Once again, I reviewed NESN. But this time, it was in order to understand a few basic SEO (Search Engine Optimization) choices that their management had made.
I strongly suspect that NESN has some form of fancy programming behind their online page creation. NESN SEO just seems to be way too good.
If I were to guess, I would say that their program (possibly developed in house) scrapes the title of a submitted article, wraps it in H1 tags and copies it to the meta descriptions. That same article title is the basis for that particular page’s custom URL. Hence the article, A.J. PierzynskiDesignated For Assignment; Christian Vazquez Joins Red Sox is connected to the following custom URL:http://nesn.com/2014/07/a-j-pierzynski-designated-for-assignment-christian-vazquez-to-start-wednesday/ The page title is: A.J. Pierzynski Designated For Assignment; Christian Vazquez Joins Red Sox | Boston Red Sox | NESN.com. The meta description for that same page is: The Boston Red Sox shook up their situation behind the plate in a big way Wednesday. Manager John Farrell confirmed to WEEI‘s “Dale and Holley” that the team has designated veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski for assignment and promoted 23-year-old Christian Vazquez from Triple-A Pawtucket. Finally, the keywords were: a.j. pierzynski, christian vazquez, christian vasquez, boston red sox, red sox catcher, a.j. pierzynski released, a.j. pierzynski dfa, red sox prospects, christian vazquez promotion, christian vazquez red sox.
Double quotation marks truncate meta descriptions. This meta description was no exception – in Google search, it simply reads: “A.J. Pierzynski Designated For Assignment; Christian VazquezJoins … Sox shook up their situation behind the plate in a big way Wednesday.” (Note: the bolding comes from Google itself).
The Power of Programming
NESN SEO programmatic work (if that’s what it is) was just great. Pages are named properly. The URL structure is organic and easy to follow. The meta descriptions are generally excellent (the double quotation marks in my sample were probably the doing of the article writer. Perhaps the program should be refined to replace all instances of double quotation marks with single marks?) and are enticing to human searchers because they are written by professional writers.
With a programmatic solution, NESN can get this work done quickly and turn around better online product for more abbreviated deadlines. Having the computer system do this does not require writers to master SEO beyond the basics of naming their articles properly and making sure that the keywords in the titles show up with those articles.
Even better, any time the theory of SEO changes, there only has to be one change made at NESN. Simply (probably not so simple!) tweak the program to accommodate any changes, test it, and roll it out. All without missing a deadline.
NESN continues to impress. NESN SEO is great. NESN.com is a well-crafted website. No wonder it’s an advertising cash cow.
What was perhaps most amusing about this particular video was when I checked out NESN’s listed demographics and came up with a buyer persona.
My typical buyer persona turned out to be – ta da! – Spoiler Alert! – my husband, Jay Siegel.
NESN Typical Buyer Persona
NESN’s audience, by far, was dominated by men. Their age group was mainly within the 25 – 54 age range, although that was not anywhere near as dominant as the gender imbalance. Finally, their geographic placement was mainly clustered around the New England and New York areas.
What was rather fascinating for me was that the biggest American state for NESN viewership isn’t in New England at all. It’s California. But that is, perhaps, more a function of California’s gigantic population than anything else. California accounts for a good fifteen percent of the American viewership of NESN. Massachusetts holds the number two slot, with ten percent. New York is third, with nine percent. Hence the New England/New York combination is already greater than that of California.
Unfortunately, Chartbeat did not show (on their free report) any states beyond the Top Five. But it would not shock me if the Top Five were rounded out by at least one or two of the other five New England states, and other Northeastern states, such as New Jersey, or Maryland. The map rather clearly indicated a bias in favor of the Northeast.
I continue to be pleasantly surprised at what a great choice NESN has turned out to be, for class assignments!
This report will cover certain quantitative metrics for NESN, in an effort to understand whether their online campaigns and presences are providing fullest value. I will concentrate on the channel’s website and will only touch upon their social presence on various platforms.
Company Business Objectives
For NESN, their objectives appear to be to draw offline traffic to their television programming, and to increase clicks on advertisements found peppered throughout the website. The objectives for their social media presences appear to solely be to direct traffic back to the website, although a secondary objective is probably to increase offline viewership for the television channel.
NESN’s home page changes; advertisements and stories evolve from day to day and even hour to hour. The basic layout is of a top menu with drop downs, with a banner ad just beneath it. The live blog is in the upper left corner (it has the largest news image on the page), with top stories also available above the fold. A second ad is in the upper right corner, with a video just below it. These videos mainly seem to be interviews and short highlights; there are video ads interspersed in there. I believe these are similar to, if not the same as, the ads that a viewer would see on television.
