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.
Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new’? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them. —Ecclesiastes 1:9-11 NIV
To gain insight into the drivers behind the collective shifts in society, read Pendulum: How Past Generations Shape Our Present and Predict Our Future, by Roy H. Williams and Michael R. Drew. These shifts impact communication and often drive technology and social change. I recommend that, as part of your efforts to understand how to communicate more effectively to your target audiences and fulfill their needs, you not only read and study this book, but also invest the time in reading Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069 by William Strauss and Neil Howe. Good communication requires speaking in a way our audience can appreciate. As a religious organization, we should be using digital technologies to fulfill our audiences’ needs, but to do that, we must first understand what those needs are (as discussed in the previous section), their unspoken expectations, and the forces for change that influence a generation. This section takes the 30,000-foot-view of broader trends that may also be acting upon your target audiences.
Generation Z and the Millennials have been leaving the Church at alarming rates; could it be that we simply don’t understand them? We know that people of any given cultural group are always the best suited to reach out and evangelize to their peers. I contend that the same is true with generations. Now, empowering and training members of the youth to reach their own does not permit us to abdicate our function as guides and mentors. We too must seek to understand and cultivate these relationships if we are to bridge the gap and secure the future of the Church in North America and promote the salvation of souls. Pendulum provides an analysis of the current shifts in society and their impact on marketing, technology, and communication. The Social Media + Big Data department of the North American Division has repeatedly used these techniques across a broad range of messaging campaigns, consistently yielding successful results. Even if you don’t have time to read the 200-page book, what follows is a summary of what you need to know to understand and utilize these communication techniques.
Pendulum takes Strauss and Howe’s four “generations” (Idealist, Reactive, Civic, Adaptive) and reduces it to two generations covering forty years that oscillate between the “Me” philosophy of individuality, freedom, uniqueness, and potential (peaked in 1983) to the collective “We,” working together for the common good, fixing society’s greatest problems, and adopting a philosophy of authenticity and transparency. Sound familiar? According to this model, we are currently in the upswing of the “We” that should reach its zenith in 2023. Both ideals are always present in society but shifts in dominance occur. Optimal balance is found between the two extremes, and either extreme has negative consequences.
The main point is that group behavior is predictable, and we can use this predictability to speak to the masses in a relevant way.
There will always be exceptions, and as the authors point out:
For deeper insight into the pros and cons of each swing of the “pendulum,” read the book.
To communicate, we must ask, “What is driving the actions and attitudes of the group?”
Determine how your mission, programs, product and/or message fits or can be positioned into this paradigm. You may need to reevaluate what your ministry offers to better align with what is relevant to your target audience. See the previous section on understanding your target audience.
Figure: 2.3 Values and beliefs that motivate society in “WE” and “ME” cycles (Williams 17)
Drivers of a “WE” vs. drivers of a “ME”
This shift can be seen in successful advertising campaigns that target a worldview/attitude instead of an age group.
In other words, instead of targeting people based on surface level demographics, they are speaking to a shared value that transcends age and race as discussed in the previous section.
In Pendulum, the authors point out a well-known example. “Remember L’Oréal’s famous ‘Me’ slogan, ‘Because I’m worth it?’ As society passed the tipping point of 2003 and the ‘Me’ became fully unwound, the old slogan was replaced with, ‘Because you’re worth it’” (Williams 172).
During this same period, the successful Army slogan “Be All You Can Be” (1980-2001) changed to “Army of One” (2001-2006) but didn’t perform well because it was “contrary to the idea of teamwork” said Frank Luntz, American political consultant, pollster, and public opinion guru (Ball). The current, more “WE” focused, slogan is “Army Strong.”
Figure 16.3 Mindset and values in society during a “WE” cycle (Williams 168)
Social media is a powerful tool for member care and service. Never before has “truth in advertising” been so important. The younger generations are the most connected, more than any before them, and they naturally turn to social media to voice their displeasure with a brand or experience.
“Your advertising [messaging] may fool one of us. But that one will tell the rest of us,” says Roy H. Williams (172).
