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Monday, June 2, 2008

Online Marketing for Church Planters Part 1

Recently, Jubilee Churches city location in St. Louis discovered that 8% of their new guests came from online advertisements. Jubilee is running one type of online ad campaign which means this source of guests is not maximized and has great opportunity for improvement.

I wanted to explore the different online marketing tactics that a church planter could use to create interest in their launch and build greater connections with people. So here it is! Please comment below if you like what you read or you have additional ideas.

Blog or Web Site

You need a site, blog or at the very least a simple page to do basic web marketing. That's obvious right? Well, yes and no. The real key is not just having a website or blog but driving traffic to them.

Blogging:

  1. If you are going to blog make the content really good and really regular.

  2. No single blogging solution will contain all the features you might want. Compare blog software and match your specific needs at weblogmatrix.org.

  3. I use blogger.com because it integrates with other Google products I use. Plus, this increases the chances of being found by other blogger users. You can also get a dedicated URL, example: www.yourdomainname.com (without the yourname.blogspot.com)
Website:
  1. If you need more than a blog and want a fully fledged website then I strongly suggest using a Content Management System (CMS). They move the maintenance burden away from the designer/programmer and allow administrators, secretaries and other volunteers to adjust content without having to wait weeks, months or even years on the techies! There are tones of free ones out there.

  2. No single CMS will have all the right features. You can use a tool like cmsmatrix.org to compare various CMS's side by side.

  3. A good all rounder CMS is Joomla -- and it's free! To get this up and running you'll need:

    1. Some basic web hosting. See www.ehostpros.com ($35/year)

    2. A domain name. See godaddy.com ($10/year)

    3. A web designer/programmer to install and setup Joomla. Feel free to contact me if you are looking for suggestions as I have a number of contacts who can perform this function.

    4. Setup or create a custom template, or use an existing free one. The custom option will usually cost you some $$$ if you don't know a website designer who's willing to serve you.

    5. Training on how to use the system.

  4. An even easier solution would be using Google's free page creator. You could do this with no technical skills, but you probably want someone with a good eye and reasonably savvy.

  5. If you Google "church websites" you can find tones of resources and organizations that specialize in this. Although I'm sure it's costly. For a church plant the above solutions are fairly inexpensive or free.
Promote your web presence
The most mystical of all web promotion is the organic search engine ranking. Basically, if you can get onto the first page of Google then you've made it. Well, I'm going to tell you how to get into the first 10 Google results. Read on ...

Search Engines

The number one key to a high search engine ranking is getting quality backlinks. Yes, that's right, the more inbound links that other web sites make to your web site or blog ultimately determines your position.

For example, if you Google "Church Planting" the first result (as of today) is www.churchplantingvillage.net, but the 9th result is www.churchplanting.net. Why are they ranked differently when both have the same words in the URLs? Easy. Go to Google and type in the following "link:www.churchplantingvillage.net" (without the quotes). In the top right Google says "1 - 10 of about 139". This means that Google has found and indexed about 139 inbound (backlinks) to this website. Now do the same for the other domain "link:www.churchplanting.net" (again, without the quotes). It says "Results 1 - 1 of 1". This means Google has only found and indexed one incoming link to that website. Other links may exist, but Google has either not found them or does not like them.

This is the most simplistic way to understand search engine page ranking.

It is vital that the links are quality. A quality web site is usually highly ranked, with a proven history, often older and does not attempt to trick the search engines.

The search engines can detect what are called "black hat" techniques where keywords are stuffed or hidden on the site. Or, some sites subscribe to link farms and even generate fake incoming links. The search engines always find out, believe me, I've seen it happen. A quality inbound link is worth so much more than 100's of links from insignificant blogs or unrelated web sites. Take every legitimate link that you can get, but fight harder for the quality links.

To rank well for the phrase "Church Planting" for example, the phrase needs to appear on the website multiple times, although don't overdo it. It should appear in the title tag, the meta tags, the first sentence on the site (and a few other times in the text), as an image name, as an alternative image name and as a link. It is even better if you can use it in a header tag and also place strong (bold) tags around one of it's instances. This is really the best thing you can do on your site to improve your ranking.

Another example, when you Google "Church Planting" the fifth result is
www.acts29network.org. If you then Google "link:www.acts29network.org" you can see that it has 1,120 inbound links. This is way more than the 139 links for the number one result www.churchplantingvillage.net. What explains the difference in ranking? One possibility is the quality of the inbound links, the other is that Acts29 do not include the key word "church planting" in their title tag and other places. It's more of an art than a science.

It is important that you use keywords that you know people are searching for. For example, if you Google "Matt Sweetman" (without the quotes) my professional design web site comes up:
www.mattsweetman.com. However, this is not particularly helpful because people are highly unlikely to find my services this way -- something I'm not too bothered about as I rely on word of mouth.

