Chasing Traffic: The SEO Landscape For Forex And Binary
Published 7th September 2015
I was at the Amsterdam affiliate conference hanging out as an affiliate. (Yes, like you, I make money from being an affiliate!) I’ve been going to IGB affiliate conferences for years, but one thing I’ve noticed recently was the number of forex and binary options operators really hustling for traffic. Of course, everyone wants converting traffic and every affiliate manager will give a good pitch, but..I don’t know if it was me…I sensed a hint of desperation on the part of the forex and binary options operators. So for the sake of discussion, let’s assume they are in urgent need of traffic. The question is…why? To understand more about the industry, I did a big piece of research around the SEO landscape in forex and binary. I decided to look at 53 different English-speaking territories, because it’s of course easier to market in your own native language. From my experience in the gambling industry, most affiliates make most of their money from SEO. It’s tough to make money on paid advertising, because the gap between what it costs to acquire customers and what you get in affiliate commissions is so thin, that for every pound earned, you might be spending 90 or 95 pence in media spend. You only need a tiny fluctuation and performance to lose your money. Of course, some affiliates do make a ton of cash out of paid media, but in general I think it’s not as attractive as natural search. Therefore, I figure if traditional gambling affiliates are doing well in SEO, and forex and binary options operators are struggling with finding converting affiliate traffic, then maybe affiliate SEO in the latter sector isn’t working so well.
I looked at search traffic for a batch of roughly 20 keywords per topic area, i.e. forex, binaries, casino, sports betting. I used search volume as an indicator, making sure that I only used phrases which were commercially relevant to my research. I also used a metric which is a great indicator of the commercial value of a phrase, which is multiplying cost per click by search volume. I won’t go into why it’s so good, but suffice to say I’ve written blog posts on this single topic. It also correlates really well with my experience on which phrases are important. I’ve also looked at who are the biggest players in each sector across all 53 territories.
- International SEO
One very surprising thing which came through is that in international search, if you rank on a generic non-geographically related key phrase in one strong territory such as the UK, you will more or less rank at the same level globally for the same words. There are some exceptions to this rule, but they are relatively rare. This has changed a lot of my previously held views on how to approach international search, meaning I’m worrying less about localising per country and instead focusing more on localising around language.
- Engagement Driving Rankings
Put simply, links get you ranked, engagement keeps you ranked and builds upon those rankings. Generate enough engagement, you will become trusted, and when you are trusted, you are able to rank with minimal link building. Yes, I know it sounds bizarre (ranking without links) but we have several clients/own sites which are absolutely kicking it in the rankings because they follow this model around high quality links and great engagement.
- Search Traffic Landscape
Firstly, I’ve done my best to pick out the top phrases which are most relevant to each sector. It’s easy for instance to pick a random phrase like “options”, but people aren’t looking for “binary options” trading solutions when doing that search. Secondly, I’ve added up the search volumes for each of the 53 territories and done the same for cost per click by volume (see Figure 1).
Sports betting is high traffic and medium revenue, casino is medium traffic and higher revenue. Forex is quite interesting, as whilst being relatively small compared to casino and sports betting, it’s sizeable enough to be fairly lucrative. Binary options, however, is just thin… Now let’s see which domains do well in forex and binary (please bear in mind that the figures used are the cost-per-click by volume numbers). Immediately, you can see from Figure 2 how forex.com dominates.
Wikipedia is close behind, and then there’s everybody else. Binary is just very thin, with Opteck.com being the only operator with a decent amount of traffic, and even then it’s small compared to what you get in forex. For comparison, the same data has been provided for sports betting and casino. Notice how no one site dominates. Having no dominant site is a characteristic of really competitive verticals, where there is so much effort put into ranking that no one site tends to rule everything, because different sites specialise in particular key phrases. Also, as Figure 3 shows, the number of websites is roughly the same for each of the sectors except for binary options. And yes, in case you’re wondering, I initially thought it was some kind of error, but it’s not - there is very little site diversity in binary options.
What does this mean? From experience, when you have a group of keywords with not that much competition, Google tends to rank the same sites across the board, leading to fewer sites sharing the traffic between them.
Adding it all together
Obviously, there are a lot of charts and data in this article, although I’ve gone to great lengths to simplify many hundreds of thousands of lines of data, so hopefully it’s useful to you.
- Affiliate Landscape
I think what’s been really interesting to discover is how different sectors display different characteristics. For instance, casino is highly lucrative, but has very few “money phrases”, whereas sports betting is also lucrative, but by its nature has a much broader keyword set. Therefore in casino, even obscure terms like “fruit machine bonus” will generate nice affiliate revenues. In sports betting, there is space for affiliates in all sorts of obscure niches, such as free bet offers for some random football game in some far flung corner of the world. But in forex and binary, there just isn’t the depth of traffic or the volume of money to make it really interesting for affiliates. Of course, there are opportunities, but I don’t think they are as strong as you’ll get in “international casino” for instance.
In sports betting and casino, on the whole, operators would say they are marketing-centred businesses, because one product offering is pretty much the same as another, so it’s clever marketing and brand differentiation that wins market share. With forex and binary, I’ve always felt that operators see themselves more as trading institutions than marketing businesses. I also feel they are generally unimaginative and behind the curve when it comes to online marketing, relying heavily on affiliates and paid media to get them traction. The catch with “affiliate” is if the money isn’t there, neither are the affiliates. I know this sounds harsh, but as you know if you have read my past articles for iGB Affiliate, I call it like it see it. Binary and forex operators on the whole, should learn from the grown-ups in this business: sportsbook and casino operators. The data also bears this out. For instance, in forex there are actually hundreds of clone white label websites with barely any traffic just subsisting on the Internet. Also, when only a few sites dominate the share of search traffic, it tells me there isn’t actually that much competition, and/or the competition are fairly weak. With binary options, it’s at present a very thin sector with little traffic and surprisingly little value in the traffic. If you mix this with the large number of copycat websites which offer nothing special, you end up with a desperate situation. On top of that, my guess is these sites have emerged because people within the financial world have stumped up the start-up cash to launch another white label website, thinking it will make money like their other investments did. What they forget is that it’s a marketing game, not just another financial instrument that’s being sold. There is however some good news for binary, which is that interest in this sector is gradually growing. The Google Worldwide Trends graph shown in Figure 4 makes interesting reading.
Personally, I think there is an interesting opportunity with in forex and binary. However the affiliate market may be slow at present, because I don’t think there’s enough traffic for things such as “review/ comparison phrases” to be worthwhile, but it is easy to put a white label together. So, if you’re good at site design, SEO and smart about online brand building, I think there’s money to be made. One of the big advantages is that you don’t have the same kind of regulations that surround normal gambling, which gives you a lot more freedom when doing international SEO as an operator. For the existing operators? There is never enough traffic for everybody. So my guess is that some of them will be out of business over the next year or two. For what it’s worth, I’m doing a bitcoin casino white label and once that’s moving, I’m going to seriously look at doing a white label in the financials area. And if I were to pick one… It’s binary options.