The Importance of Local SEO and Google My Business for Churches

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Does your church show up in search results when someone searches for “church near me” in your area? What factors influence local search rankings? What should every church be doing with their Google My Business property? Tune in to hear Katie Allred and Kenny Jahng of Church Communications address all of these issues in today’s podcast episode!
For more information, visit Missional Marketing’s local page, and be sure to download a checklist of Local SEO optimization steps and get a free Local SEO Report for your church website:
Relevant links:


Katie Allred: Welcome to the Church Communications podcast. I’m Katie Allred.

Kenny Jahng: And I’m Kenny Jahng.

Katie Allred: We want to help you become a better church communicator.

Kenny Jahng: This is the place to talk about communication strategies and best practices with your church.

Katie Allred: Let’s get started.

Kenny Jahng: Hey friends, it’s that time again. It is Kenny Jahng and Katie Allred for the Church Communications podcast. I feel like I’m talking like I’m Gary Vaynerchuk today Katie, I can’t get out of it. It is the church-

Katie Allred: You’re the Gary V of church comm.

Kenny Jahng: Gary V. Gary V. The Church Communications podcast.

Katie Allred: Yes. Podcast. We’re glad to have everyone here. How are you doing today, Kenny?

Kenny Jahng: It is a fantastic day. I am really amped up because this is one of those topics that we’re going to talk about today that I just love nerding out. It’s- [crosstalk 00:00:53]

Katie Allred: Yeah, me too.

Kenny Jahng: It’s one of those things where it’s so easy to win in this category because no one else is doing anything about it, and so what we’re you talk about today?

Katie Allred: And it’s super practical.

Kenny Jahng: Yeah. Tell us what we’re going to talk about today, Katie.

Katie Allred: We’re going to talk about Google my business and we’re also going to talk about local SEO. So if you are interested in how you can rank in search engines, this is for you. So if you’re a new church, an old church, you haven’t had a website a long time, maybe you’ve had website forever, but you’re not on the first page of Google. Or maybe you just want to beat all the other churches in town. Just kidding. We work together, but maybe you’re like that other Mormon church that’s not real. No I’m just kidding Mormons. But maybe you’re like the other churches down the street. They’re doing really great. Why can’t we also be doing great? We’re going to tell you today how you can do better.

Kenny Jahng: Yeah, I mean, right. Basic question. What is the difference between local search and regular organic search? Why is local so important to actual the churches?

Katie Allred: Yes.

Kenny Jahng: And then introducing, I think, I think we’re going to be introducing a lot of people to the Google local pack and the Google my business service. Okay. That hopefully is a phrase that you’ve heard before, but if not, it’s okay. I think Katie’s here to save the day and we’re going to get to talking about it. Right. Again, I think everyone’s always interested in those factors that impact local search rankings so that you can move your church up that that ladder. So at the end of… Does your church show up in search results? I think that’s a really big question. Last time, last episode, Katie challenged everyone to hop over to Google and then actually duck, duck, go and actually search for churches near me or churches in city name. Yeah. Let’s just start there. Local search. What should we be talking about? What should we be thinking about, Katie?

Katie Allred: Okay. So local searches have an extremely high impact on church growth because they’re performed by people who are located near enough to your church to actually visit you in person. And they’re also performed by people who are both actively and explicitly looking for a church typically.

Katie Allred: So local SEO is what makes your church accurately show in location based searches. So when you search for something like church near me, local church, church in your city, this city. so local SEO is what makes your church accurately show up in mapping apps. Okay. So that is typically also another place that people are searching for your church automatically. Right? So they might go to Google maps and just be like church, and show everything in the surrounding radius. It might just not be Google either? It might be Apple or Yelp. Could be Waze. So how can we use Google’s local pack so that we know how to affect that. So what’s Google local pack, Kenny?

Kenny Jahng: Yeah, Google local. So this is like a little bit nerdy of a phrase, and I love like reading you in. If you’re listening today. Basically you do a Google search, right? It’s [inaudible 00:04:05] by Google to serve up, right? And we call those, the first page, we call that SERPs, S-E-R-P, search engine results page. Right? And so what you want your church to show up on the first SERP page, right? And typically Google wants to interpret it based on location if you are doing some geographic type of related search.

