The Search Science Behind College Football BCS Games

College Football BCS Marketing Research
 
By using Google search tools, we’re able to display the decline and incline in popularity of college footballs BCS games.  These search tools can also help any business with their marketing efforts. 

The Holidays are in full swing, and for many of us here at SEO.com (and many of you) this means college bowl season is right around the corner. Each year there are some truly awful and forgettable games mixed in with some classics (we’ll all talk about some of these later). As we prepare for this exciting time of the year, we are going to dive into some of Google’s free tools to explore these bowl games, and how anyone can use Google to understand how people are interacting with your business online.

First, we will be taking a look at the following bowl games:

  • Rose Bowl: January 1st, Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA
  • Fiesta Bowl: January 1st, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ
  • Sugar Bowl: January 1st, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA
  • Orange Bowl: January 3rd, Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens, FL
  • BCS National Championship: January 6th, Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA

And we will be using the following tools to explore these bowl games:

  • Google’s Keyword Planner: Replacing the Keyword tool earlier this year, the Keyword Planner tool provides keyword and ad group ideas, as well as performance estimates and average search volume.

We will be pulling the average monthly search and average search volumes for each month over the last year. If you are looking for more information on the bowl games and keywords used in relation to them, jump on in and let us know what you find in the comments below.

  • Google Trends: Provides historical data as far back as 2004, based on the total search volume across all of Google’s domains, which shows how often terms are searched for throughout the world.  We will take a look at search interest over time, regional interest, and related searches.
  • Google Correlate: Correlate is an experimental tool that provides search terms that follow similar search patterns to the term entered into the tool. 

These are extremely effective tools that provide a lot of great information, but always remember that Google can pull the plug on any of its products at any time. (See this report)

We will be using each of these tools to understand how users interact with Google in regards to each bowl game. We’ll also review a short history of each game. Let’s begin.

Rose Bowl

The first Rose Bowl was played in 1902, and it has been an annual event from 1916 to the present day. Nicknamed “The Granddaddy of Them All,” the game remains the oldest running bowl game. It is played on January 1st each year (except when the 1st falls on a Sunday, then the game is played on Monday January 2nd.)

Keyword Planner:  As you can see below (and review the search numbers of the other games) the Rose Bowl is the most searched for bowl game. Not surprisingly, we see an uptick in search volume in November trending upwards and peaking in January. The Rose Bowl has some built-in advantages, from the game’s history, to the festivities that take place in Pasadena on January 1st and, of course, the stadium and game share the same name (so a large portion of those searches may just be people trying to locate its address). Additionally, when you look at the stadium’s events calendar you will see a number of events at the Rose Bowl, including a couple of Justin Timberlake/Jay-Z concerts in July.

College Football Keyword Research

  • Average Monthly Searchers: 74,000
  • November 2012: 90,500
  • December 2012: 201,000
  • January 2013: 368,000
  • February 2013: 33,100
  • March 2013:  27,100
  • April 2013: 27,100
  • May 2013: 22,200
  • June 2013: 33,100
  • July 2013: 60,500
  • August 2013: 33,100
  • September 2013: 33,100
  • October 2013: 40,500

Applying the Keyword Planner to your business: Using monthly search volume to understand how people are searching for your business (over past 12 months) can provide valuable insight into successful marketing strategies, popular events, and more. Compare this data with your internal sales and site analytics to gain even more understanding of what has been successful in the past 12 months and areas your business could work on.

In this case, tracking over a full year shows us that there is an unseasonable jump in searches in the middle of summer. As a business, you need to consider all the factors that might lead to such an apparent one-off increase (in this case the summer concert series) and figure out how you can capitalize on it to gain even more traffic.

Trends: As we look at interest over time we see a pattern similar to what Keyword Planner showed us, namely a spike in December and January. You will see the same July spike in 2013 and another interesting summer spike in June 2011. (This was most likely the groundbreaking of the first of a three-phase upgrade project and the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup Final between the U.S. and Mexico.)

Even more interesting is the January 2006 spike. Any guesses what took place in this game? If you guessed a BCS Championship game you would be partially right. The 2006 Rose Bowl hosted the BCS championship game that pitted USC against Texas in one of the most entertaining games of the decade. Featuring some of the most exciting superstars in college football (including three Heisman candidates and the Heisman winner), we saw Vince Young score the game winning touchdown with only 19 seconds remaining.

Bowl Game Trends

 

Regional Interest: Regional interests can give us a better understanding where interest is the highest. We see that PAC 12 and Big Ten areas garner the most interest (as the game typically pits the Pac 12 Champion against the Big Ten Champion).

State Research for College Football

 

Related Searches:The related searches tool is a great way to see how people are searching. In the case of the Rose Bowl we see things like the game, the parade, and even specific games (2012 Rose Bowl and 2013 Rose Bowl).

