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:
Even the best writers must adapt their style for online writing.
Classically-trained writers may write articles, academic papers, journalistic pieces, or even books. Professors tend to encourage their students to describe things colorfully and thoroughly, to fill the page with rich wording, to emanate cleverness, and demonstrate elevated thinking.
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.
At first, writing for an online audience may feel too simple. After all, this type of writing is more casual and straight-forward. However, years of research proves its effectiveness in the digital space.
Most forms of online writing follow the fundamental principles of copywriting, which also bridge into the niche area of content writing. We’ll discuss the difference between the two later in this section.
The 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)
Here are nine objectives to keep in mind when writing online content:
1) Remember the four primary purposes for online writing (content marketing).
Effective online writing should achieve four primary goals. This is especially true for content marketing, which requires a consistent production of content for distribution to attract, engage, and nurture an audience.
The four purposes are:
2) Write like you’re talking to a friend.
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.
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, and the Church should be the leader in creating content that benefits the lives of others.
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 content similar to yours 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. You have to convince them that you have information about their chosen topic that is better, deeper, more interesting, or more applicable than other websites. 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 search results.
3) 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. Remember 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...”
- Christofer Jeschke
We’re emotional beings, and the most effective writing tugs at these emotions without going overboard and without being manipulative or sensational.
4) Move your reader to action.
The heart of copywriting is persuading readers to take an action.
Sometimes, when we think of advertising copy or sales 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. Then there are those overzealous sales letters that come in the mail to try to get you to subscribe to magazines or buy retirement plans.
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.
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 product, your method, your information, etc.
Benefits vs. features
When describing how great your product/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.
“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 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, and 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 the context of 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 your 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 online:
5) Tell stories.
If these principles of writing for digital environments sound rather formulaic, that’s because they are. Effective writing is both a science and an art. Yes, wordsmithing is a creative process, but copywriting is a science backed by research. These elements of copywriting have been market-tested and are proven to work.
However, a great way to add creativity to the elements of this formula is through storytelling. People can’t help but be interested in stories. As humans, we want to know how things turn out!
These stories can be in the form of case studies, testimonials, 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 they have shared with you. How does their journey reflect a common need within your audience?
Going deeper, what analogies or metaphors can you draw from what you do? Can it be related to everyday life concerns? How does your ministry offer practical solutions?
Check out this article on finding marketing stories in everyday life.
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 the 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 marketing process.
There are many increasingly specific definitions of these two terms across the internet, but there’s no need to get sidetracked by those at this point. The bottom line is that these styles and formulas work together to provide value to the reader, persuading them to stick around and eventually take action.
Learn more about copywriting for SEO:
7) Consider SEO-specific elements of writing (Titles, Tags, and Descriptions).
While seemingly small, these areas can make a big difference in how Google views your site and in convincing people to click on your webpages 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 the seeker is 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 & 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.
H1 Tags / Headers / Headings
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 and differences.
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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…” is designated as H2, as is the subhead “How do you deal with depression” lower on the page.
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.”
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 can use that to help 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 direct seekers to click on your site as they comb through search results to find relevant information.
8) 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 creating these two types of content.
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–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 with out-of-date information than to go to a website with no time sensitive information at all. If an event from a couple months ago is still headlining, how can the site 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 copy, this include:
When it comes to content marketing such as publishing content regularly on a blog, social media, email, etc., you must churn out 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 the an evergreen blog post that covers a 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 as topical 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, as members often search by date, but the title should be presented like a headline.
The topics covered in evergreen content must be “enduring topics,” such as common experiences of the human condition (job interview best practices, dealing with grief and loss), timeless skills (cake baking, how to change a tire) or opinion/discussion pieces (dogs vs. cats, should I exercise in the morning or evening).
Additional ideas for effective evergreen content:
Learn more about best practices for creating evergreen content:
9) Find ways of repurposing content.
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 marketing 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. How can you make one blog post explode into ten different pieces of shareable content?
Take this short article for example:
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.
