Google Page Experience
Help more people find your church website
UPDATE: Google has delayed the rollout of Google Page Experience from May to mid June of 2021.
Billions were spent to avoid a 1999-2000 technical glitch that some predicted would be an epic disaster. It never materialized.
Google Page Experience (GPE) is coming. And while it’s not a doomsday crisis, we want you to informed and ready. GPE presents an opportunity to reach more people for Jesus.
Your search engine visibility is one element of your online ministry strategy. There is also social media engagement and advertising. So we’ll teach you how to approach your digital strategy like investing, with diversification.
Your Church Website, SEO and Google Page Experience
Google has always evaluated church websites by content and popularity, which is search engine optimization (SEO). Starting in June 2021, Google Page Experience (GPE) will also put greater scrutiny on how well your website scores on technical performance.
How you perform with SEO and GPE will impact how easy it is for people to discover your website on Google. Google will continue to favor certain church sites over others.
Answer these questions to determine how your church should respond this year to Google Page Experience (GPE).
How well are you performing on Google Search right now?
Type in a search like “churches near me” in Google. Does your church pop up on a map and in regular listings near the top of the first page of results? Are you anywhere on the first page?
If not, you want to invest in enough search engine optimization (SEO) and Google Page Experience (GPE) performance to be on that first page. Don’t rely on your web platform promising they provide “great SEO” built-in. There is no such thing as great, automated SEO. On the flip side, never pay an expensive monthly subscription for SEO, it’s rarely necessary or worth the cost.
If you don’t know how to improve your SEO or GPE, farm it out so you can focus on ministry. Just don’t overspend because you also need to dedicate an increasing amount of resources to social media and possibly, paid advertising. Google also offers ad grants to churches. So we recommend an initial search engine optimization focusing most of the efforts on your homepage.
How old is your website?
Most modern websites have a shelf life of about 3 years. A church’s brand (mission, media representation) probably needs a little clarification and refreshing after 3 years.
We find most church websites pushing 4-5 years need to streamline content and take advantage of new / improved website technology. The good news is, SEO and GPE performance enhancements are much easier to implement in a new site.
If your site is newer, you’ll still benefit from implementing best practices for SEO and improved GPE performance.
How saturated is your ministry area with other churches?
You want people to easily find your church online even if they don’t know your church name.
If you’re in a smaller town with a handful of churches, you have a decent website and appear on page one of Google search, then you probably don’t need to invest into GPE performance improvements.
If your local area is full of churches and/or your church mission reaches a growing online “community” beyond your local area… we definitely recommend SEO and GPE optimization.
Are you truly engaging people through social media?
You want your church to appear on the first page of Google search results whether you are effective with social media or not. However, if you can verify your social media campaigns are helping lots of people take next steps with Jesus, then that takes some pressure off of needing to “perfectly” optimize SEO and GPE. I’m not talking about empty likes or follows or watch counts. I’m talking about people signing up and taking advantage of discipleship-related events, groups and resources.
If your church is struggling with social media, check out From Social Media to Social Ministry by Nona Jones. Pray about shifting from a gerbil wheel of cranking out eye-candy content that gets empty likes to an approach that sparks real conversation and conversion. Good social is ministry, and ministry deserves support, not the left-overs.
YouTube is the second most popular search engine. If you’re just re-posting your service videos, not using keywords and tags, not engaging with other YouTubers, you’re not leveraging the platform effectively.
We recommend getting your social media house in order first, then your church website. Social media connects with people where they hang out. Getting to your website requires extra effort. Social media is also a powerful, cost-efficient way to create influencers for your church and ultimately the Kingdom of God.
Have you considered advertising?
Even if you have great SEO and GPE performance, not everyone will find you through a traditional Google search.
If the first page of church search results on Google in your area is loaded with ads, a map listing, “Recommended for You” and church listing sites, you might look into qualifying for free ads through Google Ad Grants. The downside is Google’s Ad interface and process is very, very advanced and you will likely need outside expertise to help you create effective ad campaigns.
While not free, we find Facebook ads are easier to setup and more effective. Instead of trying to reach everyone in your area in one ad, consider running a series of targeted ads over time to different groups. For instance, if a major church focus is reaching husbands and dads, target one ad to match their location, life stage, likely interests and other demographics.
Be careful how you set up your ads. We prefer spending per click, not impression. Check your campaign performance frequently. Terminate it once it loses effectiveness and reinvest the remainder in a new or improved ad.
Always tie your ad to a measurable goal like a dedicated landing page on your website with a signup form. Use a custom landing page URL (with a service like bit.ly) so you can verify the ad provider’s stats and gain additional campaign insights.
Can we optimize for SEO and GPE ourselves?
First things first… To be successful, online ministry needs to be integrated into every facet of your church’s mission. It can’t be an afterthought or get the leftover budget and staff availability. If online ministry isn’t truly a priority for your church, then optimization is somewhat meaningless.
Can you DIY this? Maybe, but it’s likely you’ll have to partner initially with an agency God has gifted outside of your church. SEO and GPE best practices are fluid and highly technical. Google’s GPE resource page requires links to probably a dozen other pages to just explain the terminology they use.
If you are experienced with web technology you can try to improve these items:
- If your site is over 3 years old, it’s probably time to re-design with updated branding. If you’ve been on WordPress using a site builder like Divi, you might re-evaluate if your need all those advanced features. Drag and drop builders tend to kill site performance and you are very limited in how you can optimize them. Using the basic, default Gutenberg WordPress editor with an efficient theme can produce lightning fast speed scores for GPE.
- Use a site like GTMetrix to check your site performance and the improvements you make. There are other sites, but they will all give you different results for various reasons. GTMetrix is a good option. The goal is to improve your score. Don’t be discouraged, few sites will reach the 90s, and that number alone doesn’t guarantee a high ranking on Google. Also keep in mind, a high ranking on Google Search doesn’t necessarily mean your site is effective at making disciples for Jesus.
- Make sure you use a fast web host, with a fast web hosting package. You should NOT trust hosting reviews you Google. WPX and Kinsta are highly rated for performance, but we have yet to use them. We use managed WordPress hosts like WP Engine (of which we are an affiliate.) Each WordPress host has strengths and weaknesses. Some might be super fast, but have less than stellar customer service or dashboards. It’s a tradeoff. We also create sites on Squarespace. Squarespace tries to build in Google performance best practices into their platform for you, but is a bit more challenging with SEO.
- Use your web host’s tools like caching, a content delivery network (CDN), image optimization. If they don’t offer those, you will have to add them yourself and it’s highly technical work. Some resources work better on certain hosting environments. Watch out for conflicts and test your site from various locations and devices.
- Use a site like Sucuri to scan your website for malware. If it finds something they offer cleanup and monitoring.
- Create or improve your Google My Business listing. Update your content there often.
- Implement things gleaned from From Social Media to Social Ministry by Nona Jones.
- Look into Google Ad Grants and testing Facebook ads.
Too much to handle in-house? Reach out to us.
We’re here to help…
Need online strategy consulting or help implementing measures for Google Page Experience?
Church Creative Agency is a division of Sties Design. We’re a Christian-owned agency that assists churches across the country. We have held leadership roles in churches and worked on-staff in large ministries. We “get-it.”
Contact us today.
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