The constantly changing world of search
Published 12th August 2017
SEO is constantly changing... but the nature of that change is more evolution than revolution.
- SEO used to be mostly about optimising your on-page content, and having an off-page strategy that resulted in inbound links.
- SEO is currently mostly about optimising your on-page content, and having an off-page strategy that results in inbound links.
The difference is what we mean these days by optimising and strategy, and betting and gaming professionals need to adjust and evolve their approaches accordingly.
In terms of these changes being an evolution, I mean that SEO professionals know, more or less, what the future holds: search engines will become better at refining and enforcing existing on and off-site quality standards and the pace of technological change will continually reconfirm that mobile and voice search is now mainstream.
Let’s look at the five key ways SEO has evolved, and what must be done by betting and gaming marketers to keep pace:
1. Algorithm updates, machine learning and semantic search engine sophistication
OK. That’s a bit of a mouthful. The point is, most betting and gaming marketers are keenly aware of the impact that search engine algorithms can have on their rankings but increasingly these huge updates will be replaced by a focus on moment-to-moment search engine learning and refinements.
In an industry that has had its share of attempts at achieving ‘quick wins’ through dodgy methodologies, it is now widely understood that the days of rampant, unnatural link-building and keyword stuffing are over.
Your goal as a betting and gaming professional is to ensure that your website answers the question asked by the user i.e. does the page end the search?
The real evolution has arrived in terms of a move away from seismic, irregular algorithm updates that throw everything into chaos.
With increasing levels of sophistication, computing power and machine learning, sites will be assessed on a continual basis by search engines, with penalties and rewards happening in close to real-time.
On-page optimisation still matters, but the changing world of search means moving beyond mapping a few keywords to one URL and then tweaking the standard page elements (titles, meta description, heading tags, body text content and the like) for associated keywords.
Now search engines ‘think’ beyond just the text you have on the page and can make associations between the terms you use in your content, and related terms that are not even mentioned. For users, this means they don’t need to search using every permutation of a query and that there’s a decent chance a search for ‘top bingo site’ will return results for ‘best bingo site’ as the search engine knows ‘top’ and ‘best’ are comparable terms using semantic understanding.
This should in turn (kind of) make SEO a bit easier in that it frees SEO professionals to think more like content professionals and write great material aimed at visitors rather than gaming the algorithm, aware that with great content can unlock rankings for a wider range of keywords than would ever be achieved in the old days of SEO.
This is all good news for the operators and affiliates who pay close attention to Google’s guidelines while also staying up to date about how to present themselves in the best possible way in terms of SEO.
This leads to the next stage of evolution – quality over quantity, and the user experience.
2. Qualitative SEO, ending the search and user experience
Google’s main goal is to make money. We all know that.
The company is keenly aware that, as dominant as it now is, that can be broken if users start to trust the site less. Google is in the business of providing the right answers for search queries, and if that doesn’t happen, people may very well be open to an alternative.
So. That means that when a user clicks on a link in the search engine results page, visits your site, decides it’s not for them and returns to the SERPS, Google is being told that it’s providing the wrong answer.
As the speed with which Google evaluates quality increases, the sooner we’ll see sites lose rankings in response to being the ‘wrong answer’ for searches.
Your goal as a betting and gaming professional is to ensure that your website answers the question asked by the user, i.e. does the page end the search?
This is the ultimate measure of whether or not your site deserves its rankings.
The more times your site ends the search – as indicated by visitors staying on your site, engaging, visiting multiple pages and not becoming part of your bounce rate stats – the greater confidence you can have that your rankings will be protected and increased.
There are other factors that impact on this qualitative way that SEO is assessed – how old the site is and how well written and engaging the content. Is it topical and geared towards humans rather than algorithms?
Much like how at the end the second Bill & Ted movie, Keanu Reeves comes to the conclusion that the only way forward is for the heroes to practice and become good musicians (rather than the loveable slackers they spend most of their time being), SEO professionals must think like great content, user experience and media professionals to create legitimately great on-page content that will capture the interests of users.
Anything that disrupts the user experience, from annoying pop-ups, unnecessary redirects or thin content will be more rapidly punished as the world of search continues to evolve – and there’s no time to waste in getting on board with these changes… even if it means undoing some strategies that helped build your business only a few years ago.