CONTENT MARKETING—Creating, Optimizing, and Distributing Content to Engage Your Audience and Improve SEO
If you’ve been following this series and applying the techniques and tools we’ve covered, you’ve researched keywords to get an understanding of what topics are relevant to your target audience and match their search behavior. You’ve looked at what could be considered competition and found opportunities in a few niche topics that relate to your ministry. Ideally, you’ve made topic outlines and are ready to start creating!
While we’ve mentioned a lot about writing, “content” is more than just text. Content can refer to any form of information aimed at an audience.
When it comes to digital marketing, content is made to inform, to educate, and to entertain—all for the ultimate purpose of attracting and nurturing a loyal audience that promotes your organization’s cause or buys your products.
Furthermore, content marketing is effective because it allows brands to build awareness and even recruit a following before trying to sell a product or soliciting an action! The currency of content marketing is ACT—Authority, Credibility, and Trustworthiness (though we should also add “Empathy” to this list, especially when dealing with spiritual topics and life lessons).
Once your messaging is established, focus on the delivery. Use multiple forms of content to maximize your organization’s ability to get picked up by Google’s search algorithms, as well as 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 ability to have an 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 foundational for any type of content, and, therefore, this is where we must begin. Ideas are written down first—whether in the form of notes, scripts, or outlines—before they’re turned into anything else. In addition, written content almost always accompanies and supports the other content types. Consequently, when you set your content marketing 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 have always been visual creatures, and online video continues to be a popular way to consume content--for all ages!
Video is a great enhancer, as well. Have you noticed that when you click on a news story, the page often has both the written article as well as the video from the newscast? Not only does it offer two different options for content consumption, it also adds a perception of depth and authority to the story.
Video content is particularly ideal for educational content, especially “how-to” tutorials. Demonstrations, interviews, time-lapses...some things are just better presented via video.
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.
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 (outside of YouTube, however, it is still generally recommended to keep videos short, around 3-5 minutes or less).
This is when longer videos are always acceptable, regardless of platform. Livestreaming your events, whether on Facebook Live or your website, can widen your audience, further engage your existing audience, and even provide an archived piece of evergreen content that can later be repurposed. 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!
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 activity, trust, and loyalty to your organization. This is ideal for organizations that can use their niche to teach useful information, provide background on a popular issue, or facilitate live online discussions.
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 chosen images indeed emphasize the intended emotion, that it’s clear what’s happening in the picture, and that it looks genuine, as opposed to a cliché corporate stock photo.
Stock photography isn’t always bad if it’s carefully selected. 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 continue to be trending (large image that dominates the top area of a website). These pictures must be high enough resolution to avoid appearing pixelated (approx. 1600 pixels wide), but low enough resolution to keep from slowing down the site’s load time.
For images that appear on your website that are not hero images, stick to file sizes under 250 kilobytes if possible. (Learn more about image best practices for church websites.)
Certain images also go viral as memes, or pictures familiar to a specific audience and overlayed with block text, that use an adaptable but repeated theme to say something funny, inspiring, or even to evoke sadness or outrage. A fitting meme every now and then can boost engagement on your blog or social media content—but be careful not to overuse them.
For each image you use on your website or blog, make sure to apply ALT text to its code, 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.
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.
Infographics illustrate each step of a process (each bullet point) and include short and straightforward text to accompany the imagery—making complicated information easier to understand.
If you’re short a graphic designer, some free tools like Canva can help you create simple infographics, adding a splash of color to your page, post, or feed, as well as informing and engaging your audience in a creative way.
As the above infographic explains, infographics don’t just make your page more pleasant to look at—people actually google for infographics on certain topics. They’re also shared frequently on social media.
Audio content can include interviews, sermons, vocal essays, monologues, presentations, seminars, etc. Podcasts can be featured on your website or uploaded to iTunes so users can subscribe (even if you’re already hosting through a provider such as SoundCloud, Blubrry, Google Drive, or archive.org). These simple audio files make for a highly shareable piece of content people can listen to while driving, walking, exercising, or cleaning their garage.
Having podcasts with your organization’s name, or even a prominent personality associated with your organization, can do wonders for brand awareness, which ultimately benefits overall SEO.
Interactive content (quizzes, polls, calculators, etc.)
This requires audience participation, making for a more memorable interaction with your organization.
