Inside TSL: Recruiting Coverage is King
by Will Stewart
TSL Extra, Issue #4

Five years ago, in late 1995 and early 1996, a web site about Big East Football, started by Mike Bakas, was getting some pretty good traffic. That was back in the early days of the Web, and Mike had one of the best sites around for football coverage. The centerpiece of the site was the first threaded message board I ever saw, and it had Canes, Hokies, and Mountaineers all going at it in the same forum. It was my first exposure to the type of interactivity that the web is all about.

When I started Hokie Central in March of 1996, Mike found it and put a link to it on his web site, and as many of you have heard me say before, it was Mike's promotion of my site that gave me a lot of my traffic in those early days.

Hokie Central grew and grew, and Mike's Big East site continued to prosper, as well. In February of 1997, I finally added a message board to Hokie Central, and the result was that it gutted Mike's Big East message board. The Hokies who had been dominating Mike's board migrated over to HC, and Mike's site suddenly got very quiet. It didn't help Mike that Grassy had started a very good Miami Hurricanes message board and that Vernon Bailey had a strong WVU message board, as well.

Like many people, I fell out of touch with Mike Bakas's Big East Football site, and one day, when I stopped in for a quick visit, I discovered the Mike had renamed his site "Eastern Football Journal" and had turned it from a football site into a football recruiting site.

At the time, I figured that Mike had seen the handwriting on the wall, namely, that the sites dedicated to individual schools were the wave of the future, and that a site like his dedicated to an entire conference was not a successful venture. I figured he was trying his hand at recruiting coverage to see how that would work out.

That wasn't really it, though. I should have given Mike more credit. What Mike had discovered, even way back then, was that recruiting coverage was where it was at, not general football coverage. He was going where the interest and the page views were.

It paid off for him, too. Mike's "Eastern Football Journal" and its recruiting-focused coverage was later picked up by the Rivals.com network in a deal that I imagine was fairly lucrative for Mike. Mike, you see, was just a teenager. He abruptly quit his site some time in the year 2000 (I don't remember exactly when) so he could go to college.

But I digress. Back to my point about recruiting. I have discovered that when it comes to generating traffic, there's nothing like recruiting coverage to bring on the hits.

For years, I avoided recruiting coverage. Silly me.


The Beginning of TSL's Recruiting Coverage

In the early years of HokieCentral, recruiting coverage was something to briefly fill the football void between the season and Spring Football. I didn't pay recruiting much attention, except right around signing day each year. Every year, I would see a little uptick in traffic around early February, but that was the extent of it.

Of course, I always wrote articles about the recruits who were verbally committing to Tech and signed with Tech, but I never dedicated a page or a message board to recruiting until James Arthur came on board in August of 1999.

James's primary responsibility on HokieCentral was recruiting coverage, and from August of 1999 until late July of 2000, that's what he did. We set up a recruiting home page and some target lists, and we even put together a little "Flash" page for James to keep visitors up to date on the latest recruiting news.

The coverage was decent, and it did some good numbers, but we never really gave James the tools to make it take off. Then, right around the time he left HC, in July of 2000, we finally put in a dedicated recruiting message board. And the final piece of the puzzle came in early December, when we installed the recruiting database, programmed by Hokie Matt and his company, Wired Triangle, LLC.

I could see that the message board and the database were increasing the interest in recruiting and were generating some good hit numbers, but nothing could prepare me for what happened in the five weeks spanning January and early February of 2001.

Traffic didn't take a "little uptick." It exploded.

Before I get into that, let's remind you of the hit statistic history that I've given you in the last two issues of the TSL Extra. The highest traffic days ever in the history of HokieCentral and TSL centered around the Beamer-to-UNC saga and the Vick-to-the-NFL saga. Those two events created 6 of the 7 highest traffic days ever on this web site, with the other big-traffic day coming the Monday after Tech was snubbed by the BCS.