Kenny Jahng: So Google returns the set of results at the top of the page, which it calls the local pack. So when you’re doing, especially when, for instance, when you do a search on Google maps, right? The entirety of search results returned is driven from a local ranking algorithm. It’s not against… If you searching for a pizza restaurant, pizzeria, you’re not going to compete with… Like my Jersey search is not going to bring up Alabama pizzerias, right?

Katie Allred: Right.

Kenny Jahng: There’s, there’s this local pack that Google defines by geography that’s relevant to where you are. And so that’s why it’s extremely important to dominate this local SEO. You’ve got to break into that local pack. That’s basically what we’re talking about.

Katie Allred: Okay. So what are the steps to first, let’s talk about Google on business. Okay, so Google my business is a service provided by Google. Do you want to get into it? You can go to literally just search for Google by business and you can also go to google.com/business. The first thing you’re going to need to do is you’re going to need to claim your listing. If you have never claimed your church’s listing, you need to claim it and then you need to verify it. There’s a lot of different ways you can verify it. Probably the easiest one is to make a phone call, but there’s another one where you actually get a postcard in the mail with a number on it. The phone call is preferable because it happens instantaneously pretty much. Then after that, you can start customizing your Google listing that comes up when people search for your church.

Kenny Jahng: It sounds intimidating, but it is Google. It’s very easy. It’s very intuitive. They step you through it. You basically log in and it goes one step at a time to claim your listing and then the power and the results and the impact that you have I think is pretty amazing there.

Kenny Jahng: So you want to claim it, you want to verify it, as Katie said. I think that’s something that’s really important. The next thing I think, at least from my perspective is the basic, what we call someone recently said napkin information, but that’s nap, like the nap, the your name, address and phone number. You need to make sure that data is correct and there’s actually a whole cottage industry opening up for verifying that because there’s so many databases out there now, mapping databases, GPS database, online database, yellow page database, there’s so many things out there with your name, address and phone number and those things change over time, especially if you have multi-site multi campuses. So you want to make sure that that stuff is up to date and correct because again, that’s going to effect when Google includes you in the local pack for Google maps searches, for regular searches, et cetera.

Katie Allred: Yeah, and if your church maybe is meeting in a high school, we have a lot of these churches and groups that are meeting at a local school and they’re like, “How do I get Google My Business when the listing is already claimed?” So you can set up another listing. Typically, what we’ve recommended in the past is to set up your listing as a suite number. So you might say, “We’re suite B,” or something.

Katie Allred: So, you’ll have a different address slightly, but then you’re able to at least claim a listing in a way. That way you’re not using the same school’s address and that kind of stuff. So in that case you’re probably going to end up having to do verification via mail and you might have to talk to the school’s receptionist about getting that kind of information. But there’s so many ways that you can kind of get around it. So just make sure that you know you have this information correct. Because if you don’t, people use this as their phone book. I use Google as my phone book all the time. If I’m looking for a phone number, I use Google. We have to make sure we do that.

Kenny Jahng: Yeah.

Katie Allred: The next step.

Kenny Jahng: Verification via mail, Katie, I just want to like-

Katie Allred: Yeah. Go ahead.

Kenny Jahng: [crosstalk 00:08:38] the bar for everybody. It’s just a postcard, right? They mail you a postcard at the location and they just want to make sure you’re legitimate for them, right? if you’re able to receive a postcard at the address you say you’re at and it has a code and you can put the code back into Google, then it confirms that, hey, yeah, I’m at that location, I receive mail. I’m legitimately at that location. So I love that. I’ve never heard of that suite number or department number trick before, but that’s a great idea, Katie.

Katie Allred: Yeah, it’s just a tiny little trick that I picked up in the group. A lot of people have done that in the past when it hasn’t worked for them. And I do kind of hate that there’s no other way around it, but that is our kind of our workaround. So, okay. So the next step is to use the most specific primary category possible.

Kenny Jahng: Oh yeah. This is confusing to some.

Katie Allred: Right. So you could put church, I think, but you can, if your organization is a Baptist church, you can actually choose Baptist church. So-

Kenny Jahng: They even have… You know, I’ve found recently they even have nondenominational.

Katie Allred: Yeah.

Kenny Jahng: They even have that versus a generic church.

