Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist, Social Media + Big Data, North American Division
Digital Missionary, "I’m Listening with Justin Khoe; Life. Faith. And the things that matter."
The way to bring natural traffic to your channel is to position your video so the people looking for it can find it. This process is called SEO (search engine optimization), and the same basic steps can be used for any digital platform. YouTube is most often used as a search engine. Find content, write content, and curate content related to top YouTube searches. Frame your posts to pique curiosity and answer people’s questions, addressing their deepest longings. You can get top search data from any search engine, YouTube, and other social media trend tracking sites. Try it. Start typing in a question, and let the search engine auto-finish. The top results represent the most popular search queries. In other words, you will see what large numbers of people are searching for online. It gives you a sneak peek into their needs, worries, nagging questions, and often hidden yearnings. This is how you listen.
Once this is done, create your video, and follow the guidelines outlined in the How to Start A YouTube Ministry: A Comprehensive Guide. This will help position your video in the best possible way, not only to be found, but also get watched. Be sure to follow these steps because your content cannot lead people to Christ unless it is viewed.
Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist, Social Media + Big Data, North American Division
Only 20% of Americans regularly attend church, and only 2 in 10 millennials consider regular church attendance important. The Church no longer has the option of embracing change or leaving it to the next generation. The time is now; otherwise, we will become irrelevant. Change is never easy, but anything is possible with the Lord (see Matthew 19:26).
People search online for answers to their problems. They turn to the internet for companionship, understanding, information, anonymity, and more. We must be the voice that answers back, online, to share our message of hope and wholeness. Our digital presence may be the only exposure to the Gospel many people receive. We must recognize that the mission field is online, and just as legitimate as traditional evangelism.
We need an army of digital evangelists dedicated to carrying the gospel to the digital mission field.
Here are 5 steps you can take to become a digital evangelist with resource links:
Jesus sought first to fulfill people’s needs; He then invited them to follow.
We can use social media and digital tools to achieve our mission of spreading the gospel and helping people by creating content that focuses on mental, physical, and spiritual needs first. Once this foundation is established, we can invite our audience to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8, NIV). When used for digital discipleship and evangelism, this shift in focus is a way we can follow Jesus’ example for everyday ministry to real people. We can use social influence for kingdom building while utilizing modern tools and technologies.
For a practical guide to using digital technologies for outreach, community service, growth and evangelism, purchase the North American Division’s Digital Discipleship & Evangelism Guidebook at SDAdata.blog/book.
Available from AdventSource.
Print, Kindle and ePub versions available.
Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist, Social Media + Big Data, North American Division
Even the best writers must adapt their style for online writing.
While learning the rules and best practices of academic or journalistic writing creates a solid educational foundation, online writing requires a completely different style and approach to get the point across as quickly, clearly, and effectively as possible.
Copy that’s written for an online audience may seem too simple, even formulaic, since this type of writing is more casual and straight-forward. However, years of research proves its effectiveness in the digital space.
Bottom line: the goal of writing online content is to connect with the reader, not elevate the author. It’s about meeting the reader where they are and giving them the information they seek, all while “desiring their good” (sound familiar? MH, 143).
In other words, it’s not about us; it’s about those we are seeking to serve. As you read through this section, remember:
Good communication is when you communicate in a way your audience understands.
Writing for an online audience is not the time to communicate in a way that highlights the author’s vocabulary or intelligence. Our goal is always to uplift Christ first, and this means putting self aside in all aspects of ministry and prioritizing the needs of those we serve. We should endeavor to meet people where they are, on the platforms where they spend their time, in the way they prefer to consume content, and with language they can connect with.
9 Principles for Writing Strong Online Content
1) Remember the four primary purposes for online writing (content evangelism).
Effective online writing has at least one of the following primary goals. This is especially true for content marketing/evangelism, which requires consistent production and distribution of quality content to attract, engage, and nurture an audience.
The four purposes are:
2) Write like you’re talking to a friend: conversationally.
The best online writing is conversational, yet straightforward. Think about how you’d explain something new to someone you know, and write just like you would speak (minus tics, fillers, and mannerisms).
You wouldn’t waste time on flowery, poetic words, and you’d try to relate your concept to your friend’s life. You’d be up front about why this subject might be of interest and how it could benefit them in particular. The number one reason people share content online is because they feel it will improve the lives of others. As digital evangelists, our goal should be to create sharable content that benefits the lives of others. The Church should be a leader in creating content of this kind.
In addition, you shouldn’t spend a lot of time on technical details or bells and whistles, unless you know your friend is interested in that. Instead, you’d focus on how this topic will affect them personally.
The great part of writing targeted online content is that, as long as you’re clear about your topic, your demographic will already be interested in what you're writing about! After all, they have searched for topics mentioned in your articles or posts and decided your page is worth visiting.
Since your readers used a search engine, social media post, email message, or other website to get to your content, you don’t have to worry about convincing them that the topic itself is interesting. Your job is to convince them that you have information about their chosen topic that is better, deeper, more interesting, or more applicable than other sources. Ask yourself: what will the reader get from my content that they can’t get from someone else?
Getting to your point early—in the headline, subtitle, and opening paragraph—is key.
Think about that conversation with a friend. Have you ever been in a conversation where your counterpart struggled to get to the point? They’re over-explaining the peripheral details, giving too many examples or metaphors, or trying to come up with language that softens the blow of an edgy idea or uncomfortable topic instead of outright saying what they mean.
You’d quickly realize how much time is being wasted and you’ll wish you had asked someone else to begin with! That’s how an online reader feels when the content doesn’t get to the point. They’ll click “back” and go to the next link in the search results.
Tips for writing conversationally:
3) Evoke an emotional response.
Reaching your target audiences in a deep and emotionally compelling way is key to effective communication, powerful evangelism (marketing), and creating authentic connections. In the case of mission work and cause-based initiatives, strategic placement of key words can help facilitate deeper thought and increase impact on the reader, driving them to action.
The best headlines and teaser lines receive an “Emotional Marketing Value” (EMV) score of over 40. In other words, the best online writing incorporates high impact words in a way that is quickly understood by the reader and evokes an emotional response. We are after all, highly emotional beings, who often make decisions based on what directly affects us. In a world of competing priorities and overwhelming need, this can be a useful tool to help your message stand out among the digital clutter. Afterall, your message must be read in order to have impact.
The emotional richness of copy is evaluated based on three categories:
Gorgeous2God example: Life is tough but you're not alone. Join our community of young Christian women tackling real issues from a godly perspective.
Remember to also boldly make your claim up front, then use the rest of your content to back it up. If the point you’re making is a bit jarring, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Plus, by getting to the point early, you tell your audience why they should prioritize your content over someone else’s. People are busy; state the value up front and then deliver on that promise.
Consider the idea of inspiring people by agitating emotional states:
People don’t do things because they’re comfortable. People don’t do things because they’re bored. People do things because they’re excited, outraged, empowered, inspired, shocked...
Example: Feeling depressed? You're not alone. 10 ways a relationship with Jesus will dramatically improve your life.
4) Move your reader to action.
The heart of copywriting is persuading readers to take an action.
Sometimes, when we think of marketing copy, we think about those spammy e-mail subject lines that over-promise and over-guarantee, or we cringe at clickbait headlines for videos or blog posts.
