Few companies make the enviable transition from noun to verb in the eyes of the general public. People ask for a “Kleenex” for instance, instead of a “facial tissue,” a “Thermos” instead of a “vacuum flask,” and college kids prefer to throw a “Frisbee” instead of a “flying disc.” For brands that make this jump, the marketing almost takes care of itself.

Google is another one of those companies.

Although it seems like Google has been around for forever, it’s history is actually relatively short compared to those other companies. Founded by Larry Page and Sergey Brin while doctoral students at Stanford in 1998, Google has become synonymous with searching the internet for…whatever it is your heart desires. Though Microsoft has had some traction in recent years with Bing, and Yahoo has been around longer, neither has come close to knocking Google off its enormous throne.

The reason Google has attained such a monumental position of strength is because it focuses most of its efforts into its core strategy: search. Though their algorithm is almost constantly changing, at its core, Google only cares about delivering the most relevant search results to the person requesting the search. Google does that better than anyone else on the market, and thus, it remains on top. Whatever other updates that Google will unveil in the future will virtually always circle around that central principle.

What does all of that have to do with your church and claiming its business listing? In a word, everything. As an information technology company, Google needs accurate info to stay relevant, which means it needs your help. As the point-of-contact for a local church, Google needs you to feed it accurate info about your congregation so it can help point the right people to your doors.

Sidenote: By “right people,” I don’t mean it in terms of class, race, or any other demographic. I mean anyone who happens to be searching for a church or doing research on your congregation. Just wanted to clear the air before arrows start coming my way.

Why Should You Claim Your Church’s Google Business Listing?

A Google Business listing is Google’s version of a business directory. Thousands of those directories exist already; Yellowpages, MerchantCircle, Angie’s List, and even Facebook can classify as directories. In fact, one of the best things you can do for your Local SEO is to make sure your church’s name, address, and phone number (NAP) is not only correct, but consistent across all of your profiles.

Your Google Business listing is powerful, but its real strength lies in its association with their search functions: claim and optimize the listing, and Google will view your church as more relevant and bump your church up in the search results. There are a lot of reasons to claim your listing, but that’s the best one.

How Can I Tell if Our Church’s Business Listing is Claimed?

If you’re unsure if your church’s business listing has been claimed, it’s easy to find out: Simply Google your church and see what pops up. Be as specific as possible; you want Google to show you your church straightaway. 

For demonstration’s sake, I’ve pulled up Lost River Church of Christ – a church of about 400+ in Bowling Green, Kentucky. As you can see, the Google Business listing is on the right highlighted in red.

There’s a lot of information here that will get to in a minute, but jump down to the section just below the phone number and address. See those two hyperlinks that say “Suggest an Edit” and “Own This business?” The “Own This Business?” one means that it hasn’t been claimed by anyone. 

If it were already claimed, like the fabulous folks out at Lost River church in Bowling Green, Kentucky have done, it would say “Manage This Listing” instead.

When you own it, it’ll add “Edit Your Business Information” next to “Manage This Listing,” like it does for us at Hillside.

Technically, anyone on earth can go in and try to claim your listing, but Google has a few security measures in place that ensure that doesn’t happen. Still, you should make it a point to claim your church’s listing as soon as possible.

How Do I Claim Our Google Business Listing?

To make this process as easy as possible, Google implements a single-page, one-question-at-a-time form to allow you to claim your listing. Start by clicking on the link that I mentioned earlier that asks if you “Own This Business?”

From there, Google will ask you five questions. Since Google is obsessed with having as much accurate info as possible already, it’s likely a lot of this info will have already been inputted by their machines, unless your church is relatively new. Here are the questions you’ll have to answer:

  1. “Confirm the Name of Your Business” – Input your church’s name here.
  2. “What’s the Address?” – Fill in the relevant contact info. The box at the bottom asks if you “deliver goods and services to your customers” – this is mainly for e-commerce stores that don’t have a physical location where customers can visit. Leave this box unchecked.
  3. “Do You Also Serve Customers Outside This Location?” – This is mainly to determine whether you are a service-oriented business (i.e. plumbers, caterers, etc) or whether you do most of your business at one location (i.e. car dealerships, bakeries, etc). Since we are a church, we technically fall under the later category. You can answer “Yes, I also serve them outside my location,” if you are willing to drive to do Bible studies or something similar, in which case you’ll have to indicate what areas you’re willing to “serve.” More often than not, you’ll answer “No, I don’t,” but how you answer that is up to you.
  4. “Choose the Category That Fits Your Business Best” – The category I always use is “Church of Christ,” but I realize that may sound denominational to some, so feel free to just use “Church.” What Google wants to know is which category to place you so as to better serve those who might be searching for you.
  5. “What Contact Details Do You Want to Show to Customers?” – If you have a website already, this would be the place to input your URL. If not, Google will provide you with a free one, but it’s not a very simple, one-page website with a non-custom domain. I would STRONGLY encourage you to build your own website and input that URL here.

After you’re done, it’ll ask you if you’re finished, and you can complete the process. One of the security measures they enact at this point is to send a postcard to the location you selected. Some GMB (Google My Business) profiles allow you to verify your location by phone or by e-mail, but the main method is by postcard. You should receive that postcard in five days, and then you’ll have to re-login to your account and input the numerical code on the back to verify your business.

What Can I Do With My Listing?

Now the fun really begins! Once you’ve verified your Google Business listing and login to your dashboard, you’ll have access to a whole bunch of very interesting stats and features. 

Here’s what you can do:

  • Add photos and videos describing your church, both interior and exterior.
  • Create posts that can highlight certain events, available Bible studies, or something else entirely.
  • Manage your Google Reviews.
  • Answer community questions and engage with potential visitors.
  • Write a description of your church that’s Biblical and compelling.
  • Update hours, contact info, and physical location.

Here’s what you can monitor:

  • How many people visited your website
  • How many people called you directly from the listing.
  • How many people viewed your photos, and which ones were viewed most often
  • How many people searched for directions.
  • What search terms people used to find you.
  • Whether they searched for you directly or found you by searching for something else.
  • Whether they found you on maps or the search console.
  • What actions they took once they saw your listing

Most of the things you can monitor are located in the “Insights” tab located on the left menu, whereas what you can do is sprinkled around the other tabs. From this dashboard, you can also grant access to others within your congregation (or outside, if you use an agency) and what level of access you would like to grant them. A messaging option is also available to set up, but at the time of this writing, requires you to download an app to send and receive messages. For that reason, most communication will not flow through the messages tab (but that could change very soon).

Don’t worry if you missed some information when you set up your account. You can make changes at any time, and while some of them are instantaneous, others may take upwards of 60 days. 

Also, it’s worth mentioning that other people have the ability to “suggest an edit” to your listing; if they do, you’ll be notified via e-mail. You can either accept or refuse those when they come in, but there are reports that some users don’t receive e-mails notifying them of potential edits. Be sure you keep a close eye on your listing to make sure changes haven’t been made without your knowledge.

Where To Go From Here?

Most of the information on your business listing page doesn’t change: hours of services, website URL, physical location, etc. The ones that change, however, you’ll need to monitor and/or automate. Reviews will need to be actively requested (five or so initial reviews, then shoot for a 2-3 every month after), posts can be written and scheduled using a social automation tool, and pictures should be updated constantly.

Keep an eye on the insights tab. Knowing how your website visitors are finding you will help immensely with paid ads and determining where you can improve. Remember that your Google Business listing – like every other aspect of your digital footprint – is an ongoing process that will need to be monitored, adapted, and improved.

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