Katie Allred: Right. You can include more generic categories such as church or Christian church, but you can say nondenominational church or you can say Baptist church. I don’t know if this is possible for every single denomination or not, but just try when you’re setting up this primary categories. Just see if there is Presbyterian church, just because it will help you with your SEO. If people are looking for churches, more than likely they might be typing in United Methodist church or Presbyterian or Episcopalian just because that’s what they’re familiar with. So it just helps to make sure you’re setting the most specific primary category.

Kenny Jahng: Yeah, that’s a very good tip. You want to be as specific as possible that that’s available. What else? What else did we have to make sure is set up correctly?

Katie Allred: Okay, so hours of operation, Kenny

Kenny Jahng: what do you do there? So this is, this is interesting. You know, there’s service time, there’s office hours, there’s ministry hours. What do you suggest here?

Katie Allred: In the past where I’ve done is we set our office hours Monday through Friday, we’re off on Saturday of course, but then on Sunday I usually start the office hours with the first service and then I let it run through to the end of the last service. It’s not the best. I wish there was another way that you could set up multiple service times or something like that in Google. You can’t really do that. Something I always recommend is that you just have those hours of your service just very clear and front on your homepage as we do.

Kenny Jahng: I love it. Love it.

Katie Allred: Okay. What’s next, Kenny?

Kenny Jahng: Yeah. The other thing that I think I’ve had churches that we’re coaching have a little trouble with, is this the description. So there is a business description. Again, this is meant for businesses, not for churches or ministries and nonprofits, right? But as an entity, I think it needs to be short, descriptive and more importantly, empathetically tell you purpose. Almost as if, and I guess this is just a plug, we’re both certified in StoryBrand, so we’re kind of brainwashed. We think it should be something that’s empathetic and really tells the story from the the visitor’s point of view, not from our point of view. The clear example I usually give is no one cares if we’ve been around for 176 years.

Katie Allred: Since 1766, our church has been doing ministry right here on the corner of this and that. And I’m like, nobody cares.

Kenny Jahng: Correct. Right. You want it to be an empathetic statement. You want it to really show the felt need of the community or the person that’s coming. StoryBrand helps you do that with the one-liner and that’s something that you can reach out to me or Katie to get some help on, but this is a description that is going to be shown to people in your listings. And so again, it needs to be something that will catch someone’s attention very quickly. And again, you want to talk about them, not about you.

Katie Allred: Yeah. Who are you? What’s your purpose? That’s what you’re trying to answer. But then more importantly, what can you do for the people? If you’re writing copy for the internet, [inaudible 00:13:17] has to be you statements like you belong here, this is your home. Those kinds of things. I wouldn’t say welcome home because I feel like that’s so cheesy.

Kenny Jahng: That’s overused and it doesn’t mean anything.

Katie Allred: It’s overused and honestly McDonald’s is saying welcome home now and I’m like McDonald’s was never my home. Something that just says-

Kenny Jahng: Maybe Chick-fil-A-

Katie Allred: [crosstalk 00:13:38].

Kenny Jahng: Chick-Fil-A might be your home.

Katie Allred: Chick-Fil-A. I may go to Chick-Fil-A after this because I’m getting hungry.

Kenny Jahng: Well so it is again, it’s the… And again, we say around here it’s the “with them”. The what’s in it for me from your visitor’s perspective, what is the benefit, what is in it for them, not for you the church, what’s in it for them? How can you help them? So anyway, the description is something I think it is… Most people, their gut reaction is to talk about how great they are, how old they are, how established they are. I think it should be more about how we can help you. What is the benefit of you coming and being part of the community, right?

Katie Allred: How easy is it for people to find your church online? If someone types in churches near me in Google, does your church come up? You have the power to improve where your church ranks in local search results through local SEO. Local SEO acts like your online arrow pointing people toward your church. The more accurate and effective your local SEO is, Kenny, the more visible your church is going to be online to your local community.

Kenny Jahng: Yeah, I mean handling your church’s local SEO is not an option today in the digital age, in my opinion. So, the Google SEO experts over at Missional Marketing, we love them. They have developed a checklist. I love the fact that their checklist makes it easy for your church to use and improve your local SEO. They want to offer this tool free to our listeners. We twisted their arm. They are offering a free to everybody here today.

