Search and Ye Shall (not) Find, Part Deux

Series: Improving your church website

Improving Your Church Website
Check out all the articles in the series...

[This is my Web Wise column from the April 2005 issue of Good News Etc.]

Back in my November 2004 column, I shared some simple steps to help your church website rank better in the search engines. (See web address at the end to read that article.) This time we’re going to talk about the most important, most vital, most critical, most imperative (have we got the picture of how important this is yet?) one thing affecting your search engine ranking: Inbound links.

That’s right, the single most important element in ranking is something you have no control over – how many sites link to yours.

Google established this element years ago as one of the most important parts of their algorithm that establishes sites’ rankings. It was proven last summer by a very sharp guy named Anil Dash.

The SEO Challenge threw down the gauntlet and challenged anyone to do anything they could to be the number one ranked result for the nonsensical term “Nigritude Ultramarine.” You see, there’s a whole industry called Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Many SEO technicians took the challenge and created web sites and pages optimized to rank well with that phrase.

The grand prize of the competition (the site that remained at the #1 spot longest) was won by Dash, a blogger (the author of a weblog or journal). He has nothing to do with the SEO industry. He’d never actually optimized a website before.

But he did know that inbound links were the most important element in page ranking. So he asked the readers of his blog to link to his site with the phrase “Nigritude Ultramarine.” That’s all. No tweaking of site content or metatags or improving the structure of his site.

Well, a whole bunch of people did put that link on their sites. The result was that he immediately ranked number one and never looked back. No one even came close. And he won a cool flat-screen TV for almost no effort, schooling, or experience. Not bad.

In the SEO world there are many scammers using unethical methods or deceptive marketing. They promise huge improvements in your ranking. You must be wise when dealing with these types of services. It is certainly a good goal to increase traffic to your church’s website, but going with the wrong service can actually get your site blocked by the search engines!

Some companies promise to submit your site to thousands of search engines…for a fee. Well, the top 10 search engines account of more than 90% of search traffic. You can submit your site to those 10 in less than an hour.

While there are some things that can be done to your site (that’s what my column partly covered last November), much is dependent on what they (and you) can’t control – those pesky incoming links.

It’s not like you can’t do anything, though. Assign a staff member or a volunteer to spend a couple hours emailing sites with requests to link to your church’s site. The most they can say is “no,” right? It could be worth it.

Who should you email your requests to? Here are some ideas:

  • Your chamber of commerce
  • Sites that categorize links related to a specific city, in this case, yours
  • Your denomination
  • Ask the people in your congregation – many of them may have sites or blogs (personal and/or business)
  • Online church listing directories

You may need to provide reciprocal links to some of the sites you send your request to, though.

Hopefully this will help you improve your site’s ranking and protect you from scammers.

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