You’ve most likely been told that your website is the first impression people have of your church. And it’s true. Your website is the front door to your church. It’s a key space to invite others and share your unique story. (more…)
You can have the perfect website, but if no one sees it, it’s all for naught.
That’s why creating a church website that will show up in Google (and other) searches is absolutely, positively, worth-near-memorizing-this-post essential.
Fortunately, it isn’t a guessing game. There are clear, simple steps you can take to get your church website to show up in online searches.
I’ve organized this list by what is simple yet critical. The further something is toward the top, the simpler and more important it is you do it. That said, you should do all of these as you have time.
For practical purposes, you should register your church with Google. It makes your church:
It also establishes credibility. If you don’t show up on Google Maps—or your entry shows up with all your information blank—you appear disreputable.
But when you register with Google, you increase the likelihood that someone will click on a link to your site, submit a review, or launch directions from Google Maps. And all that data is sent to Google, which tells them, “People use this website. We should make sure people can easily find it in searches.”
And that’s what you want.
Now that the internet knows you exist, it’s time to tell Google what you’re about—by using the right keywords.
Keywords are the main words people are likely to use when searching Google for your church (even if they don’t know about your church).
For example, a potential visitor might not go searching for “First Baptist Church of Mount Vernon.” But they will search for “Baptist churches in Mount Vernon” or “small churches near me.” And if you use the right keywords, your website will shoot to the top of the results.
When someone hits “Search,” Google takes their keywords and scans billions of sites to find what seems most relevant. You want Google to think that’s you.
Fortunately, there are only so many ways people search for churches. Here are the main four:
With that in mind, here are three easy steps to arrive at a good keyword strategy:
Step one: Jot down 5–10 ways you might search Google for your church if you were a fairly new attender (that is, use general terms to describe your church).
Step two: Take another look at the four main ways people search for churches and see which of your search ideas from step one seem to hit most of the four. For example, “Family-oriented PCA churches in Bellingham” covers searches 1–3 and could be a good target keyword phrase.
Step three: Choose words that supplement your target keyword phrase, and use them when writing your content. For example, if your target keyword phrase is “ice cream sundae,” supplemental keywords would be “banana,” “whipped cream,” “sprinkles,” “chocolate syrup,” and so on. For your church, those words could be “gospel,” “city,” “Jesus,” “faith,” “disciple,” or whatever words are organic to the life and mission of your church.
Now that you have your target keyword and supplementary keywords, it’s time to place them strategically in your website.
Rule of thumb: headlines. The most prominent parts of your site, like headings, titles, and copy high on the page, are the most important to Google, so these are the main places you should use your target keyword. The more prominently the words appear on your site, the more important it is for those words to contain your keyword(s).
And of all the pages on your website where this counts the most, it’s your homepage, because that’s the page you want visitors to see on Google and click to open.
By way of example, if your target keyword is “PCA Church in Bellingham,” you want those words to appear often and prominently on your homepage.
One church that does this fairly well is Christ Church Bellingham. Their main headline has the word “Bellingham” in it, which helps. It could be stronger if it had the word “Church,” too, but then that could mess with the phrasing of their value statement, so they may have chosen to forego it.
However, if you search the page for “Church” and “Bellingham,” you’ll see each word appears 10 and 7 times, respectively, which is pretty good. They might rank even better if they included a subhead under their “the joy of God in all of life for all of Bellingham” phrase that said, “Welcome to Christ Church Bellingham, a PCA church in the heart of Whatcom County.” That way their target keywords appear in two prominent places, near words people may use to search (like “churches in Whatcom County”).
H1: the highest-level headline on a page (e.g., “the joy of God in all of life for all of Bellingham”). It is strongly recommended your target keyword phrase appears here.
H2: the second-level headline (e.g., “Welcome to Christ Church Bellingham, a PCA church in the heart of Whatcom County”). If your target keyword isn’t in your H1, it should at least be here, along with supplementary keywords.
Generally speaking, H1 is the biggest text, H2 is the next biggest. That said, you can adjust both. If the big message you want to stand out isn’t necessarily keyword-friendly, make it your H2 and enlarge the font. Then put your keywords in your H1, but stack it under your H2 and shrink the font. For example:
Your body copy (everything that’s not an H1 or H2) is important, too. That’s where you want to sprinkle your supplementary keywords alongside your target keywords. Take Christ Church’s homepage as an example:
If this feels over your head, don’t worry. Simply identifying your target keywords is 60 percent of the work. The remaining 40 percent is sprinkling them into your website intentionally and strategically.
