Which football team should I support? A digital point of view…

After another sacking of a Chelsea manager – this time Roberto Di Matteo – we got talking in the office about which was the best football team to support.

Working in SEO. naturally I decided to check out Google’s answer to this “which football team should I support?”.  After all the usual Yahoo answers and forums suggesting who the best team is, the first official club site that returns is Liverpool FC.

So, that got us thinking; if we are one of the UK’s leading digital agencies then surely Branded3 should support the UK’s digitally-leading football team. Here we take a look at the Premier League teams to find out who is top of the only league table that matters, the Branded3 Digital Premier League!

We did some analysis on the Premier League teams looking at a variety of statistics, from number of links to the club websites (thanks to the SEOmoz API), how well the sites perform in Google searches (thanks to Search Metrics), their rankings across a variety of football related terms, and some metrics from the official club social media accounts, such as Twitter followers, Facebook likes and engagement, and Google+ circles.

These reviews only look at the actual official club website and official club social accounts, we have not looked at fan sites or fan social accounts.

Before we start, I should probably mention in the spirit of full disclosure that being Leeds born and bred, I am of course a Leeds fan, however I have tried to be as impartial as possible!

SEO

For the most part, Premier League clubs shouldn’t have to worry about Google and generating traffic to their sites. The majority of all search traffic to a club site like this is going to be through brand terms, but there are a few opportunities to get relevant traffic and make some more money for the club.

For example, football clubs could sell tickets through their site rather than other ticket websites, or they could increase their merchandise sales by increasing their visibility in a Google search.

As you would expect, all of the teams in the league get a lot of great quality links from a wide variety of sources ranging from newspaper and magazine sites to fan forums and sports sites. Manchester United are leading the way with over 11,000 domains linking back to the site, over 1,500 domains more than second place Arsenal.

The traditional big four teams, Man United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea are the teams with the most links to their sites, but the nouveau riche team of Man City are hot on the heels of the big old established teams.

Unfortunately, new boys Swansea and Reading are holding up the table with only around a tenth of the number of sites linking to them as the top teams.

Number of domains linking to premier league football clubs

Websites such as these don’t need to worry too much about trying to obtain links to their sites, other websites constantly talk about the site.

If I was working with these clubs, I would ensure that their press teams were aware of how important it is to constantly monitor for mentions and get in contact with sites that don’t link when talking about the clubs; utilise all the natural mentions to ensure that these are converted into links for the site, and make sure any time you are in contact with another website try to build a relationship to help the link building activity.

But links aren’t everything, so what about on-page? A lot of the teams in the league could do a lot more to optimise onsite, for example Swansea and West Brom have failed to use any terms in their homepage title tags which are currently “HOME PAGE”.

Adding a little more detail could help target a few keywords but more importantly, for this type of site, will help be more descriptive in the search results thus helping improve click-through’s onto the site.

The title tags are one of the first interactions new users will make with the site from natural search, it is therefore important to get users engaged from the word go.

Other sites such as Man City and Everton have tried to add more terms to the homepage titles but unfortunately they’ve gone far too far. Man City’s title tag runs to 151 characters which is too long to display in Google. One of the best performers on-page is Arsenal with a really descriptive, well-constructed title tag, good use of H-tags and other signals on-page.

Man United and Arsenal are currently leading the league in the search rankings but mainly because the brand terms are so big. There is a lot more search for their brand names than there is for other clubs so they look to do better within the Search Metrics data.

Brand search is something that websites might have to be careful of. For example, Manchester United could potentially be called a variety of different names (as a Leeds fan I won’t go into too much detail) and it is important to make sure that the sites are rankings for, linked to and mentioned using all the terms they may be searched for.

So, clubs are doing okay with natural search but they could target more terms and utilise the massive domain authority and brand authority these sites could potentially have.

PPC

Not many of the teams are actively engaged in PPC advertising through their main club websites. Man United are one of the bigger spenders with some budget going on hospitality and corporate packages, presumably there is more money to be made from the sales of prawn sandwiches than match tickets.