Figure 16.5 Tips to create a serious Internet presence during a “WE” cycle (Williams 172)
Self-effacing transparency is utterly disarming.
“We want the truth, even if it’s ugly. Shrink-wrapped, sugar-coated, phony posing [of the 80’s through mid-90’s] is no longer acceptable” (Williams 163). Humility, straight talk, and a genuine point of view is what the Adventist Church and its ministries need to embrace; we see the effectiveness of this strategy in the success of initiatives like Gorgeous2God. Gorgeous2God is a community of young Christian women tackling real issues from a godly perspective. True stories from the experiences of real girls are shared and communicated in a candid way that the Church has not embraced previously. Topics include rape, self-harm, sex before marriage, depression, abuse, and other “uncomfortable” topics. Recognizing the underlying cultural principles in a “WE” generation provides guidance and strengthens our abilities to reach our target audience with relevant content, increasing meaningful impact. As a result of continued audience-focused messaging and content development, Gorgeous2God has grown to over 45K followers on social media, with over 20K visitors to the website a year, countless interactions and hundreds of direct messages (as of July 2019).
Analyze your audience; consider the factors discussed in this section and the previous section to then shape your communications in a way that aligns with the drivers behind the current (broad) shifts in society. Position your ministry for success. You will always have outliers within your target audience, but utilizing this knowledge allows your ministry to fish more effectively and increases the potential for a larger catch.
Ball, Molly (January 6, 2014) “The Agony of Frank Luntz.” The Atlantic.
Williams, R.H., & Drew, M. R. (2012). Pendulum: how past generations shape our present and predict our future. New York: Vanguard Press.
Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division
Good communication is when you communicate in a way your audience understands.
You may feel like you know how to use social media platforms for personal sharing, but writing to achieve a marketing/evangelism goal requires much more thought and strategic planning. This section is designed to give you a framework for successfully defining your target audience and determining how to speak to them in a way that is relevant, encouraging meaningful engagements. It is essential that we not only communicate clearly, but that we also take the time to deeply understand our audience. It doesn’t matter if you know what you mean. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and speak to them accordingly. Speak to your audience in a way and with the words that enable them to understand and connect with your message. REMEMBER, EMPATHY FIRST.
This means that when we communicate in the digital space, we must speak the language of the platform and recognize the “cultural expectations” and “norms” prevalent in the space, as well as within the culture(s) of the people we are communicating to. Without careful research, our words and intentions can easily be taken the wrong way, inadvertently offending and pushing away the very people we are trying to reach.
As Christians, we want to reach and include everyone. This is our ultimate goal as disciples. However, from a specific ministry standpoint, this approach ends up reducing the relevancy of the message and spreads efforts too thin for significant impact. Afterall, a standard marketing rule of thumb states:
If you try to reach everyone all the time, you’ll end up
Each person, ministry, and local church is uniquely equipped and positioned to reach different types of people. Therefore, it is vital to understand who your audience is before you create content, write a single social media post, or spend any money on social advertisements. This section will help you learn how to effectively shape your messages and content to match your audience’s needs and reach them effectively, no matter their age, gender, ethnicity, location, or situation.
Determine Your Target Audience
The first step in reaching your audience is to develop a clear picture of who you are talking to. Begin with surface-level demographic information. Use the criteria below and fill in the information for your ministry’s target audience.
Surface-Level Demographic Information:
Once you’ve determined the surface-level characteristics of your target audience, work down to a deeper level which will help shape your messaging and the kind of content you’ll create.
Create deep connections by identifying with
People no longer fit into neat categories, so we must connect with them on a more profound level, transcending the standard marketing demographics of age, ethnicity, gender, language, location, and interests. If you can dig deeper, your audience will be loyal to your brand because you resonate with them at their core.
The best way to do that is to investigate their needs, experiences, values, and perceptions. Conducting surveys and interviews is one key way to collect more information. Then start asking yourself questions that will help you to get inside the minds of your audience members. What motivates their actions? What makes them who they are? What do they have in common? How can I speak and write in a way that my audience will find relatable? What do they value? What do they actually need?
