Monday, September 13, 2010

Stories From the Pews: Outreach After Google

Ann Turner who is a member of Eastern Shore Chapel and the Board of Integrity Virginia Beach sent us this story from her pew......

Eastern Shore Chapel Episcopal Church is a large, lively parish in Virginia Beach. We are near the oceanfront as well as a number of large military bases. The church is over 300 years old, and while you might expect such an historic parish to be a little stiff and stodgy, quite the opposite is true of Eastern Shore Chapel. We have a reputation for being friendly and welcoming. Attracting visitors and retaining newcomers has always been an important part of our ministry, probably due to our location in a resort area and the large number of military families moving in and out of the area on a regular basis.

Not quite 10 years ago Eastern Shore Chapel’s first Web site went live. Now almost every visitor and newcomer we ask tells us that they found us online. Now the question has become, “How did they find us online?” Were they searching for a conveniently located church? A church that offered evening services? A church that offered children’s programs? What were people searching for? Google Adwords and Google Analytics are giving us some answers to that question.

Google Analytics is a free service that provides data on Web site traffic. It tells us how many visitors we get, how they got there, how long they stayed, and much more. This is important information that we can now gather from not only our Web site, but also our Facebook pages. Facebook is a vital part of Eastern Shore Chapel’s communications program. The interactive nature of Facebook provides loads of great information, but only from the visitors you can see. What about the visitors you don’t see? Google Analytics helps us capture some of that data.

Google Adwords are those little four-line ads that appear on the right side of your screen when you do a Google search. When someone clicks your ad, they are directed to your Web site. The beauty of these little ads is that you can tell Google what you’re willing to pay for them. You set the budget and you only pay if someone clicks your ad. More importantly, you determine the keywords that trigger your ad to appear. This is how you start to find the answers to the question, “What are people searching for?”

Every month, Google sends Eastern Shore Chapel a report on our Adwords ads. It tells us how many times our ad appeared and how many times it was clicked. It also tells us what keywords received the most clicks – that is, what people were searching for. Of all the keywords with which we tag our ads, one in particular appears on every monthly report: social justice.

What do you do once you know how people are finding you? You use that information to tailor your communications, programming and even worship. This information is one of the things that prompted Eastern Shore Chapel to become a Believe Out Loud Congregation. We needed a way to communicate to our community that we were a church that not only valued social justice, but also took action. Believe Out Loud is one way – an important way – that we are doing that. What we've found is that Believe Out Loud speaks volumes to folks (straight and gay) who are looking for a church that offers progressive theology, emphasizes social justice for all people and is actively serving its community.

Believe Out Loud could be a useful part of your church’s communication plan as well. Take advantage of the data you can gather using Google. Find out who’s looking for you, how they’re looking for you and then give them something to find!

Ann Turner just became the Director of Communications for the Diocese of Southern Virginia.

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