You’ve probably seen various character quizzes on Facebook or Twitter, which are highly shareable because, to the audience, it feels like they’re sharing information about them, not about the organization that designed the quiz.
Interactive content that strives to be more helpful or practical might be assessment-type quizzes, calculators, interactive graphs or charts, or polls and surveys. They can also help you with demographic info-gathering for your organization’s strategic planning.
And anything that deepens engagement also boosts SEO! It’s always beneficial to keep people on your website longer.
There are several tools to help you create interactive content, such as qzzr, SurveyMonkey, Doodle, Vizia, and more.
This type of content can be important for supporting what Google refers to as an organization’s E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, Trustworthiness), while also providing 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, creating courses can bolster your content marketing and SEO, and become an additional product you offer.
Beginning Content Strategy Worksheet
Filling out this structural worksheet can guide your brainstorming process and help you solidify your content strategy.
Now that you’ve established a strong foundation for your SEO strategy and can track activity and engagement, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of search engine optimization.
Content—the right content--is what internet users are searching for. Many are ultimately looking for products, services, locations, restaurant recommendations, etc., but the reason they trust the internet to help them is because they can find content that educates them along the way. People want content that guides them toward making the best decisions; content that answers their questions.
A blog post could convince someone to join a gym, or a Yelp review might convince a couple to try a new restaurant. Some are googling symptoms before taking their child to the ER, or searching for tips on getting out of credit card debt. Or maybe they’re bored, sitting in a waiting room, watching cat videos on their phones.
There are a thousand and one ways to consume content. Optimizing your content for search engines helps you focus your content to best match what your target audience is searching for.
But that’s the thing—how do you know what they’re searching for?
Keyword research is the core of SEO copywriting: writing persuasive content based on search engine optimization principles. It removes most of the guesswork when figuring out which topics (related to your organization) make the most sense to cover in your content marketing. Whether writing titles and headlines or naming resources or products, it bridges the gap between your hunches, the data, and what information people actually need.
Keyword research uses search query data from Google and other search engines to determine what kind of content interests people. Each phrase typed into the search box is like a voice proclaiming, “I want to see content about this!”
By using the right tools and tactics, you’ll find out what terms or phrases people are googling and how often. It will also list how competitive those keywords are. Finding keywords that have a high search volume, but a lower rate of competition, is the sweet spot for your SEO content strategy. Writing about those topics improves the chances of your content being found in search engines.
1) Define your topic.
For example, say 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’d have to differentiate from Nissan Pathfinders, Pathfinder International, or the Pathfinder Roleplaying 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 and even enjoyed by your readers. However, they’re harder to rank in Google search results without further specificity.
Let’s say it’s 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?
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 posts for these subtopics and long-tail keywords:
These location keywords can be especially helpful in titles and meta descriptions, the summary of a web page:
To make your blog or organization’s website specific to your area, mention which cities are involved, and make sure to list the address of your church or location. You could even list well-known areas nearby that members visit or volunteer. For security reasons, we do recommend caution regarding how much location information is shared online about Pathfinder and other underage group activities.
You’ll also want to consider seasonality. Keyword activity will change depending on the time of year, especially in topics that deal with a school year, holidays, sports, or activities relating to spring, summer, fall, or winter.
3) Test your topic.
Start by googling your topics, including any related words or phrases.
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 blog 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’ll find 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 on “how to teach the hunter’s bend knot.”
This is an excellent example of how research and testing can help shape meaningful content creation and allow you to create a long-tail keyword opportunity for your blog post.
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 of these keyword research tools provide a ratio of search volume and competition, as well as what the average keyword costs “per click” if you were doing pay-per-click (PPC) advertising (but we won’t focus on that in this beginner’s guide).
There are completely free options for keyword research, where you’ll be able to find similar data. These free keyword tools also show related keywords or phrases, which can be helpful for coming up with good content ideas. Overall, you’ll get a general idea what people are searching for, enabling you to create content that will connect your organization with the needs and interests of your audience.
Here are some recommended free options for keyword research or keyword ideas:
Keywords Everywhere is a free browser add-on for Chrome and Firefox that gathers data on every term you search for on Google. It’s especially easy to use since you don’t have to open a separate program; it already displays keyword results on the side of your browser window. It can also help you find related topics to cover in support of your main topic.
