The Basics of SEO

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is an absolutely MASSIVE buzzword in the modern world (which definitely has nothing to do with the reason behind this article...) and people everywhere are searching desperately to understand how it works, how to improve their search rankings, and how to master the beast that is our Google overlords. So here's hoping that we can help you understand, at the very least, the basics of SEO, and what you can do to help improve your search rankings.

The Search Console

Without a doubt, the most important tool you can have to help you improve your understanding of SEO is Google's Search Console tool. It's completely free, and if you don't have this tool set up, stop reading this article and go set it up right now.

How To Set It Up

First, you need to sign up for the Search Console tool. Again, this is free and easy to do. It's important to understand that Google views each "version" of your website as its own entity, so you need to decide what you want your "main" URL to be.

For example, the Mythic website can be accessed both over HTTP and HTTPS, and it can also be accessed with our without the "www." in front of the URL. So according to Google, we have four versions of our website. Under the old Search Console, you would have had to add each separate version as its own property. THANKFULLY, that's no longer the case. So figure out what you want your preferred version to be, and add it to the search console.

You will need to verify your domain in order for Google to know that you own it before they let you have control. They provide several options to do this, and have instructions for each method that are easy to follow. Pick whichever one you like, and get verified.

The Tools

Once you have Search Console set up and verified, you'll see several tools for you to use. We'll describe each one pretty briefly.

Make Sure Google Knows Your Site Exists

For new websites especially, the odds are that Google doesn't even know that your website exists yet. This is why it's so important to set up the Search Console as soon as possible. If Google doesn't know about your website, how will you rank in search results? While Google can and will eventually automatically find your site and its pages, this method helps you expedite the process and make sure new pages are seen.

Initial Check

First off, see  if Google knows about your site. Simply go to Google, and type "site:mywebsite.com" without the quotes, placing your domain in place of mywebsite.com. You will be given search results of every page that Google knows your website has. So if it's not there, Google doesn't know it exists. I've seen people with established small businesses with no indexed pages, yet they wonder why people can't find them online.

Submit Your Sitemap(s)

The easiest way to submit all your pages to Google is through sitemaps. Even better if they update automatically, like ours do. For WordPress users, this is super easy. Just install Yoast SEO if you haven't already. It will automatically generate your sitemaps for you. If you're on a different platform, do some research and figure out how to get sitemaps created for your site. Once you have the URLs, simply go to the sitemaps section of the Search Console and start submitting.

For Yoast SEO users, the basic sitemap URLs are:

Now Google has knowledge of your site's pages and you can begin actually making adjustments to improve your SEO. Seems like a lot of set up, but I promise you it's incredibly important to get this set up correctly!

On-Page SEO

There are two basic aspects to Search Engine Optimization. The first, and easiest to fix quickly, is your on-page SEO. We'll go over the various things that are generally suggested for your website's pages and posts, as well as what you can do to make sure they're being followed!

Meta Elements

You've probably heard the word "meta" quite a bit lately. Basically your meta elements boil down to three main things (there are others, but we won't bother with them).

Title

This is the page title that shows up on a Google or other search engine result page. Most CMS systems include an easy way to change this. For WordPress users, we recommend Yoast SEO.

Description

This is the short description that shows up on that same search result. Make sure to keep it relevant, and try to include any relevant keywords that you're wanting to rank for. Again, this is normally something that can be controlled with your CMS system. There are tons of dedicated guides on how to write a good meta description - we recommend this one.

URL/Permalink

Have you ever visited a website, looked in the address bar, and not been able to decipher what anything in it meant? Nobody likes that, including Google. What I mean is, your "about" page should not be http://mywebsite.com/?pageid=123456 (or something equally as meaningless and confusing); It should simply be http://mywebsite.com/about. It's nice and simple, easy to read, and helps your SEO. Like the other two elements here, every major CMS offers a clear way to change this (just don't go changing the URLs of existing pages without adding redirects. Google will hate you for this and your rankings will plummet.

The H1 Tag

The H1 tag is the most important tag you’re going to use on any page. And please, don't have more than one of these. Make sure it's your first heading tag, and include your keyword in it. Simple enough.

Other Headings (H2, H3)

These tags help provide structure to your page, and are very important for people using screen readers. Keep them nice and simple, like ours, and relevant to the content that they're encompassing.

Your Post Content

Make sure that your post content includes your keyword somewhere in the first paragraph of text, all search engine's find this very important! You'll want to make sure that your content is sprinkled with keywords, but not too many of them. Just wherever they naturally fit will be fine!

Google also likes pages with a minimum of 300 words, so if it makes sense to have that many, go for it! (Sometimes it doesn't make sense, like on a contact page. Don't worry about it then).

Outbound Links

Include links to trustworthy/large websites in your content if it fits (We linked to Yoast earlier in this article). This helps you establish trust with Google. As with the rest of the things here though, don't overdo it!

Images

The last important aspect of your on-page SEO is getting your images optimized. This means making sure they aren't overly large and slowing down the page, as well as adding "alt text" and captions, where appropriate. If you don't know what alt text is, it's basically the bit of text that will show up when the image doesn't load, or when a user is on a screen reader. They're very important for accessibility reasons, and all CMS systems offer a way to adjust these. As a bonus, includes your keywords somewhere in your alt text if you can!

Off-Page SEO

The off-page SEO items are where you have less control. This is annoying, because it's equally, if not more important, than your on-page SEO items! We'll discuss a few of the more basic things you can do, and give suggestions as to how you might be able to improve them for your website.

Inbound Links/Backlinks

The opposite of outbound links, inbound links are links to your website from other places. If you're a web developer like us, you can add one at the bottom of every site you make (ever see a "designed by..." link at the bottom of a website? That's why it's there!)

