In my last post about tips for using social media to advertise your church I discussed my experience using Facebook to get new visitors in churches. The short version of the post is this: I don't think Facebook is all that useful for growing a church. It can be a good way for engaged members to connect during the week, and you can create subgroups (a popular one in my experience is a group for parents of young children interested in helping with children's programming) out of people who like your churches page to give them another place to communicate and share ideas other than through email. Beyond that, I just don't see proof that spending money on Facebook is beneficial for churches. The one exception is advertising special events or special services, and you can read about that in the previous post.
In this post I am going to give some entirely different advice: if you are looking to advertise online, you are better off spending your advertising budget on Google Ads. What exactly does that mean? Take a few moment, go to Google and search for the name of one of your favorite big-box retailers. After a few searches, you will have likely chosen one running a Google Ad. If not, search for Amazon, as I know they are running an ad. You will know you were given an ad result because their website will be at the top of the search results, along with "Ad" in a little green box nest to their online address and a tagline they chose to appear in the ad. The result for amazon is in the picture below.
So, what did Amazon do to ensure their website, as opposed to some smaller retailer that might be trying to use a similar name to capitalize on Amazon's success, appears first in search results? Google Ads used to be called "Google AdWords" and the former name is in someways more accurate about what you pay Google to do for you. You pay Google to make your website appear first when people search for certain words in a given area. You create a list of terms or short phrases and pay Google to show your website when people search for them in a given area that you determine. So while you might be thinking (probably correctly) that it is a little excessive for Amazon to be paying for such ads since they will likely appear first when people search for them, making sure your church appears at the top of a list when people in your area search for "churches near me" if they are new to the area and looking for a church can make a big difference for your church. More than the limited success in getting visitors into church I described in the previous post about Facebook, "I found you by searching online" was the most frequent response new visitors gave when asked how they decided to visit the church where I previously worked.
1. Your church will need a website for this to get started. If you do not have a website, a tutorial on building a website is beyond the scope of this post, but Squarespace and Weebly are affordable user-friendly options. If you already have a website, but are not thrilled about how it looks, you can use a free version of Weebly to build a cleaner looking site and just direct your website host that you pay to that new Weebly site. Again, I will have to leave you to read tutorials on their sites, as any more about building websites is beyond the scope of this post.
2. Unlike the Facebook post, I am not going to provide a step-by-step tutorial for Google Ads, because they have a great website that teaches you as you actually set up your ad. Just click this link and go through the process of setting up your ad account. They are have customer support available on the phone, which should be free for new users.
3. I will remind you of two important things to make sure you do when setting up your Google Ad:
- Just as with Facebook, make sure you restrict the area where the ad is running to make the most out of your money. If your church is in the middle of a city, I think it is a waste of money to pay for people searching Google on a device 25 miles away to see your ad. I can't tell you how small to make your search radius, but being reasonable and realistic is better than being idealistic but likely wasting money thinking your ad will draw people from far away.
- When you are choosing the words/phrases to associate with your ad, try and think about what people who are not attending your church might search for instead of overly specific names used within your church community. By that I mean "churches with children's programming" will surely get you better results than including the exact title of your children's program. Remember, you are trying to draw in new visitors, and they are not likely to search for a church using any of your overly specific terms because they do not yet know them. Another example: you will absolutely want "Presbyterian church" to be one of your terms, but more general terms like "churches near me" and "church with contemporary worship" or "church with traditional worship" should also be used. You can track results over time and modify or remove terms that don't seem to be working.
4. This will cost more than Facebook advertising to do it well. To run a Google Ad, you will need to give Google a monthly budget and then just hit run on an ad. You can pause the campaign to stop spending money, but the ad campaign will spend your allotted monthly budget every month unless you go into your account and pause it or delete the entire campaign. So if you give Google a $50 budget for a month and only want to spend $50, you will need to log in when the month is over and pause the campaign to make sure your ad is not running for another month. However, this advertising campaign should be considered a long term strategy, not a short term fix. It will do a better job of making sure people are aware of your church in your community, and I would recommend pursuing Google Ads only if your church can commit to at least 6 months of running an ad. When I was last in charge of a Google Ads campaign I had a monthly budget of $300. Anything under $50 is really pushing how useful the campaign can be, and I would recommend $100 if possible. Advice about a reasonable budget is also a question you can ask Google over the phone or in a browser chat window while setting up an ad.
5. As with Facebook ads, Google ads can get new visitors in your building, but then the real work begins. People will only stick around if your community is welcoming and active. Technology is not the answer to growing a church, it just starts the process.
Again, the step-by-step instructions from Google are great, so I will simply direct you to their page to get started. Running Google Ads is a bit more of a commitment than paying for one or two Facebook ads, but I absolutely think it is a better use of limited church funds.