There was a talk on this subject at the SEOmoz pro seminar earlier in the year which I was looking forward to but which I felt really didn’t give anything useful away so I want to make this post as detailed and useful as possible. If I miss anything you think should be included let me know and I’ll add it.
In this post I want to share with you some ideas for how I do SEO for online casinos, some of this will of course be transferable to other gambling sites as well as any other competitive vertical. As is the way with all things search, the more lucrative a new customer acquisition the more competitive the space and therefore it stands to reason that a casino player (or gambler in general) is going to be a fiercely competed for prize. Ranking number 1 for a term like ‘online casino‘ is literally worth millions of pounds a month so if you’re getting into this market you better come prepared!
OK let’s get into this. Start by choosing your keywords. As long as I’ve been working with casinos 888 have sat at the top for the big terms (casino, online casino) so when it comes to your big money terms I’d suggest taking on a slight variation and try to attack that. Something like online casino uk, uk online casino, internet casino etc.
Games terms are useful as well so online roulette, online blackjack etc.
Actually casinos are one market where I think there’s less value in the long tail. A huge amount of traffic is stacked at the head in this industry and tail terms tend not to convert particularly well into players for some reason so I’d look at a solid mid-tail keyword strategy, then use content more for attracting links and feeding power back to your main landing pages.
This is one sector where I tell my clients to worry about every technical SEO facet. In other less competitive industries I tend to say stuff like “you could look at restructuring your HTML but to be honest if you’re developers charging 10k for it I wouldn’t bother”. For casinos you’ve gotta know that your sites as good as it can be technically before you go to war, that way when you’re assessing your position relative to the competition you know exactly why you’re being outranked (9 times outta 10 because they’ve got more/ better links).
The technical problems I see most often with casinos sites…
- Thin to none content areas to stuff copy on the homepage and landing pages
- Poor use of redirection or cloaking by IP for multi-national sites
- Use of pop-ups/ unders
- Image or flash based navigation
- MVTs and PPC landing pages causing duplication problems
- Sub-optimal internal link architecture
- Duplication caused by URL parameters, tracking links, session ids and such like which casinos are very fond of using
Naturally every site will have it’s own individual problems so hire a solid technical SEO to spend some time regularly trawling the site to spot issues. I’d also suggest a ‘belt and braces’ approach to technical stuff so do the best practice stuff to prevent the possibility of future issues arising, for example you might want to canonicalize every page even if you don’t have duplication problems with URL parameters at the moment.
Content and onsite
Be prepared for an internal battle if you try to fill a casino landing page with a 600 word optimised article. Striking up a balance between conversion performance and SEO is essential. For what it’s worth when I’ve added content to landing pages on casino sites before there’s been no notable change to conversion rates but make sure you’ve got the facility to track conversion performance (in financial terms) and have a decent sized benchmark sample before you go shaking things up on the website.
In almost all cases an SEO will tell casinos they need to add extra content to a page to target additional keywords or to improve that mythical beast “keyword density”. I’m pretty old school in my thinking that Google still eats up pages with lots of words on them and if you want to target a lot of mid-tail variations you’ll need a sizable chunk of text on your landing pages.
Hire a decent writer who actually plays the games to produce this content (not an “SEO copywriter”) you can always sub edit it afterwards to get your keywords in there.
Obviously make sure your page titles and meta descriptions are rock solid and target exact matches of your main keyword variation. Just about every casino I’ve worked with has plenty of PPC data and I’ve had lots of success borrowing top performing ad copy to help optimise your SERPs with powerful meta descriptions.
In terms of IA you should try to silo off your key landing pages (games pages) as much as possible then link to supporting content under each key landing page i.e
- Online roulette
- how to play online roulette
- online roulette tips
- roulette rules
- roulette cheats
- roulette strategy
- roulette videos
Conserve your link juice as much as possible my not having lots of sitewide links to t’s and c’s and legal stuff. Keep this all on one page if possible or keep the footer links in an iframe.
Further down the line its also worth looking at what non-commercial content areas you can build into the site to make it bigger and more link worthy. A blog is definitely a good start and will help you when looking for guest blogging opportunities for link building later.
This is where we start getting serious. Building links to casinos is a total nightmare and most traditional stuff either doesn’t work or is a lot harder to make work. I don’t want to hold anything back from this post but bear in mind this is only a sample of the sort of stuff you can do to build casino links and some stuff I can’t talk about in great detail. You might also want to check out Dixon Jones excellent write up of their paddy power link building campaign. Sports book is actually a lot easier than casinos for link building but there’s still some good ideas which you should be able to transfer inspiration from.
Before we talk about tactics I want to spell out the philosophy I apply to all competitive link building campaigns.
“Do the stuff everyone else is doing. Do it better then they’re doing it. Then do the stuff they’re not doing”
With all the talk of link quality and trust these days (which is perfectly valid btw) it’s easy to get caught up in trying to get that big idea off the ground to build links and forget about the basics. I’ll tell you right now that 95% of the sites ranking for competitive casino terms are doing it with paid links, blog networks and UGC spam or varying qualities. I’m not saying you have to just rely on that stuff but you’d be crazy not to factor these link opportunities into your plan. For the most part there’s no such thing as a bad link to a casino, within reason of course!
I wouldn’t start with this tactic but I wanted to get it out the way. You’re probably going to need a sizable link building budget to compete in this space. As a result of this many casinos turn by default to link buying. Look at the profiles of some of the most well established casinos and you’ll see plenty of evidence of link buying straight out of 2005. A new market entrant can’t compete on this level (we’re talking thousands of monthly link rentals in some cases) so instead use payment only for the best quality links. Think about buying links to pieces of content (link bait) rather than to your landing pages and shop for anchor text elsewhere. Use paid links only for boosting PageRank from relevant sources.