You can also consider guest writing articles on larger websites (it's not that difficult really, we promise) and including links to your website occasionally. Other things that help are having your website listed on social media, online listings like Yelp, etc. This is one of the most important aspects of your off-page seo, and it takes a long time to establish quality inbound links. Don't try to rush this.

Social Media

If you don't have social media accounts, get them made, link them to and from your website, and keep them active! I know, not everyone likes social media. Half of the time I hate it too! But, it's an incredibly important tool for marketing and SEO, and you need to be using it. You don't need to post every single day if you don't want to, but a few times a week or even once a week is enough to tell Google "Hey, I'm active!", and your website rankings will benefit from it.

Online Reviews

First off, make sure you're on Google Business and have all of your online listings claimed. This way you can manage reviews and make sure your information is as accurate as possible - inconsistencies across the internet are incredibly harmful and should be addressed as quickly as possible. Once you have that taken care of, get people reviewing you as much as you can. Ask your customers for reviews and don't be ashamed of it!

Just a quick disclaimer, there are a LOT of companies out there that offer reviews in exchange for money. This is against the terms of service for basically EVERY online review platform, and if you're caught, your listing can be removed and your search rankings will drop like one of those terrible free-fall rides at a county fair. Don't do this.

If you made it this far, congratulations! We really hope that you learned something here, and are able to get your search rankings improved! if you're in need of web design, development, or some help on your SEO, consider reaching out to us! We'd love to see if we can help you out.

6 Things Your Church Website NEEDS To Have

A massive 49% of ALL church giving is happening online - either through a church's website, app, or a text-to-give platform. Even more interesting, 60% - well over half - of a church's congregation is willing to give online. (NP Source). Despite this, churches around the world have websites that look terrible, are hard to navigate, and don't have the features needed to serve a growing online audience. This is a huge issue! To help combat this, we've put together a list of 6 things that your church website NEEDS to have in order to be successful online.

1. Online Giving

Without a doubt, the most important aspect of any church website is that allows people to give online - EASILY. It shouldn't take more than 5 minutes (and that's an absolute maximum. Make it even less if possible!) for a church goer to give on your website. It needs to be easy to find, easy to use, and easy to share! I really love how Church Community Builder handles giving. You'll get a link that allows people to fill out their information easily and quickly. My church uses it, and I'm able to consistently give in under 3 minutes every time, and it's great! Statistics show that the longer it takes a website user to donate, the less likely they are to complete the process. And it's exponential! If it takes more than 5 minutes to make a one-time donation to your church, your structure needs to be reworked.

2. A "Start Here" or "New To the Church" Section

Apart from making it easy for your existing audience to tithe online, you need to make sure that any newcomers have somewhere on your site to go that helps them learn about you, get connected, and really feel like they've found the right place. One church in particular that I think does this very well is Church of the Highlands with their "Next Steps" page. It's very easy to find this page just from going to their home page, and once you're there, it's very attractive and has a ton of information - but not an overwhelming about - about what me, the new visitor, should do next to become part of their church.

You can structure this page however you want! It's up to you to determine what steps are important for your church's new visitors, as it's going to be different for every community and every leader. The point is, there needs to be something there for a new visitor to find, latch on to, and immediately know where they should go next.

3. A "Contact Us" Section

This should go for every website, not just church sites. People need a way to contact you! Get your location listed with a map, have an email address and accessible phone number, and have an easy to fill out contact form! This simple formula feels like a cliche aspect of every website, but it's absolutely required and a massively important aspect of your website. I recently went through the websites of over 200 churches (And this is all local, within a 30 minute drive! Churches are EVERYWHERE), and even today over half, maybe even close to two-thirds of the churches I looked at, had no way for me to contact them through the site. It's simply not acceptable to not have this 'feature' on your website.

4. An About/Leadership Section

A church is built upon its people, and the leaders are expected to be open books by most people in a congregation - So why not give them information? A church website should include information about all of its staff. Histories, photographs, I've even seen churches get fun with it by including their pastor's favorite TV shows, recipes, quotes, and other fun information! Making this section personable and relatable is key. People want their community leaders to be people they can really get to know, even the weird little things that you might not think are important can prove to be super helpful in making your group of people look friendlier, and making your church that much more approachable to newcomers! After all, they'll already feel like they know you when they walk through the doors!

5. Calendar & Events

There is always something happening at church! From seasonal events and festivals to weekly services and small group sessions, there are a ton of things for people to get involved in... but only if they know about them! So many churches now boost their small groups or connect groups as the main thing for people to get involved in - a lot of them even have a page describing the idea of small groups on their site! The problem though, is that while I might know that a church has small groups, I won't know what any of them are, who's involved, who to contact, or when they're held without calling the church office! And okay, sure maybe calling doesn't seem that bad, but the reality is that a growing number of people hate picking up the phone and calling someone. Make information about each of your events, small groups, and services available online, with all the details they need to get involved and go there without picking up a phone.

6. Sermons/Podcasts

Last but not least, we have the podcasts. Churches are founts of knowledge and teaching, yet so many of them don't share this outside of their walls. Record the sermons! It's so easy to do, and there are a ton of free audio hosting platforms that will let you upload your messages so you can share them online (and just keep archives of them in case you want a soundbyte for that upcoming promo video). Make them available on your website, on iTunes, on Spotify, and anywhere else you can think of! Your congregation will thank you, and  you'll be that much more likely to reach someone who otherwise wouldn't have heard what you're sharing with your audience.

Hopefully this has helped you determine what you need to make sure you have when you're working on your church's website! If you need a designer or developer, we're always available, and we love working with churches, so don't hesitate to contact us!