How much has
iGaming SEO changed
in the last 5 years?

Written by: Carl Hendy | 9th September 2020

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I wrote an article (well, more of a slight rant) just over five years ago on “Why SEO in Online Gambling Needs to Improve”, so I thought I would revisit the topic here to see what’s changed.

This post started off as some notes I was making whilst reviewing the iGaming SEO verticals, but I thought I might as well publish my findings. This post is nothing groundbreaking about SEO, but more of a reflection on how the SEO industry may have changed within iGaming. There will be no naming and shaming of brands either. This is not a “How to do iGaming SEO” post. It will not discuss legislative restrictions, or the internal red tape many SEOs find when trying to do their job.

Some larger iGaming brands are able to take advantage of their brand demand and history within Google and get away with some of these bad habits – but imagine how well they could perform without this complacency.

Another reason for the review is that in 2021 Google will introduce a new signal that combines Core Web Vitals with existing signals for page experience. This means that:

  • Pages with a poor user experience may not rank as highly in the search results as websites with stronger UX scores.
  • While being assessed at a page level, Google have indicated at a roundtable event (not confirmed) that if numerous pages perform poorly, this could have an impact across the site.
  • Improving Core Web Vitals won’t help if the page isn’t crawlable, indexable, high quality or a match for user intent.
Core web vitals

Keyword Heavy Landing Pages

As per five years ago, one of the most common traits of gambling websites is the use of “keyword landing pages”, or what Google Webmaster Guidelines refer to as “doorway pages”. These pages are often made to drive organic traffic from pages created based on Google Ads keyword score alone. The intent of these pages does not often match what Google is returning in the search results. They are often poorly linked to from the main website, and in some cases totally orphaned. On top of this, they are often inexpertly written by outsourced content operations and have the “magic” 300-350 word count.

Keyword landing pages can still perform well if the intent matches the query, the content is of high quality and written by experts, or other metrics as internal linking and off-page metrics are of a high quality. These pages should add value to users and not exist purely for organic customer acquisition.

PPC Landing Pages

Many websites are still allowing their PPC / affiliate partner pages to be indexed, which will cause confusion and a dilution of ranking signals to Google. There is no need for these pages to be crawled or indexed by Googlebot.

White-Label and Third-Party Partners

Lack of content control with affiliates and white-label partners is another common problem. If you are one of the larger operators, and license your games out to affiliates and third parties, it is important that you do not allow those third-party websites to outperform you for your own content and products. If your website content and products are sitting behind a JavaScript-heavy website that can not be crawled and indexed efficiently, then you may find your third-party partners outperforming you for traffic and queries if they have a faster, more accessible website. You will likely end up paying for players looking for your own products and games.

Many homepages are still stuffed with hundreds (if not thousands) of words of text that are positioned towards the bottom of the page. Whilst some text is useful, as it helps Google to understand the context of the page, too much of this text will likely be causing some form of over-optimisation and cannibalisation of internal content pages. Many of the larger iGaming brands do not need to take this aggressive SEO approach.

Off-Page SEO Metrics

An old favourite of using affiliates for links is still evident, with all kinds of weird and wonderful methods employed. I suspect in many cases these links do more harm than good.

Private Blog Networks (PBNs) are perennially popular. If you are an affiliate with an appetite for risk, or planning to “flip” your website for sale, then it’s probably not the worst path to take if you are aware of the potential pitfalls. But if you are an iGaming brand with shareholders, or listed on the stock markets, then you should avoid PBNs on your core brand websites. Most PBNs are not really PBNs and are more likely obvious footprints that will likely end up performing poorly within organic search. If you are using brokers to acquire links on PBNs then it is likely that there are multiple footprints, as the PBN will be hosting competitor websites.

Another form of link building that is popular at the moment is known as “content marketing” or “digital PR”, which combines SEO KPIs with a more traditional PR outreach strategy. This can work for SEO, however it can also be an expensive non-impacting activity. There is a much wider discussion to be had around this topic. Within iGaming SEO, many of the “digital PR” campaigns feel off-brand and poorly aligned with the audience. Secondly, the implementation of these campaigns does not feel aligned with an overall SEO strategy. The technical implementation of these campaigns will often sit far outside the overall visitor journey, with the flow of off-page signals not being fully leveraged for overall organic performance improvement.

