Friday, March 12, 2010
Thursday, March 04, 2010
Gaming SEO is as tough as it is monetizable. Top positions for big keywords worth millions in new player revenues. Attempting to compete for these positions requires scalability, efficiencies and budget. This article looks at a few aspects of delivering top rankings in the most competitive markets, including budgeting, financial justification, risk mitigation and most importantly; knowing when you’re gonna need a bigger boat.
David the Affiliate vs. Goliath the Operator
Both sides of the fence have distinct advantages, these can be summarised as follows:
It’s critical before engaging in any SEO that you understand your strengths, and play to them, in your selection of keywords. This article will focus on the affiliate’s strengths.
• New affiliate opportunities to explore inexpensively – if you’re a poker or bingo affiliate you might want to cross-sell to the rummy market, or dip a toe in the forex market.
• New self-service techniques to deploy – testing a new social ad platform is simple for example.
• To take a punt based on gut instinct – smaller affiliates have the freedom to experiment; use this to your advantage.
• Different commercial models to operators – an experienced SEO with self belief and confidence in their art will be happy to share the risk, providing there is a reward for over delivery.
• Deploy both long and short term strategies – Let’s say you run an odds comparison site with a home page (the most powerful page of the site) optimised for “compare odds” / “odds comparison”. You might want to leverage your home page’s authority and rank for “Cheltenham betting” for 3 weeks every year? (See Google insights comparison).
• A single product affiliate may diversify easily – adding poker, bingo, and niche casino games to your casino tips is quick and easy with most modern CMS systems. Going international is also relatively simple with a little local iGaming knowledge (note: always speak to an experienced multilingual search specialist beforehand).
• Greater freedom to adapt to Google changes - Eg. 26th June 2009 (Vince) - if you were displaced by larger brands who (let’s face it) deserve to be there, regaining position may be costly. Vince only impacted a very small number of queries; it may be the case that a more mid-tail term should be targeted, while you regain the position on the larger generic term.
• Greater freedom to respond to competitor activity – unlike a typical Plc marketing budget which is usually agreed and signed off in the previous year, the affiliate has the flexibility to adapt based on changes in the competitor landscape.
• Greater freedom to respond to wide market changes – the adoption of new gaming behaviour, driven by mainstream advertising may be pre-empted and form part of an affiliate’s medium to long term game plan.
All in all, the affiliate has a number of aces they can play to their advantage, but when it comes down to it:
“Picking a Keyword is Picking a Fight”
No one likes to get hurt, and picking a fight that cannot be won is one way to guarantee a painful defeat.
Don’t think that because you are an affiliate, you cannot compete for big keywords. If your site is optimised correctly and you have link history, you could still be in the running for a page #1 ranking for one or more of the big terms. Never fight a battle on more than one front unless you are very well resourced – target one keyword at a time (mixing up the anchor text, but ensuring your target keywords occur in the link anchor text mix).
The following tables show the estimated click through rate for a typical Google results page. The table on the left is applicable when there are 3 sponsored results at the top of page 1, the table on the right, was published by AOL and more closely represents the click though rates where there are no sponsored results i.e. in markets where gambling is prohibited by Google.
Basic revenue modelling for a given position is as simple as...
Monthly Search Volume X CTR X Conversion to Active X Lifetime Value
“If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in trouble” Sun Tzu
Note: If you’re planning to displace the brand in position #3 for a big keyword, you need to be adequately resourced; not only to achieve the position, but also to deal with the backlash that will occur once the position has been achieved – don’t expect your competitor to step down without a fight.
Here’s loosely how it will play out:-
- Marketing exec reports Google organic player volumes to his boss
- Marketing Manager completes his report and sends to his boss
- Marketing Director asks WTF happened to our player volumes this month
- Marketing Manager responds let me get back to you with the figures
- Marketing Manager asks marketing exec WTF happened to our player volumes this month
- Marketing Exec replies let me get back to you with the figures
- Marketing Exec reports a one position loss which has pushed the result below the fold at a cost of ‘x’ players per month
If you don’t have the required resource to deal with the escalation, the victory will be fleeting and expensive, particularly if you’ve only moved from position #4 to #3.
