iGaming Affiliate SEO Series: Planning for success

Strategy: Steps you take to win, research process, identifying your competitive strengths, finalising your gameplan.
Nick Garner is founder of Oshi.io casino, a successful Curacao-licensed Crypto/Fiat money operator. He previously worked as search manager for Betfair, then head of search marketing for Unibet.
In 2012, Nick founded the igaming digital marketing agency 90 digital, which he then sold. Semi-retired and looking for new adventures, Nick founded Oshi casino. Nick advises several of his Oshi.io affiliate partners on ranking strategies and tactics.
So far, we’ve talked about:

  • The iGaming ecosystem, how it’s competitive and highly profitable for the winners: those who rank (You know you’re somewhere special)
  • The fundamental drivers that affect rankings and the mindset that makes the most sense because of that (Ranking is about satisfying users, not Google)
  • Debunking some old classic SEO myths (Lazy thinking and people living in hope)
  • Links…(Snake oil… links work enough for people to still believe they work all the time)

Logically the next step is putting this stuff together into a plan so you can start ranking.
In this article I’m going to break each of the planning elements into five segments:
Everything starts with strategy. You know where you’re going and therefore every step is in the right direction.
Now you know which way you’re going, you set up your structures and systems
Time to get on with it!
Since you were on point with your structure, you’ve got your analytics, your KPIs and all that stuff need to know in order to steer your business.
Profits and reinvestment
You making money, but this is a risky game so do you reinvest or just take the money and ride it out?
Strategic thinking is tough because it involves looking at the big picture and making some very big long-term decisions about which way you’re going.
As I often say, sometimes the toughest decision is whether you go left or right. Even though that decision has only two outcomes, if you get it wrong you are going on exactly the wrong direction.
So, it’s very important to always look at the high-level drivers that affect the ecosystem that you are in. When I say ecosystem, I use that as a way of describing lots of very complex stuff that is driven by some very simple rules. When you understand those simple rules, everything should make sense.
In my view, the fundamental rules for iGaming affiliate organic search are:

  • As a commission only sales person. All you have to do is get enough of the right people clicking through your websites.
  • You exist because operators can’t compete with you (unlike with paid media) so they need you to bring in profitable traffic
  • Organic search is the ‘Goldilocks’ zone for affiliates because operators can’t compete> Organic search brings in probably 30 to 40% of all funded accounts (depending on the brand of course)
  • You and Google exist to satisfy end users
  • Google needs you because you serve a useful function on organic search results

When you add up all these factors the strategy would be:

  • Satisfy Google’s users who are okay with losing money gambling.

Just breaking this down a little bit more….
In previous articles, I’ve talked about rankings being primarily driven by user satisfaction. When you understand what Google’s users want from you, then as long as you do the basic housekeeping:

  • The initial block of links to get you noticed
  • Easy indexation for Google
  • Relevant content to the profitable search queries…

Then you will rank.
The core strategy should be:
Satisfy Google’s users who are okay with losing money gambling.
At this point, the next step is to work out

  • Which phrases are the most profitable and highest volume
  • What the intent behind those key phrases are
  • What you’re going to do to satisfy a mixture of Google’s users that make money.

I won’t go into keyword research, because there are plenty of other excellent resources on this:

My tip:
When you’re downloading a report from Google AdWords keyword tool or some other service, they nearly always have two metrics:

  • Search volume
  • Cost per click

When I want to prioritise key phrases, I know that the cost per click represents the commercial value of a phrase ( there are caveats to this, such as bitcoin phrases, where crypto operators can’t use PPC)
I also know the search volume of a phrase represents the level of interest in that key phrase.
And finally, in order for me to get a list with ‘the most important’ at the top, I do something very simple:
I multiply search volume by cost per click.
I then have one metric and I know that the biggest number represents a combination of the most commercially valuable and widely search phrases. It’s such a simple trick, but one I’ve used for years.
Gamblers mind.
I then put myself in the mind of that gambler who is okay with losing money and I look at their search intent. Generally, gamblers are superstitious. They hit a losing streak and they want to move on to another operator. Operators offer welcome bonuses, so players who want to move on will probably gravitate to sites that:

  • Offer extensive lists of bonuses ( LCB.org )
  • Offer a way of finding better odds ( oddschecker.com )
  • Give reliable information about an operator they may sign up with ( AskGamblers.com )

The main points on user intent:

  • Put yourself in the mind of the player you want to target. Understand their motivations and the answer to the questions they’re asking.
  • If you accept that Google rankings are driven by user engagement, then you’ll also accept that the sites that rank highest for the key phrases you are interested in, generally satisfy users the most. Learn from those ranking sites.

Spectrum of intent
Earlier I talked about content marketing. In iGaming, we have a spectrum of high-volume, low intent through to high intent relatively low volume… With those perfect sweet spots, which are high intent, high-volume.

  • Low intent high-volume: Sports news, tips
  • High intent high-volume: free bets, casino bonuses, ranking on operator brand
  • High intent low-volume: Niche phrases like ‘fruit slots bonus’, ‘[name of slots game] bonus’

In my view, a lot of affiliates make the mistake of getting into low intent, high-volume subject areas like sports news in the hope that they’re going to get a large volume of conversions.
In the end, you’ve only got so much resource and it is always better to target one single niche and work from there. I can’t give you a magic answer to the question about which niche, but my best advice is:

  • Go for high intent, low-volume phrases to start with.
  • Look at the top ranking pages in those key phrase territories and get your head around what they’re doing right to satisfy Google’s users.
  • Remember, the key phrase represents the intent, so pick those phrases where you know the intent is high i.e. ‘bonus or free bet phrases’
  • Make sure you’re in a keyword niche that can’t easily be overrun by a monster network like Catena Media.

