Southampton may have lost out to Man United in the EFL Cup Final, but they absolutely trounced their Premier League rivals off the pitch.

In fact, in terms of digital presence, few teams can rival Southampton FC.

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The club took the decision last year to overhaul its website, which involved turning its homepage into a constant stream of engaging, unique content about the team. It’s a joy to scroll through, serving up a mixture of written, visual, video and social media content.

Sunday 26 February 2017 – the date of the EFL cup final – was a big day for the club, but the amount of content published over the 24-hour period was staggering. Brands take notice.

Saints’ ‘fan-first’ approach

It’s not only consumer brands that need to take heed of Southampton’s fan-first approach – United are guilty of holding on to a website that struggles to compete in 2017. It might have struggled to compete in 2007, to be honest. It offers a nasty user experience and makes no attempt to encourage you to click on the content being served up.

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It’s not the sort of website experience you expect from the biggest club in the world, that’s for sure. You might even argue they’re taking their support for granted.

It’s surprising given the club’s comments 18 months ago about getting “the right content to the right fans at the right time, in the right language, in the right technology format, through the right medium”. Or maybe it just doesn’t place a great of value on its website?

United’s ‘social-first’ approach

Social media appears to be its main focus. It was revealed recently that United is now the most followed club on Weibo – China’s version of Facebook and Twitter – ousting Bayern Munich out of top spot.

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As I said in a previous blog post, though, United tends to play it safe on social media, posting the sort of stuff you’d expect of it, being careful not to upset anybody. It can afford to play it safe, I guess.

However, for most of us, we need to follow Southampton’s lead and make a content-friendly website the centrepiece of our online presence.

So what is it that makes Southampton’s website the cream of the crop in the Premier League? Econsultancy took a closer look:

1. Newsfeed as homepage

We’ve touched on this already, but Saints’ website really plays into social media – not just because it pulls content from players’ social media accounts, but the way you can scroll down through the newsfeed, with it ordered chronologically.

It makes content inviting to click on; once you’re done reading a story, you just hit the cross at the top and you are back on the newsfeed.

2. Promotion plays second fiddle

It’s best practice in content marketing to go easy on the sales messages and concentrate on making content as valuable as possible for the reader. Too much in the way of promotional material can make customers feel like you’re only creating content to sell to them.

Southampton have gone pretty light on the promotional stuff, all things considered. Sure, there’s the odd banner advertising replica shirts on the homepage, but it tends to play second fiddle to the content. The promotional content blends pretty well with the useful stuff, too, which helps.

3. Related content

By now, we all know how important internal linking is in terms of content marketing SEO. Not only does connecting one page of a website to a different page on the same website aid website navigation, it also defines the architecture and hierarchy of a website. It can also spread authority and rank throughout multiple pages of a website, if done right.

To put it simply, internal linking strengthens the overall search-optimised value of a website. Southampton does this by including ‘related content’ suggestions at the bottom of articles, which encourages fans to explore more of the site.

4. Registration for exclusive content

Asking customers to hand over their details for exclusive content puts a higher value on the content. Brands often ask visitors for their email address etc. in exchange for white papers, research, that sort of thing.

Southampton ask for fans to sign up to watch video content and to listen to matchday commentary, promising “the best fan experience”. It’s not so much an attempt to monetise their best content but to build a database of customers, which in itself could prove pretty valuable.

Go check Southampton’s website out for yourself to see what a football website done well looks like – United fans will find the layout and content particularly novel.

Ben Hollom

March 1, 2017