Internet Searches and Your Church’s Website
Internet searches are a daily routine for an almost countless number of internet users worldwide. And your church’s website is one among an almost countless number of websites that can turn up in those searches. Assuming your church chooses to budget the time and money to have a website, drawing visitors to that website – and ultimately to your church – is a major focus. In other words, your church’s website isn’t there only as an electronic bulletin board for current members. Your church wants to leverage its website as a helping hand with casting a net to draw in people needing to hear and experience a life-transforming message. But, in order for your church’s website to be effective in drawing people, the website has to be found. The amount of success people have with searching and finding your church’s website, as well as the number of people who find it to begin with, comes down to something called Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
Laying the Foundation for Understanding SEO
So, what is SEO? Maybe you’ve heard the term before or maybe not. For those of you who don’t have a clue, this SEO Primer is especially for you. SEO is a big topic of discussion in the internet world, and the discussion is constantly evolving. In discussing SEO, there’s a lot to say about methods or tactics. Meanwhile, it’s important to lay a foundation on which to build your eventual understanding of SEO. I want you to see and grasp a bigger picture here than just a discussion of SEO methods. The first step is to see and grasp some basics.
What are Internet Search Engines?
To properly understand SEO, it’s necessary to define and understand something of internet search engines. Most of us use popular internet search engines every day – sites such as Google™, Bing®, Yahoo®, and Lycos®. If asked, though, how would you define a search engine? A search engine is a software program dedicated to helping people locate specific information stored in websites on the internet. Simple enough, right? But, how do they do that?
Spiders that Index for Search Engines
Yes, spiders feed information to search engines. After all, spiders should have a prominent place among an environment commonly referred to as the World Wide Web. Right? Seriously, though, you don’t have to fear these spiders. In the context of SEO, spiders are computer software programs dedicated to helping search engines yield some amazing results for internet searches. By the way, if you don’t like the word spider, they’re also known by other names such as robots, bots, and web crawlers.
These spiders act as “web crawlers” traveling throughout the internet. They visit websites and index all or most of the words that the websites contain. The spiders index words? That’s right. This kind of index is a list of words categorized by topic with notations of all the websites where they’re found on the internet. Over time, the web crawling process covers millions and millions of websites. As a result, the indexes are enormous. The spiders also verify the links within each website to make sure they’re functional and reputable. New webpages are published every day, so the necessity of web crawling never ends.
Your Search Engine Results
When you type words into a search engine, the search engine program performs a lightning-fast search through its enormous index of words and displays the search results in the form of internet links with brief descriptions. If you consider the millions of organized index entries that are searched and ultimately delivered to you, typically within a second or two, it’s really amazing to ponder. The pages that display your search results are commonly referred to as Search Engine Return Pages (SERPs). Depending on the popularity of the terms you searched, a search can yield multiple SERPs for you to browse, and each SERP can display multiple internet links for you to choose.
Whenever you use a search engine, how often do you view a link on page 30 of the search results? SERP number 30 probably isn’t going to get your attention in most cases. Where do you typically find a searched link to click, especially if you’re in a hurry? For most people, it’s search page number 1. In fact, MarketShare reported in 2010 that approximately 75% of search engine users never scroll past the first page of the search results.
So, what determines the search page that your church’s website appears on? That’s exactly where SEO enters the picture.
Why is SEO important to your church?
First, I’ll recap a few points:
- Your church website needs to be found.
- SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization.
- A search engine is a software program dedicated to helping people locate specific information stored in websites on the internet.
- Search engines make use of enormous indexes of words in delivering the best quality search results for you.
- Spiders are computer programs that constantly search the internet for words that they add to the search engine indexes.
- When you use a search engine, it delivers its findings for you in the form of Search Engine Return Pages (SERPSs).
Pay particular attention to the first and last bullet points above. The first one is a short but incredibly important summation of why SEO is important to your church. It’s the bottom line. Do you want your church’s website to be listed way down on page 30 of the search results? If your answer is “No,” then you’re ready to learn more about SEO.
Let’s wade into the shallows with a simple definition of SEO that’s relevant to your church’s internet mission: SEO is any number of tactics used by your church to improve its website’s SERP ranking.
Improving your church website’s SERP ranking helps the website to be found. Helping the website to be found then drives “traffic” (visitors) to the website. Driving traffic to the website then helps increase the likelihood that some of those website visitors will become actual church visitors. Church visitors can then become church members. Do you see the flow? These days, the importance of a church website to the growth of a church can’t be overestimated. Check out these statistics provided by Church Tech Today.
A Reality Check About SEO
Those statistics justify the importance of your church embracing at least some kind of commitment to SEO. But, where do you start? This blog can be a good place for your church to start if it’s completely new to SEO. Being a primer, it’s intended to be just that – a place where you can gain an introductory understanding of SEO from which to launch into your own intermediate and advanced studies on the subject.