Man United are also spending some PPC budget on their merchandise sales. Other clubs in the league don’t utilise PPC as much and some of the merchandise sales are being processed through other official club shops not through the main site.

Arsenal are bidding on some ticket related terms but as with most of the club sites there are a lot of affiliate and broker websites that are beating the sites to the top paid spots, as they no doubt have more budget to go after these types of terms.

The club websites should take advantage of their brand relevancy and official status to help get a good quality score to enable them to perform against some of the sites selling tickets and bring more direct ticket sales through the gates.

Social Media

As you would expect, all of the teams in the Premier League have a great fan base and all of the sites are at least starting to engage with fans and followers on social media.

Manchester United have by far the biggest Facebook fan profile with over 28 million ‘likes’. Their global marketing strategy has contributed massively to this with fans and followers from all over the globe. Facebook is used more in countries across the globe compared to other social channels so this has helped to grow their following.

 

However, the same cannot be said for Manchester United’s Twitter and Google+ strategies. They don’t have an official club Twitter account only unverified accounts from their press department, and they have yet to set up a Google+ account, losing out on some valuable space in the search results and capitalising on fans using this social channel.

Chelsea are the best club for social media with over 17 million interactions across a spread of social channels. They also have a good fan forum on the site where fans can get together and interact, as well as having a well-integrated YouTube channel with exclusive interviews, highlights and other interesting videos available.

Conclusions

So, here comes the controversial bit…

Although Manchester United have the best link profile and are doing pretty well on Facebook and with paid search, unfortunately we have to take points away for their poor Twitter and Google+ efforts.

Since these are two big elements to a full digital strategy, we have put them into third place this year.

In second place with a solid overall strategy and looking likely to be the top team in years to come is Manchester City.

They are building a good link profile and are investing in the site and social media. Their strategy is still very young and they don’t have the global reach of some of the bigger teams, but the growth they are seeing in other areas is feeding through to their digital campaigns.

They have some great things going on onsite with a great live feed and blogging during matches and are building a good YouTube channel. I can see them being the one to watch next year.

And this year’s league winners, the title goes to… Chelsea!

Chelsea have a good site, some good links and are doing well to interact with their followers through all the social media accounts.

They lead the way overall across the social media networks and have a good YouTube channel. They are getting lots of guests to write on the site which is creating lots of content for people to link to.

They also have created mobile apps for watching matches and shopping in their store when on iPhone iPad or Android devices, which few of the other sites are doing. Overall Chelsea have a great online digital strategy and for that reason, this year we are crowning them Champions of the Branded3 Premier League.

Just for fun

We’ve been comparing some of the team’s football tactics to digital tactics. If you think of any more, feel free to leave a comment below and we’ll publish the best ones!

  • Man Utd pay Google to give them all the rankings
  • Liverpool are still bragging about links they got 20 years ago, despite not really doing anything new now
  • Arsenal transfer all their good links to Man City
  • Chelsea are constantly sacking their digital manager
  • Leeds United used to rank well, but then fell two pages
  • Man City buy links for more than they’re worth, then redirect them to /bench/
  • Penalties always go Man Utd’s way
  • Man City had a tiny bit of authority, the domain got bought from a faraway land and are now absolutely nothing like the original site
By Matthew Jackson. at 2:32PM on Friday, 07 Dec 2012

With a background in analytical chemistry, Matthew has been analysing data for the past decade. As Head of SEO Strategy at Branded3, Matthew’s analytical skills are put into good use helping us understand data trends and adapt our SEO strategies accordingly. Follow Matthew Jackson on Twitter.

comments

  • http://twitter.com/The_Machin Machin

    Stoke City always tried to rank, but didn’t get anywhere until they started using black hat strategies.

  • Dave Ashworth

    West Ham guilty of duplicate content as Alladyce has tries to make an exact copy of his Bolton 07 side

  • https://twitter.com/stekenwright Stephen Kenwright

    Branded3 officially Chelsea fans then. Better let everyone know, we should celebrate!