SEO: Making It Simple For Catholic Parishes

If you’ve ever talked to anyone about a website for your parish, you’ve probably heard the term ‘Search Engine Optimization’ or just SEO come up.  You may have even had people call you to tell you they can “get you on the front page of Google” . . . for a fee.  I am often a “black sheep” of the website world – for parishes – when it comes SEO because I do not put it high on the priority list.  The reason being is that I have found too many times that parish designers get lost in the exposure piece and forget about visitor experience and important content (i.e. Mass Times and Clergy/Staff Directory information) which is the #1 priority (or at least it should be).

The truth is that certain exposure is important and it’s actually pretty easy for your parish to achieve online.  It’s about understanding how people search for us as parishes.  The main thing that you want your parish to be found for is “Catholic Church <Your Town>”.   So how do you do that with your website?  There’s actually a couple of really simple steps to do this:

  1. The Page Title of your home page – One of the top things a search engine looks for is the “Page Title”.  Even though your Home Page may be called “Home” in your menu, the Page Title can be different.  I recommend setting the Home Page title to be “Your Catholic Church | Your Town | Parish Tag Line (if you have one)” .  The important thing here is that you make sure to put “Catholic” right before “Church”.  You can do the same for other pages well and vary the end “tag line” area.  Once you update this it will take about 24-72 hours before you start seeing this show up in search engines.  So just be patient and check back doing a search of “Catholic church “.
  2. Google Places/Local Listing – This will come up as “for businesses” but you can list your parish here.  It is very very important this listing is made under a Google Account that your parish office has access to in case thing change in the future.  Google Places listings not only feed into Google+’s Local system, but it is also used by a number of other directory services for their content.  Again, this will add to your search engine exposure for people trying to find you.
  3. Other online directory listings – Some other online directory services that are popular and you can add your parish listing to often times for free are:
    1. YP.com – Yellow Pages
    2. Foursquare.com – Foursquare is popular for social “check-ins” to locations so it helps to be listed on there as people do search as well on the service for locations.
    3. Yelp.com – Yelp! is huge in some areas of the country for finding places.  Not so much where I am, but it doesn’t hurt to be listed on there.
    4. Any local online directory in your town
  4. Photo Titles On Your Website – Did you ever wonder how Google gets all of those images in their search?  It’s simple, it’s the information contained in the photo uploaded to a website.  Namely, the title given to the photo.  So any images that you place on your website can be given christian terms, the word ‘Catholic’, your parish name, etc. and will increase your exposure.

What I do not think you should get caught up in is trying to attract visitors through exposure for generic christian terminology.  There is a lot of debate about this often times among website people, and the truth is that the purpose of our parish websites are not usually for a higher level of christian teaching.  They should be designed to keep your parishioners informed and inform those searching for you.  This is why Mass Times should always be on the front page.  Why?  Because that is the number one thing people are looking for in regards to your parish.  If they can’t find you online and find those mass times there is a good chance they will not be coming.

What do you think?  If you search for ‘Catholic Church <your town>’ does your parish come up?

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Author:Brad West

I live in Palm Coast, FL with my family and have assisted my local parish with our website and communications. Our parishes today can benefit a great deal from technology. Whether it's improving communications, community building, evangelizing, business operations, and much more; we have the tools today. To help provide some direction and advice to parishes and parishioners, I wrote and published an eBook titled "The Connected Church" which is available through Barnes and Noble (Nooks and Nook apps) as well as Amazon (Kindle and Kindle apps).
  • Ray Marshall Minneapolis

    Makes good sense to me.

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  • William

    photos, photos, and more photos! it’s very tiresome to research a Catholic Church on the net and not see what the place looks like–especially the Sanctuary. One can always tell what kind of Catholicism is practiced in a church by seeing its interior.