It is easy to pick up bad habits that cause all but the most devoted members to stop reading your content. What should you avoid? Here are four of the most common and insidious culprits:
1. When it’s all about you instead of your audience
Your most involved members are going to be part of what you are doing regardless of how you phrase your marketing. However, most people who show up to a program or event at your church will be looking to meet a personal need.
Whether they are looking for some special family time at your fall festival or needing help recovering from loss or just wanting to be inspired by an interesting sermon, they are generally coming to meet a personal need. Unfortunately, churches can slip into marketing their programs in ways that are focused on the church rather than on those attending. Don’t write like a marketer who uses jargon and sounds like a Sunday newspaper headline. Be human and include words that you use in conversation.
You may be writing articles explaining the meaning behind the symbol of acolytes lighting and extinguishing candles during worship, but very few people have a pressing need to understand that moment. In the same vein is stating your call to action in terms of serving the church: “Come out and support FUMC” or “Come help us raise money for youth to go to camp.”
If you find yourself with a church-centric focus, use these questions to help you break out: What are people in our community most interested in? What are the pressing issues in the lives of the average person who attends or visits our church? What are we providing of personal value in this event? Try to write three to five pieces that meet these needs for every one church event that you’re promoting.
2. Being obsessed with response and attendance
Part of the key to successful content marketing is building goodwill with your audience by providing content that meets a need in their life (see #1) on its own. If every piece of content is focused primarily on driving people to your church service or special event, your audience will stop paying attention. Though the occasional piece that requires them to come to church to get what they need is to be expected, most of what you are creating needs to be useful on its own.
Beyond that, people are very intelligent when it comes to detecting pieces that are just a shell of content whose real goal is to sell something. The more they see that from your church, the less likely they are to keep reading.
What are the symptoms of this problem? When looking to release content marketing around your upcoming women’s conference, a piece focused on the response would be a bio piece about the speaker with a strong “register here” at the bottom. Focusing on the content rather than the response might be a series of personal devotions written by the speaker with a mention at the bottom that she will be at your upcoming conference.
3. Diluting your message with SEO
There are far more articles that will tell you how to increase your ranking in Google search results that you can ever possibly read, and thinking about SEO (search engine optimization) can definitely help. In the quest for getting a higher ranking in search results, you can end up diluting your message.
One of the culprits is squeezing too many keywords into the post. Using the same keyword or keyphrase multiple times in a post used to help with SEO, but as Google algorithms become more “human” it’s better to provide variety. Varying your key concepts is better for the reader, better for the searcher and now it’s better for your website’s PageRank. PageRank is Google's ranking software that calculates the relevance of a webpage to the search keywords entered. The key takeaway is that Google rewards you for sounding natural.
The same idea of moderation goes for links. Linking to multiple articles is a clearly winning strategy for increasing your ranking in Google, but too many links can divide the PageRank for said links. If you have too many links, each link may have a smaller amount of PageRank.
Sometimes too many links can degrade the quality of your content because writers may use too many keywords or ideas that don’t fit contextually or because several links clustered together can be distracting. People may stop reading or click off to another article and never see that important call to action at the end of your piece.
So how much is too much? It gets a little tricky and varies depending on the popularity of your website. If you’re an authority on a topic, Google will give you some leeway. However, there are some rules that will keep you in an appropriate range.
The general rule is to use as many links as you need, as long as:
- There's a strong contextual tie to your content.
- You link to a high quality site or authority on specific subjects.
- The content on that page is excellent.
4. Going for quantity over quality
More content does create more traffic. Take Facebook as an example. The reality is that if you post 10 unique articles to Facebook, you will get more traffic than if you post one. As each post is evaluated by the Facebook algorithm, a unique audience for it is developed and that post appears in their feed. The more times you offer unique content, the more opportunities you have for Facebook to bring in unique people.
However, the quality of the overall content should balance the number of unique content pieces because low-quality content will drag your traffic down as well. Keeping with our Facebook example, if you post uninteresting, internal church-focused content, people who click it will not like it — or not click it at all. That will signal to Facebook that the content is of less interest and will drive traffic down for the individual piece. If you repeat this pattern enough times, Facebook will hide all your posts and only show it to your most loyal fans.
The same goes for the word count of an individual article. You can write as long or short a piece as you want as long as people spend the appropriate time reading the content. Based on word count, Google PageRank determines how long people should spend consuming that content. As long as the time spent on your page is within the acceptable range, you will be rewarded. If your piece is excellent, and you’re targeting the right audience, you should have nothing to worry about. Be sure to check Google analytics to view the “average time on page” for both your site as a whole and for specific pages. Does the average time match up with the length of the content?
When used well, content marketing is a powerful tool, so avoid these pitfalls to be sure that your church’s story sees the light of day!
When Jeremy and his wife are not playing with their four children, he oversees youth and college ministries and leads the evening worship service at Christ UMC in Mobile, Ala. Jeremy is an author of several books and resources that you can find at JeremyWords.com or follow him on Twitter!