Well, if sales copy puts a bad taste in your mouth, keep in mind that you’re thinking of bad sales copy. When copywriting is done conversationally, with the reader’s feelings, interests, and beliefs/core values in mind, it can be incredibly effective. Remember, people are drawn to authenticity and honesty. Church messaging should always demonstrate the highest level of integrity.
Define the problem
Throughout a piece of writing, a reader is moved to action by introducing a problem that the reader needs to solve. They want something, they’re confused about something, or they don’t know the next step in a process.
You outline the problem, describe the implications of this problem, and then give them the solution—your resource, your solution, your method, your information, etc.
Benefits vs. features
When describing how great your resources/belief/method/service/information is, don’t just list its features—describe the benefits it will provide to your reader, and why those benefits are in their best interest. People want to know why before they take the time to understand the how.
“Buy our hibiscus tea!”
“Our blend has more antioxidants.”
Ok...what does that mean?
“Antioxidants decrease free radicals in your bloodstream.”
Ok...what does that mean?
“Antioxidants keep the cells in your body from breaking down!”
Ok...but what does that mean for me?
“Well, this tea has been shown to help lower high blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association’s 2008 study.”
That sounds pretty important. How does it taste?
“Great! Especially with honey!”
Well, all right then—why didn’t you say so?
When we’re personally invested in the subject of our writing, we can get lost in the details. Remember that the readers aren’t there yet. They need to see a connection between what they’re searching for and what you have to offer.
“You’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure, and it can be tough to give up some of the foods and beverages you’ve enjoyed for years—like coffee, black tea, and soda.”
You speak the truth. It’s like you’ve been there, man!
“But what if there was a soothing hot drink that could be just as tasty, AND help lower your blood pressure at the same time?”
Is there? That would be so helpful right now! Tell me more!
Superperfect Tea Company offers premium hibiscus tea. And, according to a 2008 study by the American Heart Association, it lowers blood pressure in pre-hypertensive and mildly hypertensive adults.
I could use that! How does it taste?
This ruby-red herbal tea has a slight tart flavor reminiscent of cranberries. Add a little honey, and it delivers a light, tangy “bite” that can pick you up in the afternoon or calm you down in the evening.
Mmm. Can I try some?
Notice how the problem was outlined in the introduction, with the primary benefits immediately following. Meet the readers where they are, then tell how your amazing product is just what they need...and why.
Now, if we frame this in the context of ministry, your product is your message, which may be hope, wholeness, health, lifestyle, truth that answers their deepest longing, answers to their physical/spiritual needs, sound advice, and more.
Once you’ve “sold” the product by connecting with your readers’ needs, it’s time to tell them to buy it! In ministry, this may mean subscribing to your newsletter, registering for a seminar or health clinic, coming to an event, or joining a small group dedicated to a particular topic.
Don’t leave them hanging. They want to take action, and the more clear and straightforward the call, the more likely they are to follow through.
You may have already imagined a call-to-action following the last line of the hibiscus tea conversation:
“Yes! Get 20% off your first box of tea when you order now!”
“Yes—get a free sample sent to you now!”
Copywriting isn’t complete without a call-to-action. It doesn’t have to be overly clever or cute; it just needs to make sense. Here are the most common calls to action that appear in online marketing:
5) Tell stories.
To share stories is human and approachable.
There is an old Jewish parable of “Truth & Story” where naked Truth traveled from village to village trying to find acceptance and love. In each village, Truth was mocked, ridiculed and ultimately chased away. Naked Truth was hated by all she encountered. From afar, Truth saw Story, dressed in beautiful robes, enter the village that had just rejected her. The people loved Story and praised her beauty, quickly embracing her. Story later found Truth crying far outside the village and asked what was wrong. Truth revealed her desire to be accepted like Story and shared the pain of her experiences. Taking pity upon Truth, Story shared some of her beautiful robes with her so that she was no longer naked. From then on, Truth and Story always traveled together, and everywhere they went, the people rejoiced and welcomed them.
Storytelling is a powerful means of communication online because:
Stories never tell us what to think, they give us something to think about. Stories don’t tell us what to feel, they cause us to feel.
Effective writing is both a science and an art. Yes, wordsmithing is a creative process, but copywriting is a science backed by research. A great way to add creativity to the elements of formulaic copywriting is through storytelling. People can’t help but be interested in stories. As humans, we want to know how things turn out!
For generations, storytelling has been the way people learn their history and connect. The Bible itself can be viewed as a collection of stories that draw people to God, teach us difficult truths, and connect us through a shared set of beliefs. To “win” souls, we, as a Church, must connect with a person’s experiences through stories. Not only is storytelling a powerful means of communication, but a vital tool for sharing a message of hope. Jesus told parables because truths revealed through stories are an effective way to reach people with thought-provoking topics that are easy to remember. We, like Jesus, should become expert storytellers.
Storytelling connects people and gets them engaged and interested in each other. The reason why people love watching movies and reading books is because we love to be immersed in stories. Social media is people connecting with people to create a collective human story. Our job is to frame that story within the context of our faith. We can provide answers and connection online users are looking for, if we’re strategic and intentional with what we write and the content we create.
Stories can be in the form of case studies, testimonials, video retellings, or simple anecdotes that describe how a person—just like the reader—struggled with a specific problem. Maybe they tried several things until finally discovering what really worked.
Where can you find real stories? As a ministry, you might already have them. Think of the people you’ve served. Think of the events you’ve held. Think of the testimonies your constituents have shared with you. How does their journey reflect a common need or experience within your target audience?
Going deeper, what analogies or metaphors can you draw from what you do? Can it be related to common daily life concerns? How does your ministry offer practical solutions?
Check out this article on finding marketing stories in everyday life.
Write down a story that you would share with your audience that could come across as relatable and relevant to their core values or needs.
6) Know the difference between content writing and copywriting.
While these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, they are different. Copywriting refers to the science, the persuasive writing formulas, the headlines, and the calls-to-action. Content writing could be considered the filler content that fleshes out the formulas for content marketing purposes: the stories, the details, the background information, the educational steps, or other valuable pieces of information you’re offering your reader.
In many ways these two elements of writing overlap and work together, and both occupy vital roles in the digital evangelism process.
There are increasingly specific definitions of these two terms across the internet, but the bottom line is that these writing styles and formulas work together to provide value to the reader, persuading them to stick around and, eventually, take action.
7) Know how to use evergreen vs. time-sensitive content.
There are two primary categories to consider when crafting your overall website content: time-sensitive content and evergreen content.
While, indeed, simple concepts, when it comes to SEO, content marketing, and user experience, there are strategies to consider in the implementation of these two content types.
Announcements, breaking news, special offers or promotions, seasonal content, and events are time sensitive by nature. It’s good to have some time-sensitive information on your website and social media—if you consistently keep it up to date. It demonstrates to site visitors that your organization is active and aware.
It is more frustrating to go to a website/profile with out-of-date information than to go to a website/profile with no time-sensitive information at all. If an event from a couple months ago is still headlining, how can the visitor trust that the rest of your information is current?
Evergreen content, however, refers to elements on your page without an expiration date. It’s static content that doesn’t change (much) over time. It doesn’t need to. It’s written to stay relevant and useful to your audience regardless of when they read it.
For general website and social media copy, this evergreen content includes:
Effective messaging, whether you are publishing content regularly on a blog, posting on social media, or sending emails, requires new, helpful content to stay fresh and up to date. However, that doesn’t mean that each piece of content must be time-sensitive. You can cultivate them to be evergreen as well as timely.