Ubersuggest was created by renowned digital marketing strategist and author Neil Patel, because he felt that aspiring digital marketers should have a free keyword research tool they could trust. It is touted by many marketers as a great way to get keyword ideas for blog posts, and to possibly provide even more ideas than Google’s Keyword Planner.
Keyword Planner has been the industry standard tool by which keyword research has been measured. It is still a technically free keyword research tool embedded in a Google Ads (formerly Google AdWords). You will need to set up a Google Ads account to use it. While it costs money to run Google Ad campaigns, you can do keyword research with this tool without an active campaign running.
Twin Word allows ten free searches a day. This tool provides similar data to those already described, but is known for helping you find patterns, and for its filters that allow you to customize how you want results displayed. One such filter shows User Intent in five categories to help you determine the intent your audience may have when searching for a particular keyword. If it doesn’t match up with what you’re offering, you’ll want to find other keyword options. (Find out more about how and why you should consider user intent.)
Google Search Console has functionality that shows what keywords are leading users to your website, as well as lite keyword research.
These tools differ from true keyword research but can be very helpful for “informed brainstorming.”
Answer the Public is a tool best used for brainstorming, rather than measuring search volume and competition ratios. It’s effective for finding out what kind of questions people are asking about a certain topic. It’s based on UK data, but the info is still relevant for content creators anywhere in the world.
Google Trends allows you to compare two or more different topics to see which one is searched more often.
Soovle is a customizable engine that unites the suggestion phrases from all the major providers (Google, Bing, Amazon, Answers.com, Yahoo, Wikipedia, Youtube) in one place. This tool can be a major help for search and content creation inspiration.
YouTube has its own keyword research tools: vidIQ and TubeBuddy. Ubersuggest also has an option to look on YouTube.
5) Additional terms to know.
Here are some common terms we haven’t yet covered in this section. If you’re using a keyword research tool, you’ll often come across these words, though some are only relevant for those investing in pay-per-click advertising.
Location - Tools with this option can tell you the search volume and competition of various terms and phrases within a specified geographic location.
Language - Find search volume data for searches conducted in a certain language.
Search Volume - This metric displays how many people are searching online for the specified query.
Competition - This number represents a ratio of the how frequently a term is searched for, compared to how much content already exists on this topic. Ideally, you want to find keywords/topics with high search volume and low competition. Lower numbers are generally 0.1 - 0.3, moderate competition is 0.4 - 0.7, and high competition is 0.8 and over.
Pay-Per Click (PPC) Advertising - Most keyword research tools are made to support this type of advertising, in which advertisers pay to display ads on top of search results pages or on websites set up to show ads. Advertisers only pay for the amount of clicks they get, and certain keywords cost more per click than others. Keyword research is important for PPC because advertisers want their ads to show up when people type in the related keywords or phrases
If you’re just using keyword research tools for content ideas or research, you won’t need to get in-depth into this subject.
Cost per click (CPC) - In regard to paid ads, this is how much it would cost the advertiser each time someone clicked on their ad that contained this keyword.
Click-through Rate (CTR) - In digital advertising, this represents the ratio of users who click on a link compared to the total users who view the ad, or the page on which the ad appears.
6) When to pay for a keyword research tool
When businesses rely on search engine ranking for the profitability or exposure of their brand, they want the most exact keyword information possible—especially if their brand must survive in a highly competitive market.
If your ministry relies on e-commerce or content marketing to thrive, AND it operates within a competitive industry, such as health, you would benefit from high-level keyword research tools that also provide insight on what competitors are doing, what they’re ranking for (or not ranking for), and a number of other add-ons that help you determine the best possible content opportunities.
Especially if you want to boost your traffic through PPC advertising, this kind of research tool can help you choose the best content strategies for your ads.
Here are a few of the top paid keyword research tools:
Google Ads’ Keyword Planner provides more specific keyword data (notably in Search Volume) when you’re regularly spending over a certain amount on active campaigns (currently it looks to be around $1,000.00/month). Keyword Planner can also help you get a closer look at the search behavior of certain demographics.
