Yellow Pages are for Bird Cages

George Carstensen
Pastor, Schenectady NY
Mar 12, 2016

When you Google your church, does it return a result located somewhere in Nebraska? Do you think Snap Chat is a close range kind of telegraph? Does your church website play music in the background? Yes? We need to talk. Let’s get an effective church presence online in under 3 minutes, and stop doing what doesn’t work.

People use their phones as phones?

Businesses that existed before 2010 still have the habit of partaking in the yearly tradition of listing themselves in the yellow bound tomes of 7-digit numbers organized by category and willingness of the business to pay.

In 1883, a printer in Cheyenne Wyoming was printing a telephone directory and ran out of white paper, and finished the run in yellow paper, and this simple event is thought of by some as the invention of the yellow pages. [ref] A few years later, Reuben H. Donnelly is credited with publishing the first official Yellow Pages directory. Originally, as today, the yellow pages were designed as a handy directory of businesses offering goods and services, often organized categorically. Wanna order a pizza? Need an accident attorney? Looking for a church? “Let your fingers do the walking”

You may have been at the client-end of this canary colored apparatus, looking through businesses that listed in this encyclopedia of merchants, drawn to the largest text or most eye-catching listing, but as business owners, the Yellow Pages was seen as a tool for generating leads, bringing in calls and advertising your business. The easier your phone number was to find, the more likely customers were to patronize you. It made sense. It worked. Then, the internet.

The Yellow Pages had a good run, since the ubiquity of the infinite internet, and since outhouses don’t exist in large part anymore, the pages of this once useful tome are relegated to lining bird cages and leveling wobbly coffee tables. In fact, if analyzing actual dollars-to-leads, some sources suggest that today, the cost-per-call (as it were) as generated from the Yellow Pages is close to $85 per call for less than 50 calls per year. (and I’ll bet that 10 of those calls are from Grandma Schmitt finding the number for your church in the easiest spot) My church, Zion in Schenectady, because of a regretful multi-year, auto-renewing contract, spent about $400 over the course of 12 easy monthly payments. It would have been more effective to paper a billboard with $5 bills and spray paint our phone number over the top of it, along with a tasteful caricature of Martin Luther.

If not yellow pages, then what?

Your first inclination will be to say ‘make a church website!’ And you’d be wrong. Probably. Well, at first. Setting up a website for the sake of driving traffic to your church is the equivalent of putting down a welcome mat. Inside the door. It forces people to come and look for you, specifically. You can preach ‘Search Engine Optimization’ (i.e. ‘SEO’) and things like that, and that’s all well and good, but that’s not the first step. Let’s Go:

1. Google Business.

If you haven't yet, it's time to claim your business. Do it now. It works like this:

  1. Go to your internet browser on your computer or smartphone, and search for your church by name in google. Google is pretty clever about where you are geographically, so if you are searching from a great distance from the church, you might wanna throw in your city or zip. Example: search for "Zion Lutheran Church Schenectady New York" If that still fails to produce a result, then try typing in the mailing address.
  2. If you have a hit, great continue to the next step! If not Great! you can get started from scratch.
  3. Usually, Google figures out what businesses are before they even have a chance to sign-up to declare themselves. This means that you'll need to 'claim your business.' Just find the link on the tile and click it. It'll take you through a process that verifies your business by 1. Calling the number and providing you with an automated pin or 2. sending you a postcard by mail.
  4. Fill out everything in your 'My Businesses' page. Everything. Even the hours and pets names. Upload photos to create a sense of who you are, and create street-recognition. The more info you have up, the more likely you'll come up to people in your area.
  5. [This is important] - delegate another staff member or leader in your church, just in case you lose your account information of you get hit by a bus.

2. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.

Without going into great length, planting your flag in facebook, instagram, twitter, yelp, (even) snapchat is important, even if you don't plan to use it yet. Really. I'll explain. Social media tools can be a great for helping folks stay connected and making your church known online, but it's also a huge responsibility, so you'll want to setup a plan before diving in and promoting it throughout the church and community. If you haven't got a careful plan, a person to moderate it or the time to babysit it, just set claim to an account, populate it with non-volatile information and park it, because on social media, if you don't claim a business, page or name, someone else will. It's better to have a parked page than one that you don't have control over, but on websites...

3. Fine. A Website.

Ok, so you want to commit to a church website. That's fine. But here's one important caviat: It's better to have *no site at all* than one that is out of date. An out of date website will convey the message that you're an inattentive and disconnected congregation that uses 90's animated gif 'under construction' graphics, and will be judged as irrelevant, even if the truth is that you just don't have time or staff to update the thing. So if you're going to put up a website, you have to commit.

But don't over-commit. Having designed over 15 church web sites and studying the analytics, here's what you should know about what web visitors want:

  1. They want to know your worship times... especially special services. (75%)
  2. They want your contact info / directions. (8%)
  3. They want to see your staff. (4%)
  4. They want sermon podcasts. (less than 1%)

If I had any suggestion, it's this: hire a web designer. Don't have a volunteer do it. Then have your staff trained for updating it. Put essential information only online. Nobody cares about the 1957 building project, and photo galleries full of quilts aren't especially helpful. If you have the audience for things like podcasts, great, but if not, then it's alot of work and resources for something nobody uses. Budget for about $2k for a custom-designed website plus about $200/year for hosting. If you go with a squarespace-type site creator, figure on around $300/year for hosting and domain name registration.

George Carstensen

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