SEO means “search engine optimization,” but to a lot of church leaders, it might as well mean “shenanigans extremely out of my depth.” SEO can seem complicated and techy and too much to think about.
But it’s worth thinking about because today, people start their search for a church online.
And here’s a secret: you don’t have to be some SEO guru to help people searching for a church online to find yours. A few key factors can make a huge difference.
For a plain-English guide explaining how to do it even if you’re an absolute beginner, grab the free guide SEO for Churches: Everything You Need to Know to Get Found Online.
Before you do, here’s a little primer of SEO terms (also in plain English). You already know the first term!
1. Search engine optimization (SEO)
Taking steps to make sure search engines show your church’s website—and show it as close to the top of the results list as possible.
2. Google My Business
Maybe this isn’t technically an SEO term, but it’s so vital I couldn’t leave it out. Google My Business allows you to register your church so that when people search for it, they don’t just see your website’s URL. They also see information like your church’s phone number, location, hours, photos, and even reviews.
It costs you nothing to list your church on Google My Business, and it’s a huge factor in helping people find you.
Tip: Ask your congregation for five-star reviews! If you don’t ask, your members will probably never think to do it.
3. SSL (secure sockets layer)
An SSL certificate means your site has been secured using encryption. You know a site has SSL if it includes https in the URL rather than just http.
SSL can help your visitors feel more secure about sticking around, and it can help your church show up sooner in search results. According to SEO expert Neil Patel, “Google has stated that if all other factors are equal, HTTPS can act as a tiebreaker in the search engine results.”1
Tip: Some website providers charge extra for this. With other church website providers, it’s included for free.
This is exactly what it sounds like! A keyword is the main element of what people are searching for. For instance, “church.”
(Other examples would be “recipes,” “shoes,” “books,” “Bible verses,” and “SUVs.”)
5. Longtail keyword
Add more specificity to a search, and voila, you’ve got a longtail keyword. For example, “Baptist church in Pace FL.”
(Other examples would be “pecan pie cheesecake recipe,” “stylish walking shoes for women,” “best books on productivity,” “Bible verses about generosity,” and “most reliable SUVs 2021.”)
6. Title tag
This one’s easy—don’t let the “tag” part throw you off. A title tag is what you decide to title a web page. People see it when they find that page in search results.
In the below search result, the title tag is that first line—“Grace Baptist Church | Baptist Church in Pace FL | Home.”
The title tag is often the same as the page’s headline, but not always.
For instance, Grace Baptist Church is using a title tag incorporating keywords for the search engine results page, but they chose a different headline for the home page itself.
Tip: Keep title tags short enough so the whole title shows up in search results, typically no more than 60 characters (letters, spaces, and punctuation), and include keywords.
7. Meta description
This is a short and sweet description of the page, typically including keywords. In the example below, this is the meta description: “We are a church on the north side of Bellingham, WA whose mission is to be passionately following Jesus and compassionately loving all.”
You might notice “church” and “Bellingham, WA” are bolded. That’s because words included in someone’s search are bolded in the meta description. (My search was “churches Bellingham WA.”)
Headings are the larger text that tells your visitor what the page or section of a page is about and guides them down the page. Good website builders automatically include heading styles in their website templates.
Each page has only one H1 heading—that’s the biggest, most important heading, usually at the top On this page, for example, the H1 is “SEO for Churches: Top 9 Terms & Why You Should Even Care.”
H2s are the subheadings, like each of the numbered items in this article.
H3s are lower-level subheadings, like “Related articles” at the bottom of this post.
9. Alt text
Think of alt text as an alternate way of seeing an image. Alt text gives brief descriptions of photos for people using screen readers, though alt text can also help search engines. For that reason, it’s good to include keywords in a way that makes sense within the context of the image.
SEO software provider MOZ puts it this way: “If you can close your eyes, have someone read the alt text to you, and imagine a reasonably accurate version of the image, you’re on the right track.”2
Alt text examples I’ve seen recently:
- A person looks at a brand profile on Instagram
- Marketer with an ipad struggles with common marketing challenges
- A consumer spends money after reopenings with credit card
Tip: Here’s another reason to make sure your alt text is descriptive and makes sense—when an image is broken, site visitors will see the alt text instead of the image.
- Church Website Templates: 5 Things the Best Ones Never Miss
- How to Get Your Church Website to Show Up on Google
- Why Modernizing Your Church Website Doesn’t Have to Be Hard