Before continuing, you need to realize that gaining a prime position on the SERPs takes time and diligent efforts. Even then, there aren’t always guarantees of the highest success. The territory is extremely competitive, and not everyone plays fair. Nevertheless, with just a quick internet search, you can find a multitude of church SEO success stories. Bearing in mind the purpose of your church’s internet mission, I believe you’ll find SEO efforts well worth the investment too.
Start Creating an SEO Plan
As you move beyond the shallows and transition into the deeper waters of exploring SEO, it’s important that your church creates an SEO plan. Expending efforts for SEO without a plan is a waste of time. So, the more organized that your church is with its SEO efforts, the more successful those efforts are likely to be. The simplicity or complexity of the plan is entirely up to the church. Even writing down a few general goals and ideas is better than nothing, and it can provide a planning foundation to build upon as you learn more over time.
With your plan, think about things such as who will be involved in the SEO research and implementation efforts as well as how much time and money might be spent. For example, SEO research can possibly yield results that recommend extensive revisions to the structure and content of your church’s website. That’s just one possible way that your church’s commitment to SEO can be tested early on. So, a plan is important.
A Few SEO Tips To Consider
At this early stage, it’s a good idea to examine some well-known tactics commonly used for driving traffic to church websites. So, let’s learn a few fundamental SEO tactics given in the form of tips to help your church get the creative ideas flowing and be equipped to make informed decisions regarding its creation of an SEO plan.
First of all, think for a minute what I’m doing with this blog. From my personal perspective, I’m intending to help your church start learning about SEO. In doing so, I intend to provide useful information to you – the reader. In writing to you about SEO, at least some of the success with my intentions is directly related to my concern for my reading audience and my personal interest in what I’m writing about. I’m referring here to the attitudes and motives underlying my own SEO-related aims with this blog. Here’s where I want to encourage you to always keep your church’s internet mission at the forefront with your SEO efforts.
SEO Tip #1: Build Your Church’s SEO Plan on Your Church’s Commitment to Its Internet Mission.
I care about providing useful information to people, and one way that I can maximize the usefulness of what I’m writing about is to do my homework. With this blog, my homework involved a significant amount of time researching the topic of SEO. That’s one way of ensuring that my readers receive useful information. My blog about SEO can’t be useful if it’s not technically accurate and presented in a way that readers can make practical use of. In other words, the content must be valuable. Your church has multiple ways to provide valuable content to its website visitors such as blogs, video resources, and audio resources.
SEO Tip #2 – Make the Efforts to Provide Valuable Content.
Speaking of valuable content, let’s talk about sharing valuable resources. This can be done through providing links to other websites. Remember, the spiders crawling your church’s website aren’t just looking at words – they’re following the website links contained in the website. Those spiders even have ways of checking how reputable the websites are on the other side of those links. And those results can affect the SERP ratings for better or worse.
There’s a lot of great information on the internet, but there’s also a lot of junk too. Use links to other sites, but take the time to do your homework and ensure their reputations are solid.
On the internet, enormous volumes of information are constantly flowing. As your church generously shares links to other websites, mutually beneficial relationships can develop where your church can become linked from other websites. But, in those pursuits, don’t lose sight of SEO Tips #1 and #2 that affirm the importance of reaching people according to your church’s internet mission while providing valuable information to them.
SEO Tip #3 – Make the Efforts to Provide Reputable Links.
What kinds of services and outreach efforts does your church provide? Especially if your church seeks to reach and draw in people with specific needs, a vital area of its SEO efforts will rely on a strategic use of keywords. In the discussion of SEO, the subject of keywords stands tall among most of the other issues. When people perform internet searches, they type some form of keyword sequence into the search box. It could be one word or a short series of words.
Think about the people who are the primary focus of your church’s internet mission and what words they might use in an internet search to find your church – I mean people who don’t know the name of the church but are in search of the specific ministries that your church has to offer.
With that thought in mind, you can quickly realize the importance of keyword research for your church’s website. Such research can help your church learn more about the people it wants to reach via the internet and how to better reach them. Armed with that knowledge, your church website can then focus on providing more of the content that its internet audience desires. To them, that’s providing value.
Where Do You Go From Here?
The first two SEO tips have more to do with how your church’s website interacts with its visitors, and the third tip has more to do with how your church’s website interacts with internet search engines for the benefit of your intended audience. There are multiple tactics and perspectives on SEO, and as you research the subject you’ll often encounter them in the form of opinions on how SEO should be done. If your church takes the time to do its homework and develop a plan, implementing SEO can yield an enormous amount of success to your church’s internet mission.
Here’s a couple of sources to help you start digging deeper with your SEO research while keeping up with current church technology trends: