Mock up of a data page on a sport site

Sport Sites – Stop Getting Scores, Results and Fixtures Pages Wrong

Almost every sport site is getting data pages wrong. It’s a really basic error and it is costing them hundreds of millions of page impressions and endless extra millions of engaged hours on site.

The problem is also really easy to fix. It is utterly maddening.

By data pages I mean the stats that go hand-in-hand with every sport. The league tables, the fixtures, the top scorers, the rankings, the yards gained, driving accuracy stats and bowling averages.

Almost every page of this type, on every site, is unfit for purpose.

Not the data itself. That bit sites get right – that bit is easy as it all comes from a central source. The pages do no more than pull in a feed, adjust the font and styling to match the rest of the site, and spew it back out. Adding a few data pages to any sport site is easy (even if the cost of the licence to display these stats might be eye watering).

The problem is the rest of the page. What’s there or, more to the point, what isn’t there.

These pages are voids, dead ends, they are the pages that are making your bounce rate so high. They are the ultimate thanks and goodbye page – thanks for giving me the info, now I’m off.

The pages are a huge missed opportunity.

The Insanity of It

None of the above would matter if these stat-heavy pages got limited traffic. The GDPR page on a sport site is probably poorly designed, but nobody’s looking at it. It doesn’t matter.

However, stats pages are often the most popular pages on any sport site and by a huge margin. In the UK, any site with Premier League fixtures, results and tables will see huge traffic to these pages and this is repeated across sports. For other countries you can easily swap in relevant examples.

So great is the love for stats pages within sport that even competitions that would appear to be of niche interest can get large audiences.

I worked with a UK sport site for whom the page displaying nothing but that season’s Serie A top scorers was the 10th most popular page one month, beating out huge sport stories. Most of the editorial employees wouldn’t have even known this page existed on site.

A page such as Premier League fixtures can get more traffic per month than dozens of the biggest news articles, live blogs and match reports and yet, while huge love is put into the look and feel of those editorial pages, none is put into the humble stats page.

What’s My Problem?

My problem, or maybe my concern (which makes a terrible sub head) is that the pages are a huge missed opportunity.

In basic terms, if you can get someone to visit your site, not an easy task of itself, you then want to increase the likelihood of them either sticking around on site or at least taking some form of action you deem to be of value.

What so many stats and data pages do is that they bring people to the site, they boost all sorts of vanity metrics, but there is no point to it.

Sites, and this is widespread in my experience, see the pages as a must-have, but not as an opportunity.

They know that any loyal user on site is going to want to have this key information – if you have a sport site of choice you’re going to want to check the fixtures as well as being able to browse the sport news or watch highlights.

In my opinion, sport sites treat these data pages much like a supermarket treats the fruit and veg aisle. There’s no great profit in having them, but if you don’t have them people will shop elsewhere.

To an extent, this thinking makes sense. Let’s say you get most of your sport news from the BBC, you read the headlines and then decide to check the table. The table is accurate, you get the info you need, then you head off to another site. No big deal, you’ll be back tomorrow.

However, this neglects all the users who could have visited any one of a number of sport sites to get the scores and data. They stumbled on to yours, a happy coincidence you fail to benefit from beyond the +1 in the age impressions tally.

Look at the traffic via search to any sport site and it will be the data and stats pages that dominate – in fact of all traffic via search to a sport site it is often the case that more than 90% is to these pages.

The grab below highlights the dominance – no footballer has been more searched for during the past year than Cristiano Ronaldo, yet searches for him are small compared to those for a stats page as specific as Premier League table. Many users simply enter scores, as shown by the grab after (we can have a high degree of confidence scores relates to Premier League scores as the drop in searches coincides with the suspension of the tournament)

Ronaldo v Premier League table

Comparison of searches for Premier League table v Cristiano Ronaldo in 2019 / 20

Ronaldo v Scores

Comparison of searches for Scores v Cristiano Ronaldo in 2019 / 20

The Missing Links

Let’s imagine someone has arrived at the data page via Google, as will happen many millions of times each and every day.

What is there to tempt them to make another click?

Using just the search term ‘Premier League table’ these are how a few of the top results look once you click through. (grabs from desktop, but the issue is there in mobile too)

Sky

Premier League table on Sky Sports website
Sky – two adverts for their betting, nothing else

Guardian

Premier League table on Guardian website
The Guardian – they have a ‘Most Popular’ heading, but for stats pages it doesn’t pull any content through

Goal

Premier League table on Goal website
Goal.com – again, nothing to encourage you to stay on site

BBC Sport

BBC Premier League table
The BBC site has links to iPlayer, but not a single link to sport content

This persists across almost every site – you hit a data page and then where next? There are links in the sub nav, there might be a few commercial links or general site links, but there’s nothing curated.

