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SEO For Gyms, Sports & Leisure Operators: 5 Tips For Success

SEO for gyms and leisure centres helps those looking for fitness, sports, and other activities find options nearby. Investing in search engine optimisation (SEO) is a significant opportunity if you want to improve your digital presence. Here are 5 tips for leisure centre and gym SEO success to get you started.

According to LeisureDB’s 2022 State of the UK Fitness Industry Report, there were over 7,000 gyms in the UK in 2022. And 36% of these gyms were public sector leisure operators. That means it’s more important than ever to showcase what you have to offer to the communities you serve.

Making sure your website shows up and stands out online is essential if you want to reach more people. You need to appear when people are searching for facilities and activities using Google and other search engines. And to do that you will need to optimise your website.

What is SEO & why is it important?

Search engine optimisation (SEO) helps your leisure centre’s website show up in search engine results when people search for relevant keywords (for example, ‘leisure centres near me’, ‘swimming pools’, ‘gym’, ‘fitness classes’, etc.).

SEO can seem complex with Google adjusting algorithms on a regular basis. But it’s not that complicated. Investing in SEO and your website will reduce your reliance on paid advertising. It’s a cost-effective, sustainable way to attract the right audience to your website. And then convert those visits into customers and members.

The ukactive 2022 Digital Futures report found that only 28% of operators continuously monitor and invest in SEO (vs. 36% in 2021). Plus, it found that 82% of operators said their web presence could be improved (vs. 77% in 2021).

Combined, there’s a considerable opportunity for you as a leisure operator to improve your digital presence by focusing on SEO and web presence.

5 tips for successful SEO for gyms, sports, and leisure operators

Whether you’ve already invested in SEO for your leisure centre website or it’s a new focus for you, these fitness SEO tips will help you achieve success.

1. Focus on local SEO

Local SEO is a subsection of SEO which focuses on geographical elements of a search. Put simply, it helps you show up in searches in the areas where your facilities are located. Whether you are a single or multi-site operator, you need to make sure your website (or websites if you have one for each site) is optimised for local searches.

Anyone searching for local places and services usually see two types of search results: regular and map pack. You can show up in both sets of results – increasing your visibility. The area highlighted in orange within this site shows map pack listings.

To rank in map pack, you’ll need optimised Google Business listings.

  • Set up a free Google Business Profile (if you have more than one location, you can create a group with multiple locations for easy management)
  • Fill in as much detail as you can within your profile or profiles – include the types of services and facilities your leisure centre offers
  • Keep your profile(s) up to date with the latest information about your business (e.g., add new services, seasonal opening hours etc.)
  • Get reviews to help increase your ranking position (our Leisure Member Onboarding Process Playbook includes a handy template for requesting reviews)

2. Conduct keyword research

A key step in leisure centre, fitness and gym SEO is to create a keyword strategy. This is a list of keywords to target that are relevant to your organisation. When focusing on local SEO you’ll want to choose target keywords that include your location. For example:

  • Leisure centre near Leeds
  • Gym in Edinburgh
  • Exeter swimming lessons
  • Stevenage aqua aerobics classes

Think about intent when conducting keyword research. When a person is searching for a particular term what are they looking for?

Your top priority is targeting keywords that people search when they are looking for a particular service/activity or are ready to sign up for a membership. Terms that are most likely to result in a sale of some kind.

Once you are ranking for these, you can add terms that are searched when considering and researching a particular service, activity, or health and fitness pain point.

Tools like Google Ads Keyword Planner, Semrush and Ahrefs, can be used to conduct keyword research. So, you get a greater understanding of how many searches a particular keyword attracts each month and can see recommended related keywords.

These tools usually have free options. And to get more detailed information you can choose a paid option. Here you’ll usually get a list of related keywords, questions people are searching around those keywords and details like:

  • Keyword difficulty – shows how much competition there is to rank for a keyword and how challenging it is to rank high for
  • Volume – average monthly volume of searches a keyword gets
  • Traffic potential – the estimated traffic (visits to the website) that the top-ranking page gets from all the keywords it ranks for
  • CPC – average amount an advertiser would pay per click for an ad targeting that keyword

Prioritise keywords based on relevancy to your leisure offering and intent to create a keyword strategy.