Examples of needs may include: a spiritually supportive community, affordable education, employment, affordable medical care, safe spaces for their children, mentorship opportunities, a better future, healthier relationships, self-improvement, Christian guidance on real-life issues, food security, or practical life-skills training.
Use the criteria below and write down possible answers for your target audience.
Deep Level Characteristics:
”Cultural Empathy” in the Digital Mission Field
As discussed in the previous section, the concept of “cultural empathy” is well known in the physical mission field and its principles should be applied to the digital mission field. We live in a world of intersecting cultures or communities, and, therefore, our definition of culture must expand. Many now find themselves between cultures and functioning in multiple communities simultaneously. In order to identify the unifying threads between seemingly dissimilar people, we need to first unpack their many cultural influences.
These cultures are potentially endless in variety, but can include:
Now take the time to consider the potential overlap in cultures found within your church, community, ministry, or target audience. How might they influence behavior and needs? What unifying factors can you identify?
Internal v. External
Are you speaking to Adventists or non-Adventists? Your language may change based on the answer to this question. We must modify the way we communicate in order to effectively reach different audiences without creating barriers. For example, when we are talking to our friends we use certain vernacular that tends to be more playful and friendlier, but when we are talking to our boss or elders, our persona is more serious and professional. The same is true with evangelism and discipleship. We may commonly use certain words such as “Sabbath” or “haystacks” that could seem foreign or confusing to non-Adventists. The list below offers some guidelines on how to distinguish between internal and external audiences.
Audience Personas 101
When communicating to your audiences, visualize actual people—their interests, culture, wants, needs, and expectations—to refine your voice. You will probably need to create unique personas to represent different target groups within your audience. According to The Guardian, personas can be simply defined as:
A fictional character that communicates the primary characteristics of a group or segment of your audience and takes into consideration needs, demographics, motivations, and environments.
Determining your audience personas can help you develop and write content that will be relevant and useful to your audience. The best personas are often created by simply talking to your audience, but social media insights, website analytics, and surveys can also prove very useful. Personas give a human face to a collection of information, and they allow you to classify groups for different messaging campaigns and programs. The best personas combine both quantitative and qualitative information.
Below is an example of a persona:
About Bryce: Adventist College Persona
Education: High school senior
Interests: Business, sports, camping, meeting other young people, discipleship training
Salary: $3,000 a year
Location: Berkeley, Calif.
Family: Adopted, married parents, no siblings, Hispanic
Goals: Finding a good paying and meaningful job, mentoring younger peers, finding a girlfriend, finding a Christian friend group
Challenges: Finding friends with similar morals, avoiding drugs/alcohol, food insecure, feels rejected by his biological parents and struggles to connect, struggles with religious doubt
Values: Fair justice system, the environment, good reputation, strong character, fairness, good citizenship, technology and flexibility, diversity, leadership training and experience
Fears: The unknown, poor work-life balance, affording college, student loan debt, getting a good job, rejection, finding purpose/meaning
Preferred platforms for Media: Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube
Messages applicable to Bryce: We are all adopted into God’s family. Our church/school/ministry is a place to belong and a place to grow. Connection to others, connection to God. Diversity and purpose. Mentorship opportunities and support for leadership training or education.
Social media personas are developed based on your target audience as defined earlier in this section. The key is finding out what those people want and need; the rest is simply compiling those qualities into a made-up person. As a Church, we need to constantly find ways to reach our audience for the kingdom in the best, most efficient way possible. Creating social media personas is a valuable exercise that enables us, as communicators, to step into others’ shoes and view life from their perspective. Personas help us develop empathy with our audience.
Use the following framework to develop your own personas:
Special Note about Generation Z
The Church and the wider Christian community has become increasingly concerned with reaching Generation Z, people born approximately 1997-2012 (Pew Research Center). However, the Church has not yet adapted to meet the needs of the generation before them, Millennials. We should be concerned, as these two age groups represent the largest divergence from traditional Christian values and lowest participation in faith institutions we’ve seen. To reach and retain these generations, we must reframe our approach based on their perspectives.
