Something that troubles me nearly every time I go online to do faith-related research is how Lutherans and Lutheran writing doesn’t tend to show up when you crank up the Google engine and start looking for the answers to life’s questions big and small. Just try this if you don’t believe me: Type in

What will heaven be like?
How do I know I’m saved?
Did Jesus really rise from the dead?
Why are Christians intolerant?
How are we saved?

or even a silly/cultural question like

Why do we have pews in church?

Where are the Lutherans? Because Lutherans have tons of good stuff to say about these things. Good stuff, interesting stuff, comforting stuff, real stuff. All straight from the Bible.

It’s not that Lutherans aren’t or haven’t or don’t continue to write about big things. Because they do. But (setting aside the rather-too-large contingent of Lutheran bloggers who preach to a carefully cultivated choir, because that’s another piece of armchair philosophy for another day), it’s the proverbial problem of the tree falling in the woods. If you’re writing fabulous stuff online but no one can find it, is it really there?

Now, in defense of Lutherans, once you start searching for terms that relate uniquely or especially to the Lutheran faith (like “infant baptism” and “closed communion”), we start to show up on the Holy Grail that is page 1 of Google. And if you go to the branded LCMS website and nose around long enough you might find what you’re looking for as well. But the whole point of evangelism is to reach out to people who are unaware you exist and/or think they have no need for you.

What Lutherans need is a crash course in SEO. It’s really very simple (although the professionals will tell you otherwise), but you have to have a totally different mindset when writing with keywords. Instead of clever titles and writing strictly to the reader, you begin by defining the topic, then asking yourself, “what would a Google user type into the search bar if he were looking for information on my topic?” And then you go to Google’s handy Adwords keyword tool, and you type in your topic and a bunch of search phrases and mine the data for the most-searched phrases, and you use standard SEO techniques to sew those keywords through the fabric of your post. Bonus points if you use Google Instant to mine real-time search data as your actual post title.

Ok, there’s slightly more to it than that*, but really, a few days’ worth of studying the topic** would get anyone up to speed and ready to conquer the internet.

[At this point I should note that, even though I live and breathe SEO in my professional life, I make absolutely no attempt to use it on this blog. I actually like the idea of a private-yet-public space which is read by a few dozen people and not a few hundred thousand, a place to journal my family and thoughts without the pressure of having a following to post to, respond to, and keep happy. So don’t take what I write here and my silly, non-keyword-focused titles as evidence of my hypocrisy or lack of SEO knowledge.]

In general I like that the LCMS is traditional and confessional and unbending to the winds of the culture. But I also love when we can a) use technology in order to spread the Gospel and explain our doctrine and b) do it better than the ELCA, because the junk they put out on the web isn’t always Lutheran in the historical/confessional sense. Our progressive friends want to change up worship to attract more people. To me, we’re missing a huge, wide-open opportunity to attract more people by standing honestly and openly for what we believe, by posting those beliefs online so they can be found by internet searchers (key word there: found), and simply believing in the efficacy of the Word and the power of the seeds sown.

And now that I’ve got the armchair philosophy out of my system, it’s time to get on the treadmill.

 ~

*The slightly more includes good navigation and page titles, good meta data (something lcms.org is as terrible at as humanly possible), optimizing headers and alt text, strategically using anchor text, always putting awesome content in html form (vs. PDF or infographics, unless you include html versions), using frames and canonical urls to help Google “read” your site, and having a plan for increasing your PageRank by getting links from other authoritative sites. Oh, and doing this one page at a time. PageRank and optimization is a page by page deal, like measuring out each ingredient correctly when baking. The result is a great holistic product, but it has to be done one step at a time.

**Some of my favorite 101 resources include

SEOMOZ Beginner’s Guide to SEO

Bruce Clay’s Keyword Research

How to choose keywords by Bruce Clay

Keyword research using searcher intent by MOZ

Keyword stemming primer