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Showing knowledge that transcends zone blitzes and optimizing the price point of a 12-ounce domestic beer, the New England Patriots jumped into the content marketing game last week.

New England created a microsite to defend Tom Brady’s honor and the integrity of the franchise after the Wells Report reignited Deflategate. For the 27 Americans out there who aren’t football fans, Deflategate refers to the accusation that the New England Patriots secretly let some of the air out of the footballs to make it easier for Brady to pass the ball in a playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts.

Keeping with the Watergate metaphor, if you believe the Wells Report, then you can think of Tom Brady as the “Gordon Liddy of Deflategate.” Naturally, Tom and the Patriots prefer associations with Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas and the like; hence, the microsite to deliver their point of view.

Evaluating the microsite from a content marketing perspective, I applaud the concept. It’s yet another sign of organizations of all types investing in owned media to take their story directly to the target audience.

It appears that the Pats’ law firm of Morgan Lewis developed the content for the microsite. Based on a best guess that around 200 man hours went into the microsite at an average billable rate of $400 per hour, this puts the cost of content development at roughly $80,000.

Why the Pats forgot the SEO part of content marketing is baffling. It’s a little like constructing a street, but not paving it. Without the blacktop, you limit the traffic. For another $10K and change, the site could have been a masterpiece, tuned to siphon off organic traffic and insert their point of view into the conversation.

Because our society revolves around the NFL, the media has been quick to write about the microsite with the requisite backlink as a traffic source. Even the NFL’s own site — right, the same NFL that funded the Wells Report — ran a story about the microsite. Another source of traffic comes from New England’s own site, which allocated space on its home page turf to bring attention to the microsite.

Patriots Website -SEO

Yet, all those fans plugging logical terms like “deflategate,” “NFL punishes Pats” and “Tom Brady cheats” into Google won’t stumble across the Pats’ microsite on the search engine results page. Yes, a certain percent will read articles that point them to the microsite, but why end up one generation removed from inserting your voice in the conversation?

Thinking that the problem might lie in New England’s running out of budget to optimize the online property, our SEO team felt compelled to lend a helping hand. As a pro-bono project — no need to thank us Mr. Kraft; we appreciate it’s been a tough go for your Pats — we offer some SEO suggestions to tune the site:

–  Home page title tag doesn’t reflect how people will search on the topic.

Wells Report Source Code - title tag- SEO

Most people aren’t going to search on the “Wells Report,” and certainly no one is going to be searching for “context” on this topic, wasting this valuable real estate. Keywords like “deflategate” and “Tom Brady” should have been part of the home page title tag.

– Massive Wall of Scary Text

The home page delivers 19,682 words with visuals breaking up one section. Even without access to the Google Analytics, we know this will generate a high bounce rate, a negative signal to Google that will hurt SERP performance. As a sidenote, it would be amusing to implement a heat map tracking system to observe what people try to focus on upon arriving at the site.

– Virtually no internal linking

This is an important factor in ranking content.

– Where are the H2 and H3 Tags?

The pages on the site feature super long text that is not broken up by subheaders (H2s/H3s). This would have allowed for placement of relevant high search volume keywords.

– The handling of PDFs

All the PDFs are not listed on the sitemap.xml. And the scanned letter is in a JPEG format. This results in none of the PDFs being indexed by Google.

– Amateur hour with the description meta tags

The description meta tag on the page wellsreportcontext.com/nfl-letter-to-patriots/ consists of only “(by New England Patriots)” instead of providing some detail on the non-machine-readable scanned letter in JPEG image format. This results in the menu texts being used by Google as a page description:

Letter - D. Gardi - SEO

And while a meta description was penned for the home page, it exceeds the allowed pixel count, so it gets cut off in midstream.

– Too Much BOLD type

Could have used color which better resonates with the Google Algorithm.

And the list goes on.

As for the storytelling in the microsite, I will give it this. It’s thorough.

I also have to express admiration that the Pats could keep a straight face in rationalizing why one of the culprits was called the “Deflator.”

Mr. McNally is a big fellow and had the opposite goal: to lose weight. “Deflate” was a term they used to refer to losing weight. One can specifically see this use of the term in a Nov. 30, 2014 text from Mr. McNally to Mr. Jastremski: “deflate and give somebody that jacket.” (p. 87). This banter, and Mr. McNally’s goal of losing weight, meant Mr. McNally was the “deflator.” There was nothing complicated or sinister about it.

I defy anyone to find a “big fellow” — now there’s the conversational language I was looking for; much better than “large man” — who refers to himself as the “deflator.”

All in all, the Pats treat the narrative like an academic paper for a professor with Tolstoy posters in his cube.

This is not a court of law. It’s the emotional touch points that will sway public opinion.

In short, the copy reads like it came from attorneys on the clock.

Oh, that’s right. It did.


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