This becomes even more apparent when battling for position #1. Given the significant increase in traffic volumes when moving from #2 and #1, it’s important to anticipate an escalation in aggression. This retaliation will be proportional to the loss incurred by the brand you’re planning to displace.
When budgeting for SEO at this level:-
1) Ensure that you have sufficient resource to get there.
2) If your agency or in-house guy suggests £25K/per month in budget – allocate an additional 10% to cover margin of error.
3) Don’t haggle them down and expect the same results
4) Ensure you have additional budget to defend the position once achieved
Victorian social thinker, John Ruskin, once wrote:
It is unwise to pay too much, but it is unwise to pay too little. When you pay too much you lose a little money, that is all. When you pay too little you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing you bought it to do.”Nowhere is this more applicable than in iGaming SEO. SEO budgets in the most competitive markets can leave an affiliate financially exposed, you would be advised to take a measured progressive approach, fighting one battle at a time and incrementally up scaling , once your figures justify increased activity.
Assessing and mitigating risk
At Stickyeyes we operate a White Hat approach and operate ethically and within Google guidelines both on-page and off. That said, given Google’s dominance in the search market - having all your eggs in one basket carries risk.
It’s no one’s God given right to rank in Google, and if you’re operating outside of what is acceptable then you’re running a potential risk to your traffic, revenue or even your future employment prospects.
It’s important to know what’s at stake and factor this into your project. If you’re currently only ranking for brand terms, let’s say, your brand is delivering traffic. Some degree of risk mitigation is recommended if you’re planning to undertake any activity outside of what Google finds acceptable.
Your Google search traffic will dictate this level of risk, if you have a long term mission involving any level of brand equity, then I would advise you avoid off-shoring any link building activity to the lowest bidder.
One way to protect your brand traffic is be to create a new micro-site or use an existing web property which could be optimised for your brand. This would ensure that should you run into trouble, you’re alternative site will protect your business from the loss of brand traffic. Strong affiliate relationships can also help to some degree.
While a solid contingency plan can mitigate a risky strategy, the long term impact of burning a domain for financial gain could still bring about your downfall for a number of reasons which we won’t go into here.
In summary... believe...
In SEO, as per all endeavours in life, our limitations are entirely self-imposed as Shakespeare put it:
“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.”With an executable plan, adequate resource and budget, there’s no reason why you cannot outrank the big boys. Good luck!
Tuesday, March 02, 2010
Something happened to changed everything. Between 3:40am Monday 27th July and 11:40 Tuesday 28th July, something apparently impossible happened.
Google claims that all their rankings are calculated algorithmically and while there have been claims by SEOs that Google occasionally adjust SERPs manually, Google have constantly denied these claims.
The graph above below shows Vodaphone.co.uk appearing from nowhere in position 3, climbing as high as 2 during the night. Vodaphone.co.uk is a misspelling of Vodafone.co.uk, with no algorithmic right to be anywhere near the top 500, certainly not position #2 for a query like “Mobile Phones”.
This was spotted on the morning of Monday 28th July by a member of our International Account Management team. We had been monitoring this update now for a whole month, and by now nothing would surprise us, however this made no sense (see below)
Our SEO team agreed that this was a ranking impossibility and made no sense whatsoever. There was no 301 trickery and no major backlink footprint:
* http://www.vodaphone.co.uk (190 backlinks)
* http://online.vodafone.co.uk (1,810 backlinks)
* Sitting on a domain http://www.vodafone.co.uk (69,945 backlinks)
And sure enough it was replaced by the correct site (online.vodafone.co.uk) around about noon later that day.
Could this be human error on the part of a search quality engineer? After all both these sites look pretty similar... Could this be a user behavioural consideration on the part of Google? Possibly, although why would Google favour type-in (possibly) in this way, sure that would favour commonly misspelt domains, impacting quality results.