Now that we’ve done the legwork to help Google know what your site is about, we have to convince Google you’re legit. (And you are, they just don’t know it yet.)
The big way to do this is to get people to go to your site.
There are many ways to do this, but these are the two big ones:
This is great news for your church, because you’re a content machine—you just might not know it yet.
As a church, most of what you do is content: you preach, you counsel, you gather together, you take photos and videos, you write.
All of this can become content:
If this sounds like a lot of work just for traffic, keep in mind that traffic is really the side benefit. The true benefit here is that you are cultivating community and equipping your own church.
This one is simple. Do you have a church event coming up, and the details are on your website?
Link the event in a post on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. That way when people click the link, they go to your website. That’s traffic, and it tells Google your site is legit.
Your social media accounts should also all contain a link to your church website.
This is a highly critical step.
Not only does Google see reviews as signs of a vibrant organization and website, but people do, too.
Reviews are some of the first things a person notices about any organization, whether it’s a business, restaurant, or church.
You can’t control how people review you, but you can take actionable steps to make reviews work for you rather than against you:
Google is like your friend who knows the whole town and how everyone is connected.
One way Google decides you are a legitimate site is that it detects connections you have to other legitimate websites.
For example, The Gospel Coalition is a legitimate website. Thousands of people visit their site every day, and there is no illicit content.
TGC also has a church directory on their website that lists all churches that align theologically with them. If your church website is linked to that list, Google will register your association with The Gospel Coalition’s website and raise you in the rankings. (In other words, it will see as you as more relevant and trustworthy.)
The Faithlife Church Directory is another easy way to get quality inbound links to your church website. It also helps potential visitors conveniently find your church.
Application: if your church is part of a network, association, or denomination, or otherwise partners with a credible institution, see about creating a two-way road between your sites. Somewhere on your site, link to theirs, and request that they somehow link to yours.
We’ve covered this fairly well by now, but it bears repeating: current is credible.
If Google sees that your site has been fairly inactive or unchanged for a while, it will think you’re less relevant, which means it will place you lower in the ranks.
There are words that people see when they view your site, and there are words they don’t.
Metadata is “behind the wall” content no one sees but Google. It uses that information to understand and present your site in its search engine.
There are three pieces of metadata you should focus on: title tags, descriptions, and alt tags.
I’ll use a Google listing to explain the first two, title tags and descriptions:
The title tag is the line above the Faithlife Giving homepage URL, and the words under are its description.
These tell you at a glance what the site is about, in the form of a headline (title tag) and then in a sentence or two (description). Titles must be under 60 characters, and descriptions 300.
For a church—and let’s use Christ Church Bellingham as an example again—that could be:
The third pieces of metadata you should focus on are called alt tags. An alt tag is simply a way of describing an image verbally—think of it like an invisible caption. In fact, sometimes you can hover your mouse over an image and see a small line of text. That’s an alt tag.
The reason this is important is Google can’t “read” an image, so it needs you to translate. For example, if you have an image on your website of people gathered at a potluck, you might write the alt tag, “A potluck at [church name] in [church town].” Those keywords will make Google’s ears perk up and register you as a church website.
So where do I write this metadata? Most church website builders, like Faithlife Sites, will make that clear in their templates. If they don’t, email the support team and ask. (And if they don’t have a good answer, you may want to look elsewhere for a website builder.)
If you are coding your website yourself or hiring someone else to do it, you’ll know where to put this information.
Anything beyond the eight points goes beyond what is standard and is up to you to pursue.
If you do want to get creative, a great first step would be to consider a Google Ad Grant.
A Google Ad Grant is essentially free advertising money—up to $10,000/mo.—to help you spread the word about your church.
The downside? You have to apply to qualify, and it takes quite a bit of work to maintain your qualifications—which most churches don’t have the resources for.
The good news? Organizations like CV Outreach can help you bridge the gap. They are totally free and they shoulder the grunt work of maintaining a strong online presence for your church.
If you want to move beyond the eight steps mentioned above, start with CV Outreach. (Or if you’re really ambitious, pursue a Google Ad Grant.)
The good news is you don’t have to do all nine of these at once, and some of these steps include work your church is already doing, like creating content or responding to reviews.
A lot of work goes into making a great church website. Make it count by taking these steps to help your site show up in search results.
A few weeks ago Faithlife hosted BibleTech, a two-day conference on the intersection of technology and Scripture in the Christian life.
As a co-host, I had the privilege of sitting in on at least half the talks. Topics ranged from the future of AI in Bible study to the enduring value of paper Bibles, and overall attendees were warm toward technology.
And yet there was an uneasiness in the air about it, too—fears about what technology might change, nostalgia for what’s already been lost, and concerns about whether the church will adapt technology responsibly.
