You keep reading and we keep delivering. There is no end in site for Distinct SEO’s interviews of web marketing pros. Up next is John Rothra who is going to comment on SEO and how it impacts not-for-profit organizations. Welcome John.

1. Your vitals:

John L. Rothra

Your web site:

A little but about you: Pastor and evangelist in Fort Worth, Texas, seeking to glorify God by making disciples by preaching the salvation that comes through faith in Jesus Christ and teaching sound, Biblical theology.

Let’s being our question sets and see if we can pinpoint some key items for web promotion.

1. If you had to describe the industry to someone new what would you say?

Search engine optimization (SEO), also called search engine marketing, is the process by which one analyzes how search engines rank sites, reviews a website’s design, and develops a plan to help the site have the best chance of ranking better in the search engines. In other words, SEO is helping sites rank better in search engines by looking at the various factors involved.

2. Many not-for-profit and faith-based organizations are slower to respond to web marketing trends. Do you feel these types of web sites have much or little to benefit from web marketing initiatives?

Non-profits and religious organizations have much more to gain, both in regards to search engine ranks and in social impact by taking advantage of search engine marketing. Businesses often make use of SEO in order to garner greater profits. However, many of the products help the producer more than they help the consumer. Society, as a whole, improves little when someone buys a necklace, painting, or service. But when a hungry child is fed, a homeless person gains shelter, and people learn the truth about God can society truly improve in any fashion.

God wants us to spend eternity with him forever, but sin (things we do wrong) keeps that from happening (Romans 3:9-23). However, God sent his son, Jesus, to die and rise again to pay for our sin and grant us the chance to be forgiven (John 3:16-18; Romans 5:8). Salvation is not earned nor a reward for good works, but is a free gift of grace alone (Ephesians 2:4-9; Romans 6:23). Only through faith in Jesus can we be saved (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). A more complete description of how to be forgiven and saved is on my website.

When religious organizations, especially Christian organizations, fail to employ SEO techniques, they lose the opportunity to reach more people with the message of hope.

3. Does your average church web site need to optimize their web site?

Yes. Most church websites are designed for the human user or for aesthetic appeal. However, this does not mean people will view the site. Many wonderful, user-friendly sites are well optimized; many wonderful, user-friendly sites are not well optimized. The former will get more traffic; the latter will garner little traffic. If people do not visit your site beyond your own congregation, then the site is not reaching its potential audience and evangelism is hampered. Churches should make use of SEO to promote their sites and their sites should openly promote the gospel.

4. What’s more important to you? On page optimization or off-page optimization.

On-page optimization receives more attention from me than off-page, but it is not a measure of its importance. Both are important in their own right. However, as a webmaster, I have more control over on-page optimization than off-page. Off-page optimization requires more time, effort, and work. As a father, husband, pastor, and Ph.D. student, I have little time for off-page optimization, which may explain why my site is not ranking as well as I would like. Overall, though, neither one is more or less important than the other.

5. In your view, what are the top 5 must haves (if you think there are 5) for on-page optimization?

1. Fresh Content:

A site cannot remain static. If the content page changes rarely or never, then search engines will begin to visit less often, resulting in lower rankings and less traffic. Fresh content tells search engines the site is new, updated, and worth visiting. In a way, the robots are like humans: they like to see new things on the site. Fresh content also creates a site that is dynamic and worth revisiting.

2. Relevant Content:

If you have a site about fly-fishing, do not add fresh content about skydiving and the latest computer software on a regular basis. While this may nice occasionally, the majority of the content must be related to the purpose of the site.

3. Header Tags (h1, h2, h3, etc.):
Search engines seem to really like these and give great weight to them. People should use them for the content titles (headings) in their sites (this differs from the page title, which is placed in the tags). My site uses h1 and h2 throughout the site. H3 through h5 are used rarely. But h- tags seem to help sites rank well and tell search engines, “This is important.”

4. Relevant titles that use keywords:

I have heard some people discount titles as important. However, I have seen too many sites rank well based on what is in the title alone. The titles cannot be just any title, but should be short, concise, and keyword dense. Conjunctions should be avoided.

5. Naturally written content:

Too many people say that the content should be written so that it is stuffed full of keywords. However, this results in difficult reading. Search engines do not seem to rank based on keyword stuffing, but seem to welcome content that reads naturally. Content that is stuffed with keywords is, in my experience, devalued by search engines and is ranked lower. From a user’s perspective, when you read the description below the link in search engine results, it is pulled from the content. It is more attractive and friendly to have the phrases placed there to read naturally. People are more inclined to click on an incomplete, yet coherent sentence than something that makes little sense because it’s just keyword-stuffed garbage.

