Evangelism by Search Engine – Part 6 - Local Search and Hyperlocal Sites
Posted by Bill Anderton
Today, I am back from a ten-day hiatus while I have been working on starting up a new and important project for this website.
I hope you have seen our News Release about The Columbia Partnership (TCP) joining TransformingTheChurch.org as a content partner. If not, click here to see our news release. Starting Friday, May 17th TransformingTheChurch.org, TCP and Christian College pushed this release through Facebook and Twitter, and I did an e-campaign to all of our opted-in mailing lists early Tuesday morning. Additionally, the release began hitting our news and press outlets on Wednesday.
Many of you may not know, but in addition to being the author of this blog as well as the moderator and curator of this community, I am also founder, CEO and Chief Scientist of TransformingTheChurch.org. Simply put, my "day job" with TransformingTheChurch got in the way of my passion project here in this community. I have been immersed in getting this new and very important project launched and doing the pre-production for the first three courses provided in this new content-partnering relationship.
Please excuse my absence from this blog but I hope you will find my time well spent on these new transformation courses as well as the TCP Transformation Learning Community that will appear in this website as a new special-interest community perhaps as early as next week!
Today, I will be picking up this series where I left off ten days ago writing about Evangelism by Search Engine.
Today, I want to write about two often overlooked aspects of the use of search engines by churches and ministries: “local search.”
Local search is a specialized function of some search engines that allows users to use geographically constrained searches against a structured database of local listings. Often, these searches are coupled with geolocation-based services and maps and driving directions for smartphones as well as desktop browser searches.
Typical local search queries include not only information about “what” the site visitor is searching for but also “where” the “what” might be located. Be sure to use such descriptors as:
Local search helps people find things not only in your town or city but even in your neighborhood and perhaps on your block.
If you are a local church, serving the people in your parish well is one of the most important things your website can do. Therefore, making your site easy to find by these, the most important of your visitors, is a very important task for any webmaster.
Most of the major search engines have local-search products:
Also, there may be several specialized local search engines that serve your community too.
Find all of the places that provide local search services and establish listings in all of them. Also, some of the listings of the specialized search engines may have been harvested from open-source material about your church. Frequently this material is dated or incorrect. Check all local search listings and make sure all of your information, contacts and links are correct or fix them if they are not.
People DO (!!) use these services. I get visitors every day from these sources. Importantly, these visitors have a specified interest in something in my neighborhood, so I want them to be able to find my site easily!
Local search listings are usually free and are well worth the effort to establish you in local search and keep the listings up to date.
Also, local search can be performed in the generalized major search engines too. To narrow their searches, people will often put city- and neighborhood-related keywords into their searches. Therefore, make sure that your content and keyword strategies provide visibility not only for your city but even your neighborhood and other highly-local pertinent local terms. This is particularly important for churches in large urban cities.
To support a local search strategy, consider making a portion of your site a “hyperlocal site.”
The term “hyperlocal” connotes lots of content that is specifically oriented to a well-defined very-small portion of a larger community such as a neighborhood or parish. The content in a hyperlocal site (or a portion of your overall website) has its primary focus on the interests, activities and concerns of the residents of its narrowly define piece of geography.
In other words, hyperlocal sites serve very specific areas but cover them deeply and well. They can become the “go-to” sources for information about things in these areas.
You want this traffic. You will want to fill this role. This is a major opportunity for any church.
Cover your hyperlocal area in depth! Cover everything, even if it is not a church activity. Consider developing a reporter organization of volunteers to make contact with local people from your neighborhood to feed you news and information.
Cover as much of you hyperlocal area in as much depth as possible. My recommended approach is to write about everything; literally everything! Get some pictures too. Make your hyperlocal facet of your overall website an aggregator of everything happening in your parish and cover its news, events and interesting people.
Why? This is your parish! You should fulfill this role. The people in your parish will be searching for local things and local searches present an opportunity to capture a visitor. They may come into your site for the hyperlocal content possibly not directly about to your church but just might find your church content that interests them too; they might stick around for a while and click around in your overall website and its church-related content too.
If you do a hyperlocal site well and for long enough, you will establish yourself as the local authority on what is happening in your parish. And, this is a get role for your church and a great position to be in.
Your hyperlocal site will also benefit from any of the topical material your site contains about things of general or specialized interest. Occasionally, these hyperlocal topical events may take on city-wide interest or even national interest.