Here are the daily page view stats for those seven days:

Date

Page Views

Story Line

11/26/2000

280,141

Beamer-to-UNC

11/27/2000

606,637

Beamer-to-UNC

11/28/2000

215,364

Beamer-to-UNC

12/4/2000

222,889

BCS Snubs Tech

1/9/2001

238,481

Vick-to-the-NFL

1/10/2001

242,118

Vick-to-the-NFL

1/11/2001

248,598

Vick-to-the-NFL

Other than the 7 days listed there, the web site exceeded 200,000 page views a day just one other time. On 1/4/2001, we did 211,141 page views (I think it was the post Gator Bowl euphoria).

But get a load of this: in the 16-day stretch from January 23rd, 2001 to February 7th, 2001 (signing day), the web site exceeded 200,000 page views 12 times, including 3 days over 300,000 page views!


The Stories Behind the Hits

The page views were all generated by recruiting coverage, of course. Kevin Jones, Michael Robinson, and signing day were the big days of interest.

Kevin Jones announced his commitment to Tech on January 24th. Here are the page view stats for the three days surrounding his verbal:

Date

Page Views

Story Line

1/23/2001

232,768

Kevin Jones verbals to Tech

1/24/2001

359,153

Kevin Jones verbals to Tech

1/25/2001

304,108

Kevin Jones verbals to Tech

Michael Robinson announced on Feb. 2nd that Penn State was his school of choice. Here are the page view stats for the day before and the day of Michael's announcement:

Date

Page Views

Story Line

2/1/2001

209,494

Michael Robinson verbals to PSU

2/2/2001

234,965

Michael Robinson verbals to PSU

Lastly, signing day itself was on Feb. 7th. It generated 304,774 page views:

Date

Page Views

Story Line

2/7/2001

304,774

Signing Day 2001


Beamer vs. Vick vs. Recruiting

If you're like me, you wonder what happens when you throw all those events together and rank them by page views. What news items generated the most page views?

News Item

Avg. Daily
Page Views

Beamer-to-UNC

367,381

Signing Day 2001

304,774

KJ's Verbal

298,676

Vick-to-the-NFL

243,066

Robinson's Verbal

226,730

BCS Snubs Tech

222,889


But Back to the Subject of Recruiting

Sorry to inundate you with page view stats like that. I got carried away. Lord knows that this month's "Inside the Numbers" feature is full of enough statistics to glaze over even the most numbers-oriented people out there.

But to gauge the true impact that the new recruiting message board and recruiting database had on TSL's traffic, I need to throw just a few more stats at you. They're easy to follow, so let's get them out of the way, and then I'll gab a little more.

During the 1999 football season, TSL did about 90,000 page views a day. That dropped to 70,000 page views a day during January of 2000, and then to 55,000 page views a day in February of 2000.

During the 2000 football season, TSL did about 120,000 page views a day. That rose to 178,000 page views a day during January of 2001, and as of February 15th, the site was averaging 161,000 page views a day during February of 2001.

January 2001's statistic of 178,000 page views a day blew away the next closest month -- November of 2000 with 135,000 page views a day. That's an increase of 32% from November 2000 to January 2001.

But the single most significant event with regards to traffic was this: for the month of January, 2001, for the first time ever in the history of the site, the Main/Football Message Board did not lead the site in traffic. The Recruiting Message Board beat it out, by a wide margin. The Main/Football Board did 666,257 page views, but the Recruiting Board trounced it, pulling in 947,784 page views, or nearly a million.

(As a sidebar, those of you who think the Main/Football Board often degenerates into pages upon pages of off-topic, trivial chatting ought to take a look at the Recruiting Board. It is by far the most on-topic, player intensive discussion around, led by some of TSL's best posters. The Basketball Board is also very good discussion, but at this point, no one cares.)

So I wondered, "Sure, recruiting is fun and interesting, but don't you think more page views would be generated during the season, when games are actually being played?" I guess not.

I think one thing that leads to the tremendous page views generated by recruiting coverage is that the Internet is the place to follow recruiting. To put it simply, during football season, you can see the games on TV to find out who won, but during "recruiting season," the only place you can find out "who won" is on the Web. Right here on TSL and other sites.

ESPN, my friend, does not cover recruiting. TSL -- and the horde of Rivals.com sites and other sites that we rely on for news -- does.

At TSL, I have finally discovered what Mike Bakas knew years ago: recruiting is king on college football web sites.

See you next month.

-- Will

 

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