Blog Reboot Session #1: Throughball.com

As I mentioned on Monday, today is the first session of Blog Reboot.

The basic idea behind Blog Reboot is to analyse different aspects of your blog (content, design, monetization, marketing and SEO) and offer advice on how to improve it in these areas. The advice offered here is free, and selection of the site to be reviewed is at our discretion.

The first site being reviewed is Throughball.com – a football (soccer for you Americans) blog run by Josh. In this case, I chose Throughball.com because I’m involved in the same niche myself and understand the challenges a football blogger faces.

So let’s get this started – I’ll be looking at 6 main points – Blog Focus, Content, Design, Monetization, SEO and Marketing.

1. Blog Focus

Who is Throughball.com’s target audience? Are you offering general football news, offbeat footy news, showing expertise in one league?

My view (and I have had Throughball.com on my RSS reader for the last month or so) is that TB is a ‘general’ footy blog without any particular focus. That doesn’t mean that TB doesn’t have a lot to offer – being a football fan (and blogger) I enjoy TB’s coverage but the main reason I read the site is because I run 2 football blogs and I rely on bloggers as much as the mainstream media to find interesting, off-beat news items.

TB is interesting, but it doesn’t have any particular appeal for me as a fan.

You can get away with being a general news site, but for that you need massive resources (or blog 10 hours a day covering all the news until you can earn enough money to hire people and grow). Examples of general footy sites : BBC Football, Guardian Football, Sky Sports.

Competing with the big media isn’t a smart idea – when you’re starting out (TB’s an year old) you want to focus on dominating a narrow niche first and then expanding into a broader, overarching niche if you wish to later on.

Sometimes general football sites work well – CaughtOffside.com is one example – but these guys are facing trouble as well. With so much news being generated everyday, there’s no way you can cover all of it. You have to focus – either pick a club or pick a unique angle.

101greatgoals.com is trying to corner the football videos niche, and doing a good job of it. You probably already know plenty of club-specific blogs – Arseblog is top dog where Arsenal is concerned, UnitedRant for Manchester United, ChelseaBlog for Chelsea, etc.

You have to decide for yourself what you want to focus on, and whether you want to focus on a club or find your own angle to football.

From what I gather, you’re US-based, so catering to US-based football fans (or should I say soccer?) would be an ideal first step. There are some US bloggers writing about football but they try to go after the same UK audience as everyone else.

Bypass all that, hit the US audience, and see what you can offer to them.

2. Design

I put Throughball.com through the blink test and the first thing I noticed was that the post headlines are downplayed because of the AdSense blocks above them and the subscription info in the center of the screen. I’m not saying that you should remove those two items – especially not the RSS subs info – but look at ways to make the post a more prominent part of the page.

One way to do this would be to widen the content area and reduce the space given to the two sidebars. Another way to do this would be to shift the content column to the center and take the first sidebar to the left. If you do that you’ll probably have to change the order of what you’re showing in the sidebars as well.

The 3 column approach isn’t bad, but to make it work you should give as much breathing space to your post / content area as possible.

I’m hoping Liz can add more to this section – Liz?

3. Content

With blogging it’s important to let your voice shine through instead of regurgitating what the mainstream media is printing – TB has a unique voice and viewpoint on football and that definitely helps attract readers.

The three things that I think you might want to look at are:

a) Content focus – this goes back to point 1 and what I’ve said there.

b) Timeless content – this is a bit hard to manage with football sites, but here are a few ideas:

  • football videos – think niche and see if you can build archives (even if you’re linking to youtube).
  • football images – like it or not, WAGs are popular with footy fans. Be care of copyright issues though.
  • non-news items, such as player profiles
  • event-related information – are you ready for Euro 2008? For the 2010 World Cup?
  • Player transfer records
  • Fixture schedules (copyright issues again, but there are ways around them).

I’d suggest that you try to move away from news items now and then and provide info that people can refer to in the future as well.

4. SEO

Your title tags and permalink URLs are fine, which is a great head-start compared to other bloggers. The other main thing blogs miss out on are Meta Description tags – and neither your main site nor individual posts show meta description tags.

Solution: Use the ‘head meta description’ WordPress plugin and follow the instructions on the plugin page. You might want to insert the meta description tag for the main page yourself. For individual posts, it pays to take out a minute and write a brief description in the ‘post excerpt’ box instead of relying on the plugin to insert the first couple of lines of each post as the meta description tag.

