Olympics – human stories are what drive searches

Olympics – human stories are what drive searches

9th August 2012

You may have heard, the Olympics are in London this year. This month everyone is talking about the Olympics so it was a no-brainer for me to write something Olympics-related. As is often the case with my job, the difficulty comes not in finding something to share but in picking just one topic out of hundreds of insights that can be gained from the Experian Hitwise data.

For this month I’ve chosen to focus on the athletes, the poster boys and girls of London 2012. The interesting thing that I’ve discovered through this process is that it is rarely the sporting achievements that make an athlete into a star. From an online perspective at least, it is the human stories behind the sports men and women that are competing this summer that make them interesting and therefore lead to increased search activity.

“It is rarely the sporting achievements that make an athlete into a star”
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Let’s have a look at the five most popular athletes the UK was searching for in the run up to the Olympics.

You can see first of all that of the top five most searched for athletes: Usain Bolt, Jessica Ennis, Tom Daley, Victoria Pendleton and Rebecca Adlington; four of them are British. This is not that surprising given that this is based on UK search data. If we were to analyse the US search data no doubt the results would be very different. The other thing to note though is that none of the athletes listed here has been consistently more searched for than any other. What is fascinating is that the spikes in searches for the individual athletes are more often than not nothing to do with the actual sport they compete in.

British diver Tom Daley for example has two significant spikes in search activity in early February and late March. The first of these search spikes coincides with the release of a video he posted spoofing LMFAO’s “Sexy And I Know It” which went viral and received over a million views on YouTube.

The second spike of searches focuses on the tragic death of Tom Daley’s father who succumbed to cancer following a six year battle with brain tumours. Heptathlete Jessica Ennis saw her biggest spike of searches in early June following alleged claims from UK Athletics coaches that she was ‘fat’. Meanwhile cyclist Victoria Pendleton had the highest volume of searches of any athlete in the run up to the Games in July after a documentary went out revealing the stresses of having a relationship with coach Scott Gardner.

At the time of writing we are now on Day 12 of the Games and clearly the spikes in traffic change on a daily basis depending on which athlete is competing. When Jessica Ennis won gold last Saturday she was the most searched for person in the UK with 1% of all UK Internet searches including her name. However, when we look at the types of searches people were making about Jessica Ennis when she became Olympic champion, you can see that more people were interested in searching for terms around her relationship with Andy Hill than they were for terms around her athletic achievements.

“When Jessica Ennis won gold last Saturday she was the most searched for person in the UK”
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In total 6% of searches for Ennis were sexually motivated and a further 4% were for photos or pictures. One caveat here is that the majority of searches (66%) were simply for ‘jessica ennis’ and with 43% of those searches going to Wikipedia, 18% going to news sites and 15% going to sports sites it is a reasonable assumption that these basic searches were with the intent of finding out more about Jessica Ennis’ sporting success. Even so, at least a quarter of all searches for Jessica Ennis on the day, had nothing to do with her winning the Olympic gold. And just to show that this is not a male-only phenomenon, 4% of searches for Tom Daley since the Olympics began included the word ‘bulge’.

So what does this tell us about the mood of the nation as we host “the greatest show on earth”? Do we even care about the athleticism and skill on display or are we just a nation of ogglers enjoying an international meat market on show?

I think the best conclusion to draw here is that the Olympics have a universal appeal. 4 billion people are set to watch the Games in some capacity around the world, and for each of those individuals the reason that drives them to watch the Olympics will be slightly different. What we can say is that online interest is peaked when there is a combination of athletic greatness and human interest. In Briton we like the underdogs, the fighters, the rogues and the chancers – but most of all we like a story. London 2012 has already had its fair share of fairytales, here’s hoping there are a few more to come.

“Online interest is peaked when there is a combination of athletic greatness and human interest”
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Until next month.


Written By
James Murray is the Product Marketing Manager for Bing Ads EMEA.
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