BCS Search Case Study

 

Applying Trends to your business:  Understanding how interest has changed over time can help you stay in front of trends and avoid potential pitfalls.

Correlate: This experimental tool shows us search terms that may not be related but are searched in similar patterns to the keywords we are researching. For instance we see weather related searches for LA, and as we dig a little deeper we found hotel searches as well.

Marketing Research Behind Bowl Games

Applying Correlate to your business:  Use Correlate to identify possible holes in your offerings or marketing strategies. Are consumers finding what they are want when they search for your business? Or do they have to run additional searches to meet their needs?

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Fiesta Bowl

The Fiesta Bowl was first played in 1971 at Sun Devil Stadium, where it stayed until 2006. The youngest of the BCS bowl games, it was created out of the frustrating attempts of the WAC to get their champion into a bowl game. The Fiesta Bowl provided the champion an automatic bowl berth each year.

Keyword Planner: The Fiesta Bowl is not only the youngest of the BCS bowl games, it happens to garner the least amount of interest of the five games. The search trend appears to fall in line with the Rose Bowl (minus the July bump.)

Marketing Research behind the Fiesta Bowl

 

  • Average Monthly Searchers: 33,100
  • November 2012: 40,500
  • December 2012: 135,000
  • January 2013: 246,000
  • February 2013: 6,600
  • March 2013:  8,100
  • April 2013: 4,400
  • May 2013: 2,400
  • June 2013: 1,900
  • July 2013: 2,400
  • August 2013: 2,900
  • September 2013: 3,600
  • October 2013: 8,100

Applying the Keyword Planner to your business:  Compared to the other Bowls, there are far fewer searches, and it levels out fast after the season. If you saw this in your company, what would you do? Could you find something that might give you the boost like the Rose Bowl sees?

Trends: Getting into trends we see some of the same similarities as the Rose Bowl. Since the BCS was created, these two bowl games have been played the most on January 1st, which could explain some of these similarities.

We also see the highest peaks in December 2005 and January 2007, so what happened in these two games? The game that followed December 2005 pitted Ohio State against Notre Dame, two of the more popular teams in the country, and featured Troy Smith (2006 Heisman trophy winner) and Brady Quinn, two of the better college football QBs that year.

The 2007 Fiesta Bowl, the first game held at University of Phoenix Stadium, had the 8th ranked Oklahoma Sooners verses the 9th ranked Boise State Broncos (making their first appearance in a BCS bowl game). The game ended in overtime after some exciting plays from both teams in the 4th quarter. Boise State pulled out all the stops to take the game to overtime and finished the Sooners off with a 2-point conversion off of the Statue of Liberty play.

Historic Fiesta Bowl Marketing Trends

 

Regional Interest:The Fiesta Bowl garners the most interest from Arizona, home of the bowl game, followed by Idaho, which probably has a lot to do with the 2007 appearance and their follow-up victory over TCU in 2010. The following state with the most interest comes from Big 12 country, which sends its champion to the game (if they don’t qualify for the BCS championship game).

Nation Wide Fiesta Bowl Searchers

 

Related Searches:Similar to the Rose Bowl, we see the last two games on the Related Searches list (“Fiesta Bowl 2013” and “2012 Fiesta Bowl”). Another interesting thing to note is how much the Fiesta Bowl’s sponsor, Tostitos, has become entrenched in the bowl game. Like many of you, it is probably the only bowl game that I will use the sponsor when referring to the bowl game.

Fiesta Bowl Trends

 

Applying Trends to your business:  Sometimes, words that are only peripherally related to your business may show up in these trends. There may be a way to take advantage of it, or it may indicate you need to do some work to separate your company from those terms.  The most important takeaway, though, is that just because it shows up in the Trends, doesn’t immediately imply that’s a word you should be targeting.

Correlate: Interestingly, the Fiesta Bowl has a larger variety of correlations, with some of the holiday-backed themes having to do with the time of year.

Correlations behind the fiesta bowl

Applying Correlate to your business:  Do searches for you business correlate with holidays, events, or seasonal changes? If you see a larger variety of correlations, this could mean there are some great opportunities for you. 

Sugar Bowl

The Sugar Bowl has been played since January 1, 1935, making it the second oldest bowl game (along with the Orange Bowl and Sun Bowl). Only once in the history of the bowl game has it not featured a member of the SEC, which also happened to be the first time Sugar Bowl hosted the BCS championship game.

Keyword Planner: As with the previous bowl games we’ve looked at, there is an increase in searches in November and peaking in January. Although there was more search volume in January for the Fiesta Bowl (246,000 search volume) than for the Sugar Bowl (201,000 search volume). The Sugar Bowl also happened to be the only BCS bowl game hosting a “Mid-Major” in the Louisville Cardinals.