Generation Z lives in a totally different world and interacts in a totally different way than any generation before them. When asked what the most important historical event in the USA in the last 20 years was, they responded, “The release of the iPhone.” Most older people would say the terrorist attacks of 9/11. (Adam Fenner, Director, Adventist Learning Community)
From Gen Z and Millenial perspectives, their answer makes sense given that technology and digital communications have completely reshaped society, how we connect with each other, how we shop, and how we live. They have grown up in an almost entirely digital world, and they relate to technology in a more integrated fashion than any other generation before them.
So who is Gen Z? What you should consider when targeting this age group:
What do Gen Z’s values mean for the Church? It means we must innovate for meaningful impact. If we don’t, we only have ourselves to blame for the continuous departures. Change is hard, and the Church is notoriously slow to adapt. Now is the time to act if we really are concerned for the salvation of the next generations. Institutions are not permanent. After all, in the words of W. Edwards Deming, “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” The good news is that God never fails. He will always have a people, and He has called us to participate in His great work.
We must put our assumptions and judgements in the trash. Too often we create programs and content based on our own interests and passions or based on what we think people need, according to our own perspective and bias. Use the audience factors discussed in this section to make data-informed decisions about your audience, then create programs, messaging, and content based on what you discover. We’ll go into content creation in further detail later in the “Content Creators/Creatives” section of this guide. If you’re still not sure where to start, spend more time with your target audience and ask more questions. Find out directly from them what they need, what they feel will improve their lives, and what will inspire them to develop a closer relationship with God.
To reach people, we must become a student of their culture. No judgement, only acceptance and adaptation. No one should know more about your audience than you do. Strive to become an expert on the people you are trying to reach.
Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division
Traditional marketing and evangelism takes a linear approach, starting with attracting “leads” and eventually aiming to convert people into members. While this strategy worked for a long time, the world has changed dramatically in the past few decades. It no longer makes sense, nor is it effective, to group people together into one-size fits all categories and then take a cookie-cutter approach to encouraging spiritual conversion. In addition, the assumptions we make about people groups can often be misleading or even harmful. Therefore, we must fundamentally change the way we approach evangelism.
Understanding Modern Audiences
Your average person is just as likely to have moved several times, as to have continuously lived in the community they were born, surrounded by a homogeneous collective of people who share the same culture and life experiences. The "simple life" has given way to something more complicated, and, perhaps, messy. But even for those who have never changed their geographical location, people are now globally connected through social media in ways that were unheard of just 20 years ago. What this means is that we now live in a world of intersecting cultures or communities. These cultures are potentially endless in variety, but we’ll unpack a few in the next section on target audiences.
The concept of cultural empathy is well known in the physical mission field. Evangelism experts know that the best way to reach a community or people group is to empower a member of that community to evangelize to their own. Or at the very least, speak the language of the people and show sensitivity and respect to their cultural paradigms. Non-native members of a culture group must sincerely seek to understand the community and reach them where they are in a way that is relevant. We have forgotten this principle when it comes to online evangelism and online communities. While digital evangelism or discipleship is a new concept for the Church, we can remember and apply tried and true bits of wisdom previously uncovered by experienced evangelists and geographically focused missionaries. Digital tools are a way to magnify the reach and impact of traditional and friendship evangelism, not necessarily replacing it. Digital platforms allow us to scale up our efforts in a low-cost way.
The apostle Paul admonishes us to “become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23 NASB 1977). To accomplish this in modern society, our definition of culture needs to be expanded. Many now find themselves between cultures and functioning in multiple online and offline communities simultaneously. The old marketing strategies of putting people in target groups based on a few identifying factors is no longer reflective of reality.
