This is Part II of a two-part post. If you missed Part I, check it out here.
Yesterday we explained how one Christian denomination found its way to the top of the Google rankings for the keyword phrase ‘jesus christ’ on Google’s search engine results page (SERP).
So why blog about this? I mean, somebody has to be at the top of the SERP for those words, and it’s pretty likely that it is going to be a religious group of some sort, right?
This is logical, and completely correct.
But when the denomination that makes it to the top of the SERP is a relatively small congregation of just 15 million people amongst a global Christian population of 2.5 billion people – and in “competition” with denominations with more than 1 billion adherents – that’s more than a little bit interesting, and it’s worth investigating some reasons why this is the case.
In Part I of this post we explained the significance of backlinks in promoting the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the LDS Church, or Mormon Church) to the top of the Google rankings. We explored the importance of both the quantity of backlinks and the quality of those links, the signals the backlinks send to the search engine, and the anchor text that each backlink includes.
In today’s post we take a look at the competitors to the LDS Church’s position as the top result among churches for a Google search for ‘jesus christ’, and for that we turn to another SEO tool.
SEMrush: Find Your Keyword Competitors
In the previous post we used a tool called Majestic SEO to investigate the backlink profile of the LDS Church’s top-ranking page.
To investigate the competitors of the Mormon Church, however, we use a different tool: SEMrush.
SEMrush describes its seven-year company history thus:
SEMrush started out in 2008 as a small group of SEO and IT specialists united by one mission — to make online competition fair and transparent, with equal opportunities for everyone. After seven years of trailblazing experiments and constant progress, we’ve grown into the world’s leading competitive research service for online marketing. Having traveled the path from a small startup to a big international company, we at SEMrush are still loyal to the fundamental values that got us to where we are now — adapting to change over following a strict plan and always placing individuals over processes.
Today the company provides SaaS to subscribers around the world and aids marketers in understanding what search terms to target, how to improve their positioning online, and how to strategically market their businesses online. It’s a standard tool in the online marketing game, and with all of the data that the company provides about websites, keywords, and SERPs it is easy to see why.
One useful element of the SEMrush tool is the ability to look at competitors to a site. While identifying competitors is sometimes very easy – GM’s site is a competitor site for Ford and Toyota, for instance– for some keywords and in some sectors the competitors may not be as clear. For example, for a keyword like ‘football’ there are going to be NFL teams, sports media companies, colleges, but also European sites focused on soccer thanks to the vagaries of the English language when it comes to ball games.
Using SEMrush to investigate the LDS Church’s top ranking domain for the keyword ‘jesus christ’ reveals exactly who the competitors to the Church are for the term – and the results might surprise.
Fighting for Top Ranking
Here are the top 15 competitor sites as revealed by SEMrush for the LDS Church’s top ranking page for ‘jesus christ’ on Google’s SERP:
Competitors are ranked by the number of keywords that the sites have in common on major search engines. In this case, the LDS Church site shares more than 26,000 keywords with the site BibleGateway.com; that site, in effect, is the major competitor site for the LDS Church online.
Yet taking a closer look at that list and a few things are clear. Of the fifteen sites listed most are general Bible study sites, non-denominational Christian sites, or question and answer sites related to Christian texts.
Only one of the top fifteen competitor sites is directly affiliated with a different Christian denomination: USCCB.org is associated with the Catholic Church.
Note, though, that two of the biggest competitor sites for the LDS Church are other properties owned by or affiliated with the Mormon Church. The first, MormonNewsroom.org, is an official website of the LDS Church, while the second, Mormon.org, is an information-rich introduction to the LDS Church.
In other words, some of the LDS Church’s biggest online competitors are…other LDS Church sites. For any entity, this is an enviable digital marketing position to be in.
Is This All Coincidence?
A question emerges at this point: is all of this a coincidence? Or, in SEO terms, is the LDS Church just benefiting from a strong organic presence online?
After all, it’s important to remember that while the LDS Church is the top ranked denomination on the Google SERP for the term ‘jesus christ’ it is not the top result. The top result for that keyword search remains the Wikipedia article for Jesus Christ, and the Wikimedia Foundation is not spending any money on SEO efforts for ‘jesus christ’ or any other keyword phrase – and it doesn’t need to because it’s organic game is so strong.
Could the LDS Church be benefiting from a strong organic presence in the same way?
In this case the answer would seem to be no.
The LDS Church’s efforts at SEO were first noted almost five years ago where, in a posting on Y-Combinator’s Hacker News site, their SEO strategy was explored:
I am LDS, and it’s true that there are a lot of very competent techies who are members.
The two major factors that likely influence the high ranking are : as mentioned. (1) the SEO is affected by links pointing at the site from external sources like LDS bloggers, and (2) the comprehensive system of cross-referencing that the site has implemented through its web-based scriptures.
American online marketing agency Distilled is also impressed with the LDS strategy, noting in a blog post:
I’m impressed by how much LDS gets SEO and sets out to educate their webmasters… By the end of 2007, LDS had written a blog post on How to Build Links to Your Website, a post that corresponds well with the upturn in link acquisition. They have also posted not once, but twice, on how to optimize links… LDS impressed me with how they have leveraged inbound marketing to dramatically improve their outreach. Their strategy is much more forward thinking than many organizations and companies. They’re a great example of how to leverage SEO to grow awareness of your organization. They do seem to have some technical SEO issues they could improve upon, but they’ve been effective in their link building.
The Church’s efforts have also been praised by none other than digital marketing legend Avinash Kaushik, who built the word cloud below and wrote:
…it becomes quickly apparent that the Mormon Church has done a near magnificent job with search.
The brand dominates (as it should), but what is truly impressive is how many other words are also prominent (the valuable non-brand ones, even the long tail ones). If you know even a little bit about the Church you’ll also be impressed that this tag cloud is a validation that the words the LDS church would like to be associated with it are prominent, and ones it does not are not as prominent. An amazing job by them. Pretty easy to see the themes (music, scriptures, family, etc.) that you can then take back to your client/boss and validate whether they line up with business goals.
In other words, the high ranking of the LDS Church for the keyword term ‘jesus christ’ is no accident, but rather the result of a deliberate and sustained SEO strategy – and the Church is reaping the rewards.
With billions of the Christian faithful searching for information about the central figure of their faith, the competition for the keyword ‘jesus christ’ is high. That the LDS Church has found their way to the top of the search results for this keyword – and with more than one site – besides being one of the smaller denominations (in terms of congregation size) is noteworthy, but it is not an accident.
By paying attention to backlinks, anchor text, on site SEO, the quantity and quality of links, effective link building, and the competition for the keyword, the LDS Church has found themselves at the top of search results for one of the most important keywords they target. Their efforts and success, their strategy and their tactics, stand as a great example for other organizations, businesses, and SEOs who want to push their own site to the top of the rankings for other keywords.