SEMrush is a comprehensive research tool. In addition to unlimited keyword research and keyword strategy suggestions, it also audits your website (and your competitors’ websites!) to find errors, SEO opportunities, and content “weak spots.” This tool has proved useful in many businesses’ Online Reputation Management (ORM) efforts, as it can even show how much competitors are spending on ads and for which topics.
Ahrefs dives deep into competitor research, provides keyword opportunity alerts, and gives access to a wealth of digital market data. It can also monitor how your site’s ranking changes over time.
Keyword Explorer by Moz has long been used by digital marketing professionals to gather data from its “vetted keyword database” to apply to their content marketing strategies.
While your ministry may not yet have the budget for keyword tools like these, many come with a free trial period, enabling you to test how useful a particular tool might be for your organization.
7) Creating content from keyword research
Once you’ve utilized these tactics and tools to determine which topics are popular and which content opportunities exist, it’s time to use this knowledge for your content planning.
Keyword research used to be much more technical, more of a science than an art.
It’s not like that anymore.
Due to shady content practices like “keyword stuffing”—when content writers would repeat keywords over and over on a page so it would rank higher in search results—Google has taken measures to ensure its users aren’t led astray by webpages that are trying to “beat the system.”
Google has since improved its algorithms to detect the thoroughness of topic coverage, rather than keyword density. It factors in synonyms, phrases, and related topics, so that when a page is written about a single topic and covers it well, that page is ranked higher in search results.
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. 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 example of this, visit sdadata.org/seo. From a visitor perspective this help with navigation within a specific topic. Be careful not to take this concept to the extreme, creating a confusing maze of short pages.
NOTE: This outlining method also comes in handy when a webmaster is designing an optimized sitemap, or navigational structure, for a website.
With topics and topic coverage having a stronger influence on search engine ranking than individual words or phrases, this better rewards quality writing and presentation.
However, keywords do still matter!
Keyword research is done so we 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:
Most content pieces can be written in a similar fashion. You work your way through a topic, writing as much applicable information as possible over multiple blog posts. Remember to keep your posts between 600-1,500 words (in most cases) for digestibility. You might also throw in pictures and videos to supplement the text. You might even post a quick quiz at the end so readers could make sure they gathered the info they needed. Then, there might be a form or comment section to submit questions about the topic.
Content organization techniques that may help you include outlines, topic trees, bubble graphs, etc. Using this as your foundation for content creation helps you determine topical goals, objectives, and key takeaways. Plus, it makes the whole writing process easier.
We’ll discuss types of content presentation in the next section.
Click here for the full SEO series and resource guide.
How is your site interacting with Google searches?
Search Console is incredibly useful in a variety of ways. It’s like a peek under the hood to make sure everything is running properly. Not only will it show how Google is interacting with your site when it comes to searches, it can also notify you if the site has been hacked or if there are navigational errors.
Google Search Console Important Terms and Functions
Anchor text: Anchor text is the visible, clickable text in a hyperlink. In modern browsers, it is often blue and underlined, such as this link to the moz homepage.
Crawl: The process of Googlebot discovering new and updated pages to add to the Google Index.
Google Index: In order for your site's contents to be included in the Google’s search results, it must be Google Indexed (think of a library!). Google Index lists all of the web pages it knows about. When Google visits your site, it detects new and updated pages and updates the Google Index.
Internal links: Links on one page on your website that links to another page on your website to provide reference information, guide the user through the intended content journey, or to lead them to action. Being strategic with internal linking provides different types of users with the proper pathways for finding what they want.
XML SiteMap: A file where you can list the web pages of your site in its hierarchical order to tell Google and other search engines about the organization of your site content. XML stands for “extensible markup language” schema, which is more precise than HTML (hyper-text markup language).
Search Console Home—Your Properties. (Are You Verified?)
After logging into your Google account and navigating to console home, you’ll see the Properties (websites) you selected to manage. If any of them say “Not verified” at the top left of the thumbnail, you’ll need to refer back to search console section for verification methods. Most of the Search Console functions will not be usable until the Property ownership is verified.
Once you click on the property/website, you’ll be directed to the Dashboard.