A few themes stood out as particularly critical to churches. I’m presenting them as questions for your church leadership to ponder. I know I’m still mulling through these questions myself.
Jennifer Miles shared some staggering statistics about learning in her talk “The Rise of Multimodality: Instascripture and a Shrinking Biblical Framework”:
Miles went on to share how much Christian learning and education happens by media collage: smatterings of social media posts, YouTube clips, podcasts, and more. The Sunday sermon, small groups, and personal reading are proportionally small in influence.
As a global church, our primary assumption has historically been (and still is) that people learn, synthesize, and internalize the gospel to create a Christian worldview through reading—the Bible, Bible studies, daily devotionals, Sunday morning sermons, or Bible study groups. It’s time to stop 1) assuming people read and understand what they read and 2) relying on reading as our go-to mode to transfer knowledge. And, yes, for [many of us], it’s probably a hard pill to swallow given how much we love our books.
So, questions your church should be asking include: Are we teaching people in the places they learn? How can or should we focus our energies to help form a biblical worldview in our church members and attenders? What more do we need to learn to respond well?
Related to the above, nowadays people “live” much of their life online. They read the news online. They plan events online. They talk to friends online. They research basically everything online.
It’s no surprise, then, that more and more people are going to church online.
Kenny Jhang, in his talk, “Seeing the Future Now: Examining the Glacial Pace of Digital Engagement with the Bible,” presented a thought-provoking and challenging seminar on this topic. As a former online pastor and innovator in church media, Kenny has seen this world up-close and personal, and he has seen true connection and spiritual growth come from it.
But for many of us, the idea of attending church online seems almost paradoxical. How do we realize the intentions and commands of church community (Heb. 10:24–25; Col. 3:12–17) apart from one another? This objection has merit.
But rather than be reactionary against online church, pause to reflect on the trend. What need is it signaling? Should it be embraced, and if so, to what degree and why? How can in-person community and online interaction complement each other?
Inherent in the question is an assumption that technology, like any tool or medium, has its place.
One thing I came away thinking about is the difference between formation and information, in part because of Rev. Gary Carr’s talk about the experience of paper Bibles. There is something personal in their tangibility. You have your underlines, your notes in the margins, your arrows from one verse to another, and you can imagine in your mind where on the page God spoke to you through a certain passage. A paper Bible becomes a companion on your spiritual journey in a way electronic Bibles cannot.
And yet with Bible software you can make connections and discoveries in minutes or even seconds that could take you possibly hours to make with a paper Bible. With a few clicks you can discover helpful commentaries, do word studies, and perform hundreds of tasks that help you know your Bible better. And this matters personally and deeply to people. Faithlife consistently hears from customers that Logos Bible Software has been an integral part of their life and ministry for years.
Both are important and serve different purposes, and that’s fine. The challenge is keeping those purposes and your goals clear. Information serves formation, and as such, technology does have its limits.
So how do we make technology an excellent servant—not just in Bible study but in other ways? How does your church use Instagram and Facebook for good? When and where are screens inappropriate in the life of your church? When does technology work against formation, and when does it work for it?
These are challenging questions, to be sure, and there can be an impulse to shun new technology out of fear or nostalgia.
But that would be a mistake, because we’d be throwing out all the good technology can bring. I leave you with this encouraging word from Mark Ward’s talk, “A Media Ecology of Bible Software”:
Here’s bedrock: other generations have faced tectonic technological shifts, and these shifts have brought good and bad. We shouldn’t freak out. God rules. He made us to be creators, to find the powers he built into creation. Technology is a fundamentally good, God-created thing.
And here’s bedrock: nothing people make is neutral. I think a media ecology of Bible software helps us ask questions that genuinely help us see the burdens and the blessings of digital Bible study. The fall and human finiteness both get mixed up in the tools God designed us to create.
I think media ecological questions help us live out the wisdom of one of the few hopeful things [Neil] Postman* says in his book is, “It is necessary to understand where our techniques come from and what they are good for; we must make them visible so that they may be restored to our sovereignty.”
Take some of the questions posed here to your next staff meeting to begin assessing how your church can properly use technology in its ministry.
*Note from Faithlife employee and BibleTech presenter Mark Ward: “Though I enjoy the more pessimistic view of Neil Postman’s Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, I recommend even more highly the wisdom of Andy Crouch on the topic. Crouch’s excellent book Culture Making provides the theological framework for understanding how technology fits into the Christian life; and his The Tech-Wise Family provides very practical help for parents looking to enjoy its blessings responsibly in the home.”