What Time Does the 2011 Super Bowl Start? A (Continuing) Lesson in Search Visibility

(For those wondering what time the game really does start, the 2011 Super Bowl between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers kicks off on Fox at around 6:30pm ET.)

Before the Super Bowl in both 2009 and 2010, I checked out the search engine results for the Super Bowl start time. In 2009, the results were abysmal. No one was taking advantage of the clear searcher interest. One could argue that the search engines themselves did a poor job at surfacing relevant results but that argument assumes relevant results existed. The official sites were virtually uncrawlable. In 2010, the search engines took matters into their own hands, crafting “onebox” style results that appeared above the regular web search results. But the engines faltered a bit with search quality, as those web results were spammy and sad.

So how are things this year? Did the NFL and Fox take my free advice and turn it into an avalanche of web traffic? Did Google and Bing take my article as a spam report and clean things up? Let’s find out!

Seasonal Search Trends

Nearly every business can take advantage of seasonal interest. It’s not always as obvious as the Super Bowl start time, but Google Insights makes things practically that easy.

Google Insights: Super Bowl Start Time

You can even see the related searches, so if you create content to help the searcher accomplish the task at hand, you incorporate all of the relevant searcher language.

Google Insights: Super Bowl Kick Off Time

“Hot” Trends

As with previous years, we see that lots of people want to know what time the Super Bowl starts:

Google Trends: Super Bowl

Here’s the thing about search trends and seasonal searches. A lot of discussion lately has focused on “content farms” that write and publish content based on what people search for most. For the most part, these sites don’t provide a lot of value, as they’re not written by someone who’s an expert or passionate about a topic. They’re simply a bunch of words that match a popular topic. Google is working on algorithms to keep these types of pages from ranking well in search results. Danny Sullivan recently noted that if news publications such as the New York Times started running their businesses this way, they’d stop covering what’s happening and important in the world and instead just cater to the most popular topics.

To be clear, that’s not what I’m advocating. Instead, I’m saying that organizations such as the NFL and Fox could use search data to find out what their audiences need and make sure they are meeting those needs. In this case, the NFL audience is turning to the search box to find out what time the game starts. If the NFL would provide this information and make sure it’s visible in search, people would be happy and they’d tune into the game on time. Everyone wins.

Can Google Tell Us When the Game Starts?

I admit, I’m a little sad. Some of the same spammy sites from last year are still ranking. Xomba, which I called out in 2010 and which continues to rank well, is an infuriating collage of spamarrific delight, mixing every possible jarring combination of dates and numbers and words and broken HTML code into a spamtastic symphony that would make angels cry.


But do you know what else makes me sad? The Huffington Post. In my opinion, they lose all credibility as a serious news organization with articles like this one:

Huffington Post

Seriously, Arianna? That’s just embarrassing.

Or maybe not. The page ranks highly on Google in both news and web results for this query.

And the NFL and Fox? Still nowhere to be found. (Note that the nfl.com result that you see is not a ranked result to their Super Bowl content; it’s a sports feed that Google has placed there manually in order to ensure searchers have a good experience and get the information that they need.)

Google Results: Super Bowl Start Time

I won’t rehash why that is. You can just read my article from last year and replace 2010 with 2011 and CBS with Fox. Well, except that Fox doesn’t even have the game listed on their home page (unless you watch the home page intently for more than 10 seconds and wait for the Flash images to rotate through). No, seriously. If not for web spam, I might not believe Fox was the right station.

As it was last year, both sites have all kinds of pre-game content that they likely would like to get in front of this very targeted and interested audience and lots of display ads they’d likely make lots of money with had they more page views.

Can Bing Tell Us When The Game Starts?

Those results were from Google. Does Bing do any better?

If it rains on game day, it’s because the angels have gone from delicate angel-like tears to full sobbing. Bing has nearly identical results to Google (same Xomba page; same super-bowl-history.us page that is a near duplicate of the Xomba page, the seriously-reporting-the-news-for-the-enrichment-of-all-of-our-lives Huffington Post), but also ranks a 2009 Associated Content page about the 2009 Super Bowl that is overflowing with knowledge:

“But a whole bunch of people don’t even know when the Super Bowl starts. As of noon EST today, here are some of the most frequent Google searches, based on the Google Trends site:

– Number One, “what time does the super bowl start 2009.”

– Number Five, “superbowl kick off time 2009″

– Number Six, “superbowl kickoff”

Well, at least these Google searchers know what year this is.

Believe it or not, there actually is one of those e-how web pages devoted to this dilemma. The title is, “How to find out the 2009 superbowl kickoff time.” In Step Two, this e-how web page tells you how to find out the 2009 Super Bowl kickoff time. It reveals that the Super Bowl kickoff in Tampa is scheduled to occur at precisely 6:18 p.m. EST.”

Pure, unfiltered wisdom.

