The Church of Scientology has, for a long time, been putting a lot of money into advertising, most recently with the super expensive-looking Super Bowl ad embedded above and their disastrous attempt at running sponsored content in The Atlantic.
But if you're one of the five people in the world who doesn't use Adblock, you might have noticed that they sometimes pop up as the sponsored result when you google things.
So how much are they paying to do this?
I'll do my best to explain this as quickly as possible, because it's pretty boring. Here's how cost-per-click advertising works on Google: a company sets a maximum bid that they're willing to pay for an internet user to click on one of their ads. These bids are associated with keywords that internet users type when searching. Based on the ad's relevance to searched keywords and the maximum amount that the advertiser is willing to pay per click, Google determines where to place those ads.
For example, if a dessert company wanted their ads displayed any time a user searches for "ice cream cakes," it would cost, at the time of writing this article, about $0.60 per click in English-speaking countries.
To figure out how much Scientology pays, I tried to advertise for Scientology myself. I set my maximum bid at one dollar per click and selected multiple keywords involving Scientology. All of my bids were rejected, meaning that the person who is currently paying to advertise on those terms is paying more than a dollar per click.
In order to advertise on the first page of Google's search results for Scientology-related searches, I would have to shell out a minimum of three dollars per click for "creed of the Church of Scientology."
Interestingly enough, whoever is advertising for Scientology-related keywords pays a much higher rate to appear when users Google things relating to cults, such as "is scientology a cult?" In fact, they are paying 70 percent more for that one, at a rate of $4.25 per click.
Scientology appears to be the only religion concerned with its cult status. A search for "is Catholicism a cult" shows that zero dollars are spent advertising on this query. The same goes for Presbyterianism, Pentecostalism, Methodism, Judaism, and Islam.
Another way that the Church appears to be advertising is through Google's Display Network, which is a network of websites that are paid to show ads from Google.
Google has a thing called a contextual targeting tool that provides you with keyword groups and the historical costs associated with advertising for those specific keywords. For example, if you want your ads to appear on blogs that mention "ice cream cakes," it'll cost you $0.90 per click.
According to Google, here's how much is being paid to advertise, per click, on keywords relating to Scientology:
"Scientology Religion" $6.91
"What Is Scientology" $5.46
Which is a pretty huge amount compared with other religions. Baptist keywords cost $2.77, Catholic ones are $0.92, and Jewish ones are all the way down at $0.55.
But how many people are even looking up Scientology? Let's take a look at Google's keyword tool. This provides detailed information about how many people are searching a specific keyword or groups of keywords, each month.
Approximately 1.5 million people google "Scientology" each month. Fifteen thousand people ask if it's a cult and 110,000 people look up L. Ron Hubbard.
Celebrity Scientologist Tom Cruise brings in a staggering 3.3 million inquiries, over twice as many as the religion itself. Additionally, 33,000 people per month search "is Tom Cruise a Scientologist" (so I guess he's a pretty good investment for them) and 49,500 people google "is Tom Cruise gay" each month (so I guess Scientology is a good investment for him, too).
This means that whoever is paying to advertise Scientologist stuff on all of these Scientologist search terms is spending approximately "a shitload."
DISCLAIMER: I realize giving this information might make it seem like I'm saying you should go and google a bunch of Scientology-related terms and click the sponsored links to waste a bunch of their money. But you toooooooootally shouldn't. This information is presented for entertainment purposes only and blah blah blah.
*All amounts correct at time of going to press.