SEO is a tool for evangelization.
Perhaps you’ve heard the term “SEO” (Search Engine Optimization). What is it? And why should a Catholic website administrator care?
SEO essentially refers to making your site “Google-friendly.” There are specific strategies you can use to help your website achieve better rankings in search results. In terms of evangelization, this can be a big deal! Let’s say you work at a Catholic parish that serves the Phoenix, AZ region. A family moves into the area and would like to join a local parish. The family doesn’t know much about Phoenix, so they go to Google.com and type in “Catholic Church Phoenix” and “Phoenix Church.”
Do you want church-shopping Catholics (and non-Catholics) to find your church in their Google search? If the answer is yes, you should care about SEO.
Many factors can affect your website’s SEO. While the ultimate results are mostly out of your control, there are concrete ways you can optimize your site for search engines.
SEO Tip 1: Know (and use) your keywords
Have you ever thought about what sorts of words someone might use to search for your organization online? What would they type into the Google search bar?
The answers to these questions can help you identify your site’s SEO keywords. Identifying and using SEO keywords on your website helps Google understand your site and its content. Then, Google knows when your website will provide relevant results to a curious searcher.
Pro Tip: Use a free keyword tool like Ubersuggest to generate ideas for SEO keywords you should target.
Identify two or three SEO keywords or keyword phrases for which you’d like to rank (e.g., “Catholic Church + your area”). Then, with your keywords now in hand, implement them on your website in the following areas:
Keywords on your homepage
Include one or two short paragraphs of text on your homepage to describe your organization. Be sure to naturally incorporate some of your SEO keywords in these paragraphs. This is a good general practice, and it can also help Google understand the content and purpose of your website.
Bonus: Find a way to naturally use some keywords in headings (e.g., <h1> or <h2>) on your homepage and other pages.
Keywords in your Google site description
A meta site description is another way to help Google understand your website. If you’re an eCatholic customer, log in to your website and navigate to Admin > Settings > Google, then insert a site description in the designated text area. A good site description:
- Contains no more than 155 characters
- Incorporates one or two SEO keywords
- Provides a brief description of your website
(If you’re not an eCatholic customer, use these instructions to create a site description with meta tags.)
Keywords in your images
Images are also an effective way to communicate with search engines. Use descriptive file names and add alt text to your site’s images to help search engines understand your content.
For example, if you have a photo of Mass at your parish and want to add it on the Mass Times page of your site, don’t miss the opportunity to send helpful info to a search engine, like this:
- Image file name: Use st-joseph-phoenix-mass.jpg (instead of pic12345.jpg)
- Image alt text: Use “St. Joseph Phoenix Catholic mass” (instead of adding no alt text)
Bonus: Adding alt text to your images helps your SEO and makes your website more accessible. Blind internet users can use screen readers to read image alt text. This helps the blind user understand the content of a web page.
SEO Tip 2: Have a responsive web design
This one is pretty straightforward: Your website needs to be optimized for mobile devices.
Why is this so important? Google, the leading search engine, has said that a website’s mobile responsiveness is a significant ranking factor. To put it simply, a site that has responsive web design will likely rank higher than a site that does not have responsive web design. Few SEO factors are this simple to pin down, so this one is a must-have!
(Good news: All eCatholic websites are built using responsive web design.) ??
SEO Tip 3: Use website encryption (HTTPS)
Fair warning: The following may come across as complicated tech speak. If you don’t care about the details, just understand one thing: HTTPS (website encryption) is a factor that can affect your search engine ranking. If your website doesn’t use HTTPS, it should. (eCatholic customers have no need to worry: All eCatholic websites use HTTPS.)
Google announced that HTTPS is used as a ranking signal in 2014 (which is eons ago on the technology timeline). More recently, Google announced that users who browse the web using Google Chrome will receive security warnings when accessing websites that do not have a secure HTTPS connection.
All things considered, HTTPS is another must-have if you’re serious about SEO and the quality of people’s interaction with your website. It’s another easy SEO win.
Why Catholics should care about SEO
Full disclosure: SEO can be frustrating! You may not always see immediate results. And unfortunately, implementing the tips above probably won’t catapult your site to the top search engine ranking overnight.
If you find yourself questioning whether improving your SEO is worth the hassle, remember this: Most SEO-inspired website updates can actually help Catholic organizations in two ways:
- SEO can improve your church’s search engine ranking. This gives you more visibility to those who are curious about Catholicism in your area.
- SEO inherently makes your website more user-friendly. People are more likely to check out your church after a positive online experience.
SEO is worth the investment! Don’t be afraid to use SEO as a tool for evangelization at your church.