You’ll see three sections under Current Status in the lower half of your screen: Crawl Errors, Search Analytics, and Sitemaps.
Here you’ll be alerted if there are any immediate issues that need your attention in these areas. However, for the purpose of this lesson, we’ll take you through the top priority functions in the left side menu of Search Console as you start to get used to this tool.
Crawl (left menu)
If you have any crawl errors, you can click on Crawl > Crawl Errors in the left side menu to learn more about what’s causing these errors.
You’ll first want to see if your server is causing any crawl errors. If these errors persist, you may need to contact your hosting provider.
Being behind a firewall can also affect Googlebot’s ability to crawl your site. You may need to adjust your firewall settings.
Another common crawl error has to do with a robots.txt file, which tells Google which pages it can crawl and which pages you do not want it to crawl. In many cases, though, you want Google to crawl your entire site, and you don’t need a robots.txt file.
If you have any broken links, they will be listed under “URL Errors” below the line graph.
To help Google properly crawl your site with its Googlebot, you’ll want to submit a sitemap.xml.
If your website is on the AdventistChurchConnect platform, a sitemap has been created automatically. If you’re using WordPress, you’ll need a plugin to generate a sitemap.xml file.
(For additional guidance: What is a Wordpress Sitemap or How to Create a Wordpress Sitemap.)
At the top right you’ll see the red “Add/Test Sitemap” button. Clicking the button which will bring up a dialogue box with your website URL with a forward slash. Type in “sitemap” (ACC) or “sitemap.xml” (WordPress and some other CMSs), then submit.
(If your website is on another development platform, such as Wix, Squarespace, 1&1, etc., check with your technical documentation or ask support for information on sitemaps.)
Search Traffic (left menu)—Search Analytics
NOTE: If you just set up your Search Console account, Google may not have yet had a chance to crawl your site again and send back data. You may need to wait a few days.
This may be the most important tab for your website in Search Console, at least for now. You can gather a snapshot of how your website is doing in the midst of your SEO efforts.
Before selecting an option, make sure to check the boxes of Clicks, Impressions, CTR (click-through-rate) and Position. You’ll want to see all this information when you click on the various reports.
Right now we’ll look at the report that will be most immediately useful to you--Queries.
This lists search keywords and phrases that pull up your site in the search results. Ideally, these terms would match what you intend to rank for.
If you notice a discrepancy between how you wanted people to find you and how they actually ended up finding you, you might want to adjust your content to include different keywords, or better optimize your content for the keywords you want to rank for.
All in all, this gives you an insight into your audience’s preferences and goals, as compared to what your site offers. You’ll want to ask questions like:
Search Traffic (left menu)—Links to Your Site
This section shows you which outside websites have active links to your site (backlinks). If you just set up your Search Console account, there may not be any data here yet. If you have had Search Console set up for at least a few days and there still isn’t any data in this section, it could mean that you have no backlinks at this time.
Having other sites link to your site in a legitimate, true-referral manner (i.e., someone referencing your site in a blog post, social media post, etc.) can act as a significant SEO boost. It tells Google (and people) that other entities online recognize you as a credible authority for the given topic.
Examining your backlinks gives you another look at which content is most popular, by looking at the “Your most linked content” section. This is especially positive, meaning that, not only did this page get a lot of traffic, it was liked well enough to receive a link to it from an outside source. This is a better representation of content quality than page traffic alone.
Search Appearance (left menu)—HTML Improvements
Here you’ll look for any HTML errors, such as missing or duplicate title tags, or titles that are too long to be shown in their entirety. If any pages have duplicate or missing meta descriptions, you’ll want to craft a 162-character page description to encourage searchers to click through to your site!
Having duplicate or missing tags can affect how well Googlebot crawls your site. These can be simple fixes, especially if you run a WordPress plugin such as Yoast.
You’ll want to go to all the pages with either duplicate or missing content and replace with new titles and meta descriptions (learn more about meta descriptions in Section VI).
Google Index (left menu)—Index Status
Especially if you’ve just set up Search Console, you may have to wait for “Googlebot” to index your website. Once it’s indexed, you’ll be able to view Google’s last index in a line graph.