Katie Allred: All you have to do is go to missionalmarketing.com/local today. It’s just missionalmarketing.com/local and you’re going to be able to access this free tool for your church. So it’s missionalmarketing.com/local. See you there.

Kenny Jahng: What else? I think one of the things that I do this with Yelp, when I go to restaurants, I’m looking for photos. Google My Business allows you to do the same thing, right? Photos. Let’s talk about photos, Katie.

Katie Allred: I want to know what your church looks like and not like just exterior. I think you do need exterior photos of your church so that they can identify it, especially for Google, like for maps. I don’t recommend putting tons of exterior photos of your church all over the internet, but I definitely think that in Google My Business, this is very important that people can recognize the building or recognize the location that you’re at. But too, I want pictures of what do the people look like that go to your church. So I might be looking for a certain kind of thing. I might be looking for it, you know, I want more contemporary or I want more traditional and I want, you know…

Kenny Jahng: Smiling people.

Katie Allred: Yeah. Show tons and tons of pictures of smiling, happy people who go to your church.

Kenny Jahng: Yeah and not empty worship sanctuaries where there’s like one person in every row. Please. Please, Katie, please.

Katie Allred: Yes, please just put pictures of people shaking hands and hugging each other and being in a small group or whatever. It doesn’t have to necessarily be even on your church’s campus. It could be pictures of you volunteering at the soup kitchen or whatever. But, there definitely has to be a ton of photos and something else I want to recommend and another kind of trick that we’ve gotten from another church actually. So Daniel DOE, he’s a church communicator in our group and he told me that something that has helped grow their Google My Business grow and rank higher is every week he adds new photos to the Google My Business page.

Katie Allred: So it’s not just a one time deal, one and done. You really should continuously update it. So he adds… Every week he has five pictures from worshiper or five pictures around the campus or whatever. Every week he has new pictures and that helps because Google loves to be on Google and so they’re like, “Oh, they’re playing with us, we’re going to play with them.” You know what I’m saying?

Kenny Jahng: I love that.

Katie Allred: The algorithm prefers them.

Kenny Jahng: Yeah.

Katie Allred: Yeah.

Kenny Jahng: Consistent, steady. Google’s going to reward you for that. For sure.

Kenny Jahng: The last I think big idea is that people think these things are like encyclopedias. You put the information there, you print it, and then that’s it. That’s it for centuries. Just like the photo idea of just constantly updating it, drip by drip slowly, slowly, I think posting about your special events is something that we should be doing there too, right?

Katie Allred: Yeah. They do have the event functionality and they do have the ability for you to post to the Google My Business page. You can also change your hours. If you’re closed on Memorial day, you can tell Google that. So I think we should use the event functionality especially. If people are looking for your church because you have a special event coming up, maybe it’s an Easter egg hunt or something like that, you should definitely create an Easter egg hunt event on Google that way it will even show up in Google Maps. Right? So you’ve got Google Maps pulled up on your phone and you’re searching for the church because there’s an Easter egg hunt coming up. It’ll even say Easter egg hunt today from one to four. So you click and it’ll tell you more about the event. You can definitely tell even more people about the event just by adding the event to Google as well as you know, the other places that you advertise it.

Kenny Jahng: Definitely. Definitely. Let’s talk about website optimization. Let’s zoom out a little bit because you need to build your website but do it in a way that is contextually relevant to local SEO. Let’s just rattle down because these can be rabbit holes to go down into. Just top level, Katie, what are three things that we should be thinking about in terms of optimizing our website in terms of a local SEO perspective?

Katie Allred: Name and address, phone number, the nap information. Again, name, address, phone. It needs to be consistent with whatever’s in your Google My Business listing and it needs to be in the footer of your page all over.

Kenny Jahng: Yeah, absolutely.

Katie Allred: It helps so much. Including the zip code.

Kenny Jahng: Yes, including zip code. That is important. And then what is this thing called structured data? I’ve heard a lot of SEO specialists talk about it. It is popping up more and more as I work with Google My Business with churches.

Katie Allred: Structured data is like metadata. And honestly if you’re like, “I’m not a coder and I have no idea what you’re talking about,” you can hire someone to do this or you can probably Google it enough yourself. So if you’re using in Squarespace, there’s a way to set up structured data in Squarespace. If you’re using WordPress, you can use Yoast. It’s a free plugin. There’s like [inaudible 00:20:27] I think now. There’s literally so many SEO plugins that can create the structured data for you so that the search engines can correctly interpret and associate your information on your website.

