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Online Ministries Community Blog

May 10

Evangelism by Search Engine – Part 5 - Applying Best Practices

Posted by Bill Anderton

In the previous blog postings in this series, I have written about the concept of doing evangelism by search engine, search engine optimization, its theory of operations and recommended best practices. In today’s posting, I am going to write about how to apply all of these practices in a simple, practical, real-world scenario in order to provide a working example that you can follow if you are new to SEO.

enter_evangelism_by_seach_engine_400w.jpgThe application of these best practices begins with developing a specific SEO plan that defines who you want to attract to the site and the SEO tactics you will use on the pages of your site to implement your strategy.

I am going to use one specific and nearly-universal need for all churches as an example. Please note that this is not a complete strategy, only one small facet that I can use as an example. It is impossible for me to provide a complete multi-faceted strategy example for all churches because the needs and strategies of each church will be very different and unique to each. However, using my example below as a template, all you have to do is repeat and expand upon this example for each aspect of your ministry and its selected strategies.

As an example, let’s develop an SEO strategy for attracting physical visitors to your church.

Let’s start by thinking about how people use search engines to find things. Today, most people use web search engines to find everything. Even if they happen to know the domain name they are looking for, they still enter the domain name into their Google toolbar instead of typing the domain in the address bar. If they know the church’s name, they will search on that. A more complex and more frequently occurring scenario is when potential visitors don’t know you specifically and are generally looking for a church.

This is one of the many reasons why having a presence on the web and also having top-ranked listings in the SERPs are important.

Our example strategy begins with making the church easy to find by prospective visitors who don't know the name of your church or its domain name; without digging deeply into the SERPs. The limited goal of this single aspect a strategy is to make one page on the church’s site appear in the number-one position for a few critical searches.

This is strategically important because the vast majority of people who physically visit churches will check out the church’s website BEFORE they physically attending a church; perhaps even using what they see on the website as part of their decision about IF they will even visit! In other words, this is a critical point of engagement; a filter your church must pass to get the visitor in your front door. Yes, this is one of the many reasons your church needs a good and engaging website.

Okay, this is our first strategic goal; make web pages from the church’s website appear in the number-one position (or at least highly ranked) on the SERPs for a few critical searches so visitors can find the church’s website prior to any anticipated physical visit and engage the visitor while putting the church’s “best foot forward” to attract the web visitor to become a physical visitor.

Let’s now develop some tactics to implement this strategy.

Potential physical visitors will fall into two broad classes, each needing their own SEO tactics:

  • People invited to visit by members of the church – These people will likely search for the name of the church.
  • People who are looking for a new church in the area – These people will likely search terms such as “city state church” (such as "Dallas Texas church" or “denomination city state” ("Baptist church Dallas Texas") or, if you are in a large urban city, “neighborhood state church” ("Highland Park Texas church") plus variations on each.

While there are two types of potential visitors we would be interested in optimizing for, many of the keywords are shared so the SEO tactics will be very easy to implement.

The keywords to optimize for are:

  • City (Dallas, for example)
  • State (Texas and TX, for example)
  • Neighborhood (Highland Park and Park Cities, for example)
  • Denomination (Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Church (DOC), Disciples, Christian Church, for example)
  • Name of the church (If the church name doesn’t already have the word “church” in it, put it in the title)

Also include a few important keywords like:

  • Church
  • Churches
  • Christian church
  • Find church services
  • How do I find a church
  • Help me find a church
  • Etc.

Next, I would build some specific landing pages for visitors. No, I would NOT rely on just using the home page as the primary landing page for these tactics. Home pages, by necessity, have to be fairly generalized and broad to serve its many constituencies. My messaging to any potential physical visitors might get diluted by the multiple messages the a home page typically has to carry. Also, there are just so many keywords that you can optimize for on any single page.

Instead, I think it better to make specialized highly-focused landing pages for any potential physical visitor to see and then optimize these pages for the keywords my visitor might use when looking for a church. I would use the specialized landing pages for potential physical visitors to enter the site and engage them once in the site. This approach allows me to make content solely for this mission to invite visitors into the site and provide messaging to show we are welcoming.

I would not rely on having just one landing page. Instead, I would build a set of them, each specialized for a single keyword or tactic:

  • If a visitor knows the church name
  • If a visitor is looking for a church based on location
  • If a visitor is looking for a church based on both location and denomination
  • If a visitor is looking for a church based on denomination

The content of each of these landing pages would only generally be similar. The text on each page would be unique and specialized to be optimized for each set of various keyword tactics that would be most appropriate for each scenario.

Remember, since this facet of our strategy is to serve potential visitors who are seeking out specifically our church or just generally looking for a church, we can build specialized pages that focus on just this type of visitor and this mission. We don’t have to dilute our messaging or goals for these pages like we might have to do with more generalized pages like our home page.

By having multiple landing pages, I can optimize each page and hit special keyword combinations very hard.

For example, you will want to put these words in all of the recommended places. Also, repetition of keywords is very important for SEO. Repetitive use of the keyword on a page send a stronger signal. You will want to use the targeted keyword phrase several times throughout the page and in several places:

  • Use the keyword phrase once in the page title.
  • Use the keyword phrase once in the main <h1> headline for the page.
  • Use the keyword phrase twice in the first paragraph.
  • Use the keyword phrase once in several <h2> sub-headline used on the page.
  • Use the keyword phrase two to four more times throughout the remainder of the page.
  • Use the keyword phrase two to three times in links and any images “alt” text on the page.
  • Use the keyword phrase at least once in the meta description of the page.

