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.
1. Register with Google
For practical purposes, you should register your church with Google. It makes your church:
- Available for reviews by Google users
- Show up on Google Maps
- Appear in searches alongside important information like your phone number, website, and service times
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.
2. Choose smart keywords
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:
- “churches near me” — Your Google Business listing will help you rank for this, so you’re good to go if you list your address in Google.
- “[denomination] churches in [city]”
- “churches in [city] with [specific attribute, like children’s ministries, evening service, etc.]”
- The actual name of your church (likely because they heard about it word-of-mouth) — This, too, is pretty well covered by your Google listing.
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.
3. Include your primary keyword strategically on your page
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.
Example: Christ Church Bellingham
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”).
A few nuts-and-bolts comments
There are technical terms for these headers:
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:
H2 (bigger than H1): “the joy of God in all of life for all of Bellingham”
H1 (smaller than H2): “Welcome to Christ Church Bellingham, a PCA church in the heart of Whatcom County”
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.
4. Drive traffic
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:
Put content on your site that people are looking for.
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:
- Blogs: Make sure your church website has a blog. You can use this to post virtually any kind of content: excerpts from sermons (text or audio), answers to questions you hear often in the life of your church (like “Why does evil exist in the world?” or “How can we trust the Bible?”), links for recommended reading, you name it. (Pro tip: You get a blog page automatically with Faithlife Sites.)
- Photos and videos: Did your church recently go on a retreat? Post pictures and videos on your website, then let everyone know at church or through social media that the photos and videos are up. Then people can go view them, and they may even share them on social media. Traffic on traffic on traffic. (Pro tip: You get tons of video and storage space automatically with Faithlife Sites.)
- Sermons: You create valuable content every week. Put your sermons on your website, and you create yet another inroad to your church website. Roads mean traffic. (Two pro tips: (1) Post or link your entire sermon transcript. All of those words are smack dab in the middle of what Google looks for to determine that you are a church or religious group. (2) Faithlife Sites will automatically upload your sermons and transcripts when you use tools like Faithlife Proclaim and Faithlife Sermons.)
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.
Link your website on social media.
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.
5. Get reviews
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:
- Ask your church members to review your church. They probably have good things to say about your church. No need to ask them to leave a certain kind of review, just to review it as sincerely as they would any other establishment.
- Respond to reviews. If it’s a warm review, write back telling that person how glad you are that they’re part of the community. If it’s a bad review, respond with a note of apology they had a poor experience, and encourage them to reach out or come by for another visit. People read reviews, and one of the most telling details about an organization is how they respond to critics.
- Delegate someone to oversee reviews. If it’s not one person’s job, it can easily fall through the cracks. Perhaps the person heading up your church’s welcome team is the best person to monitor reviews.
6. Get linked to other sites
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.
7. Update your site regularly
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.
8. Write “behind the wall”
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.
- Title tag: Faithlife Giving: Online Giving Solution for Churches
- Description: “Make giving easy for your church . . .”
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:
- Title tag: Christ Church Bellingham: Finding Joy in God
- Description: “Christ Church Bellingham is a PCA church located in the heart of Whatcom County. Our church of 300 is casual yet committed to the gospel . . .”
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.
9. Get creative
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.)
There you have it—9 steps to getting found on Google.
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.