To keep new content evergreen, the key is to stick with topics rather than dates.
While some of your social media or email content may contain time-sensitive information, they can link back to an evergreen blog post that covers a related topic thoroughly and that you periodically update as information changes.
To help your posts, pages, and articles stay evergreen in SERPs (search engine results pages), try removing the publication date from your post (unless it’s necessary). For the many seekers that check the date on webpages before clicking on them in search results, removing the date altogether can help present your content as timeless.
If you’re a church posting each week’s sermons as videos or podcasts, the first priority to keep these elements evergreen is to title each one topically rather than with the date of the service (i.e., “Teaching Your Kids to Pray” vs. “Sermon 4-25-17 on Prayer”). Note that you can still show the date in the subtitle or descriptions for members that search by date, but the title should be presented like a headline.
The topics covered in evergreen content must be “enduring topics,” discussing common experiences of the human condition (job interview best practices, dealing with grief and loss), timeless skills (how to pray, how to change a tire) or opinion/discussion pieces (which translation of the Bible is best?, is it better to exercise in the morning or evening?).
Additional ideas for effective evergreen content with examples:
8) Find ways of repurposing content to diversify your presence across multiple platforms and channels.
We’ve covered the different types of content that can be created to reach a variety of content consumers, as well as what makes content “evergreen,” or relevant past its publication date.
These principles can come in handy in the beginning stages of your SEO and content evangelism strategy and when it comes to repurposing content. Instead of creating a different piece of content for each platform you publish to, you can repurpose one core content piece to work across a variety of channels.
Here's an example of how you can make one blog post explode into ten different pieces of shareable content:
You, a nationally-renowned sandwich artist, wrote a winning post for your sandwich-making fans.
Repurposing content can allow a specific topic to be discussed online longer by spreading out the publication of each repurposed item.
Furthermore, the same topic repurposed into ten different forms (example above) can create a bigger splash as it makes its online debut. This strategy creates more options for Google to index, increasing your chances of showing up prominently in search results, and it also allows your content to show up in the search engine results for various social media platforms as well.
9) Consider SEO-specific elements of online writing
(Titles, Tags, and Descriptions).
While seemingly small, these more technical areas of online writing can make a big difference in how Google views your site and in convincing people to click on your webpages and content in search results.
Sometimes called the “SEO Title,” this is the title that appears in search engines and what is displayed at the top of a browser tab when a reader opens your page.
Be clear and straightforward about what your page content covers. If your page is about Bible studies, make sure those two words are in the first three words of the title. According to the SEO experts at Backlinko.com, Google “puts more weight” on words found at the beginning of title tags.
For example, say you want to rank for the keyword/phrase “couples Bible study” and you thought of two SEO Title choices:
Google would rank the first one over the second one because it would deem it more relevant and topic-centric. The second one is not a bad headline (save it for your H1!) but Google favors SEO Titles that are more direct.
Editing your page title in HTML code looks like this:
<title>THIS IS YOUR PAGE TITLE</title>
Otherwise, most content management platforms have a designated space to add or change a webpage’s title.
NOTE: If you already have significant traffic coming to your page with your current page title, even if it’s not optimized for the intended keyword, you might want to check your analytics before changing it. If visitors that come in through that page are staying on your site and clicking, downloading, buying, etc., you may want to consider keeping it the same, because you don’t want to lose that current traffic. If you notice that people are coming in through this page but then leaving the site, a title change could be highly beneficial.
Meta Tags or Meta Descriptions
This is the approximately 200-character teaser-like blurb that appears directly below the SEO title in search results. Often, this is what convinces the reader that your content is valuable.
Your meta description can be as long as you want, but Google will cut it off anywhere between 250-300 characters, depending on the amount of pixels those characters occupy.
While the recommendation used to be 160 characters, Google raised the number of permitted characters as of December 2017. It was changed again in the spring of 2018, then later adjusted to the current recommendation of 200 characters. In light of this apparent state of flux, aim to keep meta tags as short as possible while including the necessary information.
Using keywords in the meta description can give a small boost in search engine optimization, but the primary purpose of meta descriptions is to get the googler to click on your site. This is where you expand on your page title, pitching why your website has what they are looking for.
For example, if you’re selling vegan, gluten-free granola bars, you might want your meta description to say something like:
VEGLUFRE—A fast, tasty, healthy breakfast option! Packed with protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, our vegan, gluten-free granola bars make a great meal or snack. 5 flavors! Order in bulk & save!
Make sure to connect the benefits of your product, service, or idea/cause with the needs and interests of those you hope will click on your link. List a key selling point or two, then describe what they’ll find on the page and why it matters to them.
Most content management platforms will have an area for you to enter the meta description for each page, or you can install a WordPress plugin like Yoast that allows you to edit the entire meta description.
To enter a meta description straight into the HTML, the <meta> element will always go inside the <head> element. It will look similar to:
<meta name=”description” content=”THIS IS YOUR META DESCRIPTION”/>
NOTE: Every page should have its own unique meta description. Google notices if multiple pages have the same meta description, and many SEO auditing software programs will note redundant meta descriptions as an SEO error.
This element of your page doesn’t typically show up in search engine results, but it is the first thing googlers will see after clicking on the page. To make sure they stay there, devote attention to creating effective headlines. Make sure to specify what they’ll find there and why they will want to continue reading.
Include some keywords in your headers, pinpoint a benefit your content offers, and give brief hints at what the content covers.
“Can’t decide which Bible translation to use? Learn the history of the differences between Bible translations”
“7 Ways to Simplify Complex Recipes for Easy, Healthy Dinners”
In the example below, “Coping with Depression” is the H1 tag, demonstrating how a keyword should used in the first three words. The subtitle, “Tips for Overcoming Depression…” has specific subtitle formatting, and the subhead “How do you deal with depression” lower on the page is formatted with the H2 tag.
You designate your text as H1 by adding the <h1> tag to the HTML code, or by selecting “Headline” or “H1” or a similar option from your content management platform in the “Style” section.
This will typically make the text larger and bolded, or possibly a different font, depending on the theme or template you're using.
Each page should have only one H1.
For subtitles or subheadings, which are excellent for breaking up long text blocks and making the whole post more skimmable, content managers can use H2 or H3 tags, which will typically appear smaller than H1-designated text. H2 and H3 tags do not have an SEO impact, but can enhance readability.
If you can’t get into your content management platform at the moment and want to check how a certain paragraph is designated, right click on the page and select “View Page Source” to view the HTML code. You can also highlight the area, right click, and select “Inspect Element” on Macs.
ALT (image) Tags
This code-level text makes images searchable by Google. Also known as an “alt attribute” or “alt description,” this HTML tag is applied to an image on your webpage. It doesn’t show up on the page, but googlebots pick it up and use it to determine the topic depth of your page.
While Google can determine several aspects about images, Google won’t always “see” the message it’s intended to illustrate or support. To understand the content of the image, Google relies on ALT tags to determine what the picture is and how well it relates to the topic of the page, which impacts your ranking.
Additionally, ALT tags provide the image information for:
Don’t make it too long, and make sure not to “keyword stuff” the ALT tag, an old “black-hat” SEO practice that Google will not favor and possibly penalize. For example, for the same image described above on the “sermon tips” page, keyword stuffing might look like: “megaphone sermon tips project voice sermon audience sermon strategies public speaking presentation methods.”
