Round table: SEO impacts from quality control

Round table: SEO impacts from quality control

Google’s algorithm changes have elevated the importance of high-quality content to the sector. Andy Clerkson of Grand Parade, Fergus McKenna of Trinity Mirror Group and Tom Baker of Boylesports discusss the consequences for operators, affiliates and other marketers.

Published 15th June 2014

Would you agree with the view that SEO, at least in its traditional forms, is now dead for the iGaming sector?
Andy Clerkson: Traditional forms of link building are dead. Content editors directed by spreadsheets – dead. Banal mechanics such as ‘keyword density’ used for attracting Google to an article – also dead. It is extremely difficult to manipulate your way to the top. Throughout the late 2000s, content was massively devalued.

Google’s algorithm changes over the past two years have made the task of achieving a high page ranking a happy one again. Your website has to give potential readers something they want, something of value to them to make a connection. This has pushed the power back to the people who can create tone of voice and engaging content, have sharp ideas and the skills and desire to innovate.

Editors who can create copy and produce interesting or hilarious imagery are valuable again as sharing and ‘earning’ links – not buying them – is required. Search engines still can’t read and understand text like a human though, they need structure. Keywords are required, great content has to be relevant and linkable and understanding how to technically develop and run a website for superior ranking is essential.

Fergus McKenna: First off, for us our focus is less about SEO as we have a huge audience in the UK already. Generally though there is a place for SEO and it works best when it is being used in the user’s interest. Trying to subvert the intentions of the user and to drive them somewhere that doesn’t meet their needs or is somewhere they don’t want to go is, frankly, pointless.

Tom Baker: I think it’s a bit more nuanced than that. Traditional gambling link building tactics are dead without a shadow of a doubt, but, and I can’t emphasise this enough, those that understand technical SEO and work out a way to implement every possible best practice for their websites will reap the benefits.

On-page content, site architecture and performance are all still very important. The technical side of SEO will always apply and continue to evolve. Success these days means staying on top of these developments, focusing on delivery of relevant content and good user-experiences and not trying to engineer or manipulate your way to the top.

Google’s drive to punish spammy website and link building practices should be seen as an opportunity to focus more attention and money on real marketing campaigns that have much broader and long-term benefits. In the end it will make us all better marketers and give our customers a better service.

What are the reasons for high quality content becoming more critical to search? And is it replacing traditional marketing and PPC acquisition tools?
Andy Clerkson: Google’s algorithm advancements to remove spammy content are the reason for change. To be honest, everyone involved in search engine ranking on any device is still dancing to a barely audible tune played by Google.

In a world where algorithm updates put the fear into those relying on paid links and other manipulations, it is necessary to rely on quality content. The desire to share and the ease of sharing combined with infinite online clutter means ‘quality’ content is the now the safest way to cut through.

It is a little scary though as ‘high quality’ content is easy to say, not so easy to realise. PPC will continue to be used and no doubt at the same levels as now – its direct response is essential to the gaming industry. Paid display advertising will remain in the mix but the content of advertising ‘banners’ and how they react to the environment they sit is ever changing.

Paid advertising needs to make the same connections with users as any other worthwhile content. A nice bit of branding and “Free £25 Bet” isn’t going to get you decent customers anymore.

Fergus McKenna: As a media company Trinity Mirror is all about content. We drive our audience because of the quality and coverage of the content we produce. That’s demonstrated by the fact we have grown our audience by around 70% year on year on our digital platforms because we have invested in content. Quality, compelling content draws in an audience but also retains it. This means that we’re not trying to continually reacquire or re-activate players.

Tom Baker: The growing importance of content to an SEO strategy is largely in response to Google’s recent algorithm changes. Most SEOs would quite happily continue with their old link building techniques if they still worked. Those that see content as a broader opportunity and not just a part of an SEO strategy will thrive. I can’t see content ever replacing PPC or other direct marketing channels because of the lack of immediate return and guaranteed player volumes.

But there is definitely the case that as paid media costs increase operators and affiliates will have to invest more into content creation and distribution.

In your experience, does better quality content result in better acquisition i.e. longer life time values of consumers and higher yields?
Andy Clerkson: Quality content should make the user feel part of the brand or website – it should entice new customers and for existing customers be part of the make up of their day, week or month online. Like a loyalty scheme, the content rewards your customers. This will undoubtedly lead to longer lifetime values. Higher yields are key.

In the type of websites that Grand Parade produces we see higher margin customers. The users are engaging and becoming part of the fabric of the brand – they are not here for a quick sign-up bonus.

Fergus McKenna: In our experience, content drives repeat visits and interaction. Our engagement measures are up 28% year on year following our investment in producing more standalone digital content. Offering services, such as betting, to an engaged and consistent audience works far better because you are not always in a permanent state of recruitment.

Tom Baker: Customers acquired through content channels do tend to deliver high margin and greater value. In specific reference to SEO then yes there is certainly a correlation between providing great content and an excellent user-experience and ranking success.