Reiterating: I’m giving you a framework. Use the framework and the answers to your questions will come through.
Next step is executing the plan and launching your website
By now you know what key phrases you want to rank on, because you know the user intent behind that traffic and you know you can outcompete the top ranking sites, because you can give those users a more satisfying experience…
The strange thing about user satisfaction…it’s not necessarily what you think it is. For example, I’ve worked with so many affiliates who have poured huge amounts of money into review content. And yet, readers don’t read the reviews because they don’t trust them. So, why would you spend a ton of money on beautiful reviews when they don’t matter?
Maybe it’s better to put your money into getting more operator relationships, more bonuses and organise your bonus information better than the top ranking site? Why? Because the money is in getting click through’s from people who want to go to new operators. The money is not from persuading a player to go to one operator or another via your reviews.
Tip: study the web pages which rank best for the key phrases you care about and take the best ‘bits’ and recycle them on your website.  ( I’ll be talking about this stuff in much more detail in another article)
As I’ve said previously, links are useful for telling Google that there is a new website. Once you start ranking where there’s traffic, then you’re in the hands of Google’s users. If they don’t like what you offer, they’re not going to be engaged and you will lose rankings.
Google is much less aggressive about link penalties these days and that’s because their algorithms are smart enough to know what a good link looks like. Therefore ironically, you can spam like crazy and maybe catch a few good links that will help you rank.
And what is a good link? In my view, it’s a link from a page that ranks… Better and more competitive the rankings, the better the link value.
Sape.ru is a good place to look for spam links. Otherwise, you could get links from link sellers, but the rule of thumb is don’t buy from sites that are too widely advertised…
And of course, you can do manual link building, reaching out to whoever and doing one-to-one deals.
Obviously, you will set up all of the usual Webmaster console/Google analytics/other user tracking.
In my view, one of the most misleading metrics in organic search is tracking your own rankings based on keyword.
Google thinks in terms of web pages and looks at websites as collections of pages. In other words it’s important for you to look at your prominence in organic search, in the same ways Google does.
These days a powerful webpage can rank for hundreds of phrases. However, if you just fixate on one key phrase you’re ignoring the bigger picture: Getting your page ranking.
When you start looking at the aggregate rankings for certain pages and you look at the various key phrases those pages rank for, you can begin to understand how Google is making sense of that page and what rankings it’s giving the page.
Tip: knowing which phrases a page ranks for

  • either use SEMrush or ahrefs reports on a particular website.
  • Download the organic rankings reports which will contain the key phrase, the ranking position and the page that ranks.
  • Use Google sheets ( free ) or Excel and pivot table the data so you can see which key phrases rank for what page… Then you can start to work out which pages are most important for your website or a competitor’s site
  • By looking at the overall emphasis of the key phrases a page ranks for, you can get an idea for whether that page ranks and therefore satisfies Google’s users for the phrases you care about.
  • Main point: think about rankings for pages, rather than rankings for keywords.

Profits and reinvestment
The harsh truth:

  • The bad: most affiliates don’t make any meaningful money,
  • The good: but the ones that do make more money today than ever before, because the average revenue share being given out to affiliates is higher than it ever has been. And that’s because there’s more competition between operators than ever before.

Let’s say you’re making some money and you don’t really know why your ranking. Since affiliates often publish multiple sites, with the occasional site ranking, it’s very hard to know exactly why one side ranked and another site didn’t when both sites are similar. As I’ve said before, once you understand why one site satisfies more than another, then you have the answer to ranking (accounting for SEO housekeeping and so on)
If you don’t know why you ranked, then the temptation is to spend your money on what you think works. If you guess wrong on what drives rankings, you’re going to burn your money and possibly damage your website.
The main point about reinvestment is understanding why something worked and doing more of it. And if you believe what I’m saying in these articles, by this stage you should have a fairly clear idea of why something has worked.
My view on reinvestment: if you found a niche that works, expand your methodology into other similar niches where the fundamental characteristics of your affiliate offering will also apply.
If you’ve done well in NFL free bets, move on to other American sports. If you’ve done well in ‘fruit machine slots bonuses’ then move on to ‘one armed bandit slots bonuses’. In other words, take things one step at a time and make sure that your success is a predictable process rather than luck.
And if you’re in a niche and you know you can’t grow, well at least you can take the money and start investing in property or some other stable revenue stream.
I’ve touched on some huge subjects. There are probably three or four books in this stuff. But, when you reduce everything to its essence, your success is based on the decisions you make. If you’re a lazy thinker that’s hunting around for secret SEO tips, you’re probably not going to do very well.
If you’re that kind of person who is

  • Prepared to do your homework,
  • Focuses on what matters i.e.Satisfying Google’s users who are okay with losing money gambling
  • Thinks objectively
  • Starts in a niche

Then you should do well. And the good news is if you’re that person, you’re in the minority so you have a real competitive advantage.
Next time I’m going to go much deeper into gap analysis. I.e. evaluating competitor sites and understanding what they do right.

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