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SEO and igaming: adapt to capitalise

| By iGB Editorial Team | Reading Time: 5 minutes
Whether it's tweaks to Google’s algorithms or mobile-first indexing, igaming marketers are having to constanly adapt their approach to SEO with a re-focus on content, video or user engagement, says Martyn Hannah.

Whether it's tweaks to Google’s algorithms or the fact that the search giant has begun experimenting with mobile-first indexing, igaming marketers are having to constanly change and adapt their approach to SEO with a re-focus on content, video or user engagement, says Martyn Hannah. 

Type “online casino” into Google, hit enter and in a fraction of a second a long list of websites appears.

At the top of the tree — after the ads — is Paddy Power, which is unsurprising given the army of marketing wizards the operator employs. But look below Paddy Power and you may be in for a surprise.

Instead of finding Betfair, 888 or Ladbrokes, next up is 21.co.uk – a small and not well-known online casino and slots operator. 

SEO has long been a weapon in every igaming marketer’s arsenal and the need to rank highly on Google based on key search terms is more important than it has ever been, particularly as new brands continue to enter the fray and the market becomes even more competitive.

But SEO is changing, and the factors Google takes into consideration when ranking continue to shimmy and shake, throwing up opportunities and challenges in equal measure.

Google is also making changes to its algorithm where it is gradually moving its search results towards the mobile versions of websites, thus making its indexing system considerably more mobile-focused.

The group says it has “begun experiments to make our index mobile-first. Although our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results”.

An ongoing investment
For all that, those investing resources and cash into climbing up the Google ladder should reap the rewards in the long term. “Without doubt SEO should be at the core of any marketing strategy,” says Andy Blackburn, director at GameOn Marketing.

“If your target market is online, the likelihood is they’re searching for your brand or product, so you should be looking to build the amount of that organic search traffic you receive over your competitors.

“SEO should be seen as an ongoing investment in the overall marketing spend of an igaming operator’s business. As much as your registrations/bets would drop if you stopped investing in TV and print, so too will your rankings/traffic/conversions if you stop promoting your website,” he adds.

But what is good SEO? Essentially it is the fundamentals of proper web development; a website that is designed well, developed to W3C standards and accessible across all browsers and web readers will, by default, have a lot of the core on-page SEO elements already in place.

These can be enhanced further by boosting domain authority, keyword usage, brand metrics, page load times, mobile optimisation and, perhaps most importantly, the uniqueness and relevance of content.

Traditionally, marketers and SEO execs focused heavily on link-building under the premise that the more websites that link to yours, the more authoritative and trustworthy you are.

But many gamed the system – posting links in the comment sections of blogs, for example – and Google has since wised up and changed its algorithms. Now the search giant puts far more weight on user engagement, forcing brands and sites to earn their rankings by creating and offering relevant and intelligent content.

Think outside the box
That’s not to say links are no longer important, because they are. It’s just that operators need to be more creative and ethical in how they go about obtaining them.

A growing number have set up blogs written by industry experts and analysts; 888casino.com, for example, has developed a card counting trainer and has also published articles on subjects from the science behind casino layouts to Game of Thrones survival odds.

Articles can also be used to explain products and answer user queries, which in turn increases the time spent on the page and also drives conversions.

Others have focused more on PR and producing campaigns that catch the attention of the mainstream media – mFortune created the League of Luck, where you enter your postcode and learn whether or not it’s your lucky day.

Regardless of what marketers do, however, it’s important to avoid being too heavy-handed and to allow links to grow naturally off the back of well-crafted content.
“I avoid aggressive SEO and focus more on using it to help build reputation,” says Nick Garner, founder of Oshi Casino and marketing agency 90 Digital.

“In other words, we do a lot of PR and work very hard on community relations in order to get good feedback about Oshi Casino on reputable websites, which in turn rank around our brand.

“Consequently, when people look up feedback about us on powerful and influential sites, we check out well and that means customers are more confident in our brand and that ultimately makes us more money,” he adds. 

A different approach
Operators are tackling SEO in a variety of ways. Some have opted to keep everything in-house, while others farm it out to an agency.

There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution, but the general consensus is that marketers should establish a separate team for the different game verticals they offer – casino, sports, poker, and so on.

User demographics vary greatly, as do their requirements when it comes to what they consider to be engaging content. Bingo players are very different to football punters, for example, so operators have to tailor content to each type of player.

But is it better to keep SEO in-house, or allow external experts to take the reins? “I think SEO housekeeping should be done in-house because it usually involves a lot of technical stuff with developers,” says Garner.

“But off-site SEO should be done through agencies in close conjunction with the brand. Off-site SEO means having access to really good networks of relationships, so if you want links on great websites you are going to have to buy into those agencies.

“Over the years, our agency side of the business has built huge networks of relationships that you just can’t walk into if you are a brand,” he adds.

New challenges
The difficulty with cracking the SEO code is that the goalposts are constantly moving. Google regularly updates its algorithms for what it does and doesn’t take into account when ranking.

Then there is the rapid speed at which technology continues to drive the sector forward – the meteoric rise in mobile betting and gambling, coupled with the way we use mobile and tablet devices for web searching, has changed all aspects of the industry.

And that is particularly the case when it comes to SEO. Indeed, Gwen Andrieux, chief executive of marketing agency Dice London, says this is biggest hurdle marketers and SEO professionals have to overcome.

“Not adapting to algorithm changes can have a fairly catastrophic impact, whereby a site loses all of its visibility from one day to another. It is also about keeping up with the latest technologies and tools that will give users on your site a better experience than on others.

“Finally, it’s about being creative when it comes to content, not only what it is but what it looks like – video, for example, is playing a growing role in the SEO space,” he adds.

The likes of Paddy Power and 21.co.uk are adapting to and capitalising on these changes better than most.

But when it comes to SEO, if you rest, you rust; and those current SERPs leaders will have to continue banging the drum and pushing the boundaries if they want to hang on to their top spots.

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