While preparing some talks I’m giving on New Media, I was struck with a realization: the two fastest growing religious groups in our country are also the two with the strongest online presence–Mormonism and Atheism. I’ll save Atheism and its aggressive new media evangelism for another day, but right now I’ll focus on Mormonism.
A recent article in Mail Online highlights the digital success of the Mormon community (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints):
“LDS.org is the most-visited website of any faith group, and LDS conferences often rank at the top of Twitter when they are underway. But perhaps most surprising is how the religion now dominates search terms on Google.
When searching ‘Old Testament’, the LDS website ranks second on the search engine giant – listed under a Wikipedia entry and linking to books in the Bible. The church also ranks third in the search for ‘friend’, below a Wikipedia entry and a dictionary.com explanation of its meaning; ‘church’ ranks fourth on the list after a list of churches in your local community.”
What’s the secret to their incredible success? The answer is something we touch on in the Church and New Media book. In the sidebar dedicated to Devin Rose, Devin explains how important it is for faithful Catholic websites to be high up in the Google results for search terms relevant to our faith. For example, if someone searches for “Catholic Church” we don’t want the first five articles to be written by anti-Catholic polemicists. Likewise if they search for “priests” we don’t want the first ten articles to be about the sexual abuse crisis.
The art of influencing these search result rankings is know as “SEO”–search engine optimization. There are plenty of guides and tips on how to improve your SEO around the Internet, and in fact it’s pretty big business in the online world. Corporations pay thousands of dollars to ensure their businesses will be near the top of search results.
In the religious world, however, SEO is often considered an unglamorous pursuit. But the Mormon community is single-handedly proving its power.
“LDS officials declined to comment on the church’s specific SEO plan. However, outside experts agree that the Mormons’ success is ‘a combination of investment, focus and an unusually tight faith community’, according to the Post.”
A major reason the Mormon community has attracted so many people through the Internet is simply because of its proximity and prevalence (the same holds true, by the way, for the atheist community.)
This should rattle us Catholics. The Catholic Church, the world’s largest and most influential offline religion, should not be satisfied with appearing low in search results. When someone searches digitally for “Jesus”, the Church should ideally be the first response, not the tenth or twentieth, just as she aims to be offline.
It’s clear that the Mormon community has devoted time, money, and–maybe most importantly–technological expertise to their online missionary efforts. It’s time we Catholics do the same. We need to take seriously the online mission field and equally invest in entrepreneurial evangelization.