The Solution

All sites need to do is make these pages, give users somewhere to go, something to read or watch next, or something to do.

Alternatively, they could get some extra information on the page – the BBC could advertise live coverage they have coming up, a paper’s website could announce they have a new podcast coming soon.

I think of it in terms of any other page on site. No site has news articles that have no related stories, or list of articles, videos and features they think users might also find engaging.

Compare what you get alongside and underneath a news article on MailOnline compared to what you get beneath the Premier League table…

Daily Mail article – side panel

grab of daily mail news article

Daily Mail article – below and side

grab of daily mail news article

Daily Mail table – where next?

grab of Premier League table on Daily Mail site

Ironically, it is these data pages that are the most in need of somewhere to go next.

The user coming from search probably didn’t give much thought to which site they were being sent to, they clicked on a prominent search result. The user arriving at a news article is more likely to have come via an index on site or from a link in social media or chat.

Two Potential User Journeys

A dead end

One:

A user enters ‘Premier League table into Google’

The Google partial result isn’t enough, they want the full table.

The Guardian’s result is prominent, they click on it

They get the info, all great. There’s nothing else on the page that in any way grabs them, they close the tab

Options aplenty

Two:

A user enters ‘Premier League table into Google’

The Google partial result isn’t enough, they want the full table.

The Guardian’s result is prominent, they click on it

They get the info, all great.

At the bottom of the table, there are prominent links in card format, appealing to the eye. One is for Europe’s 50 top young players, another for The Knowledge with it’s obscure football questions, another is an amusing take on a dire England performance.

They may click one of these. They may become that bit more loyal to the Guardian’s site.

What Should They Promote?

Something! Anything!

I honestly think sites get too caught up in the question of what to promote and end up doing nothing – that’s the sites that have given this problem any thought at all.

I worked at a site where this was the case, this a few years ago and they still haven’t done anything. There were meetings, lots of meetings, to discuss what it would be best to promote.

Fewer questions, more action

Should it be features related to that sport?

Should it be things of strategic value – a plug for the newsletter, information about upcoming new products?

Should it be the top news stories?

Should it be the best timeless features from the last six months, the essential long reads?

Or maybe it should be the most-watched videos.

And, of course, it became none of these.

The ideal is probably to have something amazingly fancy that can look at a user’s cookies, see if they are loyal or new to the site and do something bespoke. If they’ve never been to the site, serve up the best content from the past six months; if they’re loyal maybe let them know about what’s new, maybe encourage them to sign up for that newsletter or download a podcast.

But I would just tailor it to those users coming via Google. The loyal users will come back anyway, it’s the newbies you want to entice.

I would have some form of editorial panel that can be updated and then updates across everywhere that panel appeals. For instance, one panel for all football data pages, you can stick as many links in as you want and it displays these in an attractive manner in and around the data page.

You could have the same panel across all sport data pages, or one per sport, or go even more granular. You could have a default one and also a sport specific one – so come to golf ranking and you see a curated list of the best golf content and also the site wide content panel.

Start with whatever’s easiest, ask the developers to build a basic panel that goes across all pages, sitting at the bottom so it works equally well on any screen size. If there’s a panel like this already on story pages, simply plug it into the data pages too.

Honestly, I think this will secure hundreds of thousands more page impressions for any site, boost loyalty and send people to some of the content you deem to be of the highest value.

If This Has Been Useful

So – plug for myself I’m afraid!

After years in senior editorial positions at leading sport sites including being senior development journalist at the BBC I’m now fairly new to consultancy.

I think I see things in a slightly different way to most, I think I can make any sport site better by simply looking at how you do things and suggesting some sensible tweaks. A few governing bodies and sport sites are already finding my work useful.

I’m really crap at selling myself, but I’d love to chat to you about your site and have a look at some sensible improvements you can implement.

There’s more info on the page where I outline the type of stuff I do in a consultancy role – including common questions to explore and a sample one-page report.

Obviously you might not be looking for a consultant right now. If that is the case, but you’ve found this useful, please let me know in the comments, or grabbing me @jonbarbuti on Twitter, or sharing this, or something. It really does all help!

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