In my previous posts about search engine optimization, we discussed the importance of SEO for your ministry as well as Google’s new mobile algorithmic update. Today I wanted to discuss more about how to optimize your church’s website for local search results better.
Local SEO is still search engine optimization but more complex because of the additional information that’s needed to truly work. Given that the vast majority of churches draw their members from their city (or even neighborhood), local SEO is probably more important to you and your congregation than Google’s national search results pages (SERP’s). Below are some important things to know and remember when optimizing locally:
So What’s Different About Local SEO?
First, let me explain what I mean by local SEO. Local SEO results appear when a searcher appends a location to their primary keyword; Knoxville churches, Brooklyn ministries, Catholic churches in Houston are but a few examples. What distinguishes these searches from traditional searches is that with a local search, Google will place a map at the top right corner of the SERP and pair this map with your search results listings.
SEO Factors for Google Local Search
As for the algorithm itself, Google weighs the same factors you optimize for in traditional SEO, (keywords, inbound links, site usability) but also includes other items such as reviews (quantity and quality), local external signals and signals from Google’s My Business feature. Reviews are unlikely to be a factor in your church’s local ranking, so let’s skip past that. Local external signals include your church’s NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) relative to where the person is searching from; which basically means that Google aims to deliver the closest and most relevant result depending upon your current location. Over the past few years Google has greatly improved their relevancy in showcasing neighborhood related searches, so local search results are likely to continue to grow.
Google’s My Business Feature
Google’s My Business pages are very important to local search and offer your ministry an opportunity to be listed in Google Maps so that potentially new members (or even forgetful members of your congregation) can find your church. Don’t fret if you haven’t already claimed your listing in the map; Google offers both new and existing churches a chance to be listed simply by filling a form and confirmation. Just be sure to type in the correct information for your NAP, and if you already have your ministry listed in My Business, then make sure that the information is correct. According to the SEO experts at Moz, the number 1 negative local ranking factor, is a “listing detected at false business location.”
For more information on how to set up and claim your My Business location, here is a nice summary of how you can add your ministry to My Business.
While traditional SEO techniques can help your ministry’s website in being discovered for searches of your church’s name, local search listings are likely to yield more fruit for your church with respect to growing your congregation. For example, when a family moves into a new neighborhood they could search for ‘Knoxville Baptist churches.’ In this scenario your traditional SEO may not bring up your ministry in Google’s local listings, but your My Business location would.
The final point I’d like to make about local SEO is that it is a tremendous benefit to small churches. Ideally your ministry would have its own website and church management system, but this is not always feasible for smaller congregations. Because the My Business feature only requires a confirmed NAP, your church can be listed and discovered in Google’s local listings without creating a website of any kind! If you operate a small ministry with a limited budget, then I would recommend optimizing your local results in Google before creating a website and taking on traditional SEO efforts.