1. Search engines
Search engines are one of the easiest ways for people to find your site. However, if you're not listed with the right ones you won't see any increase in visitors.
As part of the Church123 package, we carry out registrations with the major search engines. For everyone else the information below will explain how to get your site listed. A word of warning... always beware of junk email offering to register your site with 20,000 search engines (or some other large number) – more than likely you will receive few visitors and a lot more junk mail!
If you found this site through a search engine you may like to consider the words you used to find us – more than likely the words will appear in the text of our pages. In exactly the same way, when you create your church website you should think about what words people will use when searching for churches in your area. Unless your church is an international resource it is likely that you will want to focus on reaching people in your area (who are probably therefore your website's target audience).
Think about what activities and services your church provides for the local area that people may use a search engine to find (e.g. Alpha Courses, Youth Groups, Mums & Toddlers and the like). When you create pages about these activities think about the words you use so that you include ones that people will be searching on (e.g. ‘Alpha Courses in Canterbury', ‘Maidstone Youth Group', etc.) You can cast your net further (excuse the Internet pun) by developing an area of your site for your local community, this is not an essential item and most churches don't have one – but it will help increase the number of visitors from your area. Church websites built with the Church123 system normally have the church address on every page this helps when people use words to search for churches in their town – e.g. ‘church in Swindon'.
If you are interested in registering a site for yourself you can manually register with the following:
Christian search engines / directories:
Find a Church (UK)
Whilst there are many directories in the USA, many appear to be mainly advert vehicles so we cannot directly recommend them.
If your church website is good, then try and get listed in the relevant section of the Open Directory Project as well. A listing there will be picked up by lots of the search engines so is very worthwhile.
2. Church directories
To encourage visitors to your website it is worth getting listed in church directories. Being listed in an online church directory doesn't just enable people using the directory to find your church. It also creates a link from their website to yours, which in turn means that your website is rated more highly by search engines. Therefore it is worth getting listed in all the church directories you come across. Having said that if you are in the UK we would recommend that you ensure your church is in the UK Church Directory, at www.findachurch.co.uk, which is deservedly the most popular UK church directory.
You may also wish to get listed with:
Search engine time-lag
Once registered, the time taken for your church site to start appearing may vary from a few weeks to months (depending on the search engine). Once listed most search engines will automatically visit your site at regular intervals (some weekly, others every few months) to look for updated content they need to list. At particular times of the year, lots of churches make a special effort to invite local people to come to church services. For example, there may be an outsider-friendly Christmas carol service, an evangelistic presentation of the Easter story, or even an 'alternative' Halloween. Naturally, it is desirable to advertise these events on the church website so that they will be found by someone searching for, say, "Christmas services in Bristol".
So far, so good. But search engine time-lag creates a problem for the unsuspecting church webmaster. By the time your church minister gives you details of the Christmas services, it will probably already be November. If you manage to get the details onto the website by the 1st of December the search engines may not start to list the page until the New Year!
Solving the problem
Careful website design can reduce this problem significantly. The solution is to work out which special events happen every year (e.g. Christmas, Easter, children's summer holiday club, etc.) and then create a page for each of those events. Add those pages to your website now (but only put them on the menu at the appropriate season), so that they can be indexed by the search engines in good time.
Of course, you probably don't yet have most of the information you need for these pages. But it is still easy to write something based on what happened last year, and you can always go back and fill in the details nearer to the time. For example a church in Bristol could create a Christmas page at any time of year saying:
Each Christmas we have a number of special services to celebrate the birth of Jesus. If you live in the Bristol area you would be very welcome to come to our traditional Carol service, or if you have children they may enjoy our fun Nativity service. For further details please visit this page again nearer to the time, or contact us.
If you can include comments from people about how much they enjoyed the event last year, or photos, then so much the better.
Remember that you need to create a link from the rest of your website to each of the pages you have written; otherwise they won't be indexed by the search engines. The easiest way to do this is to have a "diary" or "what's on" page, and then list them as "forthcoming events".