Sport Sites: How To Get Traffic When There’s No Sport…

How can sport sites maintain traffic when there is no sport?

Live sport is what drives sport sites – the scores, the action, the analysis, the post-match quotes, the opinions and colour.

Yes, there is also sport news but let’s be honest, it can be pretty dull when there is no live sport for an extended period. As a former editor once said, tongue only partly in cheek, sport news is what happens when there’s no live sport on.

We saw this during lockdown and the Premier League’s mid-season hiatus, interest in sport dropped massively, people were no longer searching for terms related to sport competitions. 

The data from Google search trends below is pretty clear – when there was no sport being played, including the Premier League, searches for any sport-related term plummeted.

We also see that during the short break between seasons around August, searches for the Premier League fell away but this time football and sport, as terms, weren’t quite so impacted. There was still other sport on offer and there was build-up for the new season.

This probably seems fairly obvious, but what can we do as a solution? How can sport sites limit the impact of any future lockdown or suspension to their activities?

They can get creative and use data to guide them.

I have a bit of an obsession with search data, looking for trends that any site can utilise for free, helping them to make sensible editorial decisions. There’s a wealth of information out there, for free, if we just look for it.

A basic question struck me. If people weren’t searching for Football or Premier League, or Wimbledon, what were they searching for and what searches were they making that could be relevant to a sport site (because coming up with a tonne of content ideas related to Dominic Cummings for a football website might be a leap too far (that said – Cummings quote or football manager soundbite might work…)

Using my much-loved Google Trends, I had a play and after a few false starts I found this.

When sport stopped, and the Premier League being suspended in early March was the key moment, searches for quiz immediately surged.

The final Premier League game before the suspension was on 9 March, but the suspension was actually announced on 13 March.

Now, something else also happened about this time, the UK went into full lockdown from March 16.

If we zone in on that period, we see this…

But, if we add just a couple of days either side…

The surge in quizzes was not because the Premier League stopped – though this likely played a part (it was a key source of entertainment that came to a crashing halt).

In reality, people found themselves under lockdown and so social communication quickly switched to online, and quizzes were quickly key to this. Us Brits love a quiz.

The graph backs this up – the red line is not consistent, it spikes every week, people searching for and playing quizzes on Friday and Saturday as a general rule.

Many of these searches will have been for quiz questions rather than quizzes to play, but even that is an opportunity – coming up with content ideas that entice those looking for an easy set of questions for their next Zoom quiz. Also, anyone searching for quizzes while trying to fill their days during lockdown is likely to be highly susceptible to being tempted to play an engaging quiz. They are great time killers…

In my opinion, it doesn’t really matter how factors combine to create demand, what matters is whether there is a demand there that can lead to traffic. In Machiavellian terms, can this demand be exploited, how can sites get people on to their sites at a time they would otherwise have little reason to go to a sport site.

Nor is it just quizzes (thank God – the last thing we need in a second lockdown is every site pivoting to be nothing but quizzes).

Health and fitness also saw surges in demand, as the graph below demonstrates, exercise peaking exactly one week after lockdown was imposed, running a few weeks later.

I imagine people saying after a week – ‘hmm, I’ve done nothing but eat pies, I should do some exercise…’ then, a month later, ’10 sit-ups a day doesn’t seem to be shifting the weight. I might need to try something else…’

Oh – and if you’re wondering if quizzes and exercise surge every year, check out the following looking at the past five years. Short answer, they don’t…

Content Ideas

What does call this mean for content?

I have my own ideas but I think that’s one for planning – what can your site do around any of these topics to entice users into the site, potentially as a means to get them recirculating around the site to see the other great content you are making.

I call this the concept of the necessary evil, creating content that gets people on to the site so that they then have a chance of seeing the stuff you’;re really proud of. However, that’s not to say the content you make to attract search traffic can’t be great too.

There is clear benefit to health and fitness and exercise advice and information, while there is nothing at all wrong with a quiz that is well made and entertaining (sadly only about 5% of quizzes seem to manage this…)

I am a huge fan of the Mundo Deportivo site and how they incorporate health and fitness articles right on the front page of their site – the thinking is clear, those who watch sport may well also keep fit, so how can we address common concerns. I’m a runner, I get knee pain, this would keep me on site.

Grab of Mundo website

Next Steps

There may or may not be another national lockdown, what is certain is that there are always gaps in the sporting calendar.

This post might focus on the extreme case of 2020, but the ideas can apply to international breaks, the Premier League off-season or any other disruption whether planned or otherwise.

Next time, it might not be quizzes that see a huge rise in search, it might be games, or lists (god help us) or healthy eating.

The process is the same – find what people are searching for, think how your site can create content that falls into these areas and get creating.

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