Second item on the menu – links. Throughball.com doesn’t show up in Dmoz, or BOTW (as far as I know). Submit to both these directories (BOTW blog submissions are free), and start looking at football-specific directories to see where you can get links from.

Of course, directory links aren’t everything – you also want links from other blogs. The football blogging niche is usually not too keen on linking out – you either have people too concerned with ‘sending readers away’ or engaging in circular linking.

The easiest way to get links here is to do blogroll link exchanges, but they aren’t effective at all, so it’s a tough ask.

The second best way is to linkbait the top blogs in your niche. Find bloggers, start reading their sites and get a feel for what type of news / sites they link out to. See if you can write a story that captures the same audience / angle, and once you’ve written it, mail them the link. Chances are, if your piece is good and relevant, they’ll link to it in a future post. You get a new reader, you get an in-context link from a popular blog AND you have a quality post on your blog.

Guest blogging on popular blogs is also a good way to get in-context links (and if you’re looking for blogs to write on, Soccerlens, a fan-based football news site, welcomes new writers (disclosure: I own Soccerlens.com).

Some on-page optimization advice – remove the ‘month-by-month’ archives from your sidebar. You already have the categories listed and from the SE point of view, showing topically-related content is better than showing content segmented by time.

Some more on-page advice – use keywords in your title tags and try to write posts around topics that get searched-for regularly. For example, during last year’s Champions League final my coverage got a lot of SE traffic. Ditto for the upcoming Manchester United vs Europe XI game.

Non-SEO advice – add a help page for the social bookmarking and RSS subscription options to help explain to readers what they are and how to use them.

I find that Newsvine is far better than Reddit or Delicious in sending traffic. Digg works too, but for that you’ll have to make it tech related. Try StumbleUpon as well.

5. Monetization

The fact is – football is not as easy to monetize as gadgets. Here are a few options for you to consider:

AdSense – you’re using AdSense right now but it’s not optimal. I’d suggest removing the sidebar panel (unless you move the centre sidebar to the right) and adding a rectangle ad above the comments in all your posts. You might also want to consider adding link ads instead of the small rectangle you have at the top of the page.

With AdSense you’ll never know what works best until you test. Even then, my personal experience is that in-context, large rectangles convert best, as do horizontal link ads.

Here’s a tip – ads relating to football betting and gambling pay out the most, so you might want to use the ‘google_hints’ optional tag to improve ad targeting. If you don’t know how to do it, email me.

Paid Ads – you already have sponsors, but since I don’t know what you’re earning from them I cant say if it’s good for you or not. You may want to consider Text Link Ads or Text Link Brokers to sell link ads on your site.

Affiliates – There are plenty of options for you – football betting sites, football tickets, football jerseys, football equipment, etc. Find out what relates best to your site and audience, then promote them on your site.

Each revenue source doesn’t have to earn you thousands – but a couple of hundred from here and there can add up quite nicely.

6. Marketing

Who do you know in your niche? Are you commenting on / talking to the top blogs / bloggers in the football niche? It’s not what you know, it’s who you know :) In football this is even more evident as something as simple as being the supporter of the same club can get you regular links (and thus a steady stream of traffic and readers).

In football,social media optimization (SMO) means using:

  • football videos as marketing tools for your website.
  • tech-related football news to leverage Digg.
  • old-school word-of-mouth marketing techniques – goes back to ‘who you know’.

Are you listed on NewsNow? It’s full of spam and crap news, but it’s an excellent way to get readers to your website. I’ll be writing about NewsNow optimization some time in the future on BlogFC, so keep a look out for that.

Start guest-blogging on more popular football blogs. Also, invite readers to contribute to your blog (some will, and 1 or 2 will stick around for the long run, and it will make your blogging job a lot easier).

Wrapping Up

Phew…that ran over an hour, didn’t it? I couldn’t go into details about a few things (such as keyword research / link building) because of time constraints, but I hope I’ve covered as much as possible.

I’d love to hear what Liz has to say about design issues, and I’m sure Raj can contribute a fair bit on link bait strategies (hint hint).