People no longer fit into neat categories based on surface-level descriptors such as location, race, gender, language, and interests. We must connect with audiences on a deeper level based on unifying needs and core values that transcend standard marketing categorizations. Digital tools can enable us to understand the drivers behind the actions, beliefs, concerns, needs, and values of larger groups, better positioning us to serve them in a relevant way. If we can do this, our audiences will be loyal to our Church brand, because we resonate with them at the core of their worldview. We’ll unpack how to better reach, understand, and effectively communicate with target audiences in the next few sections of this guide.
To reach younger generations, we must take an integrated and holistic approach that considers the complexities of modern life and relationships. The components of the traditional model are not dead. Many of these steps are still in play; we just have more resources to reach and interact with people in ways that are relevant to their unique situation. Digital communications is a means to amplify our messages and spiritually feed people seven days a week. In other words, the linear model has given way to a multi-faceted process that can start and stop at various points, with many key entry and engagement points. When we take a holistic approach to understanding our audiences better and use this knowledge strategically to combine traditional with digital strategies, we can fish 24/7 in a much larger pond.
The kingdom of God is an all-day, every-day pursuit. His church should be the same online as offline. After all, church is not a program to watch, but a people to be. Success should not be measured by counting people in a building, but, rather, by whether or not we’re building a kingdom.
Digital Evangelism Modified Funnel
Another marketing concept we can use to understand the modern process of evangelism is a funnel, where every person is channeled toward the goal which traditionally has been “become a member.” While people can enter and engage at different levels of the funnel in multiple ways, movement toward (and beyond) this goal is the basic principle of the funnel model. Every single transition involves an ask, either implied or explicit. With every reduction in the funnel size, there is an implied exit of people. Every person has the option of moving forward down the chain, living at a stage for a period of time, or deciding to leave the process altogether. We must give easy calls-to-action and lead participants in a way that makes moving to the next step a no-brainer. Eventually the goal is for members to become active disciples who then become part of the funnel mechanism as content creators, distributors, or engagers as talked about in section 3. This is why this modified funnel fans back out at the base and loops back around. The foundation of this marketing paradigm is built on continuous discipleship and integrated strategies, utilizing a wide range of evangelistic strategies.
The Modern Seeker’s Journey
To help us better understand how the modern world of analog and digital experiences interact to move someone through their spiritual journey, we can consider a systems-thinking tool called journey loops.
“Systems thinking is a holistic approach to analysis that focuses on the way that a system’s constituent parts interrelate and how systems work over time and within the context of larger systems. The systems thinking approach contrasts with traditional analysis, which studies systems by breaking them down into their separate elements… According to systems thinking, system behavior results from the effects of reinforcing and balancing processes” (Margaret Rouse, Techtarget.com). A system is a group of distinct elements that are interrelated and organized to achieve a common purpose or goal.
These steps or loops do not necessarily go in order. A seeker can start at any point, skip sections, leap from loop to loop, and even backtrack. Each loop and experience feeds back into the other steps in the process to help reinforce the journey. I personally started in the “Think” (Consideration) loop, then the “Care” (Relationship/Service) loop and then visited a local church as part of the “Do” (Visit/Engage) loop. This causal loop system is not a perfect representation of the process, but it helps visualize what is actually happening in a complex system or, in this case, journey.
In today’s world where people are turning to the internet for answers, the first two parts of the journey are primarily spent in the digital space. Based on the person’s situation, they may or may not transition to an in-person experience, though that is always the one of the goals of this process. However, it’s important to recognize that experiences in the “Care” and “Stay” loops are just as relevant in the digital space. Therefore, we must seek to find ways to extend the Church experience online, because the in-person experience may not always be possible, at least in the short-term.
How the Modern Seeker’s Journey fits into the Digital Discipleship and Evangelism Model
Reflecting back on the Digital Discipleship and Evangelism model, we can see how the three roles or types of digital evangelists can work together to help guide a seeker through a journey of spiritual growth.
Distributors help push out content and messages to help initiate the “See” (Awareness) step and can also function within the “Ministry and Discipleship” loop, using digital tools and technologies to share content within their sphere of digital influence, which, in turn, contributes greatly to the “Research and Discovery” stage.