The key to integrating keywords into you text is that your writing should be natural and smooth. You are writing the text on you pages first and foremost for people and for the search engines as a secondary objective. There is no reason why you should have to choose between the two (people or search engines) in your writing style. Find good ways to integrate keywords into your text; keywords should not be obviously just “stuck into the text” willy-nilly.

One note of caution: yes, use keywords multiple times on a page; no, don't over do it. Using a keyword too many times on a single page is called "stuffing" and will get the page downgraded by the search engines. I've seen rookies stuff a page with several hundred repetitions of a keyword hoping it would get the page ranked. It has just the opposite impact.

I might end up with a dozen or more landing pages to cover the entire keyword list that I'm targeting, each optimized for a small set of targeted keywords. Taken in total, I should get high rankings on many search queries.

I won’t care which of these pages potential physical visitors land into, I just want to get them fully- and well-landed into the site, get them welcomed, get their interest piqued and get them clicking around in the site to have a look at the church as a whole. The landing pages are specially made and filled with content that utilizes those first critical seconds we have to capture the interest of the visitor and prevent them from bouncing out to another site.

I know from my site logs and analytics that if I can get a first-time visitor stay engaged in the landing page and to click into one additional page once they have landed in the site, I can get them to click on a bunch of additional pages! By actual measurement, if they will click on at least one more page, I can get first-time visitors to click on an average of five to nine pages in their first visit. Then, if I can get them to return to the site, all returning visitors will click on an average of eighteen pages.

I might even have some specialized navigation built into these landing pages to get the potential physical visitors steered to the content that would be most important in their decision to visit the church.

I might develop support pages for these landing pages for things like:

  • Driving directions
  • Map
  • Office hours
  • Worship services times
  • Child care available
  • Sunday School opportunities
  • Mission and service opportunities
  • Upcoming sermon promotions
  • Meet the clergy and meet the congregation (profiles and maybe media)
  • Or, whatever our strongest appeal to a visitor might be

These support pages can have their own keywords optimized for them too.

In essence, with a landing page and several support pages, I have made a “mini-site” specialized in attracting and initially engaging potential physical visitors. The mini-site would be nested in the larger overall site as a whole so that visitors can easily move out of the landing pages and into the site as a whole (typically by very well-designed navigations designed into the pages.)

Yes, you can use this strategy and example immediately. But, no, you won’t be finished with SEO yet because you need to add more facets to your strategy and more tactical implementations to realize those strategies so that you have an effective overall website. This was just a small example of one way of how these best practices could be implemented. Using this example as a roadmap, building additional specialized facets or generalized pages can work just like the single-faceted example above (with or without the mini-site tactic.)

I also hope you see that you don’t just load up into the website any content you just happen to have lying around; strategically plan your content to fulfill a specifically-defined mission. Making content should be an intentional exercise.

All content, even content without a strategic mission, has its role; but you want to place it around multiple sets of high-value anchoring content that will bring people (strangers you don’t know) into your site and get them looking around.

Add enough missions and facets to your strategy, each with its own set of keywords and SEO tactics and you can have top-ranked pages in the SERPs for a board set of things that are important to the overall goals of the church.

You might also add additional strategies and tactics for:

  • Fellowship
  • Church history
  • Ministry
  • Mission
  • Sermons
  • Christian education
  • Community service
  • Special events

Add enough facets to your strategy, each supported by its own keyword tactics to produce top rankings in the SERPs and you will wake up one day with a high-performance website.

Then, with the basics covered, you can start leveraging your high rankings to exploit your website’s growing advantages.

For example, when I ran the online ministry in my own church, I first established a very good set of rankings and built up my first-time and returning visitor from search engines. Then, I built a content and SEO strategies for three special periods a year when we targeted extra community awareness and attention from our parish:

  • Advent and Christmas
  • Lent and Easter
  • Fourth of July

Fourth of July wasn’t a sacred time, any more than any other period, but (1) I wanted something to bridge the gap between Easter and the beginning of Advent; and (2) we did a very large and very visible community-service project on the Fourth of July that was a great anchoring event on which to focus.

For each of these three seasons, I built special set of pages for all of our specialized events, services and outreach that we did in these special seasons; each was a set of 40-60 unique pages. Where needed, I made copies of some of them so I could specialize their embedded keywords.

For example, if someone was looking for a candlelight service for Christmas Eve, I wanted them to see my church’s pages in at least one of the top two results in the SERPs (and hopefully number one for many of my keywords) and visit the church’s website. Once there, I hope to engage them for more things and consider visiting us not just on Christmas Eve but other times as well.

A seasonal event may have brought them into the site, and that was fortuitous, but I want to make a deeper impression and start a longer-term relationship than just one single event or visit.

The three big seasons provided three big anchoring “pegs” on which I could hang strategies and tactics to attract visitor to the website at a higher rate than the pretty-nice baseline I had already established. Yes, we did other things throughout the year and featured something every week, but the three big annual seasonal focuses provide something we could build on and leverage.

Special seasons or normal weeks, I could start building relationships once people landed into the site, but first I had to get them into the site. To do that, I needed a topped-ranked page in the SERPs with a good page title and a good page description that enticed them to click on the link and actually come into the website. Once in the site, we have to demonstrate in the pages the visitors see that we are an engaging church worthy of join with them on their spiritual journey.

Evangelism by search engine.

Category: (05-13) May 2013   Tag:

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