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Local Searches for Churches


Local Searches for Churches
People long for meaningful connections and will pursue them in a multitude of ways. This is at the core of all the social networks - Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Instagram, LinkedIn, eHarmony, Match.com, et al. Who do I know? And, just as importantly, who knows me?

People are communal beings - we need each other. We also look for meaning in our lives. As these 2 things merge, local churches play a significant role - if they are prepared for it.

Applications and search results are becoming very localized - providing different results for the searcher, depending on their place and time. All organizations need to center their online (searchable) content around their location and their website.

Has your church prepared itself to be a place of community for people seeking meaning in your area? We'll give you an overview of the local search landscape and how you can become a better online neighbor.
Churches Near Me - Who Is My Neighbor?
Headings
  1. Who is My Neighbor?
  2. Search Engines
  3. Local Business Directories
  4. Specialized Directories
  5. Social Platforms
  6. Intermediaries - Local Data Services

Who is My Neighbor?

When asked this question, Jesus told a story (Luke 10:26-37). Are we asking ourselves this question? Who sees us and our churches as their neighbors?

As humans, we are constrained by both time and place. Who we are is made up of where we are and when we are and it speaks to why we are. The Internet blurs some of those time and place boundaries and limitations, so we need to learn how to bridge our own limitations using the Internet and get to know our neighbors.

How do you get to know your neighbor via the Internet?

Just a few generations ago, we relied more heavily on our neighbors than we do now. Growing up, I knew every family on the block and most of them on the next blocks over. Today - I recognize the neighbors next door and the ones right across the street. Not because I don't want to, because I don't need to. The people I encounter every day come from different neighborhoods.

We used to see each other at the market, or borrow sugar from each other, or harvest crops together. Today, local networking like that is done on a network of computers - we use machines and algorithms to tell us who's close by. Our survival is still greatly impacted by those around us, as are our daily actions.

Chances are, you may have some personal electronic connections already - neighborhood directories are now being circulated with email addresses, instead of just phone numbers. (Anyone remember a time when you didn't need phone numbers - you just picked up the phone and someone was there already? Or, when you really 'dialed' a phone number?) You might be connected through local organizations, like your childrens' schools or sports activities. Or, you may encounter them through a mobile phone app for local places (Foursquare, Yelp, and Facebook). As an organization, you may collect email addresses for sending out updates to your members. There are lots of places you'll be able to make another connection with your neighbors and get to know them a little bit better.

Most of all the apps (applications) that run on smartphones are location-aware and can lead you to other people nearby also using the same app.

How do your neighbors get to know you via the Internet?

As an organization, you'll need some basic electronic outposts - a website, especially. This is your hub for all online activity. But, where do you go from there?

Since search engines are where most people start when trying to answer a question, we'll start there, too. Before you can begin to develop relationships with your neighbors, you need to get introduced to them. To get an introduction to your neighbors through a search engine, first the search engine needs to get to know you. Sounds simple enough, doesn't it?

https://www.google.com/search?q=churches+near+me

How important is local search and what factors does it have? David Mihm of GetListed gives us this overview.

Search Engines

Have you noticed how search results on Google, Bing and Yahoo have a local results sections that dominate the first page of results? And that you can click on a link to see more local results next to a map? Google, Bing and Yahoo all have directories of local organizations and your church may even already have a listing there, just waiting to be claimed by you. The search engines use a variety of sources for creating these listings - phone directories, business filings, map entries, other online directories and individually submitted entries. They will do some cross-referencing so their information is deemed reliable.

Step 1 is to introduce yourself to the search engines and the big ones give you a way to do just that -

For all these accounts, you'll want to use an email address connected to your organization and its identity - not a personal address - something you can pass on to another person. We'll cover this in more detail at another time.

Telling the search engines about your organization is a big step, so go slowly, take your time, ask questions. As part of each of these enrollments, there will be a verification step, so the search engines can verify you really to represent that business or organization and are not acting dishonestly. You will be provided a code through a phone call to the place of business or a post card sent to the mailing address for the business, which will then be used to validate your claim to the listing.

This is not a time to take a NAP!

This is the one time I will tell you to write for the search engines, not for people. There are 3 things that have the biggest impact on your visibility and identity online - and they are already things you own. They are your name, address, and phone number (NAP). Above all else, make sure these 3 are consistant for every listing you do - not only in the way the are spelled or entered, but also in the format you use.

  • Name: You may be St. Luke's, Saint Luke's and St. Luke's of the Lake, but these are 3 different places to a search engine
  • Address: Mail addressed to 101 N Main St, 101 North Main Street and 101 Main St. N. may all get to you, but it still casts a shadow of doubt to a search engine
  • Phone Number: 515.555.1000, (515) 555-1000 and 515/555-1000 or 555-1000 may work for people, but, again, these formats make matching phone numbers a little more difficult. If you have multiple phone numbers, make sure you use a primary phone number for all listings

A few other things to be consistent with - city, state and postal (zip) code.

