Churches: Why do Search Engine Optimization?

Many may wonder (if they know what it is), “why do search engine optimization (SEO) for our church? I will ask a followup question that will help us frame the question in a more focused way: How is SEO the same or different than what we might call its predecessor, the phonebook?

The phonebook was great for some key reasons. As someone steeped in SEO work, I can most of all appreciate how easy it was. There is only one phonebook that you belong in – the one for the region your church resides in. You can pay to have it just show up in line alphabetically, or you can pay for anything from an 1/8th to a full page ad.

The greatest similarity between the phonebook and SEO is that they are both outreach methods focused specifically on the demographic of potential visitors that are already in the very act of trying to find you. But how does their experience of searching for a church to join or visit compare?

With a phonebook, it takes a few extra moments to find your page then it would take to type a quick search phrase. But once you are on the page or search result, your experience has already become significantly different. Think about what you could fit in even a full page ad in a phonebook. Now lets think of all the things that someone could find out about your church by your search result listing or by clicking on your website. Besides your name, your address, your phone number, your email address, the name of your pastor, and a listing of a few regular activities you have, they can listen to potentially your entire sermon library since the first day of your church’s existence. They can view an up to date listing of events with specific times, dates, and locations. They can see photographs of the church building and events. They can read through your entire list of doctrinal standards and belief statements. They can read about the whole history of your church. They can read a message written just for them that helps them to understand things about your church that might strike some as unusual or culturally different. They can read reviews written by members and visitors of your church. I could go on.

There are so very few people that use the phonebook anymore, and even in its day, it was a useless tool for any out of state visitor who wanted to plan ahead for where they would worship during their business trip or family vacation. SEO is hard. SEO takes a lot of time. You have to educate yourself on so many more things than you did with the phonebook. But we ought to thank God for the innovations He allowed/helped people make in order for internet searches to be invented. The outreach potential of SEO is exponentially more significant with SEO than it was with the phonebook.

If you’re looking to find out how your church ranks with SEO, open up a new “incognito window” in your browser. Search for “church near <town>” and hit enter. Depending on several factors, most churches wouldn’t even show up on the first page with a search like that. Rural areas sometimes have few enough church options nearby that they would rank well in such a search. Try searching some other phrases. Switch the last word to another town. Try writing “<denomination> church near” for the first half. Then compare that with the result when you search for a church in a town that has a megachurch, like Lake Forest, California, Houston, TX, or NYC.

Your little church could rank something like what you see in these cities. There are many churches that aren’t engaged in SEO at all, and many of them may be your neighbors. While SEO can be a lot of work, the fruits of the work may start to show even with a very small time investment. So where should you start? My previous post might give you some nice ideas.


Written by

Andrew Gruswitz

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Hello, I'm Andrew Gruswitz. My passion is to see my dear brothers and sisters of NAPARC churches to grow in their online outreach efforts. Check back at this website for updates in the world of church website design, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for church visibility in web search results, and another passion of mine - web safety for families and online accountability and integrity for young adults and adults. Shoot me an email if you have any questions or concerns about any of the above.
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