It’s true that SEO (search engine optimization) is both an art and science. With Google algorithm changes, it does take lots of fine-tuning and some technical know-how.
But there are also some tried-and-true, simple things you can do to have a well-optimized website. In fact, here are a 9 simple SEO tips for Christian organizations you could implement today:
1. Check Your Page Titles
In your content management system (CMS), the system by which you enter content for your website, make sure each of your page titles—also called title tags—has a unique name. These are displayed in search engine results pages (SERPs) and tell both people and search engines what the page is about.
A good title tag is essential. Be specific. If each of your pages is titled the same thing, that doesn’t tell the search engine or the searcher what each page is about. Also, try to include an important keyword phrase for which you’d like to be ranked (ie “Christian Women’s Online Bible Studies” or “Christian Women’s Teaching Sermons”). Finally, Google only displays 55-60 characters of the title tag, so be concise.
Here is a title emulator tool so you can see how your page titles will appear in search results.
2. Check Meta Description Tag
The meta description tag—otherwise known as a search snippet—is what appears along with the page title—or title tag—in search results. This tells both the search engine and the searcher what the page is about and is an important factor for helping the searcher decide whether or not to click through to the website.
In your CMS, make sure you have added clear, specific and concise meta description data for each of your pages and posts. It can be no longer than 160 characters. I think even shorter is better. Especially for people searching on mobile devices. Use the meta description tag to give people a clear reason to click through to the web page.
Here is a good video from Google on the meta description tag. This comes with a lot of other technical info, but the video is what I really want you to see here. It’s just two minutes long.
3. Check Alt Text in Images
Alt text (alternative text) is associated with a website image and conveys the same information as the image. Search engines can’t read your website pictures but they can read the Alt text associated with each of your pictures. In your CMS, be certain that you are adding Alt text to each of your images. If someone is searching Google for something, and they search within the images menu, you can increase the possibility of your images being returned in search results if your images contain the appropriate Alt text. This is another way to get searchers back to your web page.
4. Check H1 Tags
Your most important website pages should be built around specific keyword phrases that you want to be found for (ie “Indianapolis Christian radio network” or “Christian kitchen décor”), including page title, page URL, meta description and page content. The page title should be classified as an H1 heading. An H1 heading is basically a piece of HTML code that indicates to the search engine what the main topic for the page is. H1 headings are important for each main page. H2, H3, H4 headings and so on should characterize subheads, recent posts and more—not main heading content.
In your CMS, you should be able to easily change the way your main page headings are classified.
Go to Browseo.net and enter your site URL. This lets you see how search engines read your site and which pages are classified as what type of heading.
5. Check 404 Errors
A 404 Not Found error means that a page (including a content page, category, tag, image, etc) has either been moved or deleted all together.
There’s some debate about whether or not 404s are bad for SEO. If it’s an important page—say a media page—and the URL changed and no re-directs to the new URL were set, it will result in a broken link if other pages were linking to it. That’s bad. If it’s a page that doesn’t generate much traffic, isn’t being linked to and really isn’t that important to the site’s content, it’s probably OK to let the page 404. Eventually it will be removed from the search engine index.
A couple of best practices:
First, if you absolutely must move or change a page’s URL, set up a re-direct from the old URL to the new URL. Usually a CMS plugin can handle this. It’s very simple. Or ask your web host to help you redirect the page (just provide them with the old page URL and the new page URL). Also don’t forget to find any internal links pointing back to that URL and point to the new URL. Check in your Google Search Console account for internal links. You could also use this internal link analyzer tool. Be sure, too, to check for broken links on your site and correct them. Try BrokenLinkCheck.com for that. Or, if you have Google Search Console set up, look under Crawl → Crawl Errors to find them.
Second, try to customize your 404 page so that you direct people to other logical places within your site. This is a better experience than just leaving website visitors hanging with a 404 error message that says, “Sorry we can’t find what you’re looking for.” Customizing a 404 page isn’t hard either. Again, a CMS plugin can do that. Or a web designer could create one.
6. Check How Your Site Looks on Mobile
When you build a website, in a sense you need to build two websites: one for desktop and one for mobile. A lot of people completely forget to check how their site looks across mobile devices—iPhone, Android, tablet, etc. Google has made it clear that they use mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal.
Check how your site looks on mobile using Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.
7. Check Visitor Experience
Take a step back for a second and try to see your website from a fresh perspective. Try looking at it the way a first-time website visitor would look at it. Is it clear from your home page what you want the visitor to do? Are visitors easily directed through your website? What might be seen as difficult to understand or misinterpreted? What might be frustrating? What would you expect to be able to do? If you have a hard time looking at your site objectively, ask someone to take a look for you and give you honest, constructive feedback.
Think of your website like your home, and you’ve just invited someone in for coffee and conversation. Do they enjoy your hospitality, or are they frustrated because the conversation seems forced or because there are lots of interruptions or because they have too many choices so they end up just picking one and ignoring all the others? Google rewards good visitor experience.
8. Check Your Sitemap
A sitemap is a document that lists all your web pages. It tells search engines when pages have been updated. It’s good SEO practice to have a sitemap in place. If you are using a plugin like Yoast, it’s easy to generate a sitemap through that plugin. Another method is to use a sitemap generator. Once you have the sitemap, go to your Google Search Console account and go to Crawl → Sitemaps → Add/Test Sitemap and append it to your URL (http://your domain/sitemap_index.xml). You can first test it to make sure Google finds no errors. But make sure you submit it.
9. Check Your Robots.txt
A /robots.txt file instructs search engine spiders (like Googlebot) about which pages it is allowed to crawl and which should be ignored. To be sure, spiders must be able to crawl your site in order for your content to display in search results and for your site to rank.
Do a quick search for your organization in any of the search engines. If you see a message under your SERP (search engine results page) listing that says “A description for this result is not available because of this site’s robots.txt – learn more” it means your robots.txt file is blocking spiders from crawling your site. This is a serious SEO error.
You also can check your robots.txt file by going to yourdomain.com/robots.txt. If you see:
this tells you that your robots.txt is blocking search engine spiders. Because of this, not only is your site not ranking, but you are likely missing out on a lot of website traffic.
It’s an easy fix. Call your web host and ask them to help you correct the critical error. Or, if you have access to your website’s root domain, you can create or edit the file yourself to allow spiders to crawl your site. It’s just a .txt file so you can create it using Notepad or TextEdit, then upload it to your domain’s root via your web host. Here is a guide on how robots.txt works.
Once you’ve created (or checked) your /robots.txt file, submit it to Google via Search Console. (but you need a Search Console account first). Just open Search Console and go to Crawl → robots.txt Tester → Submit which will open a dialog box for instructions on submitting an updated file.
So that’s it. 9 simple SEO tips for Christian organizations. There’s a lot more I could cover, but these are some of the quickest and simplest ways to optimize your Christian organization’s website.
One final quick tip: Don’t ever just delete anything on your website that’s been published: pages, media, categories, tags, etc. That will count as a 404 error when search engines look at your sitemap and crawls your site. If you want to remove pages, unpublish them (not the same as deleting) and in your CMS set meta robots to “no index” and “no follow.” Then re-direct them to corresponding new pages/media/categories, etc.