The role of content creators is to package the gospel message and teachings of Jesus into various digital-friendly formats, such as: video, blogs, images, podcasts, etc. The resulting content is vital to the growth and decision-making of a seeker within the “Research and Discovery” loop. This content, combined with the role of engagers, can serve as a catalyst to move a seeker to the “Do” (Visit/Engage) and “Stay” (Become a Member) steps.
Engagers are empathic individuals within an organization, or operating independently, who engage in online conversations for the purpose of building meaningful relationships, better understanding needs, and determining meaningful ways to serve others in the community. The engager role spans across multiple touchpoints in the modern seeker’s journey and plays a vital role in moving a person towards taking an action and, ultimately, to a faith-based commitment. Social media provides a unique opportunity for long-term member care that can enhance and strengthen the relationships your ministry cultivates with members and the community. We know that connection and relationships is what builds a strong faith community and keeps people in the Church. To that end, engagers are vital to the “Loyalty and Personal Connections” loop as well as the “Do” (Visit/Engage) step and even an integral part of securing a seeker’s long-term desire to “Stay” (Become a Member) of a faith community.
Every opportunity to connect is an opportunity to advance the kingdom of God. Our digital voice may be the only opportunity a seeker has to see Christ’s love demonstrated in their life. We as a Church should strive to create connections and take a comprehensive approach to facilitating the seeker experience, treating people online as if we’re talking with them face-to-face. Their online interactions with you should make them want to experience your faith/mission in person. Then, when they to come for that onsite experience, it should be a continuation of the positive relationship that has been built with them online. There should not be a disconnect between how a person is nurtured in the pews and how they are treated online, or vice-versa.
Jamie Jean Schneider Domm
Digital Strategist for the North American Division
I am often asked if digital communications can really make a global impact when only around 42% (as of June 2019) of the world’s population is on social media. This question always reminds me of one of my first campaigns for the Church.
In the summer of 2016, I worked with “Your Best Pathway to Health” to help create community awareness for the free mega-health clinic that was coming to Beckley, WV, the heart of Appalachia. A quick search in Facebook Ads manager revealed that around 200K people within 50 miles of the convention center where the clinic would take place, were on Facebook. With a small budget of $200, I started a community awareness ad campaign targeted at those living within driving distance of Beckley. This digital effort was part of a larger multi-channel campaign that included newspaper ads, 30K+ hand-out flyers, and other traditional media.
Can We Really Reach Those People?
It is said that “familiarity breeds contempt” or, at least, presumptuous behavior. Soon after launching the campaign, I received a call from a long-time friend who felt very strongly that I was out of line to use Church funds for this digital campaign, and that I was out of touch with the realities of this community. After all, “this was Appalachia, and those people don’t even have running water and electricity.” After two hours of conversation, I still call her friend, because this was a teaching and learning moment. I had an opportunity to share the potential this technology offers for our mission, as well as gain a better understanding of the cultural paradigm I was up against (in terms of encouraging the Church to embrace digital strategies and the perceptions that may result). What she didn’t know was that I made a decision based on data and not assumptions about the “least of these.” In fact, she didn’t know that I had been raised in the same economic class she felt I was so disconnected from.
I asked her one simple question: do you know someone who is not on social media? She said yes. I followed up with something like, “If you saw an online advertisement about free medical treatment with no strings attached, and you knew they needed help, would you tell them?” Without hesitation, she responded, “Of course!” One question and response summarized my strategy.
What I had done was make a strategic decision to activate the sharing power of the 200K people who were online and, most likely, connected to others in the community who were not on social media. It’s human nature to share a good thing when we see it, especially with those we care about who need the services offered.
According to an extensive study conducted by the New York Times, 94% of people share content online because “they feel the content will improve the lives” of others. This act of sharing goes beyond the digital space.
“Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?’ They came out of the town and made their way toward him” (John 4:28-30, New International Version).
