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The last few years have seen football pools operators’ once-massive audiences dwindle as the popularity of the lottery and online gambling has soared. But Sportech, the company which now owns the main pools players Littlewoods, Vernons and Zetters, is attempting to see their luck turn.

Last month saw the announcement that it would bring all three brands into one website - footballpools.com - as well as the launch of radically different digital strategy centred around ‘social betting’. The company has also been investing heavily in content, improved analytics practices and new channels on MySpace and Facebook.

Following all that, we grabbed a few minutes with head of online marketing Dominic Starkey to see how challenging the whole process has been...

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Can you give us a quick summary of your digital revamp?

The New Football Pools site relaunched last month with the aim of putting the Football Pools, the world’s oldest football gaming company, at the heart of the online football community.

While the new site has been being developed over the past few months, our emphasis has been on building awareness and engaging customers through editorial and exciting digital content. Our first step was to build a CMS, then start creating awareness and engagement using unique and rich content targeting organic search and news feeds, and pushing out interactive content, such as our free monthly digital football magazine Away Win.

The content of the new site really reflects the desire to connect with the football market online and our unique position in social betting. We’ve incorporated new football pools games and products, as well as social networking style forums and profiling, blogs and mini leagues.

We’re using brand ambassadors such as Alan Hansen, John Barnes and Graham Poll to provide expert commentary and punditry to aid predictions and will continue to create our own unique content to ensure that we become a destination site for football fans in our own right. We’ve also built a channel with MySpace as one of our strategic aims is to engage with a new target audience.

As the new football season starts and the brand relaunches, our core priority is to acquire customers. So we’re underpinning everything we do with Google Analytics for our core metrics; Lynchpin Analytics to track customer behaviour; and expanding our analytics to build an engagement model so we can best understand how to funnel our customers from the rich content into gameplay.

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How has your organisational structure changed to reflect your greater focus on online?

We’ve created a dedicated online marketing and content team with a specific remit to focus on customer acquisition, partnerships and editorial and analytics.

We’ve always had a smaller team but felt that this was the right time to really make an effort to persuade customers that playing the increasing range of Pools games online was a viable opportunity.

We’ve committed to this strategy even more by the recent announcement of Will Muirhead (SportEv and Tixdaq) as the MD of FootballPools.com.

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Was there any resistance among staff to a shift towards online, or any other challenges?

Not at all, as the rest of the staff continue to focus heavily on the core business. This is stronger than ever, given we’re entering exciting retail agreements with Ladbrokes and PayPoint, with others to come, allowing extended reach which will take the business forward.

I’m confident that everyone here recognises that we need a multi-channel approach, so we can appeal to the widest possible range of customers and not just our traditional customer base. It’s actually quite exciting for them as they realise we’ve got to be creative to resurrect ourselves and become leaders in the industry again.

Many of the customers who play Premier 10 & Footy 15 will play online and also via the new retail agreements with Ladbrokes and Paypoint, and it’s this all-round extended reach that will help to take the business forward. 

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What are your KPIs now online?

Bottom line is that we’re a transactional website so acquiring new players is our main KPI. Our secondary objective is creating a site that places the New Football Pools at the heart of the online community - we want to attract a vibrant and engaged online community that sees the site as a football destination site in its own right.

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In terms of analytics, can you talk about the engagement model in more depth?  What metrics are you using to measure engagement?

Measuring engagement is going to be key to our success. We’ve developed a highly successful organic search and feed based editorial strategy over the last six months which is only going to be enhanced by the launch of the new site and the community and forum sections. However, we’re a transactional site so we can’t fall into the trap of producing great content but not driving sales. As a result, we’re overlaying an engagement model on top of our core analytics packages that we use (Google and Lynchpin analytics).

We’re tracking every page, allowing us to record behavioural trends dependent on source of origin of traffic. By overlaying goal-setting to transaction onto these funnels we’re able to establish which sources and pathways drive transactions through the site. Analysis of the interaction between marketing and community content and how this translates into transactional activity allows for the optimisation of this process and insight that can be fed back into the overall marketing strategy.

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What have been your experiences so far in terms of A/B and multi-variate testing?

We carried out various tests on the old platform, however one of the pre-requisites for the new site build was to create a modular site allowing us the ability to A/B and multi variate test on all components.

A/B testing isn’t complicated to build and run, and allows us to test various creatives on site. Results are fairly quick and it also allows us to create a test bed for our display strategy before launching off site. What we have learnt is to be consistent in how we’re measuring success. For example, same time of day, day of week and same period of time in order to make sure that we’re comparing like for like.

Multi-variate testing is really important for us as due to the nature of our product and promotions, we have to rely heavily on landing pages. We initially serve different landing pages with differing creative, ranging from subtle tweaks to radical redesigns across all our paid advertising, monitor results and quickly make changes. This makes a huge difference to campaign performance.

We also follow the same process with our email. The modular approach to design plus clever segmentation of the database allows us to send out different creative to small clusters of data, gain realtime results and then feedback and amend final design before the full mail out.

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What have been the main challenges and costs of building your MySpace and Facebook channels? Any comparisons to draw between the two networks? Are there any resources out there to help?

Working for an online gaming company presents a number of challenges due to the regulatory restrictions imposed by Google, MySpace, Facebook and some of the other American media owners.

One of our strategic goals is to build awareness and interact with a new, younger target audience; and social media is one of the ways in which we’re meeting this challenge.

For example, we’re working with MySpace to create the first single sports-branded channel and are in dialogue with MySpace at the highest levels about the integration of social betting applications (without giving too much away!).

For the moment, we’ve developed sticky and interactive content such as free play versions of our Premier 10 and Spot the Ball games, downloadable desktop widgets, weekly podcasts with Chappers from Radio One through to our digital online magazine Away Win. Our aim is to raise brand and product awareness, creating a community of brand ambassadors within the wider MySpace community.

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Any other experiences or tips?

Our main learning is that a solid analytics framework should should underpin all activity. We shouldn’t second guess customer behaviour or allow subjectivity to define design and approval process - having the hard facts allows us to work smarter and ultimately drive revenue... which is what we’re all here to do! 

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Published 13 August, 2008 by Richard Maven

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