Let’s paint a scenario for a minute. Say you are visiting a brand new city and want to figure out where to go, what to do, what places to eat, etc. Sure, you may reach out to a few friends familiar with the area and ask them for some insights.
In most cases, though, you are more than likely to hop online and do a quick Google search on the area.
Search engines have revolutionized the way we gather information on the web. In the early days of the Internet, there was no option to search for any sort of information as you pleased. You had to type in the URL, word for word, to be granted access to the website you were looking for. (This would definitely have been frustrating if you didn’t know the URL!).
Search engines have their origin in the early 1990s but didn’t evolve to search engines as we know them now until 1993 with the launch of Aliweb, which indexed websites based on certain keywords and descriptions of web pages.
Over the years, more “popular” indexing sites developed, which we usually refer to today when we think of search engines. These are sites such as Yahoo Search, Ask Jeeves, and of course, Google Search.
Search engines became a virtual thesaurus for every piece of information you could possibly dream of. It is a central hub where the majority of web pages on the Internet are able to be accessed from.
Because of its ease of access (and elimination of the need to memorize URLs), search engines are usually the first place we go when we are trying to locate information.
This brings us back to your visit to a brand new city. You are trying to find out which restaurant to visit first, so you go to Google.com, search “restaurants in *insert city name*” and bada bing, bada boom, you have hundreds of restaurants popping up for you to check out. The magic of search engines!
There is a major issue with search engines on the back end: there are literally pages upon pages of results you could peruse through. As a user, this isn’t a huge issue: you just stay on the first page. Some studies say that only 4.8% of users will actually move to the second page of search results!
While it doesn’t affect users much, this is bad news if you’re a company left to hang out on the second page of results.
How is it then that you can become a part of the elite “Top Ten” of web pages that are displayed on the first page of search results? There are, of course, options to go inorganic and pay for sponsorship to appear higher up in search results. However, in the day and age where many people are skeptical of advertising, going the organic (i.e. free) route is the way to go.
Let’s invite our good friend SEO to the stage! SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and, in a nutshell, is the process of optimizing your web content for search engines to display your website in the top result for searches.
In layman's terms, SEO is a technique to get you on the first page, and maybe even towards the top of it.
Search engines are geared to categorize keywords in general, but strategic, well-planned keywords and descriptions will help your website perform higher results. Just like algorithms on social media sites like Instagram, this categorization constantly changes. Your job is to become acquainted with the algorithm and follow the guidelines it requires to help your page perform better.
Fair warning: online algorithms are not all that friendly. They tend to switch things up on you just when you are getting the hang of things. If they were a person, they’d be a tough friend to have!
SEO, regardless of its changing criteria, is an essential tool to utilize in the pursuit to get your website made known on the vast World Wide Web. For churches and nonprofit organizations, using your website to reach people is an essential part of your digital marketing plan.
SEO is the key to getting your website at the top of the search results and the top of mind for your audience. Here are 7 essential SEO steps to reach people online with your website.
A keyword is simply a word or phrase that captures the essence of a specific topic. These phrases help categorize your web page and help search engines scan your site to see if it fits in the relevant search.
In the early days, people realized that keywords are the “key” to displaying high on search engine results. So, as a result, they’d include thousands of unrelated keywords hidden within their website to up their chances of displaying high on the search list. This strategy is called over-optimization, keyword stuffing, or link spamming.
For example, a bakery business would include keywords such as “hot air balloons,” “pet sitters,” “baseball scores,” and a bunch of other unrelated nonsense just to get their webpage a bit more attention.
Obviously, the web developers and all-knowing moderators of the Internet caught wind of this and changed the criteria for using keywords.
Keywords are the crux of good SEO when they are used wisely. There are two types: head terms and long-tail keywords. The first term is shorter (1-2 words) and very broad. The latter is longer (3 or more words) and far more specific.
