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Bringing Websites into the Media Mix
By: Bill Nix

At the moment, the most permanent location for Sendero Community Church in Edinburg, Texas, is its URL – www.senderocommunitychurch.com. Pastor and founder Cameron Gillett explained that when he does inspirational spots for local radio, he promotes the website address instead of the physical location.

“We are temporary, a church plant,” he said. “We’re not in our permanent facility.”

The thinking is that he doesn’t want to confuse people by promoting a location that will one day change. Instead he decided to advertise the website – where location and contact information can always stay current.

Gillett is also by default his church’s web master, creating his site on his own through content management platform E-zekiel.com.

“It’s not a super fancy one,” he said. “It’s our first attempt at having a website.”

But he’s got the basics, and that’s what matters – because for those seeking a church home, the website is very often the front door.

The average age in Gillett’s community is 27.5 years old, thus that’s his target audience. This is a group that tends to be mobile connected, he noted.

“They’re more inclined to look at our website,” he said, and he cited two recent examples.

When Gillett began broadcasting radio spots three times a day on a talk radio station, he said, “The very first week, a gentleman called and said ‘I like what you do on the radio.’”

The visitor-to-be went to the website, got the phone number and gave Gillett a call: “He looked us up on the Internet; the next Sunday he was there,” Gillett said. “He hasn’t missed a Sunday for about eight weeks now.”

In another case, a couple that was new to the community and looking for a church to attend found Sendero Community Church through their own local web search.

As these examples illustrate – whether for the smallest, newest of congregations or the older, more established ones – the church website is an integral part of a media mix that serves and supports the overall promotion of the church.

Statistics of a change in American habits show why this is so. According to a 2011 report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 79% of American adults use the Internet. Further, 92% of online adults use search engines to find information on the Web. That means almost anyone with access to the Internet uses it to find information – and a large majority of people have access to the Internet.

The change in American habits for seeking information also influences how they find a church. For example, a Google keyword research tool shows the use of keywords based on a monthly average of user queries over a 12-month period. Recent keyword research shows that: 

  • The word “churches” was used as a search term 6.1 million times in a month’s time.
  • “Christian churches” was used as a search term 246,000 times.
  • “Finding a church” was used as a term 33,100 times.
  • “Church search” was used as a term 22,200 times.
  • Baptist churches was used 3,350,000
  • Catholic church was used 2,740,000
  • Methodist church was used 1,500,000
  • “Help me find a church” was used 37 million times, on average, in a month’s time.

Guiding Church Site Development
Three underlying questions guide website development for churches – 1) How will visitors find your site? 2) What will visitors find when they’re there? 3) How will they respond to what they see and hear?

As an entry point to your church, your site has the opportunity to be your first impression – one by which visitors will begin to sense the tone, flavor, scope of services and the depth of programs offered. They can learn where you are located, what they should wear, where they should park, and what they should expect when they walk in the door. They can learn through sermon excerpts in uploaded media what type of message they can expect to hear. And they can browse through site photos and images for an emotional connection to the fellowship and experiences shared by your members. 

While there are many factors in creating appealing content that will nurture your audience and engage them in growth, there is another factor that is of high prominence in how your audience will find out about all you have to share: optimizing your site for search engines.

In the current landscape, your website is your personal media outlet – one that delivers to your audience news and information, inspiration, entertainment and more. That, in a sense, is what you’re sending out. But this valuable content doesn’t reach anyone until someone comes to your site.

That’s where search engine optimization (SEO) comes in: SEO delivers people to your site so that you can deliver your content to them. By employing good SEO for your site, search engines will see you as the answer for those seeking what you have to offer.

Bill Nix is president of Axletree Media, a web technology company devoted to building up Christian ministries all over the globe. Readers can download a free report on “SEO for Churches” by visiting www.e-zekiel.com/seoforchurches.

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