Wednesday, August 30, 2017

How Mormons Are Winning the Internet

Article by: Jordan Loftis

A Buddhist monk, a Mormon missionary, and an evangelical pastor walk into a party. They enter a noisy living room, cramped with people of every creed and color. Then an odd thing happens.

A young woman climbs onto a table, clearly distraught. She asks through tears, “Who is Jesus?”

The pastor’s face lights up at the surprising question. This is just the sort of person he prays for. But before he can answer, the party host zips to the woman’s side. Offering a hand, the host helps the young woman down from the table. “This way, my friend. I know the most credible person in the room to answer this question for you.”

The host looks the pastor’s way and weaves through the crowd, guiding the young woman. The pastor smiles and prays. He asks for wisdom and that the woman’s heart would be tender toward the gospel.

The pair stops in front of the monk, the missionary, and the pastor. The host’s eyes dart first to the monk. He’s known widely as a man of peace but also as a man who speaks in riddles. He’s not the right fit for this question, she decides.

Next, she looks at the earnest pastor and smiles. But in a millisecond, he’s out of the race, too.

She says to the young woman: “I’d like you to meet Jim, a Mormon and the most credible person in the room to answer your question.”

With that, the young woman and the Mormon missionary sit down. She listens intently as Jim presents her with the gospel, the story of a young “martyr” named Joseph Smith, and the truth about Jesus Christ.

The pastor and monk exchange a disappointed glance, surprised the host dismissed them so quickly. But, they concede, it’s the host’s party, not their own. They must play by her rules.

Happening Now

As far-fetched as this story sounds, it plays out across the world thousands of times per day. The only differences are the characters’ names and the party’s location.

In real life, the host’s name is Google. And the Mormon missionary’s name is LDS.org and its related Mormon web properties.

The party I’ve described is what happens each time someone enters a query (or keyword) into a search engine like Google. The search engine runs rocket-science-level algorithms to decide which pieces of content are most likely to answer the query. Then it provides links in ranked order from most authoritative to least.

The practice of positively influencing your rank is called search engine optimization (SEO). And it’s a growth strategy Mormons use to spread their gospel online, to great effect.

Mormonism differs sharply from orthodox Christianity in its beliefs on key doctrines like Christology and soteriology. When people ask questions about Christianity, Mormons are quick to give them answers, but the answers are wrong.

Orthodox Christians need to learn how to improve their online presence to compete with this false gospel. 

How Are Mormons Winning the Internet?

Mormons intentionally cultivate their online presence. They use online visibility tactics like SEO because they understand three things: 

  1. How search engines like Google decide which content to point people to first.

  2. How to cater to these rules.

  3. How important this information is for evangelism.

They take this information and do two things: 

  1. They document how to do SEO so every LDS-affiliated site can adhere to these ranking fundamentals.

  2. They use competitor analysis to displace anti-church websites and control their public image.

Dubious of my facts? Try Googling terms like “Jesus,” “Bible,” or even “Who is Jesus?” Though search results differ, you’re likely to see a Mormon web property near the top of the search results.

How Does Google Work?

This matters because Google is the Internet’s front door—especially since it’s responsible for 80 percent or more of global search volume. Google won’t say exactly how many search queries it fulfills, but as of fall 2016 it was more than 2 trillion.

Now, if you’re not a web geek, here’s a tech-light overview of how search engines work.

Think about the world of academics. Getting published in a peer-reviewed journal is a big achievement, but just as important is getting cited. The more citations, the more authoritative a piece becomes.

Google works on a similar premise. Just swap out “published paper” for “web page,” and “citation” for “backlink.” A backlink is when one website links to another. Google takes both the volume and also quality of these backlinks into account when deciding which web pages should rise to the top.

Each link is like a vote that signals, “This content matters.” And the more prestigious the site that links to another page, the greater the weight given to that backlink. In the SEO realm, this concept is known as domain authority.

By knowing the technical rules, site owners can help Google understand what their content is about and strategically gain links so they get found first.

There’s a joke in the digital marketing world that the best place to hide a body is the second page of Google. But with a working knowledge of these ranking rules, websites can earn top spots. And this means significantly more traffic

Anyone can learn to use SEO. Even if you’re a self-described Luddite or someone who eschews anything that smacks of “marketing,” I encourage you to embrace this modern marketplace of ideas for what it is: an opportunity to win some by any means (1 Cor. 9:22).

Five Resources to Get Started with SEO

So here are five free resources to help you learn and apply the essentials of SEO. These resources are geared toward marketers, but the principles you will learn are sound—and portable—for use in the church.

1. The Beginner’s Guide to SEO

The best place to start is at the beginning. In “The Beginner’s Guide to SEO,” you’ll find ten info-packed chapters to help you grasp the what, why, and how of SEO. It’s the first resource I point people to when they want to learn SEO.

2. How to Build Strategic Links to Your Content

As I said earlier, when another site links to yours, it’s like a vote signaling that your content matters to people. More links equal more credibility, which means better rankings on search page results. In the eight-chapter resource “Link Building for SEO: The Definitive Guide,” you’ll learn how to master this key skill.

3. How to Do Keyword Research

Keywords give us insight into what people actually want to know. They let you listen to a million tiny questions, digital whispers that reveal the needs, pains, and interests of the world. Keyword research is one of the highest-return ways to spend time and energy on SEO.

The landmark article “How to Do Keyword Research in 2017” will help you learn exactly how to do this. 

4. A Digestible Overview of the Techy Considerations

If links and keywords are nutrients for the SEO soil, the technical aspects form the soil itself. In this article, you’ll learn the anatomy of a perfectly optimized web page. From formatting your content to naming pages and articles, this is a one-stop shop. It’s packed full of visual examples, clear explanations, and a sequence to apply the information to your own website.

5. SEO for Wordpress Users

Wordpress is a website platform that accounts for nearly 20 percent of websites worldwide. This resource is a piece on how to optimize a Wordpress site for SEO. It includes pictures, how-tos, and a list of Wordpress-only tools to amplify your work.

What Now?

So what should Christians do with this information? What missionaries always do: learn the “language” and engage the mission field. With so many great resources available to learn SEO, opportunity abounds.

The real world and the digital world have blended. The internet is simply a network draped across humanity connecting us with important facets of reality. 

Only now, the host of the proverbial party sets the table according to a special code of rules. And those rules are transparent enough to play by and utilize. So let’s follow Lady Wisdom (Prov. 9:3), calling out from the highest places to be heard by as many searchers as we can.

Jordan Loftis is the author of The Men With Bare Feet: Discovering Intimacy With God Through Moses, Joshua, and Jesus and the editor of shortdailydevotions.com. He graduated with a BA in theology and philosophy from the University of Sioux Falls, and he writes at jordanloftis.com



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