What Every Church Leader Should Know about Google My Business
This is the first post in a new series on digital marketing for churches!
For all the attention that churches focus on their website, there's another (easier!) tool that determines how, when, and where you show up in Google's search results.
And no, I'm not talking about Google Ads, or paid listings in the Google search results. I'm talking about Google My Business (formerly Google Places), the app that feeds a church's address, phone number, website, and operating hours into Google's all-powerful search engine. Google My Business (GMB) is a free service that helps organizations to increase website and foot traffic by providing key pieces of information to people searching for local resources.
In this article, we'll explore why Google My Business is so critical to a church's online presence, especially during COVID-19, and how you, the church leader, can make the most of this free technology.
Google My Business: An Essential Marketing Tool
Perhaps the fastest-growing category of web searches is for services "near me." When searchers turn to Google for information, they increasingly do so with the intent of finding directions, operating hours, contact information, and customer reviews for nearby businesses and organizations. This matters a great deal for churches.
While searches for "church" have stagnated or declined in the past decade, searches for the query "church near me" have increased by nearly 100x since 2013.
This shapes church marketing tactics because the search term "near me" tells Google to search Google's own local search data, listings that are populated from Google My Business.
From the standpoint of acquiring web traffic, today's church leader will find more value from claiming and optimizing their Google My Business listing than their own website! Unfortunately, 56% of all local organizations (those with some brick-and-mortar presence) have not claimed their Google My Business listing. Among churches, where tech adoption usually lags businesses and other non-profits, this percentage is likely much higher.
The information you include in your church's Google My Business listing will show up on Google.com. It will show up on Google maps. It will tell searchers if your ministry is open or closed. It provides photos, answers user questions, and lists user reviews. It is critical that today's church leader keeps this listing accurate and up to date!
GMB doesn't require much active maintenance. It's likely far less work than your church website. All you, the church leader, must do is to:
Claim your listing. You'll need a Google (ie, Gmail) account. Google has thoroughly documented the steps involved in claiming a listing, and they're fairly easy to follow. While it can take several days for Google to complete the verification process, most church leaders I have worked with have no difficulty with this step.
Ensure an active church leader has access to edit the listing. It's important that an active church leader be listed as a GMB owner, meaning they can make changes when needed. For this reason, it's advisable to log into GMB with a church email address, one that remains within the church during staff transitions. Transferring ownership is, again, a simple process that Google has documented.
Upload core church information. Add business hours, update addresses and phone numbers, link social media accounts, and include recent photos. Logos, cover photos, and additional photos don't just make your listing more visually appealing, they also help with boosting your ranking in Google's search results.
Update the listing when you change worship times, operating hours, or contact information.
Updating Google My Business Listings for COVID-19
COVID-19 continues to disrupt church operations, especially with regard to worship. Since your church's Google My Business listing continues to show up in search results, it's critical that this listing accurately reflect current operations. Updating your listing for COVID-19 makes it clear to searchers how they can engage with your ministry, while likely boosting your search rank on Google's search engine.
Some churches have marked themselves as "temporarily closed" on Google My Business. I would advise against this. A "temporarily closed" flag on Google My Business suggests to searchers that your ministry is offering no services at all at the moment, either online or in-person. Unless your ministry has completely shut down (ie, no online worship, no online community whatsoever), you shouldn't use the "temporarily closed" flag.
Instead, use the "Online Attributes" feature within Google My Business to highlight what your ministry is up to online. Online attributes don’t show when a business is marked "Temporarily closed." When logged into your church Google My Business account, navigate to the "Stay connected during COVID-19” dashboard card. You'll have option to provide information about online worship, virtual events, and other aspects of the digital community within your congregation. GMB managers should also consider adding a brief "COVID-19 Post" to provide the search engine with a synopsis of how your ministry has adapted.
What To Do With Reviews
Creating, updating, and changing a listing for COVID might seem daunting, but each of these tasks can be accomplished in one or two sittings. But there's one area of GMB that requires some active maintenance. As a church leader, you'll want to regularly check your Google My Business listing to engage with new reviews. From a user's standpoint, searchers want to click on listings and explore ministries with a high rating. This makes Google more-likely to feature the listings with the highest reviews atop its rankings.
To that end, I recommend the following three practices for handling Google My Business in a way that is empathetic, pastoral, and aligned to the realities of search engine marketing. First, encourage your community to leave a review for your church by clicking the "Write a review" link atop your search listing. Second, regularly respond to most, if not all, reviews. Thank your positive reviewers for their affirming message. Invite your negative reviewers (if you have any) to contact a pastor for a follow-up conversation. Every organization has some negative reviews, churches are no different. What matters is that you try to turn negative reviews into a conversation. Third, flag reviews that are inappropriate or dishonest. Churches can be targets for trolling and cyber-bullying. Take the time to report malicious reviews to Google.
Google My Business does not require hours of active maintenance or strategic thought. It doesn't take a web marketing guru to curate an effective Google My Business listing. By following the steps in this guide, you'll help your ministry to stand out in this digital age, during COVID and beyond.