Add your ALT text into your content management system, or into the HTML by editing the source code:
<img src=”bluemegaphone.jpg” alt=”ALT TEXT HERE”/>
For example, in the picture on the previous page about coping with depression, this is how the ALT text appeared in the source code:
(Learn more at: https://moz.com/learn/seo/alt-text)
Using these seemingly-minor titles and tags can not only improve your SEO but also your user experience, enticing seekers to click on your site as they comb through search results for relevant information.
Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist, Social Media + Big Data, North American Division
When it comes to digital evangelism and discipleship, content is made to inform, to educate, and inspire—for the purpose of attracting and nurturing a loyal audience that connects with your ministry’s message. Ultimately, your goal is to support their growth in their spiritual journey.
The currency of content marketing (or in our case, evangelism) is ACT: Authority, Credibility, and Trustworthiness (though we should also add “Empathy” to this list, especially when dealing with spiritual topics and life lessons).
Use multiple forms of content to maximize your organization’s ability to get picked up by Google’s search algorithms, as well as to further engage your audience. Keep in mind that certain forms of content will perform better with some audiences than others. By diversifying your content creation strategy, you optimize your reach and increase your impact across a variety of demographics.
Here are the four major components that work together in a comprehensive content creation process:
Most Popular Types of Online Content
The written word is the foundation of any type of content, and, therefore, this is where we must begin. Ideas are usually written down first—whether in the form of notes, scripts, or outlines—before they’re turned into anything else. Even in visual media like video, written content often accompanies and supports the other content types. When you set your content evangelism goals, you’ll want to prioritize quality writing.
Keep in mind, however, that good writing in an academic sense is not the same as what’s considered good content writing or copywriting. Writing for digital environments is much more straightforward, casual, conversational, and concise.
The most common forms of written content online are:
One-third of all online activity is spent watching video. This isn’t surprising. People, as visual creatures, have been naturally drawn to online video and made it one of the most popular ways to consume content for all ages! The increase in mobile device usage has made video more popular as well. With a smaller screen, it’s easier and faster to watch videos than to read text.
Video is a great enhancer. Have you noticed that when you click on a news story, the page often has both the written article and the video from the newscast? Not only does it offer two different options for content consumption, it adds a perception of depth and authority to the story.
Video content is particularly useful for educational topics, especially “how-to” tutorials and telling stories. Demonstrations, interviews, personal testimonies, time-lapses...some things are just better presented via video.
When it comes to YouTube, this platform has created its own niche of search engine optimization. YouTube’s search algorithms rely heavily on keywords, titles, tags, thumbnail images, and microcontent such as video descriptions and channel descriptions.
YouTube also measures “watch time,” or how long a viewer watches before clicking away or going back to search results. The more of a video that gets watched, the better that video must be, so YouTube ranks it higher in its search results. Longer videos, especially if frequently watched until the end, get even more of a boost (on other social media platforms, however, it is still generally recommended to keep videos short, around three to five minutes or less).
With livestreaming, longer videos are always acceptable, regardless of platform. Livestreaming your events, whether on Facebook Live, YouTube, or your website, can widen your audience, further engage your existing audience, and provide an archivable piece of evergreen content that can be repurposed later. This is great for church services, special performances, programs at a school or university, conference sessions, and more.
When it comes to SEO, livestreams can have a sizeable effect. Facebook announced that its ranking algorithm favors live videos in its searches. YouTube promotes YouTube Live videos. And even if your organization’s livestreams are hosted off-site, it’s another link to your content that could show up in search results—especially if you’re live often!
Webinars (Online training or Bible studies)
Taking video up another notch, webinars are exclusive, live, educational presentations. Like its name suggests, it’s a seminar broadcast over the web using tools such as GoToMeeting, Zoom, or Lifesize. Participants are typically invited to webinars and provided with a private link.
While the webinar itself would not be indexed by search engines, its power to engage audiences boosts SEO through lead generation and by increasing engagement, trust, and loyalty to your ministry. Webinars can provide a valuable service to your constituents when used to teach useful information (such as tips to improve your marriage), provide background on a popular issue, or facilitate live online discussions. They can also be an effective and convenient way to host digital Bible studies for small groups, allowing face-to-face interaction and relationship building regardless of location.
While the right pictures can elicit emotion, the right designs can inspire action and highlight strategic details. Careful planning is necessary to make sure the images you’ve chosen indeed emphasize the intended emotion. It must be clear what the picture is portraying, and it should look genuine, as opposed to a cliché corporate stock photo.
Used sparingly, stock photography can be a great resource to enhance your ministry’s brand online, and it’s easy to find free stock images at pixabay, pexels, unsplash, and free-images.com. Click here for more free or low-cost stock photography and design resources.
For websites, hero images (the large, single images that dominate the top area of a website) continue to be trending. These pictures must be high enough resolution to avoid appearing pixelated (approx. 1600 pixels wide), but low enough resolution to avoid slowing down the site’s load time.
For other images that appear on your website, stick to file sizes under 250 kilobytes if possible. Learn more about image best practices for church websites.
For each image on your website, blog, or Instagram profile, make sure to apply ALT text, which is indexed by search engines to determine what the picture is about. It also acts as text that can be read by screen readers to tell visually-impaired internet users what pictures are on a page.
When explaining a process in text, an accompanying visual is a must.
If, when talking about your topic, you find yourself saying, “Here, let me show you…” or, “Why don’t I just draw this out,” an infographic would probably come in handy.
Infographics illustrate each step or point of a process and include short and straightforward text to accompany the imagery—making complicated information easier to understand.
Designers and writers must work closely to create an infographic with a clear direction so the eye knows what to read first and where to go next.
If you’re short a graphic designer, some free tools like Canva can help you create simple infographics, which add a splash of color to your page, post, or feed while informing and engaging your audience in a creative way.
As the below infographic explains, infographics don’t just make your page more pleasant to look at—people actually search for infographics on certain topics. They’re also shared frequently on social media. Think of creative ways to use infographics for ministry, such as mapping out “How to Study the Bible for Beginners.”
Audio content can include interviews, sermons, vocal essays, monologues, presentations, seminars, and more. Podcasts created from this audio content should be distributed as widely as possible, including on your website, iTunes, and other hosting platforms so users can subscribe. Even if you’re already hosting through a provider such as SoundCloud, Blubrry, Google Drive, or archive.org, it’s worth uploading to other hosting platforms in addition. These simple audio files are a highly shareable piece of content people can listen to while driving, walking, exercising, or cleaning their garage.
Having podcasts with your ministry’s name in the title, or hosted by a prominent personality associated with your ministry, can do wonders for brand awareness, which ultimately benefits overall SEO.
Interactive content (quizzes, polls, calculators, etc.)
This type of content requires audience participation, making their interaction with your ministry far more memorable.
You’ve probably seen various character quizzes on Facebook or Twitter. They are highly shareable because, to the audience, it feels like they’re sharing information about themselves, not about the organization that designed the quiz.
Interactive content that strives to be helpful or practical might include assessment-type quizzes, calculators, interactive graphs or charts, or polls and surveys. They can also help you with demographic info-gathering for your ministry’s strategic planning. Remember, anything that deepens engagement also boosts SEO! It’s always beneficial to keep people on your website longer.
There are many tools that can help you create interactive content, including qzzr, SurveyMonkey, Doodle, Vizia, and more.