For example, when the Superbowl was at Cowboy stadium a couple of years ago, a very large ice storm the week before the Superbowl disrupted use the outdoor practice facility that was to be used by the Green Bay Packers (it was under two inches of solid ice!) The Packers' practice was relocated to the indoor practice facility of our neighborhood’s high school. Now, this is a great facility (built with private donations from the community, by the way) that is better than most colleges’ facilities. The Packers were very pleased and the story made the national news the Monday before the Superbowl. The high school is only about a mile from my church and the hyperlocal section of the church website wrote a couple of long feature stories about the facility hosting the Packers, the tradition of academic excellence of the school in addition to fielding good football teams and the impact of the Packers being in the neighborhood. The Packers also cooperated by letting us use their PR pictures made during their workouts.
We had copy and art and a hyperlocal site already well-established in the search engines. Perfect for us!
This was all last-minute stuff and we found out about it as it was happening in real time with no advanced notice. We had to react quickly because we knew the attention on this story would be fleeting. However, because we were already established, we could get our stories written up and into the hyperlocal section of our website within an hour.
Our traffic spiked almost immediately as we pushed the story through our social media until the search engines picked up our added content in their indexes a few hours later.
Since this story happened the Monday before Superbowl, we had traffic all week. We also had some blogs and news sources pick up our links to our features and cite them in their stories. As an extra benefit, the links to our site also further helped out search engine rankings.
We got a LOT of traffic that week because (1) the story was topical; (2) of broad general interest; (3) had a good journalism “peg” on which to hang the story; and (4) we had an established hyperlocal section as part of our normal coverage of our parish with established support, SEO and good keywords. Yes, a lot of the traffic was national and would not come back to the site or ever visit the church. But, you know what? We also had lots of traffic from our neighbors because we covered the story far deeper than the news sources, even the local press. Also, 99% of the households in our parish are connected to the Internet (one of the reasons we did a hyperlocal section in our website in the first place.) The people in our parish were MORE interested in the story because it was local and happening just down the street. Many of these website visitors did return to the site. Many of them passed our links around to their friends and families and these pages became locally viral.
This all happened so quickly and unexpectedly, if we didn't already have an established hyperlocal section of our website establish, we would have never been able to pull this off or would have missed most of the traffic from early in the week. In other words, we could only exploit the opportunity because we were ready. None of this could have been planned or predicted in advance. The fact that we did have an established hyperlocal section of our website, we could react very quickly and easily and the search engines could index the story very quickly. Because the were already covering "local," we could catch the wave.
It is almost universally true that operating a hyperlocal site will a great opportunity for your church because you are likely to find that this role isn’t filled at all by anybody else! It very likely is a green-field opportunity for your church. Good hyperlocal sites are rare.
If you can fill this role, you will be providing a meaningful service to the community as well as benefiting from the traffic.
Additionally, I can make a good case to do it if for no other reason than connecting to the people in your parish. It is a great opportunity to speak with people in your parish who are NOT members of your church in the reporting cycle and then have them come into your website and social media later to read what you have written.
As a church, you should be an expert on your parish anyway and operating an in-depth hyperlocal mini-site inside your church’s overall website is a logical extension of a role you should have in you community and just simply a great idea.
Operating a hyperlocal section in your website isn’t hard to do or expensive. The effort is contain by the inherently small scale of the geography you will be covering. If you are a local neighborhood church in an urban city, we’re talking only about a few square miles.
Too many church websites have editorial policies that are too inwardly focused; their websites are written like church newsletters and heavily slanted towards only their members. Your website should have an outward focus too! Connect with your parish and the people within it.
A hyperlocal site can provide a mission for not only your website but can also provides a mission for your site’s volunteer reporters as they connect with people in your parish to collect content. Synergy!
In reality, hyperlocal sites are excellent strategies for local search. By concentrating in-depth coverage within a contained geographic area, you also will naturally be concentrating your highly-local keywords that are common within your hyperlocal area. You simply can't do hyperlocal content WITHOUT using a lot of keywords uniquely associated with your area. Done correctly and with sufficient hyperlocal content, there isn't likely to a set of local search terms a user might use looking for something within your area where you won't have some content that matches. If you use good SEO techniques with your hyperlocal content, you should also produce very high rankings so pages from your church's website are presented in the SERPs of almost all local searches. You will stake your claim to the hyperlocal area and closely associate your church with the area in a visible way. Not a bad outcome!
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