Read this post on when it does (and doesn’t) make sense to buy links.
Lots of the big ones won’t accept casino links but plenty will so go through and hit each and every directory where you can get a link (again within reason). If they’ll take internal pages add those as well. You might run up a bit of a bill but it’s going to be a hell of a lot cheaper than trying to compete on link volume with the big guys by renting text links.
As above lots of sites won’t let you link to casinos. Lots more say they won’t but actually won’t notice and will publish your articles anyway. Again not the best links but this is where I’d scale it up and do it better than the others, be methodical and get as many unique linking domains under your belt this way as possible.
You can use guest posts for casinos but you’ll need to be a bit creative to get onto decent blogs. Realistically there are very few gambling themed blogs which will give you a free link so think laterally and try to create a tie in with off theme sites. For example I might host a competition to win a Manchester United season ticket on my casino site and make entrants complete a stupidly hard quiz about Manchester united trivia to enter then approach every Man U blogger with a guest post, pre-written, about a niche area of Man U history linking to the competition at the end.
I say to pre-write the content and just send them everything ready to post because bloggers will be sceptical being contacted by a casino about a guest post gig. Often just doing the thing is far easier than explaining what you’re going to do. More on competitions in a bit.
This tactic absolutely rocks and I don’t know why more casinos and gambling sites don’t use it. Create an awesome free flash game. It doesn’t necessarily have to be casino related but maybe something like, off the top of my head… A casino heist game.
There’s a bunch of places you can seed a decent flash game- viral charts, games portals, link dropping in flash developer forums, even paying for links to the game. The thing is it’s totally defensible and is going to boost up your domain strength.
If you look at some of the best links of the top ranking casinos they can usually be attributed to PR rather than link building. At the very least you can do online press releases (some services will let you link to casinos, others like PRweb won’t) but a creative PR company should be able to help you get real press coverage. This isn’t really my area so I’ll leave it at that.
Sponsoring sports teams and events is a great way for casinos to get links. It’s expensive of course but if you’re looking at doing sponsorship as part of your wider strategy make sure you’re getting every possible link out of the deal. There’s very few “organic” link opportunities for casinos so you should make sure you’re exploring every opportunity to it’s absolute limit.
Casinos usually have some quality developers on board and tech sites are a top place to score links. If you get the casinos geeks on board with your link building campaign you’ve got a great source of links. Techies can talk the talk and walk the walk with the development community making it far easier to get links from places like developer forums and blogs. You can even give your developers there own dev blog on your main domain to do some link bait stuff with code samples and development tutorials. Obviously these links are off topic, but they’re from higher quality and cleaner sites than most on-topic casino links, plus they’re defensible.
This is so effective I can’t believe I’m blogging it. Casinos are businesses like any other so they’re always hiring new people to different areas of the business. Most job ad sites will let you include a link to an application form or full job descriptions so you can get links from sites in stacks of different niches i.e. marketing job boards, development job boards, blogger job boards. Not all the links will be permanent (some will disappear when the ads expire) but some will get archived, you can’t control the anchor text and probably will only be able to link to your homepage or a job page but again, clean, quality sites and defensible links. I’m not saying you should go out and make up fake jobs just for links but if the jobs there you may as well spread them all around the web.
You have to be careful giving away age regulated products and when I’ve tried suggesting stuff like free playing credits to casinos before compliance have blocked it but that doesn’t mean you can’t give other stuff away. If the prize is good enough plenty of blogs will run a giveaway for you and link back. The sort of thing which has worked well for me in the past are video games to gaming blogs and forums where there’s some cross-over and those sites tend to be clean and have some decent power. I usually prefer to run giveaways one on one with a particular target site as opposed to running a competition on your own site and hoping people will link to it, although that tactic might work well also if you’re prepared to offer a really good prize and push it hard into a particular group of niche sites (see my earlier guest blogging example for more on this).
Lots of gambling companies will run multiple sites on different domain and subdomains for example :
Casinos also tend to be big domain buyers so at the start of a campaign its worth auditing every domain registration and coming up with a plan to interlink across the domain portfolio and be smart with the way old domains are being redirected. International versions of domains and whitelabels should also be factored in.
urgh. I’ve got to mention this in the interest of making this post as useful as possible but I’d avoid going down this route. Buy a few gambling links and you’ll be inundated forever more with emails from blog network owners trying to sell you links on their 2000 casino themed blog network sites. These are basically sites made for the purpose of selling links to casinos, poker and sports book sites. Most UK casinos seem to resist the temptation to go down this route but overseas casinos are big users of this tactic. I’m not going to say it won’t work but you need to bear in mind that these will be very low quality links and will look completely unnatural in your link profile, making the network extremely easy to detect. I wouldn’t risk it but feel free to try it for yourself.
Now on the other hand when you have a big budget for link building the option of doing some quite creative/ aggressive stuff with sites which you control becomes an option. While you don’t want to buy into someone else’s link network creating your own army of “soldier” sites which you use to link back to your main domains is a far lower risk and possibly higher value option. Think about the sites you could launch or buy which would cross over with your audience – sports, gadgets, babes (alternatively for a bingo site with a female audience – gossip, women’s issues, hunks!). As long as sites are clearly labelled as being part of the same group there’s no reason you can’t include sitewide links back to your casino pages on other sites like this which you own.
I’m going to leave it there for this post. Obviously on the link building side of things there’s always more stuff you can do. Working thorough my list of 100 ways to build links and seeing which you can apply to casinos would be a good start if you’re short of ideas. In summary, be realistic, think big and don’t compromise on quality when it comes to work on your own site or on your link building.