Scrolling below the fold, just below the videos, there is a static list of website sponsor logos. There are more links to stories (all story links have an image) and then there are, on the right, links off the site which go to Zergnet, an entertainment website. Circling back, the center has News Max headlines (and links), and on the left are more video ads. Below these, there are more links to stories. There’s a long vertical skyscraper ad on the right, yet another video ad on the left and then, at the very bottom, there are links to various sports topics (e. g. horse racing), NESN’s sources, and even their social media pages. Interesting enough, their Pinterest page is not listed; perhaps it is new.
The entire website is overlaid over yet another ad as the background image. I counted nineteen advertisements: the overlay, the top banner, three videos, the upper right corner, the twelve sponsor logos, and the skyscraper. This does not include various smaller banners, such as one for Red Sox Nation which contains the Dunkin’ Donuts logo. This total also does not include the links to Zergnet and News Max.
The Twitter page shows a rather plain background and a branded logo being used for an avatar. Recent tweets are listed chronologically and there does not seem to be a chosen highlighted tweet. There are no advertisements on the Twitter home page itself. Tweets are a mix of programming news, images, and links to videos and less timely content, such as an interview with Ted Williams’s daughter which could have conceivably been tweeted any day this month. NESN has 164,000 followers.
The Facebook page (this image is a little older, but the design has not changed in the past two weeks) has a branded background image and logo for an avatar. Wall posts vary, and can be photos, status updates, or sports opinion pieces. NESN has 222,000 likes.
The Google+ page had the same plain background as on Twitter. NESN has just under 31,000 followers.
There were twenty-one pin boards. But NESN has fewer than 220 followers! This figure is comparable to my own following on Pinterest, and I don’t have an advertising budget. However, I suspect that’s more due to the demographic disconnect (Pinterest is overwhelmingly female; sports fans are predominantly male) than anything else.
The Tumblr blog appeared to be a feed from the website. I cannot tell how many followers they have.
Compete.com’s most recent data for NESN was for April. The most interesting trend was to see the number of visitors spiking in October of 2013 and then April of 2014, probably due to the Boston Red Sox capturing a World Series trophy and then the Boston Bruins being in the NHL playoffs. There were nearly a million unique visitors in April.
As would be expected, according to Chartbeat, the site’s visitors geographically cluster around New England. However, there are also somewhat substantial numbers of viewers in California and Illinois. After the United States, the audience countries drop off dramatically, with Canada having only a 3% share of the audience.
According to Alexa, the average visitor views over two pages, however, the bounce rate is high, at nearly 80%. Time on site is less than two and a half minutes; presumably this is to quickly check scores and top stories and move on if the audience member fails to see anything new.
Chartbeat’s data was current, and showed that visitors came from a variety of traffic sources. Internal traffic was highest – although visitors were still bouncing off. Direct acquisition was the next-most common source of visitors, with links trailing a bit behind that, and then search. Social was dead last.
The top landing pages were the World Cup live stream and then the home page. After that, was a page about trade rumors about Carmelo Anthony, and then a more in-depth story about the World Cup.
Chartbeat’s view of NESN’s traffic sources showed key words and phrases. From the below screen shot, the most frequently-searched terms clearly had to do with the World Cup or Boston plus either the Bruins or the Red Sox. The mix of new visitors to returning was about 40% to 60% of all visitors, respectively.
Chartbeat lists top pages. Combining these with search, we can get an idea about landing pages. Searches for the World Cup are drawing the audience to the live stream. The second-most visited page is the home page, understandable for a site where the second-most common means of acquisition is direct clicking, and the third is linking.
Exit pages are more difficult to gauge but, since the top links are generally to home page ads, my assumption is that audience members are clicking on the ads and, therefore, are perhaps making a conversion, but they are also leaving the site.
Possible Ratings Boost
If NESN is using its online presence in order to bolster its offline television channel ratings, the cause and effect is unclear. According to Sports Video.org, April 2014 ratings were very high. However, those ratings seem to have been connected much more intimately to how the Boston Bruins were doing in the Stanley Cup playoffs, versus NESN’s campaigns on its blog and varied social media platforms. Per the article, “NESN earned a 12.7 average household rating in the Boston DMA [Designated Market Area] (20 share) for Tuesday’s [April 22] 3-0 Bruins win over Detroit, which marks the best Game 3 rating in NESN history and the second best rating for a game that was not in a series clinching scenario. The only game that was not a clinching scenario that garnered a higher rating was a double overtime Game 5 vs. Montreal in 2011, which averaged a 12.9 HH rating. The 12.7 HH rating on Tuesday now stands as the 10th best Bruins playoff rating in NESN history. NESN’s highest-rated Bruins game ever was Game 7 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Washington Capitals (4/25/12) which garnered a 19.6 HH rating (31 Share) in the Boston DMA.” (Emphasis mine)
Fully monetizing the website is clearly a major objective for NESN. How successful is it? Probably the ads found above the fold get the most clicks. Would ads for Dice (a jobs website for techies) and the plain text ad for SEO firms get a lot of clicks? The Ray-Bans ad might do better, as it’s less techie-centric. But these ads don’t seem to be targeted to the audience. As for the ads that show up with the videos, if these are sufficiently similar to the commercials seen on NESN’s televised broadcasts, then potential buyers might be too fatigued with these messages to bother clicking on them.