Local Business Directories

After you've introduced yourself to the search engines, you'll want to get to know who they know. There are other sources of local citations (mentions and listings for places) out there that all lend their credibility and authenticity to yours. Sites where you can claim your place or add a listing are those that focus on local activities, like Foursquare and Yelp, business directories, like Manta and CitySearch, and map services, like Mapquest and Nokia (Here.com) There are more local citation sources and they vary in importance, based on your city and business category.

Want to see how these are all connected? Check out this local citation map. If you want to discover local citations your organization may have, watch this video by Rand Fishkin of Moz.com

I'm going to save you a lot of work - go to GetListed.org, type in your organization's name and zip code and push the button. After it does some searching, it will come up with a list of possible matches for your organization. Click on the one that is yours and see the listings for you on the various citation sites. GetListed will tell you what listings are missing, which ones are not claimed and what information is missing or inconsistent. There will also be buttons to claim and edit the listings.

If you want to do things the hard way, here are a few of the sites and links to get started with them. You can create or claim your listing on each of these sites, and maintain them for free. There are paid options available, too, of course.

Specialized Directories

Many church denominations maintain websites and a directory of their locations, as do other Christian organizations. Are you listed in your denomination's directory? Is your listing accurate and up to date?

Christian Broadcasting Network: http://www.cbn.com/spirituallife/chur ... try/churchfindertool.aspx

FaithStreet: http://www.faithstreet.com/

Social Platforms

Getting listed in the right places can help your local search results. Apart from the local directories and specialized directories, social platforms also lend their influence. Your initial goal is to claim your brand name on each of these platforms and get your information listed accurately. These sites require a bit more of a commitment on your part to get the biggest advantage from them, but don't let that stop you.

Here are some of the more influential social platforms that impact local search results

  • Facebook - create a personal account, then check if a location has already been added - if not, create your page. Otherwise, you can merge the pages later.
  • LinkedIn - create a personal account - and then you can create a company page for each location.
  • YouTube - using a Google account for your organization (don't use a personal account), create a channel.
  • Twitter - create an account for your organization.
  • Pinterest - create a business account
  • Slideshare - create an account. You can get a pro account to create branded channels (pricing for non-profits is 50% off). Slideshare is owned by LinkedIn.
  • Instagram - create an account (you'll have to install the app on your mobile device - either iOS or Android). Facebook owns Instagram
  • Flickr - create an account for your organization. Flickr is owned by Yahoo!

Establishing your accounts on the social channels assists with creating a consistent identity around the web. Having the same user identity on all these platforms helps people connect these different channels with your organization.

We'll cover each of these in more depth in separate articles.

Intermediaries - Local Data Services

There are services (fee for service, of course) that provide you with the ability to centralize your local listings, making it a single place to update. Theoretically, this is better. On a personal note - I've explored these and the experience is no less painful or more efficient. For non-profit organizations, using a local data service to manager your listings is probably not the best use of your budget.

  • Yext
  • Localeze
  • Infogroup
  • Acxiom

These businesses have expended a great deal of effort and money to establish themselves as strong authorities for local data. Proceed with caution - you'll be putting your reputation and identity in someone else's hands.

Summary

If you have a message to spread, the Internet is the place to go. Whether you are a church, a local business or an organization trying to reach people in your neighborhood, the Internet is a big part of connecting locally in today's environment. To be known in the community is to be known online.

Claim your listings online. More importantly, make sure no one else claims your listing, not even a local listing service. Start with the big 3 search engines, move on to the local directories, then expand into making the most of your profile on social networks.

Strengthen the connections between your listings - many will enable you to share information between other sites, especially the social accounts. Some are owned by other networks - Facebook/Instagram, Yahoo!/Flickr, LinkedIn/Slideshare - and sharing your brand across those networks strengthens your identity. Establish the connections and leverage them wisely - don't go posting the same update to each of the sites, or letting one update cascade through all the others, as tempting as it might be!

You might want to have a look at which of the citation sources are most influential in your city or your category (churches) to help prioritize your efforts.

In developing a strategy for your organization, we've talked about basing your strategy on variety, needs, or access. How do you translate these concepts to your website? Local search optimization is not a strategy - it is a tactic you can employ as part of your strategy. You will also need to identify some objectives for your local search efforts. Your strategy acts as a compass for your actions, guiding your decisions on what tactics and tools to use.

Further reading:

What questions do you have about local searches and how to manage them?

 

 

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