This type of content can be important for building what Google refers to as an organization’s E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, Trustworthiness). At the same time, courses provide yet another way for your audience to consume your content. If your organization is qualified to teach even a simple skill that has value in your audience’s life (healthy cooking or practical discipleship tips), creating courses can bolster your content marketing and SEO, and become a relevant resource for your site visitors. Not only can this type of content boost your credibility, it can empower your audience for positive change.
Beginning Content Strategy Worksheet
Filling out this structural worksheet can guide your brainstorming process and help you solidify your content strategy.
Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist, Social Media + Big Data, North American Division
People value content that helps them make better decisions, answers their questions, and speaks to their core values or interests. Optimizing your content based on search engine queries (what people are searching for) helps you best match your products and resources to the needs and interests of your audience. We previously took a bird’s-eye look at using search results to find relevant content ideas. This section will go into greater depth for those ministries who want to focus more on creating digital content related to their mission and themes. If you’re a digital missionary looking to develop a content creation strategy that will reach beyond a geographical location, bookmark this section. This type of digital evangelism helps expand your messaging to new audiences who are hungry for the resources you can provide.
Writer’s block? Find out what people are searching for.
Keyword research is the core of what is known as SEO copywriting: writing content based on search engine optimization principles. Search engine optimization is a set of strategies that help organizations reach more of their online target audience. A website’s visibility in search engine results can be elevated by utilizing certain content development techniques. The higher a website ranks when a person googles search terms related to it, the more web traffic it receives. Visit SDAdata.org/SEO to learn more about SEO.
Researching keywords removes much of the guesswork when trying to figure out which topics (related to your ministry and mission) make the most sense to explore for your content. It bridges the gap between your hunches, the data, and what information people need or want.
This technique uses search query data from Google and other search engines to determine what kind of topics interest people. Creating content focused on commonly searched topics improves the visibility of your content in search results, which helps users find your ministry and increases the impact of your message.
Use the following framework as a guide to creating content based on keywords.
1) Define the main topic of your online ministry.
For example, you decide you want to start a blog to help Pathfinder leaders. “Pathfinders,” of course, is the topic. But if you title your blog, “Pathfinders,” it’s not specific enough to get search traffic. You have to differentiate from Nissan Pathfinders, Pathfinder International, and the Pathfinder role-playing game.
Familiarity with your audience allows you to feature relevant keywords in your titles, headlines, and posts, such as:
While definitely more specific than “Pathfinder” alone, these are also considered broad-match keywords, as they can still have a wide variety of subtopics. They’re certainly good ideas, and posts on these topics can be helpful for your audience. However, they’re harder to rank for in Google search results without further specificity.
Let’s say there is a burgeoning trend to create Pathfinder blogs. The broad topic of Pathfinder leadership is now a highly competitive arena. How do you get your blog to stand out? Considering the clear, central purpose of your ministry is a useful exercise for most types of digital content, but you’ll quickly need to distinguish how you’ll be providing something different from the competition.
2) Refine your topic.
You have to get more specialized in your focus, so start brainstorming “niche topics”—subtopics within the broad subjects of Pathfinders and meetings and honors and campouts that people might be searching for information about. Some of these might be:
You can also start brainstorming possible blog, social media, and video posts for these subtopics and long-tail keywords:
Start by googling your topics, exploring related words or phrases, and come up with some post ideas.
Then ask yourself the following questions:
Maybe you find that the knot-tying honor already has several articles that are well-written and popular. There are lots of positive comments on those posts. Therefore, another topic would be more effective in making your content stand out in search results.
However, maybe there’s one particular knot you don’t feel the other writers have explained very well, even though the rest of the post is good. Maybe you’ve found a couple comments on other blogs about how they’d like more information on the hunter’s bend. You might then decide to write a post titled “How to teach the hunter’s bend knot.”
This is a simple example of how research and testing can help shape meaningful content creation.
4) Test some more.
Here’s where dedicated keyword research tools come in.
These tools access data that tells how many people are searching for a certain keyword or keyphrase (search volume), as well as how much content already exists about that keyword (competition). The sweet spot is when you find a word or phrase that has high search volume and low competition.
Here’s an example from Google Keyword Planner:
Many keyword research tools provide a ratio of search volume and competition. Some tools do require a paid subscription, but some are completely free and offer similar data. These free keyword tools may also show related keywords or phrases, which can be helpful for coming up with good content ideas. Overall, you’ll get a general idea of what people are searching for, enabling you to create content that will connect your ministry with the needs and interests of your audience.
Here are some recommended free or low-cost tools for keyword research or keyword ideas:
The tools below differ from true keyword research but can be very helpful for “informed brainstorming.”
5) Create content from keyword research.
Once you’ve utilized these tactics and tools, it’s time to use this knowledge for your content planning. Keyword research does more than just tell you which words to use. It tells you which topics are popular, which topics are competitive, and what your best content opportunities may be.
This is good news! This means that the organizational methods you learned for writing essays and research papers in school will now pay off in a practical way. For blogs and websites, begin by writing an introduction to a topic (one webpage), then cover the topic (another webpage), then cover related topics (more separate webpages) or background information (another separate webpage or two). It’s essentially writing an outline, and each section of the outline is a webpage. Blogs organized like this score highly in both search engine visibility and user-friendliness. For good examples of this, visit sdadata.org/seo and SDAdata.blog/DDandE. From a visitor’s perspective, this streamlines navigation within a specific topic. But, be careful not to take this concept to the extreme, creating a confusing maze of short pages.
Remember that relevant topics and strong topic coverage have a stronger influence on search engine ranking than using individual words or phrases repetitively. The algorithm rewards quality writing and presentation.
However, keywords do still matter!
Keyword research helps us know what words and phrases people are using. We still want to use those words and phrases as often as we can on a page—naturally. If it sounds hokey to keep repeating a phrase, find another way to say it that means the same thing. Overall, you still want the content to read as naturally and conversationally as possible, as if you were telling this information to a friend. Click here for tips on how to write conversationally.
Here are some tips for thorough topic coverage in natural language that can be adapted for a variety of content types:
Work your way through a topic, creating as much applicable content as possible over multiple digital media posts and platforms. Content organization techniques that may help you include outlines, topic trees, bubble graphs, etc. Using these as your foundation for content creation helps you determine topical goals, objectives, and key takeaways, and makes the whole writing process easier.
Press Release: The North American Division Releases a Comprehensive Guide to Search Engine Optimization for Ministries
The North American Division (NAD) recently released its first comprehensive guide to search engine optimization for ministries. The Search Engine Optimization Guidebook is designed to help Seventh-day Adventist entities evangelize online through effective content creation, website ranking best practices, and reputation management.
“The Seventh-day Adventist Church has historically been at the forefront of using tools and technologies to advance present truth — from print to radio to television — now is the time to leverage the untapped potential of digital communications such as search engine optimization for the customization of our ministry services as part of a broader digital strategy that relies on data-driven decisions,” states Alvin Kibble, vice president for Big Data + Social Media, Public Affairs & Religious Liberty, Literature Ministries, and Executive Coaching, Training & Development for the NAD.
This 142-page document is a culmination of 9 months’ work as well as a collaborative partnership between the NAD’s Social Media + Big Data department and the Center for Online Evangelism. It’s a step-by-step guide designed to be easy to follow and implement. It will be a “living document,” which will undergo regular updates as technologies change, but the underlying philosophy will remain largely the same.
Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is an ever-evolving set of strategies used in online marketing to help organizations reach more of their target audience. It is the process of utilizing a variety of techniques to positively impact a website’s visibility in unpaid search engine results. The higher a website ranks when a person googles search terms related to it, the more Web traffic it receives. Most people do not scroll past the first page of search engine results.
“Our challenge as a Church is to embrace these techniques in order to cut through the clutter online and reach more seekers in an increasingly digital world,” said Jamie Domm, digital strategist for the NAD. “This guide is designed to equip ministries of all sizes to truly ‘meet people where they are.’” Today, that’s online.
“By being intentional and strategic, we can improve our digital curb appeal and encourage more people to encounter, and possibly embrace, our message,” added Domm.
For example, 74,000 people Google “Bible study” each month. The name “Jesus” is Googled 1,500,000 times per month, and “Adventist” 18,000 times per month.*
“People are literally Googling for God, but not finding our messages of Hope and Wholeness. We can no longer ignore the potential of this vast online mission field of people that already wants what we have to offer — an audience we may never otherwise meet!” said Amy Prindle, Lead Content Strategist, Center for Online Evangelism. This is a significant ministry opportunity, if Adventist websites can rank higher in the search results Google displays for these search terms.
“I believe the next Great Awakening will be a digital one. This is our generation’s Great Commission,” Domm said.
With some education, said Domm, every ministry can invest the time to implement these valuable techniques. This is your chance to learn insider information (for FREE) and use it for the gospel.
Direct download here: SDAdata.blog/SEOguidebook
Landing page with additional resources: SDAdata.org/seo
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*Data pulled from keyword research tools Keyword Planner (Google Ads), Ubersuggest and Keywords Everywhere.
The Center for Online Evangelism is a missionary project devoted to developing online mission stations.
Before going full throttle on SEO implementation, it’s important to set expectations and develop a clear understanding of what is needed. To be successful, you must approach SEO strategically and be very intentional about developing a long-term plan to maintain best practices.
The first step in SEO care is to keep up to date on the industry. Things change fast—both in the ways people search for and consume content, and in how Google continually seeks to improve its process based on people’s changing behavior. What worked yesterday may not work next month.
What’s more, businesses tried to cheat the system and developed many SEO techniques now considered “black hat.” These practices are now heavily frowned upon and will get your site penalized by Google, causing your ranking to plummet which can be challenging and expensive to recover from. Unfortunately, these “black hat” techniques still circulate online, and are often advertised as tips and strategies. It’s important to know what these techniques are to avoid being misled.
To safeguard your SEO efforts for your organization, we’ve compiled the top 9 SEO myths that persist today, and what you should do instead.
Myth #1: “Get a sweet SEO setup, then relax and enjoy great traffic and engagement.”
SEO work is never done. Just as a business requires ongoing management in order to adapt to market changes, to implement customer feedback, or to update technologies to stay competitive, SEO is an continually evolving process. While setting up a strong SEO foundation is essential, know that investing a lot of time and/or money in this area doesn’t mean you can set it and forget it.
As part of your overall SEO grand strategy, include a plan for ongoing SEO that will enable your organization to constantly grow, adapt, measure, learn, and grow some more.
Myth #2: “If you do these things, you’ll rank on page 1 in 3-6 months...”
Maybe you’ve received one of these ads or phone calls, offering SEO services that guarantee a high ranking––fast. Lofty promises in a short time are a major red flag. No one, not even Google, can guarantee rankings.
Also, ranking for what? For which keywords? And which specific page of your website? Beware of vague qualifiers.
There are numerous factors involved in search engine ranking. If your organization is in a competitive niche, it can take years of consistent work to rank on page one of Google search results. A solid SEO strategy takes time and patience.
SEO is a long game, but it’s worth it because of the potential for eternal good. Knowing that millions of people are actively searching for spiritual answers online, yet not being led to Adventist websites and resources, how can we pass up this incredible opportunity?
Like any marketing approach, search engine optimization requires a long-term, flexible strategy that allows for measuring, testing, and adapting over time. Throughout this process, your organization can grow in authority and engagement, maintain relevance, and reach more people every day.
If you do receive a solicitation offering vague and unrealistic SEO results, we recommend politely declining. No one from Google will call your organization, and no one can promise specific results for an up-front, flat fee.
Remember that the principles of Authority, Credibility and Trustworthiness, coupled with quality content creation and careful monitoring of what your target audience wants, are the true foundational blocks that effective SEO is built upon. Anything that feels like a short-cut should make you hesitate, and anything that sounds too good to be true probably is.
Myth #3: “SEO is for the IT department. Let them handle it.”
The internet is a media channel, just like radio or TV. However, this medium has surpassed all others in popularity, accessibility, and potential for outreach and mission work. A marketing and ministerial approach is needed to tap into its potential, not necessarily technical knowledge.
The foundation for effective online outreach follows the principles of advertising and marketing, but through a ministerial lens. Implementation of inspiring online content requires careful study of what works and doesn’t work and research to understand the needs of the consumer (or to the seeker). For an organization to use the internet for content marketing and outreach, you’ll need someone willing to spearhead corporate digital marketing and content creation with the goal of ministry. An IT department’s goal is to ensure that an organization’s computers and network are functioning efficiently, so the organization can accomplish its mission. Since many church organizations requires employees to wear many hats, it is very possible that the SEO strategy duties could fall to an IT employee, but it requires an additional set of communication and marketing skills than might be needed in traditional IT professional roles. Investment in a dedicated digital marketing strategist is wonderful, but in cases where personnel are called to do double (or triple!) duty, make sure they are empowered, encouraged, and equipped to prioritize SEO strategy.
While some organizations do have web developers categorized as IT, SEO also extends well beyond web development. Developers typically take their SEO cues from the content strategists and SEO specialists.
While this is a new “department” for our ministries to factor in, the outreach potential makes it necessary as the Church begins to prioritize technology for the gospel. Combining up-to-date marketing strategies and professionals with forward-thinking, media-savvy pastors and evangelists would magnifying our impact exponentially.
Myth #4: “Don’t worry about all the technical SEO stuff. Just create good content.”
Creating good content is a must, but without intentional promotion or a strong SEO foundation, that good content and the effort it takes to create risks going to waste.
SEO specialists and web developers can help you set up analytics tools you’ll need throughout the SEO process. There are slight adjustments to coding or plugins that can make a significant difference to rankings, as well as fix undetected website errors that may be harming Google’s ability to crawl your site. These adjustments do require some technical knowledge to address, but the information and instructions you need can often be a mere Google search away.
Additionally, since SEO specialists’ first order of business is to keep up on the industry, if anything changes, they’ll be the first to know about it. It may be months until it gets into the radar of content creators working on their own, and by then, an unanticipated algorithm change could have already done some damage to your ranking. If your organization doesn’t have the budget for an SEO specialist, then it’s even more important to dedicate time to research and self-education in order to stay up to date on your SEO management.
SEO works best as a team effort, with multiple points of view working together to craft the best content, supported by the best systems and technical framework. So if you can’t hire a company or specialists, develop a team internally that can focus on different SEO needs.
Myth #5: “It’s all about using lots of keywords that get traffic.”
Since keyword research is so foundational when developing an SEO strategy, some less-experienced businesses or individuals think they can make shortcuts by using repeated words. As mentioned before, “keyword stuffing” is now considered “black hat” SEO that attempts to cheat the system. Google will not prioritize keyword-stuffed content in its rankings, and your site may even get penalized, causing it to not show up in search results at all.