For example, if your church (e.g., Grace Methodist Church of Dallas) was curating keywords for your site, you’d probably use some of the following for your head terms:
These terms are short, sweet, and simple, but they are quite broad. To really add some depth to your keywords, you could implement some of the following long-tail keywords:
These keywords are just a few examples of what you could include. You can get much more specific in your keywords, by using what’s called long-tail keywords. The longer the search term, the more specific, and the less competition for those works! They can include a ton of different relevant keywords such as some of the following:
The possibilities are endless, but make sure you follow the first commandment of SEO keywords: thou shall not use over-optimize keywords.
We’ve got the hang of what keywords are all about, but where exactly do these keywords go? These are four major areas you want to make sure you include your key phrases (i.e. your long-tail keywords):
Speaking of your keywords finding a good home, keywords aren’t just meant to be inputted into your site's copy or meta tags. Something often overlooked, but it is super helpful to boost your SEO, is quite simple: naming your website images.
That’s it. Name your images. Instead of leaving the default IMG_1234 that automatically names your image, bring out your keywords and name the photos with those instead!
Earlier, we talked about sprucing up your web copy with your keywords. One of the greatest ways to do this is to implement a blog! A blog has many benefits for your church website (guest-writing pieces, sermon summaries, etc.), but it is also extremely beneficial for your SEO.
In short, blogs are just another piece of the pie you can sprinkle with some relevant keywords. Not only this, but your blog can serve as the answer to questions your searchers are looking for. This could be general information about churches in the area, yes, but it could also serve to answer some of life’s biggest questions.
Revelry Church, a church in Pennsylvania, utilizes its blog to talk about life’s biggest heartaches and to be a resource to those hurting in their community. One of their best-performing blog posts led to dozens of inquiries about their church and many new visitors.
This shows that good content paired with SEO can make a big impact and actually achieve some real results through your website.
This step is huge and can derail all of your efforts if it isn’t taken care of quickly!
Google prioritizes sites that have a responsible load time and aren’t buffering for seconds upon seconds upon clicking on it. Although this has nothing really to do with your keywords, it does affect how Google will rank you compared to other super-quickly loading sites.
A few things you can look at to quicken your load speed are the size of your web images, the theme of your site (if you use a template builder website), your web host, and caching (i.e. the process of storing data). This may sound like a foreign language to you, so all you need is a web developer who knows what they’re doing, and they will take care of all of this for you!
Making sure your website is responsive is important, but making sure your website is also accessible on multiple platforms is just as important.
Does your website totally fall apart when it’s viewed on a mobile device or tablet? That will hurt your SEO simply because if your website is hard to navigate, odds are people won’t want to navigate it (crazy, right!?).
In addition, viewing websites on mobile devices is becoming more and more popular. In fact, approximately half of web traffic worldwide occurs on mobile devices. Also, Google plays favorites and prioritizes mobile-friendly sites.
Another important part of enhancing your SEO and reaching more people is by making sharing easy for your viewers. This doesn’t directly correlate with SEO-boosting keywords, but it does help expose your website to more and more people.
The more people who share your content, the higher the likelihood of viewing the shared content and clicking on your website. Sharing blog posts with specific links is a great thing to do on your church’s social media accounts. Encouraging staff and leaders to share the content will only help your cause as well.
Last but not least, to boost your SEO, signing up for Google My Business should be your first move. (We intentionally put this last on the list so it will be fresh in your mind!).
Google My Business is a free account you sign up to claim your business listing and add in your own relevant information such as photos, service times, location, and more. Signing up for this is super helpful in managing your church’s Google listing and keeping it fresh and updated for searchers. This is another great place to sprinkle in your site keywords and key phrases to boost SEO!
SEO can seem like a big scary term, but it is simply another method to help lead people to your church website and, hopefully, your physical (or online!) church. By implementing strategic keywords, a compelling blog, accessibility, and social sharing, you can up your search engine ranking and audience exposure.
If you’re still a bit confused, our team would love to help you out! Our website and strategy teams can help you develop a web strategy and increase your local organic search. Contact us today!
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