Excerpts of Mormons using the Web to control their own image, By Michelle Boorstein, Washington Post
Try this. Type "church," "Old Testament" or even "friend" into Google, and the Web site of the LDS church, the Mormons, pops up near the top of the list.
In the age of the Internet, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has found a way to dominate what is arguably today's most important information source: the search engine.
It's all about Mormons controlling their own image, church officials say. They've been doing that for a century or more. And now, with two of their own vying for the Republican nomination in the 2012 presidential race, and a Broadway hit and reality television generating huge interest in the denomination, much is at stake.
"We're jumping into the conversation because there is a big one going on about Mormons, and we want to be a part of it," said Stephen Allen, head of the church's missionary department. "When someone goes into Google, if the first 10 sites are people who hate us, we lose in terms of our message."
Their doctrine requires Mormons to proselytize, and it would be foolish not to strategize at a time of heightened interest, church officials and supporters say.
The Mormons, however, are leaving nothing to chance. They have always stood apart in the religious world when it comes to marketing. Savvy and aggressive, they were among the first to have a public relations shop, run public-service announcements and have a 1-800 number. The church at one time changed its logo to highlight the words "Jesus Christ," then shifted to "Mormon" and even tried to trademark the word once it became better known.
The site lds.org is the most-visited of any faith group, and Mormon church-wide conferences sometimes rank at the top of Twitter while they're underway.
The Mormons also are the subject of publications and conference lectures for techies who specialize in the complex business of online searching, called "SEO" or "search engine optimization."
These SEO experts debate how the church has managed to dominate the search engine box.
"They have infused SEO into their culture," said Justin Briggs, a consultant who wrote a well-read blog post called "Breaking Down the Mormon SEO Strategy."
The church has run multiple campaigns to educate its flock about the power of search engines, and it produces high-quality information on spiritual topics such as the New Testament, Briggs said.
Some SEO experts say the church and grass-roots groups of members also conduct "link-building campaigns," rallying lots of people to click on a link, and thereby raising its placement in search-engine results.
LDS officials declined to comment on the church's specific SEO plan, but some of its strategy is laid out on a site set up to help church members become more SEO-savvy. It asks members to help boost traffic to a different site about church teachings on self-reliance, which covers a variety of topics, such as the importance of keeping a three-month supply of food and water, creative ways to find a job and adoption services for people considering abortion.
The SEO advice site says the church is trying to snag Google users who type in general terms, such as "employment" and "debt management." Among other things, it recommends that people write articles that can include LDS links.
But the Web has not been the sole focus of the Mormons' image strategy. Last year, the church launched a marketing campaign called "I'm a Mormon," using television ads, taxi and subway signs, and billboards to introduce people from a range of backgrounds as Mormons.
The campaign bought a large billboard in Times Square, where the Broadway musical "The Book of Mormon," a satirical take on the religion, is a smash success. Mormon expert Jan Shipps said the church spent $1 million in Times Square alone. The church would not comment on the figure.
But the marketing efforts have drawn criticism from both inside and outside the church. ...