The great brand phrase goldmine
Published 14th March 2017
At one time or another, every affiliate has thought about doing an SEO campaign to rank on operator brand phrases, so I’d like to share my story about affiliates and ranking on my brand phrases, which will provide some context into why I think there’s great money in ranking on brand.
I also want to go into some of the macro SEO trends which are coming through for 2017 and how these fit in with my ideas that:
- affiliates are a really valuable part of the ecosystem;
- affiliates deserve to rank on brand phrases;
- operators are increasingly dominating generic phrases; and
- why I think affiliates will be around for a long time.
I have this odd experience of being both an affiliate and a casino operator.
As Nick the affiliate, I have a large share of a site called ClubCall.com, which is a sports news website. And for those who know, sports news is quite hard to monetise for affiliates.
As Nick the operator, back in 2015 while running my SEO agency 90 Digital, I launched Oshi online casino. So I have this interesting perspective where I love affiliates and I dread them. Of course, it’s a lot more love than anything else!
Here’s the conflict: I need affiliates to bring in business. I work hard to build brand awareness for Oshi and I know I don’t want to pay affiliates for conversions that have effectively come through the power of the casino’s brand.
If somebody checks us out by going on a brand search for ‘Oshi casino’ and they register via an affiliate, we are effectively paying a ‘revenue share’ tax for our hard work. At least, that’s how I used to feel.
If you are a tier 1 brand, you’re probably doing TV, paid advertising, loads of PR and sponsorships. People will know what your brand is, so they’ll seek you out and join.
These ‘cheap’ conversions are what makes mainstream marketing viable.
As an aside, about six years ago I worked for a large igaming operator as head of search. Using publicly available information I did some calculations on what affiliate commissions would cost a tier 1 operator per month from conversions that come through brand phrases. In short, inflation adjusted we were looking at around £80,000- £100,000 in affiliate commissions per month from brand phrases alone.
If that tier 1 operator got aggressive with affiliates and pushed them out of the most converting brand phrases, that would probably cover the whole of their SEO spend and give them some change.
Of course, you’re going to say “what about the lack of conversion information on Google’s organic search data?” And you’re right, so any analysis is based on guesswork. If you are a tier 2 brand, you’ll be doing less brand building marketing and you’ll be more reliant on conversions driven by very relevant marketing. If you are tier 3 and beyond as I am, you’re increasingly dependent on affiliates.
In the case of Oshi, we live by our affiliate relationships. We don’t have a huge amount of prominence on search, because I’ve deliberately avoided being aggressive with SEO, so our strategy has been centred around brand reputation and affiliates.
Brand reputation is why I think affiliates deserve to rank on brand phrases.
As you know, there are three different types of key phrases: navigational, informational and transactional.
- Navigational is obviously “take me to somewhere I already know about”
- Transactional is “I want to buy something now”
- Informational is “give me background information to help me make a decision”
For informational keywords there is a spectrum of intent between mild interest in the subject and active serious consideration.
When you are seriously considering something, you are looking for information to help you make a final decision. When you’ve made that decision, you go off and do a transactional search to find the best price or product to suit your needs. In other sectors like technology, consideration phrases are dominated by online publications which give reviews of the latest products or whatever. That whole ‘finding the truth’ ecosystem works very efficiently in sectors like technology because it’s really hard to make big money as an affiliate if you’re a tech publication, so they rely more on volume of traffic advertising revenue.
Gaming affiliation is ridiculously profitable when you get it right. There is such a massive economic incentive to produce content that will influence potential customers, huge parts of the igaming keyphrase ecosystem are saturated with affiliate content.
Over the years affiliates have had a patchy history on being ‘truth givers’ to consumers. Very simply, whoever gets the best conversions and biggest ongoing revenue stream is the best operator.
Ironically, if an operator helps generate loads of revenue, it’s because they keep their customer's gambling and happy. This, in turn, means those operators which pay out the most, are on the whole the best on customer satisfaction. Of course, there are lots of horror stories about rogue operators.
When a random potential customer starts looking around on the search engines for the best operator, if the whole search ecosystem is loaded with different affiliates telling you which operators are the best, eventually those potential customers start forming opinions and at some point they register with a few different operators.
It’s a bit like propaganda; if you tell people enough times and make it plausible, people will believe it. I think the igaming search ecosystem is driven by profit-motivated propaganda. And that’s okay by me.
I love affiliates ranking on my brand phrases.
If I was in technology, and I had a product, I would put it out with reviewers, they would say what they thought, their unpaid, unbiased reviews would rank and that would be it. In igaming, I have a service, I put it out with affiliates, they say what they think and if they like my casino and they think it has a good chance of making them money, they will say good things about it.
That’s why it’s okay that AskGamblers ranks number two after my brand phrase ‘Oshi casino’. AskGamblers has nailed something very few affiliates have got right: trust.
People believe what AskGamblers says. It helps them make a positive decision about joining Oshi. We are also really lucky to have GamblingBitcoin.com, bitcoincasinos.reviews, bestbitcoincasinos. net rank on our brand phrases and they also say good things about us.
This happened because Marko Csokasi, our affiliate manager, did a great job of building relationships with all of these affiliates. He is a nice guy who is easy to work with and he has been able to tell the Oshi story about product innovation, not being evil and doing our best with customer experience. It meant these powerful and influencing affiliates reviewed us well.
If only one affiliate was nice to us, it might be interesting, but having every single affiliate on our most important brand phrase praise us, means that potential customers will be more inclined to join Oshi and so everyone wins.
