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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 🙂