Despite how important search engine optimization is, it’s still so mysterious that many churches and even businesses avoid it. Yes, it can be confusing, especially with Google constantly changing search algorithms.
However, this handy SEO guide for churches will help you develop an evergreen strategy. As long as you avoid blackhat techniques, such as keyword stuffing and buying links, you should be able to stay in Google’s good graces.
There are really only two main SEO rules to remember. First, always create content for your readers versus just search engines. Second, make it easy to find you online. All of the below advice will help you with the second part.
Perform Keyword Research
You’re a church, so your keyword should just be “church,” right? It’s a good start, but remember that there are hundreds of thousands of churches using that same keyword. Of course, Christian blogs, completely unrelated to a specific church, might also use it. If that’s your main keyword, your church might just get lost in search results.
Instead, you’ll need to do a little keyword research. Yes, the word “church” will be part of the keywords and phrases you use. Some free tools (though some have premium options), include:
- Rank Tracker – You’ll need to download this tool, but the free version gives you plenty of features to research keywords.
- WordStream Free Keyword Tool – Start with a keyword, industry and area to get a list of related keywords you should be using.
- Answer The Public – Instead of strict keywords, find out what questions people are searching for to help you figure out target keywords.
- Neil Patel’s Ubersuggest – Find keywords based on of your domain (or others) and/or a chosen keyword, such as “church your city.”
Don’t get overwhelmed trying to find the perfect keywords. In most cases, keywords will come to you simply by thinking “what would I type into Google if I was searching for this?”.
Use Local Keywords
While most guides talk about keywords in general, an SEO guide for churches also has to mention local keywords. Since you’re not just growing an online following, but trying to increase church attendance and membership, you’ll want to ensure people can find your church based upon your area.
This is actually fairly simple to do. You have three main keyword phrases that should be sprinkled throughout your website. You should also use them on your blog when talking about upcoming events. Other places to add them would be in social media profiles, business listings and even ads. The three keywords include:
- churches in your city
- your city churches
- your city church
You can also change the city part to your state, a nickname for your area, a county or something similar. The idea is to ensure Google knows that your church is located in this specific area. When people search for “churches in Houston,” they only want to see churches in the Houston area. If you’re not using that keyword on your site, your website might not show up in results.
Use Keywords In The Right Places
When it comes to your church website, you’ll want to place your main keywords in several different places on your site. Always remember, keyword stuffing anywhere is a bad thing.
However, search engines crawl specific parts of your site first to determine what your content is about. Outside of the body text, which is the main text on your website and blog, you’ll want to use your main keywords in:
- Title tags – These are title names of your pages and blog posts.
- Meta description – This is the description search engines show in search results for webpages and blog posts.
- Page URL – This is the actual address of your site pages and posts.
- Headings – Use actual headings, such as H1 and H2, with your keywords to separate site content and blog post sections.
- Alt-text for image names – Since images aren’t text, adding a keyword descriptive name in the alt-text section gives Google a way to identify what the image is about.
Obviously, you should also use target keywords in your body text too. Each page of your website will likely have one or two keywords to target. You might even break each page into sections with a separate keyword. Of course, each blog post will have its own keyword as well.
The Yoast SEO plugin recommends a keyword density of no more than 3%. Word Stream suggests a general rule of using your keyword once per every 200 words.
Ensure Your Address Is Listed
It’s easy to get caught in all the SEO guide for churches technical details, but one of the simplest things you can do is add your church’s address to your website. You probably have a contact form listed, but what about the actual physical address?
Place your church’s address on your homepage, about page, contact page and the footer. This ensures you have a location listed that Google can show on a map. Plus, you’ll also be targeting your city and state with those keywords.
Claim Local Listings
People sometimes search local business listing sites to find area churches. However, Google and other search engines also use business listing sites to show maps of churches (and other businesses) within search results.
As a general rule, the listings have to be claimed by the business before they show up. Your church might already be listed, but unless it’s officially claimed, it’s not doing you much good.
Great SEO means making sure your church is easy to find. Business listings give you yet another way to be found and list relevant details about your church. Some important listings to claim or add include:
The great part is all of these are completely free. However, you get numerous benefits, including being easier to find online.
In addition to business listing sites, there are also church directories you can add your church to. Some possible options include:
Another benefit of business listing sites is they often have a place for reviews. Naturally, negative reviews are going to happen, but positive reviews help prove to potential visitors that your church is worth a try.
The problem is people don’t always leave reviews, whether they like your church or not. To help build up your reviews, ask your members to leave reviews.