6. Same question, only this time aspects for off-page optimization.

Top five? For me, there is only one: backlinks. Links to your site still dominates. Links from .edu (education), .gov (government), and similar sites are the best, but also the most difficult to obtain. It used to be that .org sites were better than .com, but with the myriad of .org sites that are simply companies using the .org category results in .org and .com sites being of equal value.

My view is that any link to your site is a worthwhile. Links from higher-ranking sites are better. Links from .edu and .gov sites are best. Paid links are, in my view, not worth the money for search engine rankings. They may generate some traffic and backlink counts, but they don’t help in the long term, which is the objective.

7. Name two web markets you believe are not yet saturated and have relatively higher than average ROI potential.

1. Christian websites:

Yes, there are many out there, but because very few are optimized, the market is ripe. Also, the every difficulty/competitiveness measurement I’ve seen shows Christian keywords are not all that competitive. Furthermore, people today are searching for hope, help, and answers in the spiritual realm. What a great opportunity to share the message of hope—the message of Christ—with those who are seeking.

2. Search engine optimization sites:

This may be hard to believe, but many sites promoting search engine optimization services are not well optimized. Many promote years-old beliefs that are no longer valid (as that meta tags are very important or content should be stuffed with keywords). The success of SEO Refugee to date is proof of the potential success of SEO-related sites.

One more just for fun…

3. Underwater basket weaving sites:
Most college students have joked about majoring in this field. Therefore, why not market it on a website. Of course, I’ve probably just given someone a good idea that will make them a millionaire. John, I did check, doesn’t look like much affiliate support for baskets :P.

8. Web 2.0 is here and alive, where do you see Web 3.0 (Web Cubed) heading?

Web 2.0 still baffles me. I have seen various definitions and criteria, but nothing consistent, except that it the use of dynamic pages and dynamic coding verses the static coding of basic HTML. If Web 2.0 is, essentially, dynamic sites, then Web 3.0 cannot exists because either a site is static or dynamic.

9. Is it true that just about anybody can ‘do’ SEO?

Everyone who builds a website does SEO. I remember my first semester of Systematic Theology at seminary. The professor said that everyone is a theologian; they are either good or bad theologians. He is right. Following that logic, every web designer does SEO; they do either good SEO or bad SEO. Anyone can do SEO, but only those who learn, grow, study, test, try, and learn more do good SEO.

10. Case scenario: a strong web programmer (short on business skills) and a strong businessperson (short on programming skills) enter the SEO industry at the same time. Who has the advantage?

Neither individual enters with an advantage. SEO is as much business as it is programming. One might think the programmer has the advantage, but it is not so. The reason is both the on-page and off-page optimizing factors are part of SEO work. The programmer would be more skilled at resolving all on-page optimization. However, he may not possess the business skills necessary to obtain the best links, promote his site, and improve the off-site optimization. The businessperson would be better able to resolve the off-page optimization. The best scenario is for the programmer to take care of the on-page side while the businessperson takes care of the off-page aspect. Also, the businessperson may be better equipped to write the content that the programmer places on the page.

Overall, neither is at an advantage. If a site is not optimized on both sides (on- and off-page), then it will not achieve it’s highest potential rankings. Both are necessary for the greatest potential success.

11. I want to get into the SEO industry, should my skills be rooted in one of the above categories?

Your skills should be in both. If you lack one or the other, team up with someone whose strength compliments yours.

12. I know nothing about SEO/SEM or web marketing. What are the most essential aspects I should include on my web site—the absolute bare minimum/fundamental additions?

First, fresh content is necessary. Keep the site new with new content at least once a week, if not more often. Second, use header (h-) tags. These are easy to include, where the heading is placed within <h1></h1> tags (h1 and h2 are the best). Third, use relevant titles that briefly, yet accurately, describe the content of that specific page. Fourth, get links from other sites. These four steps are, in my view, the absolute minimum in SEO work.

14. Additional thoughts?

Some people believe SEO is manipulating the search engines. However, this is far from the truth. Using search engine optimization results in pages that are search engine and human-user friendly. Those who use SEO techniques desire a page that respects the search engines and their preferences while respects those who visit the site. It is not manipulating the search engines; SEO is the art of helping sites rank better by creating sites that are fresh, relevant, and of higher quality.

You’ve clearly put some thought into your respones John, thanks for your input. Faith-based or not-for-profit organizations seeking web marketing and SEO consultation can visit Distinct’s faith based SEO web page. Next week Daryl Clark will join us for another round of SEO interviews!

[Tags]john rothra, rothra ministries, faith based seo, church web marketing, christian seo[/tags]