Katie Allred: Structured data also includes images. You can tell what image to be pulled for each page of your website. You know when it’s shared on Facebook. There’s an open graph image. An open graph image is set in the SEO data, set in metadata.

Katie Allred: We have to figure out what does our structured day to look like and is it telling the right story for us? And you can set up all of that with a plugin if you’re using WordPress, if you’re using Squarespace, there’s a way to do that. You just Google like Squarespace SEO and then if you’re using other platforms, there’s bound to be a way or reach out to the developer that helped you create it just because I think it’s a really important thing that we use organization schema and location schema as clearly as possible.

Kenny Jahng: Yeah, that’s great. And then talking about metadata, there’s, I think we were talking about this before. There are fourth places where you should be trying to, and the the bad or the old term was keyword stuffing. You don’t want to keyword stuff. You want Google to pick up on certain phrases, but you don’t want to go overboard. But there are four places that are natural and that you should be thinking about using local keywords on your website. Katie, what are the four different places that we’re talking about before?

Katie Allred: So hold on, let me see. There is your browser title. Instead of… Browser title is what shows up in the tab. I think sometimes people like browser title and they’re like thinking of something that’s actually in the content and I’m like, “No, it is like the title slash title in HTML.” It’s what’s in the header and you can set that using, again, a plugin. Yoast SEO can do this. There’s a lot of different ways you can do this, but set the browser title to be Christian Community Church in Dallas, Texas. Rather than just Christian Community Church because if you’re not doing this, you’re losing out on the people who are looking for you in Dallas, Texas. Also, it just helps when people are looking at it in their browsers. They’re like, “Okay, I’m looking for five different Christian Community Churches, which is the one in Dallas?” If they’re like, “Oh, that one says Dallas, Texas. All right. I found it.”

Katie Allred: You also need to do under homepage meta description. You can set this longer description outside of your browser title that shows up. So when you’re on Google, there’s a title, there’s the URL, and then there’s a description that’s a meta description. It will either pull from the first content it finds on the website or you can set it. If you said it, you need to put Christian Community Churches is a group of believers located in Dallas, Texas.

Kenny Jahng: Perfect.

Katie Allred: Okay, we love doing these things. Blah, blah, blah. But it has to be really short. I think it’s under 90 characters. So it’s not a long statement at all. So if you have to choose between your whole mission statement or your location, choose your location. Then also, you need to set some H1s and H2 tag. So that means a header. So there’s headline texts, there’s an H one and then there’s an H2. You’ve got to set-

Kenny Jahng: I’m surprised how many churches don’t us a lot of H2.

Katie Allred: Yeah, you’ve got to set it. And that doesn’t mean it has to be super long or you can change that in CSS. I mean for a very specific module, it doesn’t have to be, you’ve made this H1 the largest thing on your website because typically that’s what it is as a hierarchy. It’s H1, H2, H3.

Kenny Jahng: Headlines, right?

Katie Allred: They get smaller as they go on. But you can turn of finagle it to do what you want it to do instead. But you need to make sure you using H1s and H2s consistently through your website and that one of those H1s has your church’s name and probably the location as well.

Kenny Jahng: Yeah. And then the last one I think is easy. It’s just through the regular content. Make sure that it’s logical, it’s intuitive. Talk about and include your town name or most churches have include more than one town or one city a in their reach and so the regular text, the copy on your website is the place to somehow feature different city names, different town names, the place that you’re serving and ministering in. That’s the place to do it.

Kenny Jahng: It’s amazing. I think people try to hire SEO experts. I just had a client who wanted to, they were paying $800 for monthly SEO work, but you know what? If you just do these four things, making sure you’d get the browser title right, the meta-description rights, the headline hierarchy, and making sure you’re getting some local phrases in there and then just just the content of your website. It will do wonders. I think the other one is also metadata for your images. Image alt tags, for me, are powerful because again, no one is tagging their images on your website.

Katie Allred: Yes.

Kenny Jahng: You take the time to do it. You can rise in rank really quickly.

Katie Allred: This is also really important for accessibility, right? I mean if blind people are looking at your website or visiting your website, then you’re going to have to set those alt tags so that they can read them.

