Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division.
The Center for Online Evangelism is a missionary project devoted to developing online mission stations.
This blog post is part of a SEO series created through a collaborative partnership between the Social Media + Big Data department of the North American Division and the Center for Online Evangelism.
Whether you’re a conference, union, church, a school, a regional office, a service organization, or a retailer, you may be asking:
What is SEO, and what does it have to do with my ministry?
One way to understand SEO is to think of the internet as a traditional library, but bigger. All the world’s content is in this library. To find material on a certain topic, you don’t just wander through each aisle. This is a large, multi-story building with shelves from floor to ceiling. If you want to find what you need, and fast, you ask the librarian: Google.
You approach Google: “I need snow leopard information.” With that, Google brings you stacks of books. There are travel magazines about zoos that have snow leopards, kids’ picture books of snow leopards, decor magazines about snow-leopard-print area rugs, reference books on animal facts, a few encyclopedias, some National Geographics, and some support manuals for Apple OS X Snow Leopard.
You’re overwhelmed, so you say, “Actually, I just want to know where snow leopards live.”
Google whisks the previous stack away and returns with a smaller stack of literature. You pick the first book off top, quickly scan through, and find, “Ah—they live in the mountains of Central Asia.”
Done. And you only needed to look at the first few pages of the top book.
The goal of Google’s search engine is to give searchers exactly what they’re looking for. If it didn’t do that very well, people wouldn’t use their search engine.
Google acts as the Great Virtual Librarian, seeking content that is most relevant to what was typed in the search box. The more specific the search query, the more specific the search results.
On the other hand, if an author wants their book to make the librarian’s short list for a certain topic, they must demonstrate to the librarian that, for a certain topic, their book is the best match or contains the most reliable information.
An author might do this by designing a catchy cover. They might also make the book title contain words that are often used when people ask questions about this topic. They write a subtitle that further specifies what readers will learn, and they craft the back-cover copy as a teaser to draw the reader in. They also have someone write an author bio that positions that author as an expert in the field.
The author will also seek to get on bestseller lists, be quoted in various magazines, and even get recommended by other authors. Maybe this author will write forewords to other books and have other prolific authors write the foreword in theirs. The author will be posting ads, participating in interviews, doing readings, etc.
The author creates a credible “buzz” and elevates this book as relevant for its topic.
The librarian sees all this and brings this book to all readers asking about this topic.
And if the library patrons willingly receive it, or even come back to read it again, all the more reason to keep bringing out this book for queries on this topic.
The author catered to the librarian by catering to what the readers were looking for.
Keep this analogy in mind as we go through this series. Each of those elements represent an online process involved in search engine optimization and, ultimately, the success of your web presence.
SEO is all about helping the right people in the “online mission field” find YOUR ministry. There are people out there that are searching for what is already your specialty—a cooking class, a good private school, a small friendly church, a big friendly church, a health seminar, an online Bible study, information about a perplexing Bible verse, how to deal with peer pressure, or how to find help and support when your friends and family aren’t helpful.
You may have heard the term “SEO” or “Search Engine Optimization” if you work with websites, content management, social media, or web development.
It’s a catch-all term to describe a collection of efforts to make your web presence more prominent in search results after someone types a related phrase into a search engine (most likely Google, but some use Bing, Yahoo, etc.)
Because it’s such a widely-applied and ever-evolving process, SEO does not have a set definition in a dictionary—it has several definitions! The most important thing to keep in mind, however, is that:
SEO is all about people—their behaviors and preferences—and not just search engines.
It’s about your target audience’s needs, desires, and questions, and learning how you can best make the connection so they realize that, yes, you can provide what they need. You are worth their time.
Then they either buy from you, subscribe to your content, follow you on social media, join your cause, or come to your event or location (all possible calls-to-action—which will be studied later in this series!).
SEO combines some technical work with creative, strategic content work. Often, a complete SEO project involves an SEO specialist, a content strategist (copywriter), and a web developer. However, there are several SEO best practices you can implement yourself as a content manager, communication director, webmaster, or tech-savvy volunteer.
The process of SEO can have a big effect on your ministry’s online presence, whether your audience is local or global.
SEO is so big in the business world that there is an overabundance of tools and techniques being pushed by various “authorities” in the industry. It can be an overwhelming field to try to learn and keep up with, and it’s often difficult to know who to trust. Even experienced specialists in this industry still find it challenging.
That’s why this guide was created to help you through SEO fundamentals, step-by-step, to make sure our Church’s ministries do not miss out on these potentially far-reaching benefits.
Click here for the full SEO series and resource guide.