You can get prominent, powerful, free publicity for your faith-based organization through a Google My Business listing, also known as a Business Profile. I call this public relations communication “SERP-PR.” (SERPs are Search Engine Result Pages.) When you read about Google My Business, substitute “my church,” synagogue, temple or mosque, for “my business.”
Remember when search results were just a list of links and brief descriptions? Now you may see maps, short lists of local businesses that could match your search, and more. Google continues to enrich its search engine result pages with boxes called knowledge panels about prominent places, popular things or public figures such as actors and authors.
Google also places Business Profile boxes to the upper right of search results; they’re knowledge panels for businesses and other local organizations. In a May 20, 2020 blog post, Google explains knowledge panels and how its knowledge graph operates.
Take control (as much as you can).
Surprise: You might already have a listing.
Even if you haven’t requested a Business Profile, as I advised an Alabama pastor, Google might build one for you, partially filling the box with data harvested from your church’s website (and waiting for you to claim it).
Clicking the Own This Business? link in the middle of the Business Profile and following the steps Google outlines to create a Google My Business account offers him SOME control over what appears there.
In the case of his church, users had already submitted blurry photos of the building. Claiming the listing gives the pastor or the assigned staff member the power to add photographs including a “cover image” that usually appears as the first/top photo. Google offers instructions in Google My Business Help for adding photos or videos to your Business Profile. According to those instructions, the church cannot delete someone else’s photos, but they can request removal of photos that “violate content guidelines or the law.”
Google designed Business Profiles as interactive resources. That’s why even unclaimed listings can be populated by users with photographs, reviews and more. This can be… messy. A 2018 blog post on Moz.com, How to Optimize Your Google My Business Listing, explains how the “Suggest an edit” link on your profile works. Note that Moz recommends logging into your account regularly, in case you’ve missed – or not received – an alert by email when a user edited the profile.
Choose photos with care.
As I explained to leadership at a synagogue, the right photos answer questions such as, “Are people happy here?” and “Are there people like me here – around my age, with or without kids, etc.?” without using words.
What photos do I recommend?
Add attractive images as the Business Profile “owner” through your Google My Business account that communicate several key messages.
1. Current COVID-19 precautions (1, 2 or 3 photos total)
- AVOID the easy balcony shots of a semi-empty sanctuary with socially distanced seating.
- Ask greeters or other active members for permission to photograph them at the entrance, or a family cluster spaced out appropriately from someone on the same pew.
- If masks are required or requested, show people in masks.
2. Bountiful attendance (at least 3 photos)
- From your photo archive, pull photos of a thriving, full sanctuary, perhaps in 2019 or early 2020.
- Special events, including holiday celebrations, are a great source for photos like this. Request permission from anyone recognizable, or ask your attorney for photo release guidelines.
- Kids are a joyful option; ask for parental permission.
- AVOID showing a sanctuary that looks too jammed at a glance, as this could send a subliminal message of “no vacancies here.”
3. Beautiful buildings (at least 2 photos of building exteriors and/or interesting details such as stained glass)
- Consider whether you want to show the building in the current season, or whether to use a photograph with the grounds in bloom, “Forever Spring.”
- Google has a “see outside” feature that can help someone new recognize your building from the street, but your own photo might be more inviting. If the default “see outside” photo doesn’t capture a driver’s view when approaching the main building, include a picture that does.
- A simple shot of the well-maintained building exterior, framed by the blue sky on a sunny day and capturing the entrance with a steeple or other architectural details, is often the best “cover photo” in a Google My Business listing. Remember, until someone clicks on the cover photo, they see only a thumbnail-sized version.