At any rate, after seeing this I started to feel that Matt’s comments made more sense. Perhaps this wasn’t an update, at least in the traditional sense. Given that this impacted such a small number of queries, it would be feasible (at the very least) for this entire update to be handled manually.
The Million Dollar Question:
Q: If the rankings were manually adjusted, what’s the way forward for SEO?
A: While some sites appear to have been given a ranking boost we know that they are not held in absolute position, the boost appears to be relative to the previous position, meaning that a manually boosted site can be displaced by solid SEO activity.
Note: We generally use this data set to analyse precisely what component factors make a successful campaign run optimally, both in terms of cost and time, understanding the what signals Google is looking for enables us to overcome almost any kind of ranking correction.
Food for thought
I'd urge you take this evidence and take into account Matt Cutts' comments on this subject,
• Perhaps this wasn't an update as Mr Cutts himself suggested?
• Could such a small amount of changes be performed manually?
• How else could Google not only pin-point with such precision the handful of big brands that deserved a boost, but also boost them each appropriately?
Is brand building the new link building?
Stickyeyes has been recording vast quantities (1000+ Gb) of data across a range of major SERPs, including link structures, on page factors and ranking correlations for all competitors across all the vertical markets which Stickyeyes™ operate in.
Utilising this data and publically available data (see below), Stickyeyes™ made two key comparisons based on averages; by comparing key factors of sites before and after the adjustment.
Analysis 1 - We compared the averages across hundreds of keywords ,measuring the key metrics for each top ten, before and after the update.
Analysis 2 – We compared the big winners against the big losers following the adjustment.
Results of the Analysis:-
Analysis 1: New Top 10s (averages)
• Alexa Ranking: 53% improvement
• Domain age: 6% increase
• Brand Search Volume: 36% increase
• Google News: 302% increase
• Total # backlinks: 44% decrease
• % brand links: 14% increase
• % targeted anchor text: 3% decrease
Analysis 2: Big Winners (averages)
• Alexa Ranking: 79% improvement
• Domain age: 78% increase
• Brand Search Volume: 6,574% increase
• Google News: 282% increase
• Total # backlinks: 63% increase
• % brand links: 63% increase
• % targeted anchor text: 25% decrease
This analysis demonstrates some strong patterns across a number of key areas. However some findings could be symptomatic of something else, rather than actual driving factors behind the statistics provided – Stickyeyes conducted isolated tests in order to gain more accurate findings.
These findings raised more questions of course, but some interesting answers.
Q: Is Google factoring in brand search volume?
A: Not in isolation - Instigated by the 6,547% increase in brand search volume in analysis 2, we tested brand search volume as a ranking factor in isolation. Stickyeyes can confirm that brand search volume is not a factor (at least not in isolation).
Conclusion: Smaller newcomers who offer value are still able to out-perform large established brands providing they deploy a balanced campaign addressing a sufficiently broad range of quality signals and the financial backing to see a long term campaign through to victory.
Q: Is Google moving away from a link based algorithm?
A: No - We know that Google is considering other factors to determine relevancy including user behaviour, and have a number of social signals, however Google is still fundamentally a link based algorithm. We’ve seen a significant decrease in total back links, which appears to be the result of Google discounting low quality link and rightly penalised the spammers.
Conclusion: Ensure your link building is deployed naturally, acquire links on quality sites preferably within a legitimate editorial context, quality is essential, as is a mix of news-worthy PR, high quality on-site content and communities. Communities and other social factors are particularly important in many verticals.
Q: Is Google up-weighting non-keyword anchor text (link text)
A: Not directly - while the evidence implies this, it’s more likely to be symptomatic of the up-weighting of the proximity text in or around the link, another relevancy factor, or the contextual theme of the link. If this assumption were correct, it may explain the 63% brand link increase as well as the 25% reduction in targeted anchor text in our Vince Winners vs. Losers analysis detailed above.
Conclusion: It’s now more important than ever to ensure your link building is deployed naturally and with on-topic, newsworthy content in the mix.