Kenny Jahng: Yes, absolutely. And it’s become increasingly important in this day and age. So that’s great.

Kenny Jahng: There’s this other category, I guess the last category we can talk about quickly, is this thing called citation management. It’s coming up and more important as data proliferates, websites proliferate, data sources proliferate. Let’s talk about a couple of things. So can you just give us one tip regarding Facebook and Google My Business? Because-

Katie Allred: [crosstalk 00:26:25].

Kenny Jahng: … everyone’s using Facebook today, right?

Katie Allred: Right. Yeah. The thing is it, when you set up this Google My Business, make sure it’s consistent with what is on your Facebook. They need to match. So there’s a Facebook description, there’s a Google description, there’s a Google phone number, there is a Facebook phone number, there’s an address, there’s an address. Just make they’re the exact same thing. That’s the most important thing there, it’s just to make sure your information is consistent and the same.

Katie Allred: And then there’s another tip. There are a lot of online directories, right? So Google is an online directory, essentially, but there’s other ones, right? There’s Yelp and Bing Places and Apple Maps Connect and Mapquest. You’ve got to claim your listing on all of these. So do that, and then again, make sure your information is correct and that it’s the same across all of them and claim it before somebody else des.

Kenny Jahng: What I love about these other authority sites, Katie, is that your website might not float to the top, but a lot of times if you set up your profile well on Yelp or Apple Maps or even like Amazon, sometimes for personal pages, if you set that well, then those pages will rank and then they point back to your website. So your Yelp listing page for your church might rise to the top three in your city, in a city search, and so these are powerful to use on your behalf.

Katie Allred: Yeah. And then you should just claim other… If there’s other online directories, especially in your area, claim the listings that you possibly can. Are you a member of the Chamber of Commerce? Then get listed on the the website of the Chamber of Commerce? Are you in other networking groups? It’s important to claim all of the citations that you can.

Kenny Jahng: Absolutely. Again, I think our friends over at a Missional Marketing has put together a checklist. Let’s see what is [crosstalk 00:28:30].

Katie Allred: Of everything we’ve talked about. So if you were like, “I was driving and I couldn’t take notes and I’m going to have to listen to this again,” don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.

Kenny Jahng: We could have told people in advance that they don’t need to take notes during this podcast, but missionalmarketing.com/local that’s the URL. You’ll get a handy checklist of all this nerdy, nerdy stuff that you can use to share with your team or your webmaster or some of this a little bit more technical use. If you’re not understanding everything here. I hope you appreciate it at the end of the day, just how important it is to claim you’re listing within Google My business. It’s just really is important in this day and age. It’s an advantage that you can have over so many other organizations and listings on the web.

Katie Allred: Yeah.

Kenny Jahng: And so I guess that’s the tip of the iceberg. We can go on and on about local SEO.

Katie Allred: Let’s not. We can’t. What’s happening next, Kenny? Tell us about what’s next.

Kenny Jahng: I’m excited. We originally talked about our homepage and plan your visit. We talked about the importance of local SEO and Google My Business. There is another aspect to the SEO I think is important that we really do need to talk about. That’s on page. It’s called on page SEO. So instead of like going to Yelp and authority sites and getting links and all that kind of stuff, what are some of the things that we want to do on our website? Again, I think there’s a big difference in local SEO and on page SEO. We’re going to talk about that kind of stuff.

Katie Allred: Yeah. For sure.

Kenny Jahng: Basically-

Katie Allred: We covered a little bit and this episode. We’re going to cover a lot more in the next.

Kenny Jahng: Yes. So till next time, hopefully you’ll get the gist that you have so many resources in your pocket if you want to, and a lot of them are free, like just like the Google resources that we went through today. We’re looking forward to continuing the conversation here on the Church Communications podcast. Katie, I’ll check you out here next time. Enjoy. Until we meet again.

Katie Allred: See you later.

Katie Allred: As people search for a local church online, make sure your church comes up in their search results every single time. You can make sure you’re doing everything possible to improve your online visibility like we talked about in this episode with Missional Marketing’s local SEO checklist. It’s what we use today, actually. Download the free checklist by going to missionalmarketing.com/local. Again, that is missionalmarketing.com/.local. I’ll see you there.


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