The blue line shows you how many pages were indexed, and the orange line (click on Advanced to view) shows how many pages were blocked (i.e., these pages will not show up in search results).
These introductory steps can keep you plenty busy. Especially if your website is large with several functions, you may find several areas to improve or optimize right away. If your website is still new and growing, this can give you direction for the site’s future development.
If you’d like to continue ahead into more advanced features of these tools, here are some recommended resources:
Helping you get the most out of viewing and interpreting this valuable data to most effectively optimize your website.
When you log in to Google Analytics or Search Console with no prior knowledge of these tools, it can seem overwhelming!
But soon you’ll discover just how much you can learn from this data, and how useful it can be in planning technical or content updates. It will become second nature with continued use.
In this section, you’ll learn how to quickly check for site errors that may affect search engine performance or user experience, and you’ll learn to interpret how effectively users are navigating your site. You’ll find out if any important pages are being missed, or if certain pages are causing a drop-off in traffic.
By tracking your audience’s patterns, you can better plan your content to match their preferences and behavior, which can dramatically improve engagement.
We’ll start with terms and basic functions, followed by a screenshot-assisted walk-through of each tool.
You will see these terms in the menus and reports of Google Analytics or in Search Console displays, so you’ll likely understand them even better when you see them in context. A technical vocabulary list can seem intimidating at first, but as you get to know and interact with the platform it will quickly start to make sense. (NOTE: Not all terms will be covered in these tutorials—only the most immediately necessary).
Google Analytics Terms and Functions
Terms change so if you run across a term in Google Analytics that you are unfamiliar with,
hover over it and a brief description pops up.
Average Session Duration: The average amount of time a visitor stayed on your website. Two to three minutes is favorable, while less than one minute implies that visitors didn’t find what they were looking for.
Behavior: This element measures how users interact with your site, or with applications on the website. Standard metrics include the number of users interacting with your application, the number of sessions those users create, and the screens or web pages they visit.
Bounce Rate: The percentage of users that come to the website and then click out immediately, signifying that they did not find what they were looking for. The lower the number, the better. When the number is higher, this tells Google the page isn’t relevant to the search terms being used to find it. NOTE: Don’t take this number too seriously—Google often considers it a “bounce” whenever someone hits the “back” button, which doesn’t always mean that the person didn’t find what they needed in the page content! It may be that they found what they needed on that one page and left.
Conversion: Completion of an activity that is important to the success of your business, such as a completed sign up for your email newsletter (a Goal conversion) or a purchase (a Transaction, sometimes called an Ecommerce conversion).
Direct Visitors: Direct visitors have come to your site by typing in your organization’s exact URL into the address bar in the their browser.
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): Measurable values that demonstrate how effectively your website is achieving its objectives, such as number of sessions, target bounce rate, number of returning visitors, demographics engagement, etc.
New User: A first-time visitor to the website (unique IP address)
Page/Session: This shows how much a visitor engaged on the website, such as how many pages they clicked on.
Referral Visitors: Visitors who visit the website because it was mentioned somewhere on another website or blog that they were visiting.
Sessions: A “set” of a user’s interactions within your website that take place within a given time frame (set to a default of 30 minutes). This can mean multiple page views, social commenting, or ecommerce transactions (for more information, try this Google support article).
Users: People who have started at least one session during the date range.
Navigating Your Google Analytics Dashboard
NOTE: If you just set up Google Analytics, we recommend letting it gather a month’s worth of data before making in-depth analyses. Otherwise you will not have enough data to truly determine usage patterns. Usage patterns fluctuate throughout the year and around holidays. Over time, you’ll become familiar with the regular patterns of visitors.
After logging in, you’ll immediately be taken to your Home area which provides a snapshot of (by default) the last seven days of activity on your website.
By selecting “28 days” in the drop-down menu on the bottom left of that box, you’ll get a more complete picture of average use patterns.
Other boxes on the Home screen show user trends, regions users are browsing from, and which devices are used for browsing (desktop, mobile, tablet).
It can also be helpful to scroll to the last box that displays which pages your users visit, with the most popular on top.
Got specific questions already?
A great place to start your Google Analytics journey is at the top left of the page, the Intelligence section.