3. Create relevant content

Once you know the keywords you want to target, you need to create the right mix of pages. When thinking about SEO for gyms and leisure centres, your homepage will typically rank for broader terms like ‘leisure centre in York’ or ‘gym in York’. It should also rank for your brand and/or centre name.

You will need to create service pages to target more specific terms like ‘swimming lessons in York’ or ‘BodyPump classes in York’. These service pages can target a set of related terms on one page. For example, your ‘Swimming Lessons’ page may target local searches for a range of keywords like ‘swimming lessons in York’, ‘children’s swimming lessons’, ‘baby swimming lessons’, etc.

Here are some top tips for creating content that helps you rank for your target keywords:

  • Your content must be comprehensive, unique, and trustworthy to rank well. Look at the other pages ranking for a keyword. How can you provide more value and showcase your expertise? It can be helpful to add FAQs to a page and address relevant questions those searching may have
  • Use your most important keyword in the page title if possible and make sure it’s coded as ‘H1’. Also include it in your first sentence (keep it natural)
  • Include your related keywords throughout the body of the page in a natural, easy to read way
  • Add links to relevant pages of your site to progress visitors on to the next step in their journey

You should also include your keywords in your metadata. Metadata is what shows up on the search engine results page as the title and description of your page. It tells Google about your page:

  • Title tag – this provides an idea of what’s on the page and relevance to a search query. It also tells browsers how to show a page’s title in the search results, browser tabs and on social media. Include your top keyword. And make the title relevant and compelling to encourage click throughs
  • Meta description – this is an HTML element that summarises the pages content. It should contain your top keyword early on. Keep it short – 160 characters for desktop, 120 characters for mobile. Google will cut it if it’s too long. As with your title tag, you should make sure your meta description is relevant to the search and makes the searcher want to read more
  • URL slug – this is the last part of your web address for a page. It acts as a unique identifier for the page. Include your most important keyword, be descriptive and keep it short to make it easier for anyone visiting directly

4. Pay attention to technical SEO

Technical SEO focuses on improving the technical elements of your website. So, you make sure Google and other search engines can crawl and index your pages efficiently.

Technical aspects to focus on are:

Technical SEO also covers the overall performance of your website and user experience:

  • Mobile readiness
  • Page speed
  • Security – HTTPS

Ahrefs Web Master Tools let you monitor site performance for free. You can then work with your web developer or agency to improve areas of concern.

5. Look for link building opportunities

A backlink is a clickable link from one website to another. Google pays attention to backlinks. It recognises when a website and page gets high-quality backlinks from reputable websites.

The more competitive a term is, the more important it is to have backlinks. Getting backlinks can be one of the most challenging aspects of SEO. Focus on quality over quantity. Look for relevant, authoritative websites.

Here are a few easy places to start:

  • Get listed in online directories and relevant articles
  • Make sure any profiles, news articles and other content about your leisure facilities on partner sites are linking to the relevant pages on your website
  • Whenever you put out press releases include links back to your website

Measuring SEO success

Becoming more visible and ranking on Google is a marathon, not a sprint. You’ll need to keep putting in a consistent effort.

Add new content. Update existing content. Find new keywords. Review how you are showing up. Adjust the on-page experience. Make technical improvements. Build more backlinks. There’s plenty to keep on top of!

Make fast changes and put in a sustainable effort to see long-term results from SEO. Here are some of the metrics you could look at when measuring success:

  1. Keyword rankings – aim to appear on the first page, then rise up to the top positions (for competitive terms exact positions can change regularly so aim to be consistently in the top 3)
  2. Organic traffic – using Google Analytics you should be able to see and increase in traffic coming via search engines
  3. Time spent on page – you want visitors to stick around and read your pages (then take action). Look to increase time spent on each page and your site as a whole
  4. Click through rate – you want people who see your page in the search results to click. Optimise your title and meta description to increase click through rates
  5. Bounce rate – you want visitors to stay on your site (and ideally book their activity or sign up for a membership) rather than leaving. Look to lower bounce rate with a user friendly, helpful site
  6. Domain authority – the higher your domain authority, the more likely it is that you’ll show up in searches

If you want to learn more about SEO, we recommend this article from Semrush that provides a handy overview of the basics and lots of links to relevant resources and tools.