However, including keywords in natural moderation is still a valuable practice. Right now, Google focuses on thorough topic coverage, natural language, and searcher intent. Quality content writers and skilled SEO specialists can easily formulate a content strategy that leaves keyword-stuffing in the ashes.
Myth #6: “Our website is awesome. We don’t need to worry about all this extra SEO stuff.”
You may have the sleekest, more vibrant website on the market, but if it’s not optimized to be found in searches, who’s going to see it? Unfortunately, this “if you build it, they will come” mentality has greatly limited our ability to get our messages of hope and wholeness in front of the very people seeking it online.
Displaying your website on your signage, print materials, and emails is an important part of a comprehensive communications and branding strategy. However, this practice will usually not result in traffic to your website beyond those who are already connected with your organization. In other words, your audience will not grow without an SEO strategy. Being strategic allows you to reach a variety of new target audiences who find your content relevant to their needs, interests, core values, and desires. It can even allow you to grow your volunteer and donor base. Simply put, SEO strategies allow you to share your website and message with the world. As entities of the Church, this is our great commission.
Myth #7: “Google changes its algorithms all the time. What’s the point in trying to keep up?”
Daily—that’s how often Google fine-tunes its search algorithms, but don’t let that intimidate you. A strong foundation that follows best practices allows your organization to weather these changes and adapt more gradually. Organizations that monitor alternations daily are typically trying to game the system with shortcuts or downright “black hat” SEO techniques.
Google uses the daily influx of data it receives to update its methods and deepen its understanding of how people use its search engine. Google’s goal is to give us the search results we want, so that’s where their research and development will consistently focus. Think less foundational, more behavioral.
Myth #8: “We just need lots of clicks. Lots of traffic. The rest will fall into place.”
Even if thousands of people click on your website from search results, Google pays close attention to how long they stay on your website. If they’re clicking the back button in the first few seconds they land on your page, that tells Google that your content was not relevant for that search query—you were not what they were looking for.
The focus is not just getting traffic but getting the right kind of traffic—people who are actually interested in your content already. Those people who are asking the questions your website is answering.
This is why content marketing and copywriting principles are integral to the SEO process. It’s less technical than it used to be, because Google found that its users were understandably fed up with clickbait-and-switch SEO approaches. People respond better to high-quality, relevant content instead of sensationalist headlines with keyword-stuffed content.
Myth #9: “We just found a company that will do all our SEO and content marketing for super cheap!”
Beware. If the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If an SEO agency or freelancer’s selling point is that they’re fast and cheap, you might want to ask them some specific questions before moving forward.
The Center for Online Evangelism is a missionary project devoted to developing online mission stations.
Keep Up SEO Efforts so Your Hard Work Doesn’t Go to Waste.
Since Google considers performance over time an indicator of your website’s quality, inconsistent SEO efforts can hinder your long-term results.
What’s more, the internet itself is an ever-evolving, always-competing, market-driven medium that must regularly reinvent itself. In order to have a successful search engine optimization strategy, your organization must plan to adapt its methods with changing technologies.
Here are some tips for keeping your SEO efforts consistent:
The Center for Online Evangelism is a missionary project devoted to developing online mission stations.
When you Google a well-established organization, you’ll find more than just their own website in the search results. You might also see:
To maintain a credible, influential online presence, it pays to expand your SEO strategy beyond your own website.
Any link to your website from a page, file, site, profile, social media account, etc., that is not part of your website itself, is referred to as a backlink.
When backlinks are legitimate, Google regards them as evidence of your influence and credibility, which ultimately benefits your ranking in search engine results, making your organization much easier to find. However, in the recent past, creating a bunch of spammy backlinks was a common “black-hat” SEO trick that organizations used to improve their SEO. Then Google refined its algorithms to better interpret natural language and develop a clearer understanding of search behavior, effectively shutting down these fake backlinks.
These shady backlinks would come from places like websites devoted to posting links to other sites (at a price). They could also come from blog comments, social media posts, duplicate social media accounts, or other places that had nothing to do with your website.
Be warned, fake backlinks will now get your website penalized in search results. This means seekers will have a harder time finding you. If your organization has made this mistake, specific work must be done to remedy the situation. Contact email@example.com re: Help, I’m blacklisted.
The Practice of Backlinking: Tread Carefully!
Bottom line: backlinks should be earned, not created.
The reason a genuine, legitimate backlink is so highly regarded by Google is because your content must be considered useful enough and respected enough for another website to link back to your site.
You’ll notice that this SEO guide is full of backlinks to websites and articles we feel are worthwhile in your pursuit of this knowledge. To earn these backlinks, those businesses continually created high-quality content and presented it in a way that we feel is helpful or relevant to our target audience: you, the reader.
Backlinking is a prolific topic within the SEO community forums and blogs, but we recommend saving it as one of the final considerations in your SEO strategy. If you’re focused on building quality content, adhering to SEO best practices, and developing a digital strategy for content distribution, you should end up earning backlinks organically over time. Therefore, it wouldn’t need to be an early item on your SEO to-do list.
That being said, here are some off-site strategies you can use to bolster your backlinks through various brand-building best practices. Consistent activity, conversation, and promotion of quality content can pay off in a big way.
Off-Site Touch Points:
Your social media profiles can show up as search result listings if you keep them active and up to date. Just having open accounts won’t generate much effect, but if your audience engagement is high, Google is more likely to take notice.
NOTE: Even if you don’t foresee much activity happening with certain demographics native to particular platforms, it’s a good idea to set up an official account (reserve your handle) on major social channels such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and YouTube. This way, no one can create a profile using your organization’s name and brand, and cause confusion among your audience.
One way to set up an evergreen social media account requiring little upkeep is to fill out the profile as descriptively as possible, then mention where the action is and direct users there. For example, a little-used Facebook page could say, “We’re happy to connect with you! To get up-to-date information, go directly to our blog at [link].” Or, “Thanks for stopping by! To find the latest information about our organization, check our Twitter feed.”
We felt that Pinterest needed to be mentioned separately from other social media platforms. As the popularity of Pinterest continues to grow, many ministry organizations can benefit by creating “pin-worthy” content. These pins can count as backlinks, especially if multiple users are pinning your content.
Consider the opportunities here. Ideas for kids’ Sabbath school, Pathfinder activities, Bible verses, healthy recipes, crafts, church holiday decor, youth events, and more could be very popular on Pinterest boards.
Learn more about creating “pinnable” content.
If you are a brick-and-mortar organization, online directory listings count as an online presence booster. For best practices in creating helpful directory listings, see section VIII on local SEO set up.
Similarly, review sites such as Yelp can show up as search results listings, so you’ll want to carefully manage your accounts and reputation. Refer back to section VIII on local SEO for advice on filling out your profile as well as responding to both positive and negative reviews.
Google no longer puts much weight on guest posts or publishing articles in online magazines. However, this type of backlinking can still be great for brand-building and establishing E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, Trustworthiness). In the long run, these efforts do support your SEO progress.
Using Map & Directory Listings to Improve Local SEO—a MUST for Churches, Schools, and Brick-and-Mortar Ministries
NOTE: If your organization does not have a physical location, you may skip this section of the guide.
Effective “local SEO” helps people find you geographically when they search for you or your services. Google reports that more than one-third of mobile searches are “local-related.” The first step in spearheading local SEO is to verify and optimize your online map and directory listings.
