Anatomy of a fall: Google updates decimate British Gambler’s search traffic

By Alexander Kostin

Last summer, BritishGambler.co.uk was mixing it with the very biggest casino affiliates in the UK but that all changed in September when traffic and rankings went into freefall. Alexander Kostin shares his story with iGB Affiliate and what it has taught him about Google and recovering lost SEO authority.

As an independent entrepreneur, I started BritishGambler.co.uk a few years back, hoping again to run a nice, small affiliate marketing site and have fun with it. The idea seemed a little crazy from the beginning: competing with huge companies in the oversaturated UK market. But this is life; why not try your luck anyway? So I did.

The site grew slowly but surely, really hitting its stride in August 2023 when it started generating more than 10,000 FTDs on an annual basis. That month, DeepCI's Affiliate Traffic update with iGB Affiliate placed us in the top 5 casino affiliates based on click-throughs from organic keywords in the UK. The site was attracting around 60,000 monthly organic visitors and was nailing it across top-tier, money-making keywords such as ‘new casinos’ and ‘bonuses’.

The site was attracting around 60,000 monthly organic visitors and was nailing it across top-tier, money-making keywords

My partners were happy and this inspired me to launch some sister sites in the UK, which later turned out to be a smarter move than I realised at the time. I also continued investing in the US, although I'm still on the fence- whether this is the best course due to the extent to which the market has shifted since I started and sold my initial US site a few years ago. 

Nowadays many independent companies struggle to gain a foothold and survive there. CPAs have decreased, New York did not launch for online casino, and parasite SEO and big media continue to restrict opportunities for smaller affiliate sites to make money from the market.

However, Google’s battle against reputation abuse at least dangles the prospect of improvement on the restrictions for the smaller guys, right? The irony of my holding onto that hope, having helped launch Better Collective’s first major B2B media cooperation with NJ.com during my time at the company, isn’t lost on me by the way.

In September 2023, out of nowhere, the sunny skies turned grey as our organic traffic plummeted and our rankings started to slip.

Anyway, back to British Gambler. In September 2023, things took a wild turn. It felt like my personal Armageddon when out of nowhere, the sunny skies turned grey as our organic traffic plummeted and our rankings started to slip. 

Could it have been competitors messing with us, throwing spam links and weird social signals our way to tank our rankings? Maybe. Our security plugin, Wordfence, did flag more attacks around that time. But it probably had more to do with Google's big August 2023 core update. 

“About Us is what we check first”, said Google Rater

Google’s core updates tweak the search engine’s algorithm to try and show better search results, focusing on factors such as experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-E-A-T). They can really shake things up and I was confident that my site content met the E-E-A-T criteria, but it was clear that Google no longer shared that view.

Interestingly, earlier this year I had a conversation with a Google Rater who mentioned that the first thing they assess to evaluate E-E-A-T on a site is the "About Us" page. They then proceed to check for mentions of your brand externally to determine which authoritative media have mentioned you. In my opinion, there was nothing wrong with our "About Us" page, it clearly states that the site is run by me and includes a link to my LinkedIn profile.

Do links from The Guardian really save you?

Was my content suddenly off the mark, even though it had been at the top? I doubt it. We were answering real questions about codes, first deposit bonuses, and new sites - stuff people were actively searching for. 

It was useful then and it didn’t just stop being useful overnight. I’ve also been careful about building solid links, scoring some from top-notch sources in both the UK and the US, from big names like The Guardian to USA Today. This shows that you’re not safe from Google’s judgments no matter how good your links are.

Worried something might be off, my business partner Martin (who works with operator partners) and I shook things up. We spruced up the site’s menu to deliver smoother navigation, played around with titles and refreshed our intros a few times. 

I’ve built solid links, including from top-notch sources in the UK and US such as The Guardian and USA Today. This shows you’re not safe from Google’s judgments, no matter how good your links are.

I also disavowed some spammy links Semrush didn’t like, and along with my developer, we increased the site speed, even moving it over to an individual and expensive new hosting with WP Engine. Then came the March 2024 core update, another big storm from Google. This update was all about making sure content is genuinely helpful and not just clickbait. It wrapped up on 19 April.

And then there was the March 2024 spam update, where Google rolled out new spam policies targeting stuff like expired domain abuse, scaled content abuse and dodgy site reputations, finishing up on 20 March.

Traffic is down by 95%

So where are we now? British Gambler has lost about 95% of its traffic. I have now switched from WP Engine to WPX Hosting, hooked up a Cloudflare CDN and shifted my focus to my other sites that didn’t get hit as hard. 

It feels like Google is pushing affiliates who don’t line their pockets. They don’t owe us traffic, but they at least owe us clear guidelines that we can trust.

The site still ranks on some right keywords and earns, but do I have a chance to perform with it again? That's a good question. Right after our traffic tanked from 57,000 monthly visitors to nearly 2,500, I started getting emails from Google’s AdWords team.

The pitch was along the lines of: “Every quarter, we pick a small batch of companies we think have big growth potential online. You could be a good fit for this, so how about we chat soon?” I was sceptical, did they tank my rankings just to pitch AdWords? 

Seems fishy, right? 

It feels like Google is pushing affiliates who don’t line its pockets. It doesn’t owe us traffic, but Google at least owes us clear guidelines that we can trust. 

Sometimes, Google's decisions remind me of the way they are made in some countries, including where I am originally from. There, things can go wrong overnight, and laws and rules are changed immediately with zero transparency, so you get hardly any warning or time to prepare. 

A foreign journalist once asked the leader of that country if it was democratic to run things this way. He replied without a blink, “It is life!” 

Time to keep calm and move on!

Alexander Kostin

is an igaming entrepreneur and affiliate marketing specialist from Denmark. He worked for Better Collective from 2013 to 2020, leaving to launch several of his own sites in the UK and US state markets.

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