The point is that if you are not well know
n don't use your name as a main key phrase for your church. Do some research on competitors or what similar sites are using. These tools also help with research:
The main keywords for a church are likely to be something like "churches in [location]", but it's worth doing some research using the above tools.

Other things like having well built or "clean" code, the speed of your page loading, etc ... can make a small impact in ranking.

The next question is, how do you generate quality backlinks?

Generating quality links

  1. Write good content often. "If you build it they will eventually link to you" is the motto. Content is king. The reasoning of the search engines is "if it's good people will link to it, if it's bad, people will not link to it". For the most part that is true.

  2. Ask websites owners to link to you. Any business, organization or individual you have a connection with might give you a link as a favor.

  3. Find some highly ranked websites that are not direct competitors of yours but are in the same industry and call them. Ask for a link. Offer a link in return or pay for one.

  4. Interview someone who has a website or a blog, preferably someone important or at least popular. Post the interview on your blog and send them the link. If they like it, they'll link to it and send their visitors your way. For the record, I conduct interviews on my blog not for this reason, although it is a good side-affect. Interviews with church planters are a part of my internship studies.

  5. Post your articles or blog entries onto social news websites like Digg.com. It's fairly easy to do and if you get lucky and make it to the homepage you'll likely generate 3,000+ backlinks in one day! But, you'll need to carefully craft your content to match the appetite of articles that get featured. This is a great opportunity to get creative with your writing! For example, this is an article I wrote and published on Digg, it got 22 diggs, please digg it again if you like it.

  6. Create an annual award and subsequent ceremony for something in your community. Make it a really big deal, hype it up, drag it out, make tones of nominations, invite some big wigs, partner with other organizations -- make it legit and do it EVERY year! Spend some cash on a good trophy or plaque. Get it in the paper. But the key is, post it on your web site/blog and watch the links come in! This is just an excellent way to get into the community anyway.

    1. To make this more constant you could create a "Community Member of the Month" award. This could really create some momentum and provide constant community connection and potentially generate lots of links to push you higher in the search engines.

  7. Become a lender on kiva.org a micro-financing site. Not only is this a brilliant way to directly sponsor someone across the world and reduce poverty, but it's also a totally legit way to get a backlink to your site. Once your loan is repaid you can keep it as credit and continue to lend it out. Loans start at $25. See my profile here: http://kiva.org/lender/mattsweetman
This strategy is long term -- there are NO shortcuts. You will be unlikely to see results from this for at at least a year, or maybe 6 months at the earliest depending on how competitive your keywords are. Don't set your hopes on this as it can be very disappointing. To begin with go for some of the more immediate tips below while slowly building towards an organic ranking.

Even if you achieve a high ranking on a competitive keyword your ranking can change over night or even disappear and never come back if it's built on the wrong foundation or superseded by a competitor. Work hard at quality and you should be fine.

Paid search engine links

You've noticed those other links on the right hand side of the results page or right at the top? They are different than the regular results. If you didn't know already people pay each time you click on those. How much it costs depends on how much competition there is. It's a pay per click (PPC) model. I've seen some cost 5 cents per click and others cost over $10 per click. The nice thing about this system is that you can set a monthly budget for your ad campaign and once you hit your top dollar then the ad disappears until the first of next month.

So, you can say I only want to spend $20 a month and it will cap it there. For example, Google "Churches in Charlotte" (without the quotes). Currently there is a paid ad on the side for "City Church Charlotte". Please don't click on this ad otherwise you'll hamper their effectiveness to reach people by using up their budget, unless of course you live in Charlotte and desire to go to their church. If I was planting a church in Charlotte I'd pounce on this opportunity as there isn't much competition for Google ads which would keep the cost down. I'd also place ads on Yahoo, ASK and other top Search Engines.

To set these types of ad campaigns up you need a web page, a credit card, a postal address (that matches the card) and an idea of what the ad should say. To setup these campaigns go to Googles, Yahoo's or Ask.com ad centers.

Alternative Sources of Traffic

Search engines are the Big-Mama of your online presence. But there are many other legitimate and effective ways to draw visitors to your site and potentially generate some backlinks.

Ads & Classifieds

Use craigslist.org to post info about church events, especially a new church launch. It is surprising how many people use this service especially to sell items locally. My brother-in-law received several calls within minutes of posting his car for sale onCraigslist . There is a community section with all kinds of posts and info from local people. This will provide you with a link to your site and you can include a phone number which in my opinion is even better. If you can get someone on the phone then you are very likely to be able to connect with them and see a more substantial relationship develop. Get creative with your listings to standout from the clutter.

