iGaming Affiliate SEO series: The mindset needed for ranking on Google

‘You either die fighting or thrive cooperating.’
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.
In the last article we talked about the overall ranking ecosystem for igaming and how there are certain strategies and niches that worth going for.
Recap: Start small, do your research, pick a niche which is relatively noncompetitive, do deals with operators who have the revenues to give you good rev share deals and start building out your websites.
What do I mean by mindset?
Here, I’m talking about the way you think about how you going to rank. It’s a bit like sports psychology. You think in the right way, you deal with the pressure, you think clearly, you do your best, you get results.
Good mindset: you get yourself into a productive mindset, you focus on strategies which deliver results and you make money.
Bad mindset: it’s a war, you will defeat Google, you will drive traffic, you will convert.
Good mindset: you will align with Google’s ecosystem, you will win traffic, you will convert.
If you go in thinking you can beat Google and it doesn’t happen you end up getting desperate and losing your mind.
Do I go ‘left or right’?
Sometimes the biggest decisions are the simplest. Which way do you go when it comes to dealing with Google? What are the biggest drivers that affect rankings?
It’s a big question: what makes a site rank? And in the end after a couple of years of digging around, deliberation, evaluating scenarios and so on I ended up with this simple idea:
“Do your SEO housekeeping. Deliver satisfying content to Google users”
If you’re with me on this, great and if you’re not then have a read of these articles:

https://www.stonetemple.com/why-ctr-isnt-a-ranking-factor/ https://www.slideshare.net/aminmesbahi/a-comparative-study-of-process-templates-in-team?next_slideshow=1
Essentially they say there is a correlation between how you rank and the aggregated click through rates and trust your website has.
These ranking drivers are a proxy for a simple concept: satisfy Google’s users.
Later in the article series we will get into much more detail on exactly how this is going to work for your thin affiliate website (that is exactly the same as every other thin affiliate website out there…)
But for the meantime let’s get back to mindset.
Google is becoming invincible
In my previous article I talked about how Google had shifted from using relatively simple algorithms to relying heavily on machine learning. With probably around 3 million servers churning away, Google have more computational power than just about any organisation in the world.
If you’re familiar with machine learning, you’ll know that machines can form an intelligence of sorts. In other words, they can look at information in a judgemental way just like humans.
Google’s Rank brain algorithm means that Google understands the meaning of content. Google’s Penguin algorithm means it can understand whether a link has value for rankings or not. Google can now use user data from search results and combine it with these other factors to determine whether people actually like the content they see depending on what key phrase they search for.
At a fundamental level Google search results have become a meritocracy, where the content that users most want will rank highest.
If you don’t believe me, go and look at any fairly competitive key phrase and ask yourself what the true intent of that key phrase would be. For example ‘online casino’… What is the intent behind that search query? Somebody wants to find an online casino?
Now go and inspect those search results carefully, putting yourself in the mindset of a typical user who is asking the question ‘online casino’. Overall are those search results about right? In other words is the top search result satisfying for somebody who doesn’t know much about iGaming and wants an ‘online casino’? I suggest those results are probably fine.
You may not think the search results are right, but that’s because you want to get your website ranking on that phrase. Are you looking at those search results truly objectively?
If it’s a ‘free bet’ phrase, the intent is clear: they want free bets because their shopping around for a new operator, because punters implicitly understand they will get welcome bonuses when they join a new sports book or casino.
Overall, these days sites which rank best are most satisfying to Google’s users. If you believe that, then you’re going to rank because you’re going to start delivering what satisfies users the most.
Google search quality evaluator guidelines
Earlier I talked about machine learning. All machine learning begins with a set of guidelines which the machine learning can follow and build upon. Google have a program where people are given websites to manually review and rate for quality.
In  2014, early copies of the instruction manuals were leaked and you could clearly see how these manual reviews were used to steer machine learning algorithms into understanding what a satisfying website looks like.
If you do a search for ‘Google evaluator guidelines’, you’ll see various iterations of the evaluator guidelines manual. It’s worth reading this document because you’ll learn exactly what Google describes as a ‘satisfying webpage’.
There are lots of specific use cases, but overall a satisfying website is not necessarily what you think it is…
Users want an answer to their question.
A search query is a question and they want answers. Generally the page which ranks at the top of the search results is the most  relevant and satisfying ’answer’ to that user’s search query.
At this point, if you still wholeheartedly believe that the website isn’t important, it’s all about the links and jamming as many relevant keywords into that page of yours…then fine.
When you start thinking about what Google users want, you start winning.
Have you ever done a search and seen a bunch of thin affiliate websites that look like something from 2004? And you’ve wondered why your beautiful shiny text heavy, graphics heavy site doesn’t rank, despite you doing every SEO trick in the (old) book?
The answer is your site is not satisfying enough. Users would rather go to that other site which gives them exactly what they want. Google tracks click through rates on search results and if that webpage shows a trend of a higher-than-expected click through rates on a given search result position, it’s going to go up in the rankings.
If a website has higher-than-expected click through rates and engagement across all its pages, Google trusts that website overall and will lift it in the rankings.
Reiterating: Google ranks pages that its users find satisfying. And yes, we will talk about links in a later article.
Google needs you
I’ve noticed how affiliates are often very self-deprecating about their websites. They think they are thin affiliate sites are often valueless and often wonder why they rank.
Reality check: users need your list websites. Why? They want curated information and listings which takes them to websites that deliver what they want. In this case it will be a free bet or a casino bonus.
Sports book punters and casino players want websites that tell them which bonuses are most attractive, which casinos are new, which big promotions are being put out and which operators are relevant to them.
You could say that it’s not in Google’s interests to rank thin affiliate sites, but believe it or not there is a glass wall of sorts between the organic search team and the paid advertising teams.
Essentially if Google started seriously compromising its organic search results in order to make more money out of paid search, users would reach a tipping point where they would not be happy using that search engine and would go somewhere else. History tells Google that empires crumble quickly. If Google doesn’t stay on top of organic search quality, users will go somewhere else…fast.
If you’ve got a thin affiliate website for a niche i.e. New Zealand Casino offers and you’ve got the latest, best casino operators for that market place, then if Google didn’t have your website it would miss out because Google’s users would be unsatisfied with those search results.
When you build a website that satisfies users, Google needs you!
And reiterating a major point made earlier: trying to game Google is a battle you’re not going to win.
Winning on Google rankings begins with mindset: Do your SEO housekeeping, but know that user satisfaction drives rankings.

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