Andrew Jensen is President of Sozo Firm, Inc and has been offering business consulting and marketing services to businesses, nonprofits, foundations and Christian ministries since 2004.
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, though it is increasingly being understood to more fully stand for Search Experience Optimization. SEO is the practice of not only making your website search engine friendly but also making your website friendly for the people who visit it.
SEO is crucial for any ministry website in order for a search engine to understand what your website is about and in order for a search engine to understand how important your website content is in comparison with the more than 1 billion other websites which exist.
Google uses a complex, ever-changing algorithm to determine how websites will rank organically. Organic rankings may change throughout the day; rankings may also vary from one geographic area to another geographic area. Organic rankings may also be customized to an individual user based on his search history and other preferences. However, there are basic elements of SEO which any ministry can implement in order to gain better traction online.
To oversimplify SEO, the basic requirements for your website are as follows:
1. Unique content
Feature uniquely worded content throughout your website. Search engines hate duplicate content as copied content clutters the web with endless pages of the same content. Copied content provides little additional value to the reader. Offer unique content which is interesting for the readers. Invest the time and energy required to develop quality content that people will read and share.
2. Clear navigation
Provide a user friendly navigational system for your website. Incorporate a good menu as well as a sitemap page which quickly provides both search bots and human users with access to all of the content on your website – even the web pages which are buried deep within your site. If you don’t provide easy access to all of your webpages, then you can be certain that search engines will probably overlook your deeply hidden webpages also.
3. Include geographic targeting
If your organization targets a specific geographic area, be certain to include that geographic information in perhaps the sitewide footer or a sitewide sidebar. Help the search engines know specifically whom you are targeting.
4. Relevant title tags
Craft title tags (within the header of the HTML) uniquely written for each webpage. Each title tag should closely correspond with the content on each page. Google may then display the title tag for that webpage as the bold top line within search results. Google typically displays the first 50-60 characters of the title tag, so keep your title tag succinct, aiming for under 55 characters to ensure most of the title tag will be displayed. The title tag is some of your most valuable SEO real estate on your webpage. If your ministry focuses on a geographic region, try to include that within the title tag wherever possible.
5. Regular creation of interesting content
Generate interesting, informative, uniquely written content for your website on an ongoing basis. A blog or article archive page is a wonderful outlet for this type of content. Don’t be afraid to also regularly “refresh” the content on static webpages, ensuring that all of the content is kept up to date and reflects accurately on your ministry.
6. Subfolders (instead of subdomains)
Wherever possible, place new sections of your website in subfolders (http://www.myministry.org/subfolder) in contrast with subdomains (http://subdomain.myministry.org) in order to maximize the SEO benefit of additional content.
7. Strong brand
Focus on developing a very strong brand for your ministry, relying on one primary domain on which you construct the bulk of your web presence. Refer to that one primary domain through your social media presence as well as any other online and offline promotional efforts.
8. Social media
Develop a social media presence for your brand (especially Facebook, YouTube, Google+, Twitter). Google particularly rewards a strong unified brand presence.
9. Quality website hosting
Host your website on a fast, reliable server. One of many factors which Google considers when determining how a website should rank is how quickly your webpages load. Quality website hosting is expensive (in comparison with the very inexpensive but poor quality web hosting offered by many companies); however, quality website hosting is worth the expense in terms of reliability, speed and overall performance.
10. No link schemes
Don’t engage in any shadowy link scheme with other websites or hire a questionable “SEO” company to add hundreds or even thousands of backlinks. Google will inevitably penalize your website. Partner ministries may be willing to link to your ministry; ideally, this should take place not on a “Links” or “Link Exchange” webpage but within perhaps a blog post.
11. AdWords = an effective tool
Because Google is emphasizing their paid search over the free organic results, ask yourself if investing in Google AdWords is a strategy your ministry can afford and if AdWords would give you good results in conjunction with your organic efforts.
At the very minimum, I would recommend advertising through Google AdWords for your brand keywords (i.e. searches on your brand). This helps strengthen your brand while giving you greater control over search results pages tied to search queries specific to your brand. Based on your success with your branded AdWords, you can branch out into leveraging AdWords to target search queries deemed most valuable to your ministry. Be certain to limit your AdWords targeted geographic regions strictly to the territories most relevant to your ministry in order to minimize wasted advertising spend.
When leveraged carefully, an optimized Google AdWords account can provide a ministry with a powerful and surprisingly affordable marketing tool to reach out directly to users with whom the ministry desires to connect.