This will guide you through Google Analytics by asking questions like “Where is my traffic coming from?” or “What were my most popular pages from July 1-24?”
This will also notify you of any inconsistencies in your data. These anomalies (the term Google uses) will be presented as insights.
Insights will explain opportunities, trends, or changes that can have an impact on your website. For example, it can show you that a certain landing page is getting more traffic than before or if the number of new users is dropping. The information presented here allows you to adjust accordingly.
You can find your insights on your Home page in the second row on the right.
With several reports to choose from, the most immediately helpful reports can be:
AUDIENCE—Overview (Who’s visiting?)
Above the line graph to the right, select “Month” to get a clearer average. This will give you a more in-depth look at how many users are coming to your site and how they spend their time.
Under Geo you can view the Language used by the viewer. If you see significant percentages in different languages, it could be a tip that a translated page could be helpful to your audience.
If you are a local organization that depends upon local traffic to your website, click Geo > Location > City to see if your target area is engaging with your site.
If your content is targeted to a certain age or gender, you’ll want to look here. You can view the age and gender (see arrow 2) of the users who visited in the last selected timeframe. At the top right you can customize the timeframe by date (arrow 3).
ACQUISITION—Overview (How are they getting here?)
With the default timeframe set to 3 months (found in the right corner of the page), view how people are getting to your site:
These visitors may have clicked to your site via:
Scroll down in the Overview window to Social Value. Unless you’ve worked ahead, you won’t have any goals here. However, you will be able to see how many sessions have come from which social media platform. Study this data and compare it to how many posts you’ve published in the selected timeframe (3-month default).
This is big for social media managers! This report lets you see which pages users are coming in on through social media referrals. This can help you track which posts are driving users to your site, depending on which URL was linked in the post.
This journey map starts with the social media platform that brought the user to your website. See which page URL they clicked on, which can indicate which posts are getting the most activity and which events are encouraging click-throughs.
If you hover over the Starting Pages or Interactions, you’ll see a pie chart representation of how many users kept navigating your site, and how many dropped off at this point. Use this data to review your site content, and determine if users are finding what they need or getting frustrated/bored and leaving.
BEHAVIOR—Overview (What are they doing?)
The Behavior Overview provides a graph showing the amount of traffic your website receives and how they use your site. Make sure to select “Month” above the line graph.
These are the most important metrics here: 1) Pageviews, 2) Unique Pageviews, and 3) Average Time on Page.
The Site Content section describes how visitors engage with pages on your website. For example, under ALL PAGES you can see your top pages and how many views they receive, average time on page, plus which type of page is most popular—helping you determine what content performs best on your website (remember the best way to determine this is to select it by month on the upper right on the screen).
If you find that your most popular pages are different from the ones you’d like more people to view or spend time on, you might need to adjust your content or how your sitemap is organized.
BEHAVIOR—Behavior Flow (Where are they going?)
Another visual journey map shows you which pages users encounter first when they visit your website (listed as the Landing Page). It may be the Home page or it may be an article, contact page, or a bookmarked link that has a map or login function.
You can drag the map to the side, viewing the first, second, and third interactions, to see where users clicked to after coming to the site.
You can use visual data like this to see if users are taking the path you intend for them. If not, or if they’re dropping off before they get to a page where you want them to take an action, such as read an article, download a PDF, or make a purchase, it may mean:
Select “Month” at the top right over the graph. Remember, you’re shooting for a page load time of under two seconds.
Your average page load time averages data from all your pages.
BEHAVIOR—Site Speed—Page Timings
This shows the average load time of each individual page, so you can better pinpoint what pages may be slow and affecting the average site load time.
(You can also run the Screaming Frog SEO Spider tool to determine what elements are affecting page load time, or check Google’s Page Speed Insights tool).
These Google Analytics overview reports will be most helpful for you as you begin consistent use of this tool.
Getting a big-picture view of how your current audience is interacting with your site can help you identify any “roadblocks” that might be inhibiting users from completing a desired action.
It will also help you plan your future content by revealing which content is inspiring further browsing throughout your site.
If you’re interested in a full course on the effective use of Google Analytics, check out Google Analytics Academy, Google’s free resource for Analytics users.