Senior SEO Consultant

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This article originally featured in the June/July publication of the iGB Affiliate iGaming magazine.

Producing content around real-world sporting events in real-time is an almost endless task, and quite often you can’t define topics and content until short notice.

This is where the sales message that content can be bundled together with other disciplines as a “fundamental pillar” falls down. It’s an easier sell, as the content is often perceived as just words on a page and time-sensitive, or ephemeral, content as a strategy can be difficult to sign-off internally, as the lifetime value of time-sensitive content is generally minimal in comparison to larger, more evergreen pieces.

However, time-sensitive content brings about a number of other benefits and high levels of short-term value. By looking at content in the same data-led fashion as we would other more technical insights and combine this with customer insight then a tangible growth and customer acquisition strategy can be formed.

Looking at the 2019 Europa League final as a case in point, there is a window of 20 days from the semi-final second legs to the final date – and without knowing the two teams in the final it’s difficult to create content that users will want to engage with.

As with any content surrounding a sporting event – its lifespan is very short as once the event has passed, users generally have a different intent and focus. As shown by Google Trends, interest in the Europa League Final from the UK peaks in May each year and can vary greatly – as you can see, the peak for 2018 (Marseille v Atlético Madrid) is a lot lower than 2016 (Liverpool v Sevilla), 2017 (Ajax v Manchester United) and 2019 (Chelsea v Arsenal).

This is important not only in how you curate your content, but also the results you should expect – if no English teams make the finals next year, or it’s not two major teams (e.g. Arsenal Tula v Luzern), interest outside of hardcore markets will be lower.

Measuring time sensitivity

In the 48 hours prior to kick-off of 2019 final, I started recording the first page of Google for the query [europa league final] from a London IP address every 2 hours.

The inspiration behind this micro-study came from two things;

  1. a discussion with a betting vendor at the LAC Conference in February, and
  2. a study conducted by another SEO, Chris Green, into SERP volatility through hourly rank tracking which found that the top three to four results for a given query didn’t fluctuate as much as those on the lower half of page one – but then page two onwards was very volatile.

Over the 24 data points I found the below common themes:

  • Google-owned the top 2 result assets consistently, these being: the SCRB (special content result block), and a Google News carousel
  • All SERPs contained the AJAX question loader
  • All SERPs contained 14 elements; including an average of 9 traditional blue link organic results and two “related searches” blocks
  • Understanding it’s a competition run by UEFA, uefa.com was present in all results although its position did vary

With time-sensitive and event-based content, this volatility increases as user intent vary and changes in the lead up to the event – therefore Google changes the ranking content for the query to better cater to this change in user behavior.

The observations within Google’s first page leading up to the event also show that it’s not just a case of producing articles – but also sharing them consistently and repeatedly through social media channels (especially Twitter) in order to leverage the Google/Twitter firehose deal.

Using the Europa League Final again as an example; intent changed from broader intents such as “when and where” to more detailed team and participant information.

Be quick, and don’t be afraid to publish shorter articles

There was a conception within SEO that length equaled value, but in reality, value is a lot more objective than words on the page.

Don’t be afraid to publish shorter articles and important headlines that you know will satisfy user intent – especially for an emerging story. You can also revisit these posts and add to them post-publication to further increase their accuracy and value in line with breaking news.

What is important is that you’re actively attempting to add value and stay relevant in line with user intent and needs.

Anticipation and forward planning

As important as being quick is, sometimes things can be predicted can the greater bulk of articles pre-written, with last-minute details added in at the final minute

All publicists and mass content producers have swathes of “ready to fire” pre-written content, allowing them to quickly publish high-value articles at the turn of a hat.

Famously, the Telegraph showed in 2017 how forward-thinking they are when they published an article with the title: “HOLD HOLD HOLD Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, dies aged XX” – and thanks to how optimized they are for Google News, it even ended up in the News Carousel:

 

Knowing that Chelsea was playing Arsenal almost 3 weeks in advance would have allowed good time for the building of a content library for the event, consisting of both finished and semi-finished pieces.

Knowing when to switch focus

The final and most important part about implementing a very time-sensitive strategy is knowing when to change the topic and focus in line with changing user intent.

From the study I did over the Europa League final, intent appeared to shift every 4 hours, with major changes in content in the immediate 3 hours prior to kick-off.

For the most part content and articles can be scheduled through a third-party app, but it’s also important to monitor content, themes, and conversations on social media to quickly write shorter content pieces and further promote specific articles.

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