One Month Later...
Something happened to changed everything. Between 3:40am Monday 27th July and 11:40 Tuesday 28th July, something apparently impossible happened.... (coming soon....)
So.... Why wouldn’t Matt Cutts want to call this an update...?
Looking at “Betting” on Google.co.uk
Strangely, the impact on the “Betting” SERP occurs 2 days later.
- Betfred.com is displaced by media goliath Skybet.com sometime in the early hours of Sunday morning.
- Betfair.com is given a boost to third place, be it fleeting.
- High street bookmaker Williamhill.com displaces both Skybet.com and Betfair.com on Sunday morning 28th June.
- On Monday 29th June Williamhill.com and Skybet.com are both displaced by Ladbrokes.com
- Bet365.com also joins the party “above the fold” on Monday 29th June settling in fourth place behind the two major UK high street brands and a global media giant.
While the impact occurs slightly later than the “poker” example, we see a similar pattern of displacement, apparently by brand weight, leaving William Hill and Ladbrokes to battle for dominance. Note: by contrast, the “Online Betting” SERP remained unchanged.
Why would this “change” only affect a relatively small number of queries? Why would “Poker” and “Betting” be affected and not “Online Poker” or “Online Betting”.
Some working in SEO at this point, who didn’t have the right strategy, are likely to feel like calling it a day and booking a holiday... which leads me seamlessly onto another vertical to compare and contrast....
“Holidays” on Google.co.uk
It was reassuring to see a similar pattern mirrored across other verticals. The travel sector saw, once again, only major terms impacted, see “Holidays” SERPs
- Otbeach.com kicks things off on the 26th, on the same day as two of the previous examples.
- Later that day, UK travel giant Firstchoice.co.uk is pushed up into first position.
- Thomson.co.uk displaces Firstchoice.co.uk the following day.
- Thomascook.com appears sometime before 3:34 Monday 29th June, displacing otbeach.com, travelsupermarket.com and teletextholidays.co.uk
What is clear here is that broadly, known brands to benefited, clearly many deserved to be there, but how was Google able to determine who should rank where?
‘Vince’ - an apparent additional weighting towards larger brands which only impacted a few generic keywords. The impact in the UK began some time after office hours on Friday 26th June 2009 – Matt Cutts had this to say about vince
Google’s Matt Cutts Delivers the Party Line
Taking what Google’s Matt Cutts disclosed in the above video, when asked the question: “Can you verify that Google is putting more weight on brands?” Matt’s response included three key points:-
“I wouldn’t call this an update, but there has been a change... It affects a relatively small number of queries...most people haven’t even noticed it.”This official response raises three questions:-
- Why does Matt not want to call this an update?
- Why would this “change” only affect a relatively small number of queries?
- How could this largely go unnoticed?
Tracking the Ranking Changes.
“Poker” on Google.co.uk
Let’s first review the visible symptoms of the change, which Matt insists is not an update, starting with how the adjustment impacted the “Poker” SERP.
he chart above shows the moving and shaking around the time of the Poker ranking adjustments.
- Pkr.com moves into first place sometime before 8:31 on Saturday June 27th.
- Partypoker.com enjoys a few hours in the #1 spot as the Party brand temporarily displaces gaming giants 888.com and their new found natural search threat Pkr.com.
- Two days following the initiation of the ranking adjustment, 888.com finds its self on the ropes with Pkr.com posing a significant threat to 888.com’s dominance in Google.co.uk and by Wednesday July 30th Pkr.com are the new leader of the pack.
- Wikipedia’s poker listing is repeatedly displaced, forcing the encyclopaedic reference standard down below the fold.
Summary of Observations
We can see that the adjustment to this SERP began in the early hours of Friday 26th June and continued through to Monday 29th June. Online brand equity appears to be playing a role, however the parameters behind the adjustment remain diverse. We'll look at the analysis from our data set tomorrow. For now, note that by contrast, the “Online Poker” SERP was not impacted outside of normal flux.
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