However, my ten years of digital marketing experience was entirely secular. I had never done an advertising campaign for a church project before, and consequently prayed a lot in the weeks leading up to the clinic. When the event began I was overjoyed at the testimonies of people who said their family member, friend, or neighbor saw an ad online and told them to come. According to the exit surveys, social media outperformed all the traditional advertising, and was second only to referral by friend or family member. Based on the anecdotal testimonies, word-of-mouth (friend/family) was also largely driven by the social media campaign. Click here to learn more about this case study in community awareness.
Social media is the modern School of Tyrannus, a place where the ancient Ephesians gathered to engage with new ideas, pass the time, share thoughts, and participate in discussions. Paul spoke at the School of Tyrannus in Greece for two years (Acts 19:8-9), essentially getting the gospel to go viral in his day. (A podcast about Paul’s influence at the School of Tyrannus by Dee Casper, Brand Evangelist, ARTV, can be found HERE).
“This took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10, New American Standard Bible)
Paul stayed in one place, and yet his teachings spread. How did this happen?
Ephesus was an important port for trade and commerce (like the internet), attracting people from all over the Roman Empire. People would come and hear what he had to say, go home, and tell others what they’d learned. In today’s terminology, they hit “Like” and “Share” on social media, and their friends and family were exposed to Paul’s teachings of the gospel. Social media has the potential to do this on a much larger scale. By reaching the connected, we can reach the unreachable.
In other words, if approximately 42% of the world’s population is on social media, it’s highly likely that they know the other 58% of the world or know someone who is connected to someone who is not on social media. You get the idea.
What starts in the digital space, isn’t confined to the digital space.
We must put our assumptions about those people aside (whoever those people might be), and work with who we can reach.
Evangelism experts tell me that the best way to reach a community or people group is to empower a member of that community. Your average person is just as likely to have moved several times, as to have lived and died in the community they were born, surrounded by a homogeneous collective of people who share the same culture and life experiences. The "simple life" has given way to something more complicated, perhaps messy. Even for those who never change their geographical location, they are globally connected to people through social media in ways that were unheard of just twenty years ago. What this means is that we now live in a world of intersecting cultures and communities.
The city of Ephesus experience is now reflected in every major city in the world and online.
I, myself, am a mid-western transplant to the D.C. metropolitan area. There is still no cellphone reception in my home town. My parents access the internet and phone through satellite. Until recently, our roads were unpaved, and my family was on well water. I go home once or twice a year and call my parents regularly (when the satellite phone is working). I had never heard of Adventism until I went to college; now my parents are closely connected to two Adventists (me and my husband). During our conversations and interactions, I share my experiences and new ideas. While my home town is not as remote as some other countries or communities that still exist in the world, the concept is the same. We can reach people online who have migrated to the digitally connected parts of the world. These people probably maintain ties to their home communities in some way, and since they are from that community, they are in the best position to share the gospel within the cultural norms, language, and expectations of those communities. When they visit their friends and family, they can share the gospel just like the ancient citizens of the Roman empire did back in the first century.
This is how we can obtain global impact through digital communications. It’s the same strategy that Paul leveraged, but scaled up by modern technology.
According to Pew Research, the most racially diverse Christian denomination in North America is the Seventh-day Adventist Church. We are truly a global movement that has yet to realize the full potential of modern technologies. Our challenge is not to just reach those who are online, but to also activate the online and offline sharing power of those we connect with. The membership of the Adventist Church is perfectly positioned to reach the around the world to every nation, tribe, people, and tongue with the gospel message.
And for those isolated communities with, assumed, no access to the outside world, give the Holy Spirit a little credit for being able to carry the message the rest of the way.
If the message went global in Paul’s day without the help of modern technology, let’s not assume limitations on the Holy Spirit in our day.
We aren’t expected to accomplish this mission alone, but we are called to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15, NIV). The world now includes the digital space. We need to dream bigger when doing God's work. Can you imagine what would happen if each of us committed to sharing the gospel online for two years? And remember, it's not like we have to physically go somewhere, or even leave the couch for that matter! Who knows where God will lead us when we step out in faith.
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.