What are clicks worth to NESN?
A visit to NESN’s advertising sales site (there is a tiny link at the bottom of the website’s home page) shows the channel boasting a reach to an audience of 4.5 million, mainly throughout the New England region. But these sales are for either advertisements on television or sporting venue sponsorships at Fenway Park or the Boston Garden. However, the contact page does include a means of requesting information on advertising on NESN.com.
So I repeat – what are clicks worth to NESN?
The Chartbeat data shows hundreds of daily clicks on advertising links. If a click is worth one-tenth of a penny, then 200 clicks makes a measly twenty cents. Multiply that by 365 days and the campaign is a disaster, at $73/year. So that is not what NESN is dependent upon.
Far more likely, NESN is dependent upon advertisers renting space on their Home Page, on their banners (both large and small), and as filler in between short video clips. The most recent article I could find on NESN’s rights fees was from 2002, and that showed NESN bringing in a cool $60 million in rights fees. After three World Series championships and the purchase of the Red Sox by John Henry, et al (the Red Sox own a controlling share in NESN), that figure has undoubtedly skyrocketed.
Clicks are nothing to NESN. The rights to the rental of space on the blog are where it’s at. No wonder the presences on Pinterest, etc. are fairly small – none of the followings on social media come anywhere near the 4.5 million reach boasted by the advertising department.
NESN has not come anywhere near tapping the fullest potential of social media, when it comes to audience acquisition and conversions. But right now, given their enormous offline presence, they don’t really have to.
This week, I wrote an essay and recorded a video about various social media monitoring tools, in the context of watching the NESN (New England Sports Network) website.
My essay is reprinted here in its entirety, except for the graphics.
Social Media Brand Report – NESN – Module 03 ICM 524
New England Sports Network (NESN) is a regional television channel with a wide and varied social mediapresence. The industry is cable (Xfinity) media; their home page is: http://nesn.com/, which is a WordPress blog.
The television channel’s coverage is of nationally-televised (yet regionally-based) sports such as Red Sox baseball, and local events such as North Attleboro, Massachusetts track and field. There are related stories, about sports but outside the region, which round out the coverage.
The specific campaign is the coverage of area sports on various social media outlets.
According to Topsy, brand sentiment is generally mixed but leans toward positive. The sentiment score for the past month (after a survey of over 9,500 mentions) is 54/100. Social Mention more or less confirms these findings, although that service found more positive than negative mentionings, and turned in a far more impressive 7:1 ratio of positive to negative comments. However, just like on Topsy, the majority of mentionings were found to be neutral ones.
Retweet Rank showed that NESN garners a lot of retweets. They’re in the 98th percentile. This is probably to be expected, with over 100,000 Twitter followers.
Social Campaign Initiative
The brand’s social campaign appears to be not only to promote NESN and increase its viewership, but it may also be to increase viewership on other Xfinity properties. Further, there seem to be attempts to get viewers to click on advertisements for an M-rated video game (Murdered).
Standard tweets are partly to spread NESN’s own content, but also to spread content about related persons, such as players and potential players for the New England Patriots and the Boston Red Sox. A typical tweet (on June 3, 2014) is as follows:
Chartbeat presented a number of vanity metrics, and provided a comparison to the previous day’s metrics.
Topsy was not linked to on NESN, but their take on the site is still of interest.
However, Topsy’s compilations of mentionings are perhaps too inclusive. It includes some misapplied data. For example, the following tweet shows up in Topsy’s report, even though it has nothing to do with NESN, New England, or sports:
Qualitative data can, in a way, be cobbled together from some of the above-mentioned metrics.
Social Mention’s compilations of mentionings and then parsing them out by positive, negative, and neutral sentiments can provide some qualitative information about how the brand is perceived online. However, some of the mentionings are likely being misfiled.
Their list of negative mentions is a mystery. Perhaps the term ‘pitch’ is being listed as a negative? Because otherwise I cannot see why the following from Reddit is negative at all:
Admittedly, this kind of parsing of mentionings is inexact at the best of times, for the software likely does not have a sarcasm detector, either. And, just like on Topsy, anything with NESN in it was fair game for the software, even though the first hit is for the sale of a hard drive that just so happens to have that particular combination of letters in its serial number.
Brand Reputation on Social Media
The brand’s reputation seems to be best outlined by Social Mention, and it appears to be overwhelmingly positive. This can be seen by an inspection of the quantitative retweet metric (very high) and Social Mention’s own qualitative measurements. Even Topsy’s overly inclusive listings don’t seem to tip the scales into the negative. It might not be beloved, but NESN is certainly well-liked on social media. Even negative stories don’t seem to hurt its reputation, as its followers on social media seem savvy enough to not want to shoot the messenger if their beloved teams lose.