More and more often, people are turning to Google to find their new church. It’s important that you think about what search terms people might use to find a church like yours, then make sure your church ranks well for those terms.
A common search term for finding a new church would be “denomination city”, like “united methodist marietta”. Type in your denomination and city and see where you come up. In fact, you should come up with a list of search terms like that, put them in an Excel spreadsheet, and check on them every month or so. Search Google for them, and go page by page until you find your site. (I only go 10 pages. If it’s above #100, I don’t worry about it at all).
I created my list by going around to people at the church and asking what they would search for if they just moved to Marietta and were looking for a church. Here’s some of them to get you started:
marietta methodist church
methodist churches marietta ga
methodist churches marietta georgia
I’ve got about 100 different search terms in my spreadsheet, but that gives you the general idea.
Now, you know what search terms you want to rank well on, but how do you do it?
First, you need to narrow it down. In our case, I completely bailed on “Atlanta” and decided to focus on our suburb of “Marietta”. I figured that we would have less competition for that and would rank better. Also, I focus on the word “Georgia” rather than the abbreviation “GA”.
Second, you need to build your internal links properly. Search engines pay close attention to what specific words you use to link to a page, so choose them carefully. Don’t ever link the words “click here”, as those words are meaningless. Choose a proper phrase like “download our vacation bible school registration” and link the last four words in that sentence. That will tell Google what the page is about, and you will rank slightly better for those words.
One other big thing Google looks at it the tags on your page. Don’t make the text at the top a cute image, or make it large using “font” tags. Your best bet is to use proper “heading” tags (such as “h1”, “h2”, etc) for those items. On the top of our youth page it says “Youth Ministry”, which is built with “h1” tags. That tells Google that the main purpose of the page is youth ministry, and it gets ranked accordingly.
Another thing is to use accurate filenames for everypage. Make your youth page something like “youth.htm” or “youthministry.htm”. If your site is database-driven, use mod_rewrite to create nice looking URLs. For example, our youth page is technically located at “menu2.php?page=20”, but it shows up as “menu200/Youth-Ministry”. Getting those keywords in the page URL is a BIG help. A great guide for getting started with mod_rewrite can be found at sitepoint.com.
The final thing you can do is something that you can’t directly control – incoming links. The more sites that link to you, the higher you will rank. Google considers a link as a “vote” for a site, so the more links coming into a site, the higher it will tend to rank for a given keyword.
Also, similar to internal links, the text used when they link to you is very important. I try to get sites to link to us using “Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church – Marietta, Georgia”, but the final decision is obviously up to the linking site.
The easiest way to get more links into your site is to submit your link to free directories. A good one to start with is DMOZ, a massive directory with hundreds of thousands of links. Another good way to help is to add a link to your site in your “signature” of any message boards that you post on. Most message boards will allow a small link, and every little bit will help.
Search engine traffic can bring a significant number of visitors and might be your only chance to reach some people when they’re looking for a church in your area. Stick with it and enjoy the results!