Why Google’s Sports Fixture Grab Spells Opportunity Not Threat

This is a guest post by Lyndsey Irwin, Commercial Director at Sotic.

The sound of Google-induced groans rang out across rugby clubs as the search engine’s latest update saw fixtures and results appear on its search results homepage, information often seen as key site traffic drivers.

This was a fate which befell football in 2014 and whilst it is annoying, it isn’t quite the site traffic Armageddon it feels like right now.  Traditionally, we had always viewed fixtures and results as the jewels in the content crown; Google taking these forces clubs to review their approach and we ended up concluding that where site traffic gave clubs commercial value was when it consisted of engaged fans, not just those seeking top-line information. Google has now stripped a lot of these out but has left the real gold of the club fanbase – but it also meant that clubs had to look at what they did for fans in return.

The issue highlighted the importance of organisations having unique content sitting on their owned platforms – not just websites but social media channels too. Whilst these channels give clubs the opportunity to tailor their messaging – eg image-led on Instagram, pithy news-bites on Twitter etc, the reality is that no one has any control over what Facebook or Twitter may do. Consequently, the wisest strategy is to use social to drive fans to club websites where calls to action (buy, signup, share) are located.

Mark Zuckerberg Facebook

The key change, albeit a forced one, should be that in-house digital stakeholders (ranging from the web manager through to the team selling sponsorship), move their focus – and potentially mindset – from reach to engagement. Views are probably the lowest form of metric but clicks, shares, bounce rate, conversation participation, and purchases are a much better measure of a truly engaged fan.
Whilst it hasn’t been long since Google instigated the change, there has been a tangible impact already, and it turns out it’s been a happy hat-trick of good statistics:

• Bounce rates have dropped because people are not going to the Fixtures Page and bouncing straight off
• Pages per Session has increased by 53% – again, a good thing – because site visitors are more engaged
• Average Sessions have increased by 87%

In some respects, the best analogy is to review this change in the light of GDPR, the other seismic change affecting businesses. GDPR will see a drop in the volume of mailing list subscribers, which will terrify Commercial Managers whose sponsorship pitch usually includes database size. However, those left are people who really read and enjoy the content in the mailing; fewer, truly engaged subscribers is better than a large list of people who aren’t that bothered.

At Sotic, we are in the business of digital strategy and build, not content, however our 16-year track record in sport places us uniquely well to advise on what is current, what sports fans respond to and emerging trends. To this end we suggest:

• Video, especially live, will continue to increase in importance, especially now there are so many tools available to clubs to upload and share content in a variety of engaging ways

• Podcasts are enjoying a resurgence in popularity and it’s easy for clubs to create really interesting insights with in-house talent

• Bite-sized exclusive content, quizzes and polls remain evergreen along with ‘money can’t buy’ opportunities such as competitions or meet and greets

This list is not exhaustive and creative minds in clubs will always find a way to meet the needs and interests of their fans. As Google skims the top layer of interest away from the clubs, the message is ‘don’t panic’, in this case, they really aren’t getting the cream of your followers.

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