I’m not just talking about blogging and social activity here – getting your on-page SEO right has to form part of any strategy. From a retention point of view there clearly is a direct relationship between longer tenure and the ability of affiliates and operators alike to provide
richer and more engaging experiences through content. If you entertain and educate people then you’re giving them a very good reason to spend their money with you, it’s a simple as that for me.

Generating a regular flow of unique, highquality content can be expensive. What advice would you give to operators and affiliates here? Is it necessary to bring this function in-house to ensure exclusivity?
Andy Clerkson: You’ve got to dedicate resources to it; have a mid and long-term strategy and most importantly give your content team time to develop the tone of voice. If you want engaging infographics, they won’t all hit the mark. If you want wit, your editors cant be funny every time.

A tone of voice evolves with a team, it is difficult to dictate it from Day 1. A common mistake is to use an in-house team who has a responsibility for content as well as other responsibilities. The biggest development in sports content delivery is the ability to react in real time and create written content and graphic content quickly.

It is rarely possible to operate this type of operation in-house. Grand Parade has supported in-house teams where we produce content outside of ‘office hours’, as well as the high quality marquee formats.

Fergus McKenna: Having your own, exclusive content will tend to drive a larger audience and higher engagement. But generating content is not a natural skill set for most gaming operators. Having a partner who can provide best in class content is the solution and producers such as Trinity Mirror have the expertise and scale to become providers for the gaming and betting industries.

We have already developed tools that will allow operators to drill into the content channels we produce and create their own bespoke content solutions – the next best thing to building your own editorial teams. The key is in creating partnerships, content producer and operator working together to tailor the content to fit, rather than just a neutral ‘feed’ approach.

Tom Baker: It really depends on the business and what they want to get from content. My instinct is to say get as much done in-house as possible. That way you’ll have people who understand the brand and can act as ambassadors and distributors for that content . If you’re looking for scale then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with looking elsewhere for content.

I’ve used a mixture of the years, and each route had its pros and cons. From the outset you’ve got to decide what it is you actually want to achieve. Whatever you do; always err on the side of quality as opposed to quantity.

How good is the iGaming sector compared to others at driving traffic through quality content? What valuable lessons could it learn from other sectors in this regard?
Andy Clerkson: Some companies do well – the ones that have devoted the resources over the years and have spent on a diverse offering across their news and social sites. Sports betting companies are in an ideal position. I am from the publishing industry and when we first set up our agency we worked with newspapers that wanted to benefit by integrating betting and odds into their daily sports output.

However, it became apparent that there was just as big an opportunity for bookmakers to become the publishers of sports news rather than sponsor sports news. Bookmakers already had the golden egg, which was an ecommerce engine that worked. Publishers were stuck with paid advertising and affiliate deals, which was evidently broken.

Casino content is a tough subject. it has none of the immediacy or shared user experience of sport. Endless promotional tweets and offers won’t work so another approach is required. Arena Flowers is an excellent example of a company – a florist – having the guts to take a left-field humorous approach and reaping the rewards.

Fergus McKenna: The gaming sector has naturally focused on finding betters rather than finding people who have an interest in particular content. This is natural.

Tom Baker: In the sports sector, we generally do a pretty good job. The very nature of the gaming side of the industry makes content a less attractive proposition but that’s not to say that it’s impossible. The pleasing thing is that there’s a clear trend towards greater emphasis on quality content as an integral part of the entire customer experience. If operators and affiliate can crack the sharing and usergenerated content nut that I see working so well in areas like fashion, then they’ll be on to a winner.

iGaming Operators place varying degrees of emphasis on their content strategy, which in your opinion are doing this well at present?
Andy Clerkson: Betfair have an authority that is enormously valuable. They also diversify content intelligently across multiple channels, deliver in real time, and innovate technically with tactical apps and games. PaddyPower are great at what they do – they developed their tone of voice and are confident it works.

They invest heavily using all channels, including video. Humour works best on the web for the young male audience, and now competitors fear to do it as PaddyPower ‘owns’ it. You can’t let that happen. Ceding such powerful way to speak to your customers and trying to tackle it round the edges is not going to be the best long-term policy.

Every company needs to define what they stand for online – technically innovative, expert and authoritative, informative, etc. But everyone needs to be able to have some fun.

Fergus McKenna: Rather than commenting on individual operators and their approach I think it’s better to share our experience. For us, content is everything and that is always going to be our core focus. We build an audience who want to consume our content…then we offer them entertainment options related to betting and gaming.

Creating partnerships that enable us to provide these services is key, but partnerships work both ways and there is much we know about content that could be deployed by the gaming sector on their own platforms.

Tom Baker: The obvious one is PaddyPower. Other than them, SkyBet have a distinct advantage and I think we’ll see even greater leverage of SkySports content and partnerships over the next couple of years, making them a real force in the sector. Betfair are another one that provides an excellent content service to support their betting operations.

Outside of the bookies, SoccerBase.com, PokerNews.com and FoxyBingo.com all serve their communities extremely well. The interesting thing from these, and many other examples, is that there are so many ways to deliver a successful content strategy but the underlying traits are passion for your subject matter, understanding of the users’ needs and willingness to push the boundaries of what can be achieved.

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