They also have the second most search volume in the non-football playing months leading into the first few months of the football season (February to October) in addition to being the only BCS bowl game with an affiliation with the SEC.

Sugar Bowl Marketing Research

 

  • Average Monthly Searchers: 40,500
  • November 2012: 49,500
  • December 2012: 110,000
  • January 2013: 201,000
  • February 2013: 27,100
  • March 2013:  27,100
  • April 2013: 14,800
  • May 2013: 9,900
  • June 2013: 9,900
  • July 2013: 9,900
  • August 2013: 12,100
  • September 2013: 12,100
  • October2013: 18,100

Applying the Keyword Planner to your business:  The Sugar Bowl manages to hold onto its search volume longer than most other Bowl games, especially throughout February and March. As a business, this could be a good sign. It could imply that you aren’t quite as dependant on seasonal events to drive traffic.

Trends: Again we see the same trends as the other 2 bowl games, increases leading up to the actual game and sharp decline the following month. Interest reached its highest peak in 2004.

Similarly, we see a peak interest when the Sugar Bowl was hosting the BCS title in 2004, a forgettable 21-14 victory for LSU over Oklahoma. The game had more interest surrounding the controversy of the computers placing Oklahoma (ranked #3 in the AP poll) in the championship game over USC (ranked #1 in both the coaches and AP polls).

The Tiger’s #1 ranked defense controlled the game only allowing 14 points from a Sooner offense that had been averaging 45.2 points per game.

Sugar Bowl Trends

The Sugar Bowl gains the most interest in its home state of Louisiana, just as the Fiesta Bowl’s most interest was Arizona. We’ll also notice that the South East U.S. has the most interest. With the bowl games SEC tie in, this is to be expected.

Hawaii cracks in as the #4 state interested in the Sugar Bowl, likely because of the Hawaii Warriors only appearance in a BCS bowl game in 2008, a 41 to 10 loss at the hands of the Georgia Bulldogs.

Geographical Sugar Bowl Research

Again we see interest in the previous games played (2011, 2012, and 2013), but we also see a completely unrelated topic, “Sugar – Ingredient,” which would have no correlation with a college bowl game.

Sugar Bowl Marketing Correlation

 

Applying Trends to your business:  Is something completely unrelated to your company appearing here? Sugar – Ingredient doesn’t mean anything to college football, but it’s a term that has relevance to similar searches. You need to be aware of things like this that may appear in Google’s results. It means you may be competing against some random things.

Correlate: Just as we saw some holiday correlations with the Fiesta Bowl, we see them again with the Sugar bowl. We also see an interesting correlation with the Japanese relay race Hakone Ekiden. There are also additional bowl games, including the U.S. Army All-American Bowl (an annual High School All Star game).

Sugar Bowl Correlations

 

Applying Correlate to your business:  Are there some additional services or products your business can offer? Take a look at Correlate to find the related searches and see if consumers are already searching for that service or product.

Orange Bowl

The Orange Bowl began in January of 1935. In 1926, Miami officials seeking to create an annual festival similar to the Rose Bowl held the Fiesta of American Tropic. Although the events were only held in 1926, the idea was revived in 1932 and dubbed the Palm Festival Game. Games were played in 1933 and 1934, in which was the same year the organizers of these games created the Orange Bowl.

Keyword Planner: As you have probably predicted, we are seeing the same search volume trends as the other bowl games. Numbers are run in the same range as the Sugar Bowl minus the increase in December and higher drop off in February.

Orange Bowl Marketing Research Statistics

 

  • Average Monthly Searchers: 40,500
  • November 2012: 40,500
  • December 2012: 135,100
  • January 2013: 201,100
  • February 2013: 14,800
  • March 2013:  5,400
  • April 2013: 5,400
  • May 2013: 4,400
  • June 2013: 3,600
  • July 2013: 5,400
  • August 2013: 6,600
  • September 2013: 6,600
  • October 2013: 9,900

Applying the Keyword Planner to your business:  Download search volume for you and your competitors to gauge how your brand awareness stands compared to theirs (you may want to do this annually when you pull your own data). Does it have an immediate drop like this? Is there something you could do to pad out your peak season?

Trends: At first glance, it appears the 2005 Orange Bowl was the only bowl anybody cared about. When we dig a little deeper and compare all four bowl games they match up favorably with their BCS brethren.

The 2005 Orange Bowl received the most interest from 2004 to present. The game featured an undefeated USC and an undefeated Oklahoma for the BCS national championship. The game marked the first time two past Heisman trophy winners competed against one another (Matt Leinart, USC and Jason White, Oklahoma).

