How Voice Search Will Effect Your Church
Every church wants to be found. That’s the goal, right? They want to bring people in, lead people to a growing relationship with Jesus, and then send them back out to bring more people with them next time.
Some churches use ads in their local magazine, others might be chasing after a viral Facebook video, and some build a 100 foot tall crucifix by the road. Whichever strategy your church uses, it still does not solve two of the fastest growing problems that churches have today; they’re already behind in search engine optimization and most aren’t even thinking about the impact that voice search will have on the growth of their congregation.
The Rise of Voice Search
According to ComScore, voice search will make up 50% of all Internet searches by 2020. You’re probably thinking about your last Siri interaction and wondering how that could be possible. Although we nag on Siri and other virtual assistants like Amazon’s Echo, the truth is that they’re becoming exponentially better at providing us with instant results without ever going to Google.
What is voice search? Give it a try:
- “Hey Siri (or whoever you use), where is a non-denominational church near me?”
- Even more alarming… Ask your virtual assistant about your church. “Hey Siri, get directions to __My Church__.”
The results you received are derived of multiple algorithms, data published (or not published) on hundreds of sites about your church, and the optimization of that information that is available. Please note that you were never taken to an actual search engine. You either pulled up local info from Yelp or Google listings without the traditional organic results or you were sent directly to a GPS service with directions to your church.
Making sure that your church is found and the information about it is correct will be essential to growing with voice search.
How Local Search and Voice Search Work
The rise of mobile usage has pushed local search to evolve quickly. Late last fall, Google pushed a new update to their local algorithm called, “Possum”. This update managed to effect 64% of all local search engine results. This algorithm, and many others like it, can be broken up into three main ranking factors:
- Proximity to the searcher
- Reviews of the place (business, church, restaurant)
- Accuracy and optimization of a local web presence (data that you control)
Think back to a few years ago and remember how bad these results actually were for us. They these results have become significantly better for the user. It’s easier for you and your spouse to find an awesome Indian restaurant nearby, or for you and your friends to find a place to play laser tag after small group.
Your church can and should take advantage of these advancements in local search too.
Gain Control of Your Church Brand
You can’t control where people search from (proximity to your church), but you can control the data about your church that the algorithms use. This has been why many brands love the impact that blogging has had for their organization over the past few years. Search engines continue to reward original, valuable, and accurate content. It should come as no surprise that this is how they’re approaching local data for traditional search and voice search as well.
Church data that search engines and virtual assistants use comes is pulled from content on your site, from listing sites (Google My Business, Bing Local, Church.org), government records, and more. This data is everywhere, so you need to wrangle it up and ensure that it’s accurate and consistent.
When you have control of your data, you help your church be found by your local community.
How to Optimize Your Church for Voice Search
Here’s the good news. Everything below will also help your church rank higher in traditional search as well, so you won’t have to wait until 2020 to see an impact.
- Audit your website - Is it mobile friendly, does it load quickly, is it easy to find your address and phone number, does the content help users learn more about your church? A well optimized website is still the foundation of your church brand. Don’t miss this low hanging fruit.
- Claim your online listings - The information in Google My Business, your Facebook Business Page (yes, it’s considered a listing) and other online church directories will help drive accurate information about your church to virtual assistants and traditional search engines.
- Correct and optimize your listings - Fix any inaccurate information about your online listings such as the name, address, and phone number. You can optimize your listings by categorizing them correctly and writing additional content. Find listings that allow you to create and share additional content about your church to leverage their influence as well.
- Ask for reviews - Scary? Yes. Online reviews open up our churches to criticism. However, churches that actively leverage their biggest fans to leave reviews tend to have higher star ratings than those that just stick their head in the sand and hope a good review comes along. A review generation strategy is important to your church’s online presence.
Optimizing the information about your church does take time, so be patient. Stay organized by logging changes to your website, local listings, login information, and any data that might require consistency across multiple platforms in a spreadsheet. This will help you easily maintain and improve your web presence over time and never lose track of it again.
CHURCH.ORGKevin Ekmark is a partner of Church.org and CEO of TrustWorkz, Inc, an Internet marketing agency in Atlanta, Georgia. He specializes in local marketing and paid lead generation for businesses across North America.