Trends & Features

Which sportswear retailers are racing ahead in the digital landscape?

The UK sportswear industry has seen an overall online growth of 7.43%, a new study into its performance has revealed.

The Sportswear Digital Insight Report, produced by leading digital marketing agency Inside Online, looked at 44 of the top UK websites within this competitive retail market.

According to fashion industry publication, the UK market for sportswear is expected to see considerable growth over the next five years as the trend for athleisure skyrockets. With online competition at an all-time high, it is now more crucial than ever for retailers in this industry to solidify their positions within search engines to ensure future profitability.

In the report, Inside Online focused on searches, keyword competitiveness, year-on-year visibility, link acquisition and quality, and social influence: all key aspects that should be considered when embarking on a digital marketing strategy.

When it comes to searches, Sports Direct is the most searchedfor brand, boasting over four million searches per month. Its closest rival is JD Sports, with over two million searches per month. Around 61 per cent of sportswear searches are made on mobile devices, highlighting the importance of a mobile-optimised website.

An effective search strategy will constantly review keyword competitiveness, examining short, medium, and long-term goals. Some of the highest visibility keywords are football boots, swimwear and swimsuits, while the low visibility keywords include gym tops, fitness clothing and workout clothes.

Looking at year-on-year visibility, the study discovered that while the online market did grow by 7.43 per cent, top brands including Sports Direct, MandM Direct and Foot Asylum all saw a decrease in visibility.

The rate of link acquisition is key to domain authority. The greater the number of links a site has pointing towards it tends to correlate with the authoritativeness of the domain, which in turn tends to correlate with organic visibility. Therefore, not only is the current state of a domain’s link profile important, but it is also vital to understand who is building new links the quickest (and how they are doing it!).

As a general rule, it is the larger brands who manage to obtain the highest number of links per month. This is thanks to their ability to naturally appear in news and blog posts around the web. If smaller brands are managing to gather links at a higher rate, it could be possible that aggressive link manipulation is taking place. Once again, it is Sports Direct who comes out on top, since it has the highest number of referring domains at over 1,200. Making up the top three in this area are Wiggle and JD Sport.

It is not just the amount of links that your domain has, but their authority. In light of recent Google updates, the quality of linking domains has never been more important or under as much scrutiny from Google. Domain authority tends to be divided into: very authoritative (70-100), above average authority (50-69), average authority (30-49) and low authority (10-29). Those brands with the most very authoritative linking domains once again include Sports Direct, with Newitts and also doing well.

The ultimate goal of link acquisition is to achieve links from domains within the 70-100 range. Just one or two of these links have the potential to rapidly increase a site’s organic visibility. However, sites with a large number of low quality links are advised to do a full review to ensure none of the links are in breach of the Google Webmaster Guidelines.

It is important that action is taken immediately on any links which are found in breach of these guidelines to avoid serious penalties. Social influence is starting to affect search engines more over time.

We’re seeing a shift from your standard ‘how many likes does a page have’ towards engagement with the user. Active pages that promote great content and engagement have higher performance metrics than those who build pages purely with the motivation of having a well-liked page. Sites who have been best at promoting engagement through social channels are JD Sports, Sports Direct and Wiggle.

There are a number of sites in this industry that are underperforming organically who have an obvious major common factor: they have a limited number of unique linking domains (almost a quarter of that of the performing websites). Each of the sites listed ranks reasonably well for one or two of the generic organic keywords, but rarely more than this. In a lot of these cases, organic visibility is limited by poor onsite optimisation and poor long-tail strategies. Sites highlighted by the report as underperforming are Intersport, Morrant and Maudesport.

There is a seismic shift in the industry becoming more prevalent year on year. Sportswear is fast becoming one of the biggest sources of growth for embattled high-street clothing chains. With this in mind, online retailers must solidify their positions within the search engines to ensure a profitable future

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