Let me know what you guys think about the first Blog Reboot session here at Performancing :)

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Comments

  1. kkhipple says:

    I’m actually looking forward to having my blog reviewed. Reading this, I think I have been doing a few things right. But would love to get a second opinion

  2. Liz Strauss says:

    Thanks, Ahmed for the invite to respond to the design. There is so much right about what I see. Many of the usual problems I find just aren’t here. But I see what you see also.

    My solution to the Adsense would different. I would move them below the post officially to sit immediatly–5px–under the Sociable icons. and and mark them off with a border above and below. This would offer a clean, clear finish to the end of a post. Then I would add about 15px above the title of the next post.

    If Josh, wants a set of ads at the top — not my personal perference, but a monetization choice — I would use the treatment I just described and the extra space above the post title to make the ads not part of the first post.

    My greatest concern is the color of the green text. The color chosen doesn’t have enough black in it. I have the same problem with green on my own blog and will be changing it. The color now is 83B738. One with a little more black would be 6F9C30 even more would be 62892A. It’s worth a try to see what the difference in readability is.

    Speaking of readability, the overall type size very small. I would recommend making at least 2px larger. If the type goes larger the main content area can go about 5px wide. However, care needs to be take that the line length doesn’t get too wide for the eye to return to the next line to read.

    I wonder why that first post under the Adsense looks different — smaller title, no sociable icons . . .

  3. throughball says:

    Ahmed: Thanks for the fantastic write-up!

    Thanks also to Liz for the design-specific comments

    I’m not able to digest all of this right now but will give it some time this evening so that we can have a fruitful discussion.

    Josh

  4. Ahmed Bilal says:

    Thanks Liz, and it was good to talk to you as well

    Looking forward to your feedback Josh.

  5. Liz Strauss says:

    It was helpful to have that word, Ahmed. I really appreciate your time for that.

    Josh, feel free to get in touch if something doesn’t make sense.

    Teamwork is a good thing.

  6. Raj Dash says:

    Josh, I’ll throw in some more detailed comments tonight or tomorrow, but here are a couple of quick suggestions:

    (1) The green hyperlinks are almost impossible for my older eyes to read. I doubt I would have liked them when i was younger. But I like your colour scheme in general, though more black would help the contrast, as Liz said.

    (2) Content-wise, I suggest you throw in some more flagship content. I can’t recall if it was Zidane, but some young player is being touted as the next hot footballer/ soccer player, and a bio of him would help. Don’t forget bios of past greats. Few football fans ever grow tired of reading about, for example, the great Pele. Maybe do up two lists:

    (a) the 10 greatest retired footballers
    (b) 10 up and coming current players

    If you have these, forgive me.

  7. throughball says:

    It seems that I’m unable to put this off until later!

    I’ve implemented the suggestions from Liz and Raj about using a darker green. You’re right, it’s definitely easier to read now.

    Moreover, I’ve removed the adsense on the top; frankly, I never liked it all that much and it’s not as though it was producing millions of dollars…

  8. David Krug says:

    First off this rocks. Not only have you improved the readers eyeballs you’ve encouraged someone to make the content more interesting as well. Design can be a huge help.

    Here’s the one thing I’d recommend as far as monetizing. CJ.com has some great affiliate programs. Develop a mini store and drive some of your readership deeper into the store with related products.

    Also talk about products occassionaly if you are looking to make it more of a professional blogging site income wise.

    Overall a great site , and some quality feedback thanks guys.

  9. Doug Green says:

    Just a note to say that as a bystander watching this happen, it was very useful. I’ve already made two changes to my own blog(s) and entered a few to-do’s in future timelines. This is a useful process for those of us new to the blogging scene. This is much more useful than some theoretical exercise or article.

  10. smperris says:

    That’s a bunch of small tips with big potential. Very useful stuff. I have no illusions that my blog will ever be re-booted (especially since I’m not looking to be pro – just better) but this series is going to give me a whole heap of information that I can actually use.

    The best part is that you can see the suggestions in the context of an actual blog and it makes it much easier to apply if there are similarities between the re-booted blog and your own (whether it be content, design, marketing strategies etc).

    Keep up the good work!

  11. throughball says:

    Competing with the big media isn’t a smart idea – when you’re starting out (TB’s an year old) you want to focus on dominating a narrow niche first and then expanding into a broader, overarching niche if you wish to later on…

    From what I gather, you’re US-based, so catering to US-based football fans (or should I say soccer?) would be an ideal first step. There are some US bloggers writing about football but they try to go after the same UK audience as everyone else.

