Back in 2010, I had the opportunity to spend some time chatting with Greg Lalas about the newly launched MLSSoccer.com. Mr. Lalas was named as the editor-in-chief of the new site and back then, we discussed his vision for the site, the technical problems it was experiencing and a number of other issues surrounding the launch. Now four years later, Mr. Lalas was kind enough to chat for a few minutes about the how the site is doing four years later. In Part I of our chat, Mr. Lalas discusses site metrics, content and more. Part II will feature tomorrow.
Thanks to Mr. Lalas.
Footiebusiness.com: What content drives the most traffic to MLSSoccer.com?
Greg Lalas: It’s going to be the big stars…and any talk about new stadiums and expansion to new cities is a big thing. The connection between MLS and the National team drives a lot of traffic to us. It is a World Cup year so everyone is really fascinated with the US National Team. The number of players on the USMNT who are in MLS is just making that connection stronger and stronger, so that is a big thing for driving traffic. Right now, since we are in the off season, it is a little different, but obviously matches drive it. Traffic spikes around matches and that is the same for everybody. I talked to the guys at NFL and the same thing happens to them. The highlights, the great goals; its what we as fans love. I want to read about the US Team, I want to watch great goals. I want to watch the action. Ultimately, I think that is what one of the great lessons of the last four years for us. No matter what happens we are basically mirroring the fans. We are fans, so what we find interesting is probably what the fans find interesting.
FB: Are you continuing to see growth? Are you satisfied with the growth rate? Are the numbers where you want them to be?
GL: Yes. Our growth rate in 2013 was really great. From page views, we were up a decent chunk and more importantly in unique users, they were up a lot, especially in the second half of the year. I don’t know what happened in the second half of the year, other than we were doing a little bit more digital marketing and we were doing a really good job in social media to drive the numbers. In the second half of the year, the numbers really took off. That might have also been around expansion. The second half of the year started with NYCFC and the bookend was Orlando City SC in November. You look at those numbers and you see tremendous growth in the second half of the year.
FB: Are people spending a significant of time on the site once they get there?
GL: Not too bad. Our average is 4 something minutes. I would like it to be higher. Page views per visit have held steady. Our goals in 2014 in particular, are to really drive unique users even more than page views. Like everybody else, we are trying to figure what is the actual calculus behind putting a bunch of these numbers together to say what is really a successful metric for us. It is not just unique users. It is engagement, it is Likes and Tweets and page views per visit and time spent and engaged time that ChartBeat uses (and we use ChartBeat for ourselves).
One of the biggest metrics that I am looking at, if we grow our unique users, can we maintain the same ratio of new users to returning users. The last thing I want is to blow out the number on new users, but they don’t become returning users. If our unique users double, but our new users go up to 50% versus what it has been over the last two years or so which is about 30%, then we are doing something wrong because we are not keeping those new users we are not making them come back or giving them something that they want to come back for. So, if I can grow the uniques but still keep it 70/30 returning/new then I am going to me happy with the user metric at least.
FB: Is there a feature on the site that gets less traffic than you think it should?
GL: I think that there is a lot of talk about statistics and Moneyball type analytics and I don’t think yet that we are seeing the traffic there that we could or should. There is so much talk out there with Optasport and Match Analysis and all of these other statistically driven companies, talking about statistics 2.0 and deeper dives into the analytics, but I at this point I don’t see the interest in it at a very high level. Part of it is that people are still trying to figure out a way to bring it down to a level that is digestible for the more casual fan. You think about baseball, here is his ERA and that is his batting average. Those are simple things to understand. They are almost intuitively understood and then someone just put a number and an acronym to it. In soccer, we are trying to figure out what are those few little stats that help us understand the game a little better, so that a casual fan can get a glimpse of a match or a player or a moment and really say, I get it. Right now, I think all of the stats are a little too complicated for the casual fan and in some ways we just need to dumb it down; I need to dumb it down for myself sometimes when I read what Devin Pleuler, one of writers, writes about. We are getting there, it is a process.
FB: I look at what you guys do with the Chalkboard and I wonder how much traffic it generates. It is an interesting look after a match.
GL: It doesn’t generate as much traffic as we would think or we would hope. That is why we are trying to do more around the written content or the video content around stats. Devin writes the weekly article called the Central Winger and he breaks down stats. He is doing some pretty groundbreaking work on the side. He works for Opta full time and he is a contributor for MLSSoccer.com.