What is Local SEO and Why It’s Important to Church Marketing?


We’ve looked at what SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is, setting up your website to make it readable by the search engines and so that it tells the search engines what your website is about by targeting specific keywords. So, what is local SEO? Local SEO is optimization of your website both targeting keywords with local modifiers (ie: churches in Trinity, FL) and with the intent of telling the search engines where your church/business/organization is. As a church with a specific location, local SEO is important for bringing new visitors to your church through your website.

Why Local SEO?
Local search is a growing subset of online search. With so much information online that comes from every corner of the globe, it is no wonder local search is gaining in popularity. If you’re visiting New Orleans and want to find a restaurant to visit, you can’t just search for “restaurant” or you’ll get a bunch of results that don’t help you at all, like a restaurant in Hawaii. So, you search for “restaurants in New Orleans”. People do the same when searching for a church. Whether they are visiting a town, moving to a town, thinking about moving to a new church, or maybe struggling and want to talk to Pastor, people search locally for churches. Why local SEO? Because you want your website to be listed when people search locally.

What is Local Search?
I mentioned above that searches like “restaurants in New Orleans” are a form of local search, but there’s another kind of local search. The major search engines saw the trend of people using keywords that included local modifiers (ie: “in New Orleans” or “in Tampa FL”. So, they created the Local Search option. In Google it’s called Google Maps. In Yahoo, it’s Yahoo Local Business. There’s also Live Local and Ask City Search. These are a different type of search. You enter the city you want to search in and then the keyword(s). The local search results are completely different from the general search results and usually include a map so you can see the various locations on the map associated with the search results. Also, the listings in the local search results do not necessarily have to have a website. In that sense they are more like a phone book listing. The listings can have a website link but don’t have to, and the listings include additional information like a description, business hours, contact info, etc.

What’s the Difference?
The local search options in the major search engines don’t just affect the way people search, but also require a different kind of SEO. In this case, the SEO isn’t just targeting specific keywords, but also uses various techniques to tell the search engines where the church or business is located. This can be done through META tags, putting the organization’s physical address on the site, inserting a Google or Yahoo map on a page, in addition to other techniques. It’s still good to use regular SEO techniques to target specific local keywords, but you also want to include these other techniques.

In addition to different SEO techniques, local search results are also affected by ratings and reviews. Similar to the way link building can help you improve the affects of regular SEO, getting positive reviews and ratings can help you improve the affects of local SEO. If you are in a town with 100 churches, what does Google or Yahoo use to decide which church gets listed first and which is last? Four things:

  • Local optimization
  • The location of your church compared to what the search engine considers the center of town
  • The reviews and ratings for that search engine’s listing
  • The reviews and ratings for listings on other sites, especially local review sites and internet yellow pages

So, in addition to using local optimization on your church website, you also want to get plenty of positive reviews and ratings both on the search engines’ local listings and on other sites.

Local Search Results Surge In Importance
Several years ago it was not really all that important whether an organization ranked well in the local search results, but that has changed dramatically due to two major developments.

First, searching online for local businesses and organizations has gone mainstream. Several years ago the vast majority of people still looked for local organizations in the phone book. Today most people prefer the speed and convenience of searching for local organizations online. I haven’t used my phone book in years.

Second, the major search engines have integrated the results from their local search engines into the results from their general search engines. If you go to Google and search for “churches in Tampa,” you’ll see the map and 10 listings from the local results first and then below that are the general search results. As a result, the local search listings are seen by many more people than they used to be and by showing up in those local search listings, you can appear above the number 1 ranking in the general search results.

The Big Obstacle:
When performing search engine optimization on a site, you have very few restrictions on what keywords you can target. Your biggest obstacle for ranking well for any keyword is how competitive your website is. This is not the case with Local SEO. The competitiveness of your website isn’t all that important, the big obstacle of Local SEO is the location of your organization. You can’t just optimize for any location, you have to optimize for the location of your church or business (though you can optimize for cities very near your home city as well).

The distance of the physical location of your organization from a city will play a huge role in whether you can rank well for a location or even be listed. In some local search engines, even if you are located in a particular city, you may have difficulty ranking well if you are on the outskirts of the city. Some local search engines have a determined “center” of the city and they measure distance from there. For example, the church I attend has an address is in Tampa, FL; however, it’s been difficult ranking well for the keyword “church” in the local search for Tampa, FL because Google measures from downtown Tampa. My church is about 10 miles outside downtown and there are a lot of churches closer to the down town. There are ways to overcome that (primarily reviews and ratings), but it makes it more difficult to rank well if you are on the outskirts of a town or do not have an address in the specific town.

Final Thoughts:
Local search is growing in popularity making local SEO something that cannot be ignored. Right now very few churches have realized the trend towards local search and so it is a great time to get your church in the on the cutting edge of this movement. Whether you optimize your church website for local search yourself or you get a service like the Top Church Search Ranking service and have someone do the work for you, if your church has a website, you should be optimizing the it so the site performs as well as it can and so your church is utilizing everything it can for its ministry.

About the author

Kurt Steinbrueck


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