What is one of the biggest challenges faced by sports organisations and digital agencies today?
The answer: finding that balance between delivering a page in seconds that is also packed with captivating imagery, bursting with stats, historical records, video and exciting features.
It doesn’t matter how fabulously feature-rich the site is – if pages load slowly, all the effort put in is for nothing. Whether that’s because it’s not fast enough to rank highly on search engines or because visitors ever-decreasing attention spans (at 8 seconds they are less than that of the lowly goldfish) cause them to bounce off the page before it loads, the result is missed opportunities for traffic, loss of potential sales, and disappointed fans.
Keep the Design Lean
SEO helps to pinpoint which site pages are most popular. By identifying these, they can be targeted for a low load time by minimising complicated design elements, ensuring that bounce rates will drop. For sporting clients, the fixtures list is the page that often generates most traffic from organic searches. Six Nations Rugby, for example, are in an extremely competitive market for their fixture information even against Google, so we focused on keeping the page as lean as possible and employed structured data markup on the page to increase the ranking.
Appearance is Everything
Imagery is critical on a sport website. Sports organisations have access to a wealth of great photos, but if not optimised properly they will seriously slow a website down. Thought must be given to where images are most effective on the platform – analytical tools such as heat-mapping can inform the decision. Galleries of athlete images near the bottom of the homepage may seem like a good idea, but if heat-mapping shows that few users ever scroll that far, then actions like moving the gallery to its own page rather than adding load to the homepage that everyone visits, will help.
External third-party content such as tracking codes or social media walls will slow the experience for visitors. Small changes such as displaying just one post from each channel and directing users to a separate page if they want to load more can make a big difference. For videos, having preview images that click through to the video also greatly benefit site speed.
Sotic loves the power we get from being a WordPress agency, benefiting from the diversity that plugins offer to our clients. However, older plugins can slow a site down, so it is critical to regularly review the plugins installed, removing those no longer required or seeking out newer, faster alternatives.
Keep Testing and Reviewing
A website should never be viewed as the finished article. Even a lean and razor-sharp platform can slow down over time as pages are added and features are tacked on. Just as on the field of play, speed and efficiency rule. Finding the balance between compelling and engaging design, and good user experience through the speedy delivery of content will put your website top of the league.
Leo Mindel is Technical Director at Sotic, a specialist provider of digital services, websites and software applications to the sports industry. Sotic’s clients include; the British & Irish Lions, Tour of Britain Cycling, Premiership Rugby, Ladies European Tour Golf, World Sailing and Aberdeen FC.