To summarise about 1,000 words: useful search results mean everyone is happy. This neatly takes me into some macro trends I’m seeing within organic search and how it’s influencing what ranks.
The search ecosystem
Links are not the ‘prime currency’ of SEO any longer, in my opinion. It’s user satisfaction that counts
As part of my background research for this article, I had another look through two articles which talked about SEO trends for 2017, where about 80 search experts gave their opinions. I also reread the Searchmetrics ranking factors report for 2016.
I’ve pulled out some quotes from Search Engine Journal, which summarises the aggregate view from this herd of SEOers:
Seth Besmertnik, Conductor chief executive: “The big trend in 2017… will be focused on understanding who your customer is, what they want, and using the data from search engines to better understand customer intent. By making something your customer needs – something that solves their problem – you will win the algorithm of the future.”
Dixon Jones, marketing director, Majestic: “It’s not about ‘keywords’. It is about being the stand out leader in the field for, at the very least, your business name. What one thing do you really stand for?”
Eric Enge, Stone Temple Consulting chief executive: “You need to do a better job of satisfying the users who come to your pages, and better matching your content to the intent they had when they got there.”
Bill Hartzer, SEO consultant: “The search engines are continually getting better at identifying unnatural linking and unnatural SEO tactics, as well as keyword tactics.”
Jonathan Allen, president, L&T Co: “I believe that you won’t need to earn that many organic links to see movements in the right direction.”
Chris Boggs, founder, Web Traffic Advisors: “Since Penguin will reportedly not count ‘bad’ links against websites, manual actions likely will rise as more SEOs will come across links being reported.”
Kristine Schachinger, founder & chief executive, Vetters Agency: “The next update to most likely follow will be mobile first indexing. This is not just an update, but a systematic change to how Google evaluates and positions websites.”
This is an annual report which analyses 10,000 key phrases on Google.com and looks at the correlations between various ranking factors and rankings.
It states: “Today’s rankings are driven by the dynamic between individual content relevance and user intent. The main task for SEOs and online marketers today is the creation of relevant content that is targeted towards the specific user intention, which can vary greatly depending on the search query.
Generally speaking, content is relevant when it provides answers to as many questions as possible, and when it deals with the most important aspects of a topic. This is how we define holistic and comprehensive content.”
Overall, I think there are lots of new SEO housekeeping issues to take care of, i.e. getting the mobile experience right, making sure Google can index your site properly and so on, but for me the stand-out change is facing up to the new reality: intent is king.
Why are affiliates failing on generic phrases? (Clue: intent)
If you say it’s because affiliates can’t get links like operators do, then plainly you are somewhere back in 2006.
First, from what I’ve seen, operators just aren’t doing link acquisition like they used to. It’s because the benefits are questionable and secondly it’s very hard to get really good links without contravening Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
Links are not the ‘prime currency’ of SEO any longer, in my opinion. It’s user satisfaction that counts.
Let’s say you agree with me, if you look at big generic phrases like ‘online casino’ or ‘bet online’, all the results are operator sites. Why? Users want to see operator websites, because they are looking for a casino that is online, or they want to make a bet online through an online bookmaker.
If users wanted to make comparisons between different casinos, they would search for ‘best online casino’ because they’re interested in comparisons, and this phrase is, of course, dominated by affiliates. My point is that Google is all about satisfying user intent and this is why Searchmetrics says the most powerful ranking signal of all is, in fact, clickthrough rate.
Ranking off directly generated users’ signals makes sense. Google search results should be a meritocracy, where the sites that rank the highest are the ones users want the most. And finally this is happening. Let’s go back to my point about ranking on brand.
What is the user intent around a brand? I think it’s a combination of navigation and consideration.
If it’s a navigational search, that prospective customer probably has an account already with the operator and just wants to get straight to the website because they can’t remember the exact web address, or by using a Google search, it’s quicker than typing the full web address.
If it’s an informational search, that person is looking to make a decision about joining that brand.
There is every reason it’s justifiable for you to outrank a Facebook page belonging to a brand or the corporate news for particular operator, why? Because you serve a more useful purpose to the user than some social media, or corporate blah blah blah. You are helping users make decisions. And Google knows that.
What’s the outlook?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I had one of those investor interviews and they asked me what I thought the affiliate space would look like in five years. In short, the outlook is good.
The dominant affiliates will come through because they find the right balance between satisfying user intent and making money. AskGamblers does it really well and in a less commercial way, Casinomeister. Even those ‘top 10 best bonuses’ websites satisfy user intent in their own way. They answer a big question: ‘who has a great bonus’?
Another thing to remember is that operators invest fortunes in their brand and the risk of a penalty makes aggressive SEO with a lack of clear attribution through ‘not provided’ (https search) , means there isn’t a good enough business case to really push offsite SEO. Instead, I’m seeing brands focus more on SEO housekeeping and fulfilment of user intent.
Affiliates generally don’t have brand equity, therefore they have far less to lose and much more to gain from taking risks operators won’t. The right links still help to rank, so affiliates can be aggressive with this.
Once they rank, if they fulfil user intent, they’re likely to stay in the search results long enough to make some good money. Herein lies the reason I think affiliates are going to be around for years to come.
Finally, it’s worth pointing out that search engines have changed, the game is about giving users what they want and my little anecdote about ranking on brand is a good example of how you can make money as an affiliate on a highly converting phrase and please both Google and the operators at the same time.