While it is important for every parish to have a website, it is possible that you may not be paying much attention to your SEO. In case you are not familiar with the term, SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” SEO is the process used to enable your website to be found easily on search engines like Google or Yahoo.
While many companies spend money to increase the position of their web pages using paid advertising, SEO allows your website to be more easily found at no additional cost. SEO that is free is commonly referred to as organic SEO. Improving the organic SEO of your parish’s website will allow it to be more easily found by people looking for a new Catholic church in your community.
The following list is some common SEO mistakes that your parish will want to avoid.
Avoid duplicate content
It is easy to fall into a pattern of creating a separate web page for everything that needs to be communicated to your parishioners. However, Google (Google is the primary example because it is the most popular search engine) does not like that, and your website may be penalized as a result by dropping lower in the search result findings. Google instead prefers strong content that is unique; please see below for an example.
To avoid this commonly overlooked pitfall, look for opportunities to better organize web pages into categories, and then build related items into the same page. For example, instead of entirely separate web pages for each Vacation Bible School (VBS) at your parish, create a VBS section and list each year underneath it.
Avoid duplicate meta descriptions and titles
This is a surprisingly common mistake. It can be excruciatingly boring to write page titles and descriptions for each page on your website. It becomes less boring when you understand how they work and why you need them to be unique for every page.
Duplicate titles and descriptions are generally problematic and Google really does not like them. Beyond the page URL information, the page title is one of the first things that Google sees when reviewing your web page. When every webpage has the same title…well…Google gets annoyed with your website and makes your entry appear lower on the search engine result placement (SERP) page.
Avoid broken links
This is an easy one to avoid. With a good content management system (CMS) for your website, it is easy to fix broken links so your parishioners can always get the information they need. Using tools like Google Search Console and Google Analytics on your website properly will give you more information about what pages are broken so you can make the necessary corrections as they arise.
Avoid answering on more than one domain
Although it may seem confusing at first, it is actually very simple. When you type parishsoft.com into your search engine, you will notice that it redirect automatically to parishsoft.com (with a “www” before the domain name, or website address). If your parish’s website does not do that, meaning it does not redirect from one to the other automatically, then you may have a problem.
As we have noted before, Google does not like duplicate content and treats each domain as an entirely separate website. And then when Google sees two websites with exactly the same information, it penalizes both websites substantially.
Avoid broken or missing robots.txt and sitemap.xml files
Search engines like Google need to be able to easily find pages of your website. A “robots.txt” file is a text file that instructs the search engine which web pages, folders or files to index – meaning which one’s you allow to be found online – and which ones you do not. If you are unfamiliar with the term, have the person who works on your parish’s website check out this useful article from MOZ. While similar in some respects, a “sitemap.xml” file is an XML file that provides your web pages in a way that makes it easier for search engines to find them. To learn more about XML files, here is another good article from MOZ on sitemaps.
By following these suggestions, your parish’s website should be more easy to find on search engines. However, please be aware that it can take several weeks before you notice any changes to your SERP placement. Once you do, we would love to hear how it goes. Please feel free to comment below. We look forward to hearing from you!