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Church blogs: SEO and copywriting tips for the Pope

January 25, 2010 5 Comments

So, just as Search Engine Land has issued some SEO advice for Bill Gates's blog (which maybe he didn't need), I thought I'd help the Pope out with some SEO and copywriting tips.

He has just come out (today) and told priests to blog, in the message of his Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for the 44th World Communications Day:

Priests are thus challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources (images, videos, animated features, blogs, websites) ....

Here's where he's going wrong (well, he's infallible, but you know what I mean) ...

The Pope needs some SEO

Page title

I think the Pope needs to ask himself how he wants people to find his message. At the moment, the HTML title for this latest message is "Message for the 44th World Communications Day, Benedict XVI", and so this is how the page appears in Google:

How the Pope's latest page looks in Google

How the Pope's latest page looks in Google

Personally, that doesn't look that exciting. What is the message? What's it about? A few words about the content would help.

He could start by looking at what people search for online. I ran a few terms through the Google keywords tool:

  • ministry blog
  • world communication day
  • church blog
  • catholic blog

(I didn't include priest blog as that just gets you a load of world of wordcraft pages ...) As you can see from these results, people aren't really searching for world communications day - but a lot of people search for catholic blog and church blog:

Change the title to what people search for

Change the title to what people search for

If it were me, I'd change the HTML title to something like:

Catholic Church must blog more says Pope | 44th World Communications Day | Vatican

That should pick up lots more traffic.

Description

There is no meta description set on the page - this is the snippet of text Google usually shows under the result. Because it's not set, Google is picking some text to show, which is why it says:

MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS POPE BENEDICT XVI FOR THE 44th WORLD COMMUNICATIONS DAY. "The Priest and Pastoral Ministry in a Digital World: ...

This is quite SHOUTY. The Vatican should set a meta description that sells and explains the page, and encourages the searcher to click through. Something like:

Hear the Pope's message directly as he uses the 44th World Communications Day to call on priests to blog more. Find out what he said and how you spread the word.

URLs

The URL is ghastly:

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/messages/communications/documents/hf_ben-xvi_mes_20100124_44th-world-communications-day_en.html

The Vatican should read up on search-engine- / human-friendly URLs.

But also, I'd like to see the Vatican use a "living" URL.

The latest message should be on /world-communications-day. Then each time a new message comes out (there's one a year), the old can be moved to /world-communications-day-number-year (EG /world-communications-day-43-2009). The new one can be put on the living URL - that way the latest message always gets the benefits of existing inbound links and so is likely to do best in Google.

Navigation

The only navigation on the page

The only navigation on the page

There is lots more advice I could offer, but navigation is a key one. When you get to the latest message, there are only three links on the page, as the picture shows - a javascript previous-page link (which does nothing if you come from a search engine),  a picture of an arrow that takes you up a page, and that image which takes you home.

The Vatican need to start thinking about lots more links:

  • calls to action to convert (in every sense of the word) visitors,
  • links to other sections of their site,
  • links in the copy to other relevant pages and so on.

This will help both users and search engines understand the structure of the site and what pages are most important. And just as Jesus broke bread, so the website could perhaps mend itself with a breadcrumb trail.

Copywriting

OK, that's SEO taken care of. Now, we know Jesus spoke in parables - and I think the Pope could learn a lot from that. I know he's infallible, but I'm not sure he's got the common touch when it comes to communicating.

For a start, he needs to use shorter paragraphs (one is 240 words long) and more sub headings, to help people understand and scan the structure of the page. I'd maybe lose the coloured background, too, as that doesn't help with readability.

And talking of readability, I'd like to see shorter words, shorter sentences, more active voice - maybe the odd bullet list? Let's give it a go.

Pope says:

God’s loving care for all people in Christ must be expressed in the digital world not simply as an artifact from the past, or a learned theory, but as something concrete, present and engaging. Our pastoral presence in that world must thus serve to show our contemporaries, especially the many people in our day who experience uncertainty and confusion, “that God is near; that in Christ we all belong to one another”

I'd say it like this:

You must express God’s love for everyone in a way that doesn't sound old fashioned or just academic.

Use new media to make it clear his love is:

  1. concrete,
  2. present,
  3. engaging.

We must show everyone, especially those who are uncertain, that "in Christ we all belong to one another”.

Conclusion

Update: Some more SEO tips for the Vatican.

With some simple SEO changes, the Pope's message could be found more.

With some nods to best practice web writing, he could engage more people.

And maybe next year he could get himself a twitter and record his message on audioboo?

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