3. Mobile search, voice search and on-page engagement
The mobile index is now the core index for Google, and according to comScore, mobile searches now comprise 65% of time spent on digital media, with mobile searches now accounting for significantly more than half of all searches carried out.
What this means is that if you don’t have a mobile-first SEO strategy, you really don’t have much of an SEO strategy at all. This relates back to the need for quality, and evolutions in technology, and the capacity and willingness of search engines to use mobile-readiness, responsiveness, user experience and speed as a critical factor.
This is as important for on-site performance as it is for SEO. If your pages do not load within two seconds, the drop-off in traffic on mobile in particular is phenomenal – and if visitors leave they can’t become customers.
Even today, the Blueclaw team encounters operators, affiliates and service providers who have over-invested in websites that look tremendous, but perform poorly.
The changing world of search means that increasingly, that preference for beauty over functionality will make your SEO task much, much harder.
Though some aspects of technical SEO remain priority areas – meta descriptions, H1 tags and site structure and so on – the changing world of search means that a multi-platform and multi-channel approach is key.
That means paying close attention to the dramatic increase in voice search, both on mobile and on devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home. As these devices become ever-more mainstream, you can bet that optimising for them will become ever more important.
Making sure your site is understood, with correct schema markup, rich snippets and use long tail content to anticipate questions – in voice search we typically use more words or pose a search as a question e.g. ‘best betting odds Manchester United’ may be the search a user types in, whereas a voice search may be ‘what are the odds that Man Utd will win?’
Ultimately it comes down to thinking about potential users, anticipating their queries and making sure that your site is optimised for whatever channel they use to search for betting and gaming companies or services like yours.
4. Off-site evolution and link earning
A much-repeated (especially by us at Blueclaw) quote comes from Matt Cutts, formerly of Google: ‘“The objective is not to make your links appear natural. The objective is that your links are natural.” Links are still important for off-site SEO strategy and in previous years, quantity was the main factor – more links = better rankings, ideally with an exact match anchor text like ‘best betting odds’ or similar.
Continuing the quality-over-quantity theme, times have changed and the semantic understanding of search engines has moved beyond anchor text terms: search engines can figure out what your site is about all by themselves, thank you very much.
Earning natural links is something the betting and gaming industry is challenged by, and penalties for unnatural links have become an impossible burden for many, a particularly frustrating one in that getting links at any cost was previously seen as ‘best practice’.
How times change.
These days, the evolving world of search places greater emphasis on highquality, natural links and the shortcut to achieving them is to actually stop trying to manipulate the system and actually win coverage.
A diverse link profile and natural, high quality coverage with positive social signals is the basis of a strong off-site strategy – but you have to find ways to get the mainstream media and other industry sectors to link to your site.
This is not an easy task if you’re an affiliate with just a bunch of games or adverts on there.
Again the case is made for quality on-site content and, beyond that, content that is genuinely linkable. Content marketing, thinking more like a PR professional and strong journalistic relationships are the bedrock of this success – but not everyone is up for the challenge. Which brings us to…
5. The pool of (good) SEO partners is decreasing
As a digital marketing and SEO agency we know very well that as SEO has become more sophisticated, the number of agencies who are equipped to deliver on strategy has decreased.
At Blueclaw we’ve seen former competitors morph into brand and design agencies, or move more into advertising. The fact is, SEO is getting harder and half-measures are not enough.
In employing your in-house team or looking at an agency partner, the changing world of search means that adaptability is critical in colleagues, and outsourced partners.
Today it’s not enough to be an SEO professional – the technical insight, PR knowledge and creative content marketing capability has squeezed out a lot of individuals from the industry – and many who remain are on borrowed time.
The constantly changing world of search
What is striking about how SEO is changing and will change is that a lot of the shifts we’re seeing are pretty much Google becoming better at putting their long-established guidelines into practice – they’re becoming less open to manipulation, and more capable in detecting and punishing offenders.
The decision that marketers and executives in betting and gaming need to make is – will they try and fight the tide, or find new and better ways of working that accomplish their SEO goals while abiding by the laws of Google’s new world?