The data suggests that many of the best performing brands are actively link building, as this strategy is still key for successful organic performance and player acquisition. Many of these brands, however, do not diversify their link profile. Instead, they always look to achieve too much of one type of link, or only focus on links to one or two target URLs within the website. This could be down to not enough experience within the team, lack of cross-team collaboration, or budget restrictions. Diversifying these links will achieve a more natural link profile.

Cross-Team Collaboration

When viewing iGaming websites from an SEO lens it is often easy to identify what elements or sections of a website that the SEO team have been allowed to optimise. There is always an obvious disconnect between product, content, social and conversion teams creating a disjointed user experience.

Many SEO teams struggle to fully engage with departments that would help them achieve their KPIs and improve organic performance. To maximise a campaign’s potential, the SEO team needs to align with other departments (which may include product, brand, sponsorship, social, and content) and have full support from the development team. An SEO’s worst nightmare is hearing “We shall try and fit that in within the next sprint”. It’s all too common to see SEO as an afterthought until player acquisition and player revenues begin to decline. I would always recommend an SEO gets to know other teams, and spends time understanding how they work and the challenges they face. Sending a long list of recommendations to a development team will never go down well.

User Experience

Aggressive interstitials (in particular on mobile) are a big issue, and I suspect that the pending Google Web Vitals update might cause a few issues for iGaming websites that fall foul of this.

I visited a number of casino and bingo websites via the Wayback Machine to compare to the current website and I was shocked to see that design and user experience had not changed much in over five years. In some cases (particularly bingo websites) the design and user experience had actually got worse alongside aggressive and unnatural implementation of SEO fixes.

Aggressive call to actions, in combination with offer overlays and cookie disclaimers, can disrupt user experience. Here is an example of aggressive CTA design on mobile, with nearly two thirds of the mobile page being multiple CTAs:

User experience

Page load times (which are part of Google’s ranking algorithm) were of a very poor standard, alongside many key issues that will be negatively impacted by the looming Google Core Web Vitals update next year. These are:

  • Loading performance – how fast does stuff (content/assets) appear on screen?
  • Responsiveness – how fast does the page react to the user making an input?
  • Visual stability – does stuff move around on screen while loading?

Below are a couple of screenshots from “Lacuna”, our own internal benchmarking tool for page speed at a keyword level. This is currently being redeveloped to factor in Core Web Vital’s metrics.

Page speed performance compared to 10 results for [poker]:

PSI for Poker

Page speed performance compared to 10 results for [online poker]:

PSI for Online Poker

Comparing this to the top 10 for “broadband” page speed scores:

PSI for Broadband

Technology

A multi-technology / multi-product offering will often mean creating microsites across brands, or merging / breaking off products from websites. Sometimes it is better to have one website for all products, while in other situations standalone product websites are preferred for SEO.

There are many examples of content (such as blogs) which would perform much better on the main customer acquisition website, rather than a separate domain or subdomain. Certain tournaments or “live play” websites, for example, are sitting within their own microsites but would offer a much stronger SEO position if they were included on the main branded domain.

Single Page Applications (SPAs), Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) and heavily JavaScript-reliant websites will cause Google headaches from a crawling and indexing perspective. Google has gone on record stating (in various Google Webmaster videos and conferences) that they are getting better at crawling JavaScript, however we have experienced and proven to clients that Google can not fully render and index the content of homepages correctly (not necessarily Google’s fault). Individual game content is often displayed via JavaScript without the correct implementation to aid Google in crawling and indexing.

Summary

Five years have passed and it seems that little has changed within iGaming SEO. There is evidence that off-page has become a “cleaner” playing field for well known iGaming brands, with many cleaning up their link profiles and looking to participate in higher quality link acquisition.

It is the on-page SEO that seems to have fallen by the wayside, which is interesting as in most verticals it’s the on-page SEO that is easier to control and improve. Due to page quality levels, iGaming SEO falls behind other high CPA markets in terms of financial lead generation. iGaming SEO websites feel very disjointed by comparison, with dated design and stale content.

Google is no longer just 10 blue links. There are other opportunities to drive organic traffic acquisition via expanded Google real estate. SEOs should be ensuring that they take advantage of every opportunity Google gives them to appear. This may involve you having to improve your knowledge graph results, appearing in [people also asked] boxes, or even something as simple as ensuring you own your branded search results (without competitors or affiliates appearing for terms that could be easily owned).