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How churches use pay-per-click ads for seasonal outreach

Want to broaden your reach to seekers searching for specific ways to get involved? By using pay-per-click (PPC) ads that appear in search results, you can deliver outreach and seasonal messages directly to nonmembers looking for what your congregation is offering.

Search engines are especially busy during Advent and Christmas. Many people look for special services to attend, activities for their kids, ways to volunteer and causes deserving donations. All this seasonal activity makes a good test environment to consider whether or not PPC ads work for your church.

Some “need-to-knows” about PPC

  • PPC is not free. However, you can set a price threshold for each ad so that you never go over your campaign budget. Set the threshold low at first to see if you get clicks.
  • Unless it's a featured ad, you usually see PPC ads in the margins of a basic search-engine query. One great advantage is that advertisers only pay for the clicks an ad generates. If the user doesn't click, then you may get a little free exposure. It's like planting a seed.
  • Do not confuse PPC with natural search results. When you design your website, you optimize it to be “found” by those searching the Web. You do not control the results, even if you hire someone who says they know Google’s algorithm.
  • Set a start and stop time for your PPC campaign. If you have a fall festival, you can run your ad during the month leading up to the event and stop on the actual day.
  • Be specific. To keep the cost of your campaign down and to target those who are best served by your event/product, be specific in the search keywords and phrasing from which you will advertise.
  • Set the region for your campaign to the zip codes surrounding your community. A national campaign for a local event would be a waste of money and garner extremely poor results.
  • Create an excellent landing page for the campaign so those who click on your ad will see only the relevant details.
  • You can mask the URL that is viewable in your ad. Buying a domain name that is relevant for the search is a good add-on (i.e., http://yourtownfallfestival.com). Alternatively you could create an abbreviated vanity URL. A vanity URL is a shorter web address (i.e. yourchurch.com/event). Seek specific instructions for creating a vanity URL from your IT team or from your content-management system’s technical support. Learn how to create a Facebook page vanity URL.

Ideas for using PPC

There can be a host of ways and reasons to use PPC. Here are a few ideas that might be worth trying.

  • Children’s and/or family events. Families regularly want to find a church in which to become involved. Advertising the children’s ministry or family-friendly events is a great way to provide for a family need.
  • Workshops at the church. People love to learn new skills in art, photography, knitting, fitness routines and other topics. New or veteran parents may feel unprepared to organize or raise their families. Advertise a parenting workshop to the outside community as well as your own congregation.
  • Sermon series or worship services. People who are new to town may be searching for a church that they feel fits them. Putting together a campaign with a sermon series title could be a real grabber for them or for someone looking for a specific spiritual experience, a friendly church or a contemporary worship service.
  • Counseling services. It is sometimes hard to find counseling services in the community. If counseling services operate from within your church, you offer the combined credibility of pastoral counseling with a wanted service.
  • Special events, fundraising or contests. You might have a special yard sale to raise money for an orphanage in Africa. This is a perfect opportunity to create a landing page with photos of items and details of the sale. You can tell how to donate items for the sale. You can do an email signup for people to get notifications about the sale closer to the time (building your email list is a good thing). Then set up a campaign to advertise the sale within the ZIP codes around your church community so people within a reasonable driving distance know about it.

Those are just some general ideas to get you started in promoting through PPC.

How do I start and succeed at PPC?

1. Agree on your budget for advertising. You do not want to overspend.

2. Identify some desired results. Do you want more attendance from newcomers at an event? Do you want more people to sign up for emails? Do you want to grab more exposure in the community? Set a few measurable goals to help you determine if you want to advertise again.

3. Create the landing pages and “calls to action” that you want people to see when they click on your ad. This can be as simple as a dedicated webpage on your church site, a completely new website or special section in a social media page. The call to action could direct people to an email signup form.

4. Do keyword research for your area, using specific words and locations. Note: make sure to add your state with your town.

5. Create a PPC account. For Google, go to google.com/adwords; for Bing/Yahoo, go to bing.com and click on the “advertise” link at the bottom of the page.

6. Create a new campaign. Most of these set-ups are super simple. Each search engine wants you to feel comfortable advertising with them.

  • Caution: Do not use all the defaults of the campaign set-up. That will give you an overly broad scope.
  • Tip: Start with small daily budgets and create a few different ads promoting the same activity or campaign. Test different images and copy and then switch out the lower performing ads to the one that received the most clicks.

7. Write the ad copy. Keep things simple and clear. Do not overthink the crowd.

  • Insert the ad title (top line).
  • Insert the URL.
  • Insert the attention-getting blurb or teaser text.
  • Insert keywords in the copy that appear in the landing page. If you do not, search engines will give your ad a low quality score and will display ads with higher scores more often.

8. Set your parameters:

  • Set your budget. Depending on the service, you may be asked to bid on an ad. Ads with higher bids get higher quality scores and are displayed more often. Many services will give you a warning if your bid is too low.
  • Set your timeline for starting and stopping the campaign.
  • Insert keywords. When users search for those keywords, your ad will display.
  • Establish the ZIP codes where you want to advertise.
  • Set the times you want your ad to start and stop showing in the day, plus specific days of the week. A mom might not be searching for “things to do in ‘your town’” at 3:00 a.m. on a Friday, so choose not to advertise during that period.

After you finish the submission process, your ad must be approved before it can go live.

9. Check back after a day or two. Compare the ad with your website analytics or email list to make sure it is accomplishing what you intended. If the ad is not performing well, consider making the image or copy more enticing. If you tested multiple ads, switch out the lower performing ads to the one that received the most clicks.

This may not be door-to-door evangelism, but in many ways, this is effective in finding people who have a desire to be in a spiritual community. Sharing who you are with those outside the regular communication funnel is a great outreach practice.

Facebook advertising works in many of the same ways as search engine advertising. You can define your audience to people’s networks and groups. Doing a Facebook campaign in conjunction with a search engine PPC campaign will give you a good idea of what helps your church reach out beyond the walls.