There are a few things to think about when it comes to reviews:
- Google hates fake reviews
- Only ask a few members at a time to add reviews to avoid getting flagged for blackhat SEO practices (too many reviews at once look like you’re purchasing reviews)
- Negative reviews will happen, but use them to learn
- You can reach out to try to resolve negative reviews, but don’t turn it into an argument
- Reviews can be added on business listings, social media and even your website
A few easy ways to let people know that your church would like reviews include:
- Telling your members
- Asking on social media
- Adding a link to your business listing on your website and social media
- Email members and those on your website’s email list
Reviews aren’t just about good SEO, though. People love reviews and seeing others recommending your church might just sway them to choose your church when they’re in the area.
Use Google Ads
So far, this SEO guide for churches has offered free ways to get your church noticed online through SEO techniques. Google Ads aren’t free, unless you’re a qualified non-profit.
Google likes to help non-profits reach a wider audience by offering Google grants to charities. There are a few simple things you have to do to qualify, but most churches are able to qualify.
When you do, you get $10,000 in free ad credits every month. You have to use all of them, but Google has automated ways to make it easy to do this as a beginner. Or, you can utilize our Google Grant Management service to get the most from your free ads.
While social media ads are helpful in building an audience and boosting SEO, Google Ads might just be a free alternative that works even better.
Connect To Google Search Console
If you want to improve your search rank and SEO, connect your church’s website to Google Search Console. The free tool combines multiple tools in one to help analyze your site and see it the way Google does. Get recommendations on what to fix. See what’s wrong.
You can even check to see if your site is mobile-friendly. If it’s not already, create a responsive church website. Many of your visitors are coming from mobile devices, so you’ll want a site that looks good on their devices. Plus, Google gives you a rank boost if you’re mobile-friendly.
Have An SSL Certificate
Unless you have a login or membership area, you might not think your church needs an SSL certificate. These certificates show visitors that your site is encrypting data and offering a safer experience.
However, Google wants every website to do this on all of their pages, not just logins and payment pages. While an SSL certificate isn’t absolutely necessary, it can help boost your SEO. The key is choosing the right type of certificate and implementing it correctly. Neil Patel does a great job of comparing your options and discussing the challenges, especially for smaller businesses, which includes smaller churches.
Use his in-depth analysis to determine if this is an SEO technique you want to try.
Be Active On Social Media
You’d think an SEO guide for churches would focus mainly on your website and blog, but social media also helps with overall SEO. While search engines don’t necessarily see what’s on social media, an active social media presence can help in the following ways:
- Increase traffic to your website
- Increase positive reviews
- Create more backlinks (users finding your content on social media might link to it on their own sites)
Plus, a good social media strategy helps you create a stronger online community and stay in contact with your members more.
Add Quality Content To Your Blog
High-quality blog content is a critical element when it comes to improving SEO. Don’t get carried away with trying to add content all the time. Search engines prefer higher quality content over a lot of content. Remember the first rule of SEO? Think about your visitors/readers first.
Write content for them, not search engines. While you can add in keywords, keep them to a minimum and use them naturally. Focus on writing content readers find useful and engaging. The better the content, the longer they’ll stay on your site. Plus, the more likely they are to share it with others.
Guest Blog To Build Reputable Links
Backlinks show Google that your site is an authority in your niche. However, if you’re just starting out, this isn’t always easy to do. Offer to guest blog on popular Christian sites and for other churches. Ensure you’ll get one do-follow backlink.
Build up your own blog for several months before offering to guest blog. This helps other sites see that quality matters to you and that your content will benefit their audience as well.
Use Search-Friendly Video And Sermon Descriptions
Uploading your sermons and other videos is a great idea to better engage your church website visitors. However, search engines have a hard time figuring out what your videos are about.
Make these videos more search-friendly by adding a short text description of each video. For sermons, add a name, a brief description and a few scripture references. You should also add relevant keywords to the video titles and descriptions.
Monitor Google Analytics For Issues
Finally, monitor Google Analytics for any issues. If you have a page that has a higher than usual bounce rate, check it out to find out why. Are there broken links hurting your site? Is a page taking too long to load?
Google Analytics is free to use and connect to. Plus, the more you analyze about your church website and church, the easier it’ll be to grow it both in your church and online. Think of it as your own personal SEO guide for churches.
Great SEO starts with an amazing and optimized church website. Contact us today to find out how we can help get your church online.
Great article. I wish our church was closer to what Google considers the center of the city, but we are on the outskirts. I fear we will always be at a disadvantage.
Thanks, Jeremy. I hear what you are saying. Being in the middle of Columbus would put you in range of more people, but we have seen churches on the outskirts rank in the larger city. If you haven’t already, take advantage of the free Local SEO report we offer, and it should give you some practical ideas to help boost your standing. https://reachrightstudios.com/local-seo/#report
Thank you for the great insights. God bless.
Thank you for the info!