Growing Our Faith with Google Ad Words

The following is a guest post by Joyce Dowling. Joyce is a 30-yr. member of Davies Memorial Unitarian Universalist Church in Camp Springs, MD, which is considered one of the most racially diverse congregations in the UUA. She started as a volunteer RE teacher, volunteered in many other areas of church leadership, served as Director of Religious Education for 5 yrs., and then in 1996, started working on developing a web site and Growth & Public Relations Committee for her congregation. She started working with the Joseph Priestley District’s local cluster’s Growth Committee (now called Chesapeake aka CHUUG) about 5 yrs. ago and now also works as a consultant doing their web site and Google Adwords campaign.  If your congregation, cluster, or district would like to try a Google Adwords campaign, Joyce is available as a consultant to help you.  ~ Peter

Growing Our Faith with Google Ad Words

By Joyce Dowling

When my congregation, Davies Memorial UU Church, was experiencing a slump, we dedicated part of our budget to advertising. In the ~15 yrs. we’ve been promoting our congregation through mailings, newspapers, and other publications, the internet has grown in significantly. I first tried Google Adwords about a decade ago. Google was then the #1 search engine and still is today. The goal was to expose internet searchers, who use terms related to our programs and services, to our congregation.

Google allows advertisements to be shown in a limited geographic area, such as a 20-mile radius from your congregation. It also allows you to set a limited daily budget and a choice of bidding amount on keywords. This makes Google Adwords a cost-effective means of getting our message out.

It has improved significantly since I started using it, though the cost of the keywords we like to use has increased. I’ve found that it’s best, as Google recommends, that a special “landing page” is created for each ad, rather than using the church’s home page or some other page that was not originally designed with Google Adwords in mind, for the link from the ad. It still provides us with a challenge since they change their algorithms regularly, but I have worked diligently to try to keep our ads giving us good results.

We can track how many people clicked on an ad, and then we can also track “conversions”. On my congregation’s web site, I use the contact page and the location/directions page as conversion pages. If the tracking shows that they went from the landing page to one of those pages, it seems more likely that they will actually attend our church.

When asking newcomers how they found our congregation, I am often told “the internet”. When I ask them how, sometimes they’ll say they searched on the term “unitarian”,  “uu”, “unitarian universalist”, etc. which would not lead them to our ads since I don’t use those terms as people can find our web site without the cost of advertising. Sometimes they find the UUA’s site and then find us through that site. So, then I ask how they found out about Unitarian Universalism. Often they say they don’t remember how they found out about it, and sometimes they were not looking for a church or religion but interested in something else and through their interests, somehow stumbled on Unitarian Universalism. Some people often say that’s also how they found our church, so it’s hard to know if that included our Google ads or not. Still it seems beneficial to use them since they do attract people to our site who probably would otherwise might not know about UUism.

As a member of the Chesapeake UU Growth Committee (CHUUG), which is a cluster of the Joseph Priestly District, I reported about my success. I had also invited some of their members to chip in on a national advertising campaign one summer and then invited UUs around the country from various online sources. The information about this short campaign is listed on my blog here.

CHUUG’s mission is “to organize and support congregations in creating an inspirational movement that proclaims a compelling UU message” and its vision is “Unitarian Universalism is recognized as an influential faith movement whose unique values and practices inspire people to join our congregations.”. After producing a document to help congregations improve their web sites and search engine optimization and a related check list for our web sites, CHUUG decided to embark on a Google Adwords campaign. The work was kicked off with a Chalice Lighter’s grant. We developed a web site at and later purchased another domain name,, that works better depending on the ad campaign.

CHUUG has liaisons from each of the congregations who attend a meeting once or twice per year. At our spring meeting, I produced a power-point-presentation about how our Adwords campaigns work. It’s now posted on YouTube.

Our current top ads are: gay friendly churches, religious freethinkers, grief support, interfaith families, atheist community, spiritual community, religion welcoming to all, caring for the earth, make meaning in your life, how to deal with dying, and Sunday school for all ages. A sub-committee on a YahooGroup helps me come up with new ideas for ads and landing pages.

In faith,
Joyce Dowling

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