Today, most people find businesses by typing keywords or search terms into mobile map applications. Others might do this on their desktop computers at work or while sitting on their couches with their laptops. They make their decisions based on what their map app finds close by that best matches the word or phrase they entered, such as “Thai food,” “gas station,” or “Adventist church.”
This map data also shows up in Google’s search results when someone searches for a location-specific business. For example, if someone types in “church in Springfield,” the map data will show up to the right of the search results, or above the results on a mobile screen. Map data is highly regarded by both Google and its users. This is an essential part of search engine visibility and ranking for your organization.
What are map listings?
You probably already use Apple maps, Google Maps, MapQuest, or other map apps to determine your location and direct you to relevant listings close to you. It’s how we find hair salons, grocery stores, the highest-rated vegan restaurant, auto garages, pharmacies, and more, especially when we’re traveling or new to an area.
These apps, as well as search engines, use the location data of mobile devices or computer IP addresses to determine the location of the seeker conducting the search and which nearby results are the most relevant.
Statistics show that these map searches have nearly replaced yellow pages—even the online version! We want to find what we need, and we want to find it fast, close, and rated 5 stars.
Does my organization have a map listing?
Try googling your church, school, business, or ministry by name. Your organization may already be listed on Google or Apple maps even if you didn’t create that listing (sometimes data is pulled from Wikipedia.org or from public information sources).
In your search results, you should see a featured box with your location listing.
If your organization does not show up when you Google it, you may need to create a map listing from scratch.
Note: If you find duplicate listings for your organization, there are more steps you’ll need to complete, and the process may become complicated. Before making any changes, you’ll need to determine which one is the original. Find out more here, here, and here.
How can I tell if my map listing is claimed?
If you found your organization’s listing when you Googled it and you’re not sure if it has been “claimed” yet, here’s how to tell.
Notice in the images below that the one on the left has pictures, a clickable phone number, reviews, etc. This listing has been claimed and verified.
The listing on the right is noted to have “missing information” and also has a link that says, “Own this business?” This listing is unclaimed, and someone can start the process of claiming it simply by clicking on the “own this” link. That’s all it takes...which is why you want to claim your organization before someone else, such as an imposter, does.
How do I claim or create my organization’s Google map listing?
Whether you’re claiming a listing or creating a new one, you’ll use “Google My Business” at business.google.com. You’ll be working with the Google account you created in Section III that you use for Google Analytics and Search Console. Make sure you are signed in to this account before taking the following steps.
1. To claim an existing listing, click on “Own this business?” This will take you to Google My Business, where you can start entering information such as the correct business name, location information, etc.
2. If you are creating a new listing, go straight to business.google.com and click “Start Now,” which will prompt you to enter the business name and location information.
3. Do you deliver goods and services to clients/customers? Pay attention to this box to check at the bottom of the location information page.
b. Business Category. Here is where you choose a category that best matches the services you offer, such as “church,” “educational institution,” “service-based ministry,” “administrative office,” etc. Select the best-matching category from the drop-down list.
c. Information. It’s important to list the phone number for your organization that you want the public to know and use. Make sure this same phone number is consistently displayed throughout your web presence (website, social media, directory listings such as Yelp or YP.com, etc.).
For your website, enter the URL to the home page of your organization’s website—not a parent organization. If you work at one location of a larger entity, use the website specific to the “franchise” for which you are setting up the listing.
d. Verify your connection to this business. Google wants to ensure accuracy by sending you a code via the phone number or address you entered. This is how Google confirms that each of its listings contain legitimate information, keeping fake listings, imposters, and advertisers at bay.
Note: Google does offer the option of verifying later, but it is strongly recommended to get the process started while you’re building your listing. Some reasons to wait on verification are:
e. The recommended method of verification is to request a postcard be sent to your organization’s address with a code enclosed. When you receive that postcard, you’ll need to enter the code in your Google My Business account.
How should I fill out my Google Maps/Google My Business information?
Apple Maps, Bing, MapQuest, and others
While Google Maps/My Business is the recommended starting place for claiming and optimizing your organization’s map listings, you’ll want to do the same with other popular map sites and apps.
How can online directory listings boost my search visibility?
Directory listings, or citations, are external websites dedicated to compiling directory information, that reference, in full or in part, your organization’s NAP and website URL. Directory sites are today’s phonebooks, and each of these can show up as an additional search result when someone searches for your organization, giving your SEO a sizeable boost.
Fortunately, there are many directories that automatically pull your information from your Google My Business profiles, but the most popular directories, as well as those that cater specifically to your industry or niche, will need to be managed manually.
Recommended online directory list
Here are the directories we recommend you start with, based on their popularity, domain authority, and consistently-updated platforms (borrowing some data from BrightLocal).
Note: you may have to contact your school’s administrator to make any changes.
Note: you may have to contact the church pastor, secretary, or webmaster to make any changes.
Optimizing your directory listings
TO DO FIRST: Google your organization, looking through the first few pages of search results. Are you already listed on some of the directories we’ve described already? Is the information accurate, matching the NAP you established in Section III? If not, you’ll want to correct these as quickly as possible.
When filling out your listings, make sure to include (just like Google maps):
Important details about Yelp and other directory sites that include reviews
Many directory sites also offer the opportunity for users to review your organization. While that can sound scary, remember that even if you don’t claim your directory listings, people can still review you—and you won’t be able to respond to those reviews or directly manage your reputation until you claim your organization’s listing.
Yelp and other review-centric sites can offer fantastic opportunities for engagement and reputation management. Just claiming and filling out your profile lets the public know that yes, you are a legitimate organization that is transparent enough to allow online discourse.
To help your Yelp listing improve your visibility in search engine results, make sure to add as much information as possible. Yelp provides more customizable space than other directories, so you can add longer descriptions, more pictures, and even a call-to-action button for users to call, send a message, book an appointment, etc.
Then, make sure to consistently monitor your profile. Make sure Yelp’s email notifications aren’t going to a spam folder. Be sure to check your page frequently and respond to as many reviews as you can, both positive and negative.
WARNING: NEVER ask for reviews! To maintain a review platform where customers are in control, Yelp is adamant that if they detect any details that make a review seem solicited (or even encouraged), they can remove the review or make your organization rank lower in their search algorithm.
How to respond to negative (and positive!) Yelp reviews
There’s always the chance of receiving a negative review. It can plague even the best. Mistakes do happen, and sometimes people just want to rant.
But fear not! There are ways to handle negative reviews that can actually improve your public image.
Additionally, if a review is poorly written or includes name-calling, many other reviewers can spot these “trolls” and disregard their reviews—especially if you have several other positive ones!
So how do we get better reviews if we can’t ask for them?
One simple way to encourage positive reviews is to let your audience know that you are on Yelp. You may have seen businesses with posters on their windows that simply say, “We’re on Yelp!” You can also add the Yelp icon to your website, blog, social media images, or other promotional materials. You can include icons of other review sites as well, such as Facebook, Google, Yellowpages, etc. Your audience will catch on, especially if you list some of your favorite reviews on your website next to the icons.
For more information about navigating and responding to reviews, download our “Response Assessment Infographic,” or visit “How to Respond to Negative (and Positive!) Online Reviews.”
For more information on maximizing your Yelp potential, check out these articles from Yelp.com:
Learn more about maximizing your local SEO efforts: