US takeover: The SEO methodologies affiliates need in 2024

By Martin Calvert

As more affiliates look to break into the US igaming market, Martin Calvert, marketing director at ICS-digital, assesses the best SEO strategies to employ, from adjusting content in line with Google updates to building complete trustworthiness in your site.

The US betting landscape feels like it’s evolving and possibly maturing as many brands and investors have come to understand that sustainable success requires a long-term plan.

As legacy media giants move in on the action and certain well-funded operators invest disproportionately, some affiliates are starting to feel squeezed, but in a maturing market there are advantages for those that can adapt.

The challenge for the most ambitious affiliates is to protect their rankings in established states, while also being able to devote the resources, energy and time to new states as they open up.

It’s fair to say that much of the boundless optimism of the early days of regulated US operations has begun to wither. At the time of writing, two high-profile names in 888 and Kindred have announced their intention to exit the US.

So, affiliate brands have two challenges: first, to secure a place for themselves in a challenging market and provide value to embattled operators; and second, to stay on the right side of Google long enough to make it happen.

Meeting the market challenge

When it comes to SEO, it’s worth going back to basics and making regular assessments about what practically can be done.

Betting industry SEO is far from a zero-sum game. There are plenty of ways to find the right angle or niche but there’s also a high risk of what I call “fatal half measures” where the work invested is enough to have an effect but not drive the sustainable results needed to hit new levels of profit.

At ICS we encourage even the most successful affiliates to undertake regular audits, even in brief, to ensure they have a handle on competitor activity and the scale of challenges ahead, plus the financial significance of practical opportunities.

Our encouragement doesn’t always find a receptive audience, perhaps in part because a significant proportion of SEO professionals and marketers in gambling have something of a gambler’s mindset themselves and want to focus on action above all else.

However, to succeed in the US with SEO, affiliates can often benefit from revisiting the fundamentals of SEO and looking at where they can shore up the foundation of their strategy.

Igaming affiliate ‘spam’

Throughout 2023 and into 2024 we’ve seen numerous broad core Google updates and relentless messaging from the platform about how ‘quality’ is a major priority and an area they feel confident to police aggressively.

In March 2024, Google issued detailed guidance on plans to tackle quality and updated its definition of spam. I’m not fond of the moralistic terminology Google uses – words like ‘violation’, ‘abuse’ and so on – but you cannot ignore this massive push to clean up the search results, particularly in industries where there is a reasonable risk of harm such as gambling.

Google’s stated focus for the latest update as of March 2024 is on:

  • Improved quality ranking: We’re making algorithmic enhancements to our core ranking systems to ensure we surface the most helpful information on the web and reduce unoriginal content in search results.
  • New and improved spam policies: We’re updating our spam policies to keep the lowest-quality content out of Search, like expired websites repurposed as spam repositories by new owners and obituary spam.

That same month, X was full of examples of niche sites that had been hit by penalties or even de-indexed entirely. Unfortunately, these sites were often hobbyist or small business domains.

It doesn’t feel like Google is yet ready to truly take on spammy content by major brand name publishers and this will likely encourage enthusiasm about opportunities for so-called ‘parasite SEO’. Yet, this could end up being short term.

X was full of examples of niche sites that had been hit by penalties or even de-indexed entirely

What this could mean is that in the US, major publishers adding SEO content around betting to their sites (with affiliate links or some other way of being remunerated) could benefit, while smaller affiliates will need to add an extra element of caution to their onsite content strategy and offsite links strategy.

Sound unfair? That’s SEO.

The content dimension

So, what’s the plan? For ambitious affiliates the most important steps to take will be on the defensive side to protect current rankings while also having a focus on safer growth.

Checking that content abides by Experience, Expertise, Authority and Trust principles (E-E-A-T) is a starting point but that doesn’t necessarily mean stripping out everything that might have originated with AI.


Exercising caution and restraint in terms of content topicality is key

The guiding principle is to make sure that content serves a purpose for audiences and responds to search intent that can be responsibly monetised.

Exercising caution and restraint in terms of content topicality is key, as is the expertise of real human writers and editors, particularly those who understand the legalities of each state.

There have been multiple instances over the past 18 months where colleagues have identified pre-existing affiliate content that wasn’t just inaccurate but phrased in such a way as to give operator partners major concerns.

Maintaining integrity, quality and purpose in your content isn’t just for SEO, it’s a way to preserve existing profitable relationships with operators, build value in your onsite assets and represent a trust resource for real, depositing players.

Understanding the Google view of ‘trustworthy’

While there are algorithmic factors for affiliates to consider, there’s also the continued presence of human ‘search raters’ who feedback on the SERPs. Google’s updated its guidelines for these staffers last month with a renewed focus on ‘trustworthiness’.

The document now contains 69 references to assessing ‘untrustworthy’ content, a factor that is especially important for those in highly regulated sectors like gambling.

In particular, affiliates that focus on tips, casino reviews, bonus options, streaming and so on can get ahead by taking an honest look at how trustworthy and grounded their content is.

Expanding on the concept of trustworthiness in the context of Google’s updated search rater guidelines, there are several additional factors for affiliates, content creators and website owners to consider ensuring their content aligns with Google’s standards and enhances trustworthiness in the eyes of both search raters and users.

Providing clear authorship information, linking to verified social media profiles, adhering to regulations such as GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) by implementing clear and concise cookie policies and privacy policies all help when looking to better position as a credible site.

Striving for objectivity in content creation is crucial for building trust with users. Avoiding bias and presenting information in a balanced manner is essential. Content should be based on factual information and supported by evidence. By maintaining objectivity and minimising content bias, affiliates and content creators demonstrate integrity and reliability, ultimately enhancing trustworthiness with both search engines and users.

The era of top ten lists where every operator is rated 95% positive may be over.

Avoiding waste

This focus on trust can be extended into offsite SEO and the ways in which links are earned and obtained.

One of the key ways to get ahead in SEO is to minimise waste and maximise impact, and while the spring of 2024 might see a spike in search volatility, algorithmic updates, manual penalties and a renewed focus on weeding out ‘untrustworthy’ sites, brands are also at risk of simply pursuing ineffective strategies.

It’s important to focus on qualitative, sustainable strategies for onsite and offsite SEO that pass algorithmic and human quality thresholds

In these cases, the risk is not that they’re being stung by Google penalising them, but that they’re burning investment in strategies that result in links that are just ignored. Relevance, topicality, ‘real’ domains and a brand-led strategy that picks up PR wins can allow affiliates to compete more effectively, even with limited resources.

So, to capitalise on the US opportunity and make headway while others are losing their nerve, it’s important to focus on qualitative, sustainable strategies for onsite and offsite SEO that pass algorithmic and human quality thresholds.

This is very much possible, but it requires commitment. Affiliates who take advantage of the ability to act quickly and efficiently may find they have a disproportionate chance to succeed when compared to more rigid operators and less-SEO-savvy media houses.


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