Related Posts:

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Content Farms | Features: General | Google: Trends | Search & Society: General | SEO - Search Engine Optimization


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. She built Google Webmaster Central and went on to found software and consulting company Nine By Blue and create Blueprint Search Analytics< which she later sold. Her book, Marketing in the Age of Google, (updated edition, May 2012) provides a foundation for incorporating search strategy into organizations of all levels. Follow her on Twitter at @vanessafox.

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  • http://managinggreatness.com Gil Reich

    I look forward to this piece every year. One more thing BTW. The NFL owns a site called SuperBowl.com that has been down all day, and for most of the past few months. Oops.

  • greggersh

    HuffPo used the incorrect “Superbowl” (one word, instead of the correct ‘Super Bowl’) in their title, which seems to be causing google to ask me if I meant to type “what time does the superbowl start” (Either that, or your query). Go robots!

  • http://www.highrankings.com/seoservicestwitter Jill Whalen

    The Huffpo page did at least provide the answer, and that’s all that Google cares about right now, not how the page got there. It’s disheartening to see that spam is the way to go right now, but you can’t blame websites for giving the search engines what they want.

    I addressed this issue last week, at least as far as sites getting to the top through anchor text spam, in my article “Google (and Bing) Love Anchor Text Spam.”

  • http://mikecanex.wordpress.com/ Mike Cane

    How funny! I just did that search last night and the results were appalling. Why wasn’t TV Guide one of the top results too? Pathetic!

  • http://ninebyblue.com/ Vanessa Fox

    Excellent question, Mike! The TV Guide web site also has all kinds of Super Bowl-related content that would likely engage those doing this query…. if only they showed up.

  • http://ninebyblue.com/ Vanessa Fox

    greggersh, I think HuffPo likely used the incorrect spelling because that has higher search volume. Sigh.

  • rpauli

    Thank you for listing the time in the very first line.

    I spent many frustrating minutes trying different queries only to learn of this search fail.

    Looking forward to next year’s report.

  • DTS

    Note that both google and bing list the time prominently by itself on the search page, so you don’t really have to click anything at all. Google’s little entry is attributed to http://www.nfl.com , which would seem to get points for authority; Bing goes to Fox Sports. Both google and bing had links to the NFL and Fox Super Bowl pages, respectively.

    I also did the search I would have done on my own, “superbowl time”, got a different set of news sites but the same on-page reference from both. Google instant search, or whatever they call the search-as-you-type thing, turns up the on-page blurb after “sup”. Turning that off and using the old-fashioned “I feel lucky” button, it goes to answers.com, not ideal but they give the time on the first line.

    Google could improve by putting the in-page link above the news, and the other results are admittedly not that good, but the info you need is pretty prominently displayed without going anywhere.

  • http://www.robertdenton.org/ Robert Denton

    The first result for me on Bing is a nicely formatted link to Fox Sports with this in the teaser:
    Sunday, Feb 6th, 6:25PM ET on FOX – The NFC Champion Green Bay Packers and AFC Champion Pittsburgh Steelers will go head to head on Super Bowl Sunday at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Estimated kickoff time is 6:25.

    I don’t find anything wrong with that.

    On Google I get a few news links then nfl.com link with the kickoff time.

  • http://ninebyblue.com/ Vanessa Fox

    DTS and Robert,

    Yes, as I noted in the intro, in 2010, both Google and Bing added a “onebox” to the top of the results that provides this information. The 2010 article goes into detail about where this information is coming from. The Google result, for instance, is coming from nfl.com, but this is only because Google is specifically grabbing a feed for that and manually displaying it.

    Both Google and Bing have manually placed the answer at the top of the results in order to provide a quality experience to searchers.

    The manual onebox display from the engines is different from the algorithmically generally web search results (in the screenshot I show above, these results start with the xomba.com page).

    My point in the article is that neither nfl.com nor fox.com (and as mentioned in the comment above, tvguide.com) is showing up algorithmically in the web search results. Those web sites are not built in a way that’s easily crawable and indexable by search engines and they haven’t used search data to find out what their audiences are looking for and then put that searched-for content on their pages.

    The ideal business strategy for these organizations would be to:

    -Determine their web site goals (looking at the sites, it looks like they have a lot of pre-game content they’d like audiences to interact with).

    -Determine what audience is best targeted to those goals (based on the bullet above, people wanting to know what time the game starts are likely a key target).

    -Make sure they have content on their sites that help that audience accomplish their search tasks (and make sure their sites are architected in a way that search engines could get to that content and index it).

    That would enable those sites to show up in the algorithmically generated web search results and in turn, searchers would click on those results and engage further with the sites.

    None of that is happening now.

  • http://smackdown.blogsblogsblogs.com/ mvandemar

    Bing has nearly identical results to Google

    You might want to be careful saying that these days Vanessa, Bing will attack you these days for making that statement. :)

  • http://www.NerdsToGo.com NerdsToGo

    “And the NFL and Fox? Still nowhere to be found.” The nfl listing seems pretty clear to me. Actually the easiest listing to see.

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