    The stated goal of the blog, as referenced on the “About” page is to focus on the Minnesota Thunder (a team in my state that is one level below the highest level of pro soccer in America), the U.S. National Team, and the English Premiership.

    In short, I’ve picked these because they are what I know. Unfortunately, due to extraordinary geography and varying weather, the domestic leagues are not in operation during the late fall, winter, or early spring (thus the national team and Premiership coverage).

    Moreover, based on interactions with my audience, I believe that my readers count on me to find the most interesting stories in between all the static. You’re very right; keeping up with all of the news is difficult, and I (perhaps naively) believe that the audience appreciates my attempt to act as a filter.

    I put Throughball.com through the blink test and the first thing I noticed was that the post headlines are downplayed because of the AdSense blocks above them and the subscription info in the center of the screen. I’m not saying that you should remove those two items – especially not the RSS subs info – but look at ways to make the post a more prominent part of the page.

    One way to do this would be to widen the content area and reduce the space given to the two sidebars. Another way to do this would be to shift the content column to the center and take the first sidebar to the left. If you do that you’ll probably have to change the order of what you’re showing in the sidebars as well.

    The 3 column approach isn’t bad, but to make it work you should give as much breathing space to your post / content area as possible.

    I acted on what I believe to be the best suggestions; namely, removing the top adsense block and changing the color green to a darker shade.

    I need to give the others some thought.

    Timeless content – this is a bit hard to manage with football sites, but here are a few ideas…

    I think you are spot on. I need to do a better job focusing on creating original, timeless content. I’ve tried to do this in a few cases (typically when I couldn’t find a particular resource elsewhere on the web and I decided to just create that resource myself) but I could certainly do it more.

    add a help page for the social bookmarking and RSS subscription options to help explain to readers what they are and how to use them.

    Man, I’ve had that unfinished post in queue for some time now. Hopefully this will be a good motivator.

    The fact is – football is not as easy to monetize as gadgets. Here are a few options for you to consider…

    Adsense has positively sucked for me. TLA has been pretty good. Will look into TLB

    Marketing

    For the most part, I do everything you suggest in this section.

    All in all, I’m pleased by this review. I think there are a number of things that I can take away immediately (as mentioned, I’ve already put in place two of the suggestions).

    I appreciate the time that Ahmed took to do the write-up and the great comments that followed. I’m looking forward to the next reboot!

  12. 1-800-HART says:

    Good Luck to Throughball.com and its reboot!

    I sure wish you guys took some still pictures of BEFORE .. because it’s really hard to put your advice into practical learning experiences without it. Right now, it seems that some changes are already made? So .. if you do – can you put them up?

    (sorry, this wasnt’ one feed in my bloglines, so I have never visited the blog before)

    HART

  13. saloschin says:

    Fascinating stuff. My advice, for next season, would be to try and build on your Fantasy Footie (at the premier league site- what’s your score now, btw?) and offer prizes, promos, publish results, have weekly winners, and so on- if possible even get some visual software done for this, like the BBC uses in their “squad selector”. Then, let as many footie fans know about this as you can- there an awful lot of them! I would say the big forums are a pretty good bet and you can hire people to help spread the word. I’d also introduce a little more bias and bite into the content, through opinion. Like Ahmed’s last post on MU not winning the league- of course he’s living on the moon and we’ll beat those overpaid Chelsea t..s- but he’s “creating community” and not trying to be something for everyone, which is a pretty impossible task. As far as an affiliate is concerned, kitbag is pretty good for all the latest shirts, etc & you can also get stuff like signed photos from ebay and resell them.

  14. throughball says:

    Hart: The only things I’ve done so far is change the color green to a slightly darker color green and remove a horizontal 2-ad adsense unit from the top.

    Everything else is as it was when it was reviewed. Hope that helps.

  15. Raptor2000 says:

    I agree with HART. It would be good to have a screen shot of the site before any changes were made. After reading through all the comments I was able to figure out what had been changed, but in the future if there are more extensive changes it would be good to see a “before” shot.

    I found this article (and the comments) to be very useful. I look forward to reading about future reboots.

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