SEO Blitz: Are You Ready for Some Football!

Last month Jonathan Allen wrote about the work he was doing to help the NHLPA increase their Google rankings for their member names (NHL hockey players). I read this with interest, given that I’ve spent the last few months doing the exact same thing for all major U.S. sports teams and players.

Redesign and Redeploy

The site in question is FanHouse, an AOL property (note: I work for AOL). The first sport we decided to tackle was the National Football League.

Historically, FanHouse’s team pages had either been purely data driven or just a flow of editorial content. This meant that the stickiness of the pages wasn’t great, and from a ranking perspective, the search engines didn’t appear to be too thrilled with them either.

Old Jacksonville Jaguars FanHouse Page

When looking at how these legacy pages ranked, only one of them ranked in the top 20 for the team name (the Arizona Cardinals). The majority of the rest of the teams were ranking in the 30s and 40s — positions that obviously weren’t driving great traffic. Of course, we’d push out content that would temporarily rank for the teams, but that’s nowhere near as good as having a permanent marker in place.

Therefore, the decision was made to overhaul all team and player pages. This was a full team project, with everyone on the FanHouse team involved from start to finish, from design to development to product to search engine optimization (SEO). We:

  • Performed keyword research to see where the opportunities were.
  • Examined the competitors to see what they were doing, what appeared to be working for them, and what we could improve upon.
  • Looked at our data feeds to see if we were fully utilizing everything that we had.
  • Looked at the best way to integrate everything in a meaningful manner that would provide a much better user experience.

After several iterations, we came up with a solution that we felt could and should shift the needle in the right direction. Below is the new page for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

New Jacksonville Jaguars FanHouse Page

The Results

The new team pages launched on July 27, well in advance of the start of the NFL season (which kicks off tomorrow night with the Minnesota Vikings visiting the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints).

We ran a check of the new pages on August 2 to get an idea of our current status. At that point, eight of the new pages had yet to be picked up, with the old URLs still showing in Google (the old URLs had been 301 redirected to the new pages).

Despite that, six of the new team pages were now showing on the first page of Google’s SERP, and 17 of the new pages were showing on the second page. So within five days of launch, we saw tremendous improvements.

Over the next couple of weeks, the rankings dropped off slightly, but they’re still a lot higher than they were prior to the redesign.

Where to Next?

We’ve already released our NFL player pages (e.g., Chad Ochocinco).

Chad Ochocinco FanHouse Page

We’re also working on updating our pages for teams, players, and fighters for all other sports that we regularly cover. After all, it’s worked for the NFL, so why shouldn’t it work elsewhere?

Now, we could have decided to stick with the legacy pages and tried to optimize them further — build some more links, promote them through our partners, etc. — and we’d most likely have seen a slight jump, but that wouldn’t have been enough to meet our aggressive goals — goals based on the potential that we believe FanHouse can reach. The decision to redesign and redeploy was by far and away the right decision.

Now, I won’t share our traffic numbers for the last 20 months. However, here is a trending graph of the average daily organic traffic to all AOL Sports Properties (includes FanHouse, MMA Fighting, and FleaFlicker):

Organic Traffic June 2009 to June 2010

With initiatives such as this one, we increased our organic search engine traffic by 195 percent (from June 2009 to June 2010).

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