How football site Goal has weathered Facebook’s changes

U.K.-football site Goal has been steadily reducing its reliance on Facebook to reach audiences.

The inflated traffic highs that come with the World Cup this summer has let the Perform-owned publisher learn what works on new platforms, like Apple News and Twitch, and existing platforms like YouTube.

“This gives us a condensed period of learning to test strategies that would usually take six months,” said James Dickens, Goal’s global editor-in-chief. “We’ll expect the drop after the World Cup, but hopefully we can retain between 70 and 50 percent of users gained and then keep applying the changes we’ve learned.”

During the UEFA Euro tournament in 2016, Facebook was the key traffic driver to Goal’s site. Now, less than 10 percent of traffic comes via Facebook, a drop of 30 percent since the beginning of the year when Facebook restricted the sharing of posts that led back to publisher sites. Goal reduced the number of posts linking back to its site while upping the number of video and multimedia posts aimed at increasing engagement.

According to Benjamin Bolton, head of marketing for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Tubular Labs, Goal’s differentiator is that its Facebook videos typically achieve a higher engagement rate than other top football publishers.

Rather than drive people from Facebook back to its site to monetize, Goal works with brands like Nissan, Kia and Paddy Power on co-created content, and has run over 90 paid-for campaigns on Facebook over the last 90 days, per Tubular.

“The changes in Facebook’s algorithm plus people not consuming content like they were mean we need to deliver our messages elsewhere. We’ve moved the resource to where the users are,” said Dickens. Goal has a team of 10 on editorial who post to platforms, over the World Cup it had an additional 26 in Russia publishing in English, French and German as well. “It’s always about how much resource versus the return on that platform,” he added.

“Tailoring and editing the same content for multiple platforms allow publishers to maximize the content’s reach and ROI,” said Bolton. “Goal’s audience across YouTube and Facebook is similar, but it can maximize reach further through effective syndication across markets, where currently its view distribution varies.”

For the last three months, Goal has been growing the number of 10-minute documentaries it publishes to YouTube and scaling back the number of short clips of press conferences, graphic-led videos and interviews with players. According to the publisher, the average completion rate on its medium-form YouTube videos is 70 percent.

According to Tubular Labs data, in the last three months, Goal uploaded 26 percent more videos to YouTube, while posting 3 percent fewer videos to Facebook, compared to the first three months of the year. As a result, views on YouTube doubled, while views on Facebook decreased by 31 percent.

While video can be re-cut for Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and IGTV, Amazon-owned livestreaming platform Twitch, where publishers like The Washington Post are exploring, is a different matter. Earlier this year, Goal streamed e-sports tournament Sportego eLeague on Twitch. Over the four-hour event, the stream had 100,000 viewers and 2,000 chat messages, and it plans to stream more events in September.

“The audience on Twitch doesn’t compete with Facebook or YouTube, that’s obvious, but they are dedicated. They come to us specifically for football-based streaming content,” Paul Rayment, marketing manager at Goal. “We need to be there to meet the young, male, football gaming fan.”

Outside of video, Goal joined Apple News in May, targeting the U.K., U.S. and Australia, popular stories include this on England player Raheem Sterling hitting back at the English press, with 79,000 views, and this on the role Belgium player Kevin De Bruyne played in knocking out Brazil, with 46,000 views. On average, content on Apple News is getting 2 million daily pageviews and 700,000 unique users. According to Apple News, via the publisher, Goal was the third-highest-consumed sports site on the platform during the World Cup. High traffic numbers, however, haven’t translated to revenue for many publishers.

Apple News’ combination of algorithm and editorial means it surfaces content that may not typically get picked up by search or shared through social. Goal’s team is in daily contact with Apple News about what stories it has coming up. “It’s a brand and a traffic play. We can do these slightly niche, human-interest stories that don’t always get huge numbers,” said Dickens. “Its proactive engagement, people go to it for the content.”

Image: Goal via Facebook.

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