Think about Ebay. Maybe there is a way to use it in conjunction with something local and link it to your website. Please comment below if you have an example. The more various types of links you can create the better.

Social Networks
The gospel is viral by nature. The new, and instantaneous, social mechanisms of today are the myriads of social networking sites out there. And, if you can utilize them to spread your cause it can be is very rewarding.

Currently, it seems that Facebook is the "in thing". See this fantastic free e-book titled Facebook for Pastors for a deeper look into this. More than one-third (34%) of visitors to Facebook.com are 18-24 years old, read full article here. What a great demographic to reach!

In short you can use Facebook to display ads to targeted individuals, keep connected with contacts you make in the community, communicate church info through a "group" and just simply understand the culture better. The church group on Facebook has a lot of benefits, but the main advantage is that it keeps new contacts in the loop and can spreads within social nodes (groups of connected Facebook users) so that when someone joins the "Church Group" all their Facebook friends see it and some will check it out. It's a totally legitimate and highly relevant source of traffic -- kinda like a passive referral.

You can use social news sites like Digg.com to try and generate interest. Facebook could be a good place to promote an article you want people to digg.

The recent social micro-blogging craze, Twitter.com, is another great way to generate incoming links to your website. Church planter Matt Payne from Portland Oregan in a recent interview said he uses Twitter to follow local people. Even recently he had a local unchurched man contact him through Twitter regarding a pastoral issue. Often times if you follow people on Twitter they can be intrigued and want to follow you in return.

Checkout my Twitter page: http://twitter.com/mattsweetman you'll notice the URL on the right hand side. It's another legitimate link to my blog and another pathway that people can get to my site, especially if I make interesting Twitter updates, people are more likely to check me out. I currently have 79 followers on Twitter. Each one is a potential return visitor and linker to blog posts I make.

You can search on Twitter for people in your area with similar interests. What a great way to connect with local people and maybe generate some Twitter followers. People are fascinated by micro-blogging so why not use it for link building and connecting?

A great resource for staying on the cutting edge of social networking is Mashable. I receive their daily update via email.

Online Video
So how can you use YouTube.com to your advantage? If you are going to ad videos to your website then just host them on YouTube. Use their code to embed it into your website. DON'T HOST IT YOURSELF. This is important because you are creating another way for people to find your content online -- for free.

We created a short video (in one take) to let website visitors know about our church planting internship and to ask people to consider sponsoring us. See it here. Currently it has had 624 views. That is actually a lot considering our blog is new. How did this happen? Search for church planting on youtube and notice that our video is ranked 8th! This has created another avenue for people to find our blog. The key is to give it a good description and title and put accurate info on your profile page. It's also another link to your site. See mine: http://www.youtube.com/user/thesweetmans

If you don't create any video's right now don't worry it's easy. Short personal videos are very powerful on websites. You don't need anything slick. Our short intro video was done in one take, with no editing software and uploaded to YouTube.

See another example of one I did here: www.oneblaze.net. Make your life easy and get a Flip Camera: theflip.com I think it has an auto upload to YouTube feature as well.

YouTube restricts videos to 10 minutes, but Google video does not! If you video your Sunday messages then this can work well for you. Either slice your video into smaller sections and store it on YouTube to generate more traffic or stick the whole thing on Google Video. It's free by the way. See my hour long preach on the Incarnation of Jesus on Google video. Adding a URL to the video would work as another source of traffic.

There are other social networking video sites that could prove to be excellent for traffic and link generation. However, at this point I must present a warning. A lot of smaller video sharing sites can tend to have sexual content on them. So, I'd suggest just sticking with YouTube and Google video as they do a reasonable job of nixing adult content.

Men, if this is a weakness for you install XXXchurch software on your computer and get an accountability partner and DON'T FOLLOW ANY OF MY ADVICE ABOVE about Online Videos, it's not worth it. Or just delegate online video marketing to a woman!

To be continued ...
Ok, that's enough for one blog post. I am going to finish this up in a part two section and give info about the following things:
eNewsletters, RSS, podcasting, widgets and more resources available to church planters.



7 comments:

steve.miles said...

Hey Matt,
Great post. Maybe it is my age, but there is a "tone" of information here that I can't get my head around. Is shorter, more frequent better?

Matt Sweetman said...

Yes, you are right. Shorter would be better. I need to curb my content. Thanks for the comment.

danielle said...

THANK YOU for this extremely valuable information!! You have no idea...

Matt Sweetman said...

Would you follow me if I started a blog specifically for small organizations to do their own online marketing?

pegasys said...

I have gone through your article and would like to write a similar blog concerning this topic, you beat me to it. You did a nice job! Thanks and well add your rss to come categories on our blogs. Thanks so much, Jon B.
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