in search engines, and I wouldn’t even know where to start to improve it.”

Well you’re in luck.  This article will provide an overview, which you can use to lead that meeting and develop a great plan so your church can reach more people in your community.

The Search Situation

Over the last several years Internet search engines have made great improvements in local search, that is the search for businesses or organizations in a specific geographical area.  Now local search will show you the results on a map, provide you with directions, and all sorts of other useful information.  As a result, people are putting the yellow pages in the recycling bin and searching online for restaurants, retailers, and even churches.

Today someone who is looking for a church will most likely start his search online.  He’ll use a search engine like Google, Yahoo, MSN, or Ask to find the websites of churches close to his home.  Based on what he reads, hears, and watches on those website’s he will quickly rules out most of the churches without ever stepping foot in them.  Then he’ll pick 2 or 3 that seem to be most like the kind of church he’s looking for and attend a Sunday service.

Looking more closely at this process, there are two key steps that your church should be focused on.  First, when a person Googles for churches in your town, where does your church website appear in the results?  Does it appear at all?  Second, if someone find’s your church’s website, does it cause the person to want to visit your church?

Assessing Search Visibility

Obviously, if a person can’t find your church’s site in search engines, she’s never going to go to your church website and she’s never going to attend a service.

So, how is your church website doing in the search engines?

Start by thinking of the phases someone like might use to find your church.  Those phrases should include “church” or “churches,” your city, and then possibly your state, denomination, any type or style of church.  Then search in Google and possibly Yahoo using the 5-10 phrases you think would be most commonly searched in Google and possibly Yahoo.  (For more detailed information about the search phrases and search engines to consider read How people find a new church.)

Write down the position or ranking in the search results your church website has for each phrase searched.

  • If your church website is in the top 5, that’s excellent.
  • If your church website is in positions 6-10, that’s good.
  • If you church website is in positions 11-20 (typically the second page), that’s fair.
  • Anything beyond that is poor.  Most people simply don’t go beyond the first or second page.

Chances are the rankings of your church website will be a mixed bag.  Some good, some not so good.  But you’ll definitely see room for improvement.

Improving your search rankings

One misconception many church leaders have is that as long as they have a website, search engines will be smart enough to put their church in the results when people are searching for a church in their town.  But if you think about it, you know this is not true.  How many times have you searched for something online and gotten irrelevant or less relevant websites listed among the relevant ones?  How many times have you had to go the second or third page of the search results before finding what you were looking for?  How many times have you not found what you were looking for at all and tried a different search phrase or different search engine?

Another misconception many church leaders have is that there is nothing they can do to affect where their website appears in the search results if it appears at all.  This is simply not true.  There are things you can do both on your website and other websites that will affect how your church ranks in search engines.  These techniques are collectively known as search engine optimization or SEO. 

Assessing Your SEO Options

At this point, you’ll have two options to discuss.

One option is to try to optimize your website yourself.  Be warned, however, that this option is not for everyone.  Search engine optimization can be quite complicated and time consuming.  But if you choose to go this route there are educational resources online.  In fact, just Wednesday OurChurch.Com launched a new website called Church Marketing Online which includes a blog will include tutorials specifically for church search engine optimization.

A second option is to hire a professional search marketing company top optimize your church website for you.  Fortunately, OurChurch.Com can help you if you go this route as well.  In conjunction with the Church Marketing Online blog, we also launched a new Top Church Search Rankings service.  This service will get your church site to the top of the search results and then monitor your site’s rankings and provide you with monthly search ranking reports.

I hope you’ll pardon the shameless plug here, but the results the service produced for the churches we included in the testing phase was nothing short of amazing.  (Read the case studies.)  Most importantly it’s resulted it many new visitors to the church’s Sunday services.  All for less than what most churches spend on donuts after the service.

So, there you have it.  While this is really just the tip of the ice berg when it comes to search engines and church outreach, I hope you feel informed and confident enough to lead an Internet Evangelism Day discussion at your church to develop a plan to better use your church website to reach more people in your community.

Please post your comments and questions below.

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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.


    • » So, your church has a website. Great! Can anyone find it?…

      An overview of how to evaluate your church website’s search engine visibility and develop a plan to improve it’s search rankings in order to reach more people in your community. Plan your church web team’s Internet Evangelism Day meeting….

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