Ensure that penguin picks you
Published 7th December 2017
September marked the first anniversary of the last update of Google’s much-publicised Penguin algorithm.
The algorithm’s purpose is to ensure websites that manipulatively acquire backlinks are demoted from Google’s search results. The previous update had been in October 2014.
This delay effectively caused a stunting of organic growth for many recognised igaming brands that had previously fallen victim to the algorithm.
The impact that the Penguin algorithm has had on brands’ organic visibility over the years has been staggering. For example, 888sport initially lost around 90% of its visibility following a refinement of the algorithm in May 2013 (see Figure 1).
Despite the clear challenges that brands have faced in the past when it comes to link acquisition, this activity remains an integral part of a business’ SEO strategy.
The end of Penguin updates
During last year’s update, Google announced that Penguin would become part of its ‘core’ algorithm. This ruled out the need for future announcements and meant the algorithm would be running in real time.
With this change, it become clear that Google was moving towards a devaluation model, away from the demotion model it had previously used. Essentially, ‘bad’ links would now be devalued (or ignored), instead of a website being demoted from search results altogether.This change effectively means Google is quicker to devalue bad links on a link-by-link basis.
However, in contrast, it also means that Google will establish value in good links more quickly, making link acquisition an increasingly appealing strategy for igaming brands.
What can we learn from 2017?
We looked at the top 30 igaming brands, based on organic visibility, and analysed their relative growth since Penguin updated in September 2016 (see Figure 2).
Genting Casino and Mecca Bingo were clearly the biggest winners, recording visibility growth of 197% and 190% respectively.What’s interesting is that most of their growth didn’t come when Penguin updated in September last year. It has instead built up gradually since the beginning of the year.
This is despite both brands having been directly affected by the Penguin algorithm in previous years. Across other industries, most brands rightly (or wrongly) began to recover from Penguin almost immediately in September or October, when the update started to roll out.
For the igaming industry, there were very few recorded Penguin recoveries, which suggested that Google more wanted to see if the affected sites were to return to organic growth again.
The activity of Mecca Bingo and Genting Casino shows that there is a clear correlation between the growth in referring domains (number of backlinks) and the impressive visibility growth that these sites have experienced. Figure 3 expresses the aggressive activity of both brands when it comes to link acquisition.It is no coincidence that Mecca Bingo and Genting Casino have almost tripled their visibility since the start of the year.
Link acquisition has clearly been at the core of their SEO strategies and Google has rewarded both sites with higher rankings. Nearly 40% of the sites we analysed recorded a decline in visibility since October 2016.
In contrast to the ‘winners’, many of these sites have failed to establish a compelling link acquisition strategy and other sites have capitalised on this. NetBet, which has recorded the heaviest visibility decline year-on-year, clearly failed to establish any real strategy when it comes to link acquisition.
Figure 4 shows that it is losing links as fast as it is acquiring them.
Since October 2016, the number of referring domains pointing to the site has dropped 36%. Even a brand such as William Hill has failed to address the need for link acquisition this year. Its 31% decline in visibility would probably come as a surprise to many because of the sheer size of the brand.
However, a 14% decline in referring domains suggests link acquisition hasn’t formed a strong enough part of its strategy this past year and it has suffered the consequences (see Figure 5).
Link acquisition is as important as ever
Looking to 2018, it’s vital for igaming brands and affiliates to take link acquisition seriously if they want to see organic growth. Big or small, no brand is immune. The evidence suggests that Google is rewarding sites quicker than they have ever done in the past. However, it’s equally important that sites are acquiring the right types of links — ones that aren’t going to be devalued down the line.Based on what we have seen in 2017, the premise for brands in 2018 is quite simple — take link acquisition seriously or risk falling behind.