In a game that had the potential to go down as one of the best Orange Bowls ever (USC entered the game a 3 point favorite), it ended up a blowout for the Trojans, winning 55 to 19.

Trends for the Orange Bowl

 

West Virginians have the most interest, with their 2012 appearance and blow-out of Clemson, we can understand why. Florida, the bowl games home state, comes in second.

Geographic Trends for the Orange Bowl

 

You guessed it, related interest includes past bowl games. The Orange Bowl stadium represents another avenue to follow, with the game being played there until 1997.

Orange Bowl Related Search Queries

 

Applying Trends to your business:  Such a huge peak in 2005, and such lower interest in the years since, may be discouraging, but by looking at the competition it was clear that these numbers mean they’re still competitive. It just also means that there’s a potential to do even more once again.

Correlate: Ashlee Simpson has left quite an impression on the Orange Bowl.

Orange Bowl Correlations

 

Applying Correlate to your business:  Are there some negative aspects of you business that you aren’t addressing. Take some time to review the related searches in Correlate and you may find some unexpected searches that are matching up with your business.

 

BCS National Championship

In 1998 the Bowl Championship Series replaced the Bowl Alliance as the college football system set up to pit the 1st and 2nd ranked teams in bowl game to determine the national champions. It uses computer rankings, Coaches poll, and the Harris poll to decide which two teams deserve to play in the championship game.

Although the system has eliminated the dual championships of the past, it has done so with mounds of controversy. Through negotiations amongst themselves, the collegiate athletic conferences decided to end the BCS system in favor of a four-team playoff to determine the championship beginning in the 2014/15 season. 

Keyword Planner: Again we see the same pattern we’ve seen with the other bowl games, although we do see a larger jump from December to January than all but the Rose Bowl. This could probably be explained because the game determines the national champion.

BCS Championship Marketing Search Data

  • Average Monthly Searchers: 40,500
  • November 2012: 60,500
  • December 2012: 110,000
  • January 2013: 246,000
  • February 2013: 2,900
  • March 2013:  1,900
  • April 2013: 2,400
  • May 2013: 3,600
  • June 2013: 2,900
  • July 2013: 3,600
  • August 2013: 3,600
  • September 2013: 12,100
  • October 2013: 12,100

 

Applying the Keyword Planner to your business:  Did your site traffic take an unexpected dip in organic referrals? In addition to reviewing Google Webmaster Tools and a few other items, you can review branded searches to see if there was a drop in search volume. Do you have some authority in the industry you could leverage to start generating more interest? There’s a lot of potential here.

Trends: Up until 2007, the championship game was played in one of the BCS bowl games. As we can see in the trends that meant there wasn’t a ton of interest in the BCS National Championship until it became its own game.

For the most part, interest increased each year, with a couple of drops for the 2008 game, featuring Louisiana State University v. Ohio State University, and the 2012 game, which was the first time two teams from the same conference played for the championship, Alabama v. Louisiana State University.

You’ll also notice that last year’s game between Alabama and Notre Dame had the most interest over the years. Is it because Notre Dame is a ratings juggernaut? Or did it have to do with Notre Dame’s star player’s off-the-field “girlfriend” issues?

BCS Trends

Geographic Bowl Research – BCS Championship

Surprise, surprise (ok not really), Alabama dominates the interest for this game despite the fact that it is the “National” championship. With Alabama or Auburn playing in the last four (and Auburn will make it five in a row this year), the state dominates regional interest. Overall, the SEC owns interest as well, having the winner come from their conference each year of since the game became its own event.

BCS Geographic Research

The BCS championship searches own all the related searches. Since the venue has changed each year since the 5th game’s introduction, we don’t see any searches related to hotels or the weather like we did with the Rose Bowl. With New Years and the Christmas in our rearview mirror, we don’t see any holiday related searches either. It is all about the BCS championship and its history.

BCS marketing

Applying Trends to your business:  Use the “View change over time” drop down to review how your business is receiving interest over time (Google tracks interest over 6 months in this little tool, and you can see where interest has been the highest for any 6 month period dating back to 2004).

Correlate: To no one’s surprise, correlation is all about the BCS and college football championship.

National Championship Marketing Research

Applying Correlate to your business: In online marketing we are always trying to understand how users are searching for our brand. Use Correlate to gain additional insight into how people are searching for you and take these queries into account when researching keywords for your SEO campaign.

The data Google is providing for free can help any business understand their customers and how they search online as well as any related search terms they are using to find your business. You can also do some tremendous things inside of Google’s search, image search, YouTube, and more. (See also Wil Reynold’s presentation at Moz Con 2012.)

Are you using these tools? How have they helped your marketing needs?  What other tools are you using? Let us know in the comments.

 

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