The links effect – Is it beginning to fade?

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Katrina Pond
Katrina Pond

With Google’s algorithm updates becoming far more frequent and difficult to predict, it’s becoming increasingly important to understand what makes Google tick in order to ensure rankings remain stable in the highly competitive online gambling industry. Overnight SERPs can dramatically change in the light of an update release and this only amplifies the need for gaming operators to be more proactive with their SEO strategies.

2014’s most talked about algorithm updates were Panda and the continuous rollout of Penguin. Panda policed the quality of sites content whereas Penguin focused on back-link profiles and aimed at penalising spamming links, excessive exact-match anchor text and keyword stuffing in internal links. Penguin hit the gambling industry hard with many suffering as a result of the competitive landscape which had left some operators resorting to low quality link building tactics.

With previous algorithm updates imposing penalties against low quality, duplicate or thin content and spam link building techniques, the question is what does 2015 hold for the Google algorithm and the gaming industry?

It has long been recognised that the days of relying on just links to help increase rankings is no longer best practice. What once could have been likened to the Lynx effect of the well-known deodorant whereby numerous back-links would have more than certainly of attracted positive movements in the SERPs, today this effect seems to be fading. It’s now becoming increasing clear that Google is changing focus and taking into consideration other factors when determining the rankings with user experience appearing to be a key focus and influencer.

User experience (UX) looks to further play an important role in the rankings after all if a sites UX isn’t good and users are bouncing back to Google why would Google want to send any more search traffic to the site? UX has long been considered a key part of SEO and should continue to be a focus in 2015 not only on desktop but also mobile devices. It is now estimated that around 35% of all search traffic comes from mobile devices, with this figure constantly rising. Google announced back in 2013 that mobile site optimisation would become a factor in mobile rankings and with the recent release of Googles mobile-friendliness testing tool in November 2014 and the visible mobile-friendly labels in mobile SERPs this signals that Google maybe considering mobile UX as a more important factor.

Alongside UX, engaging content additionally continues to appear to be an influencing factor in the rankings. For example now relatively new affiliate sites such as footy-tipster.co.uk can be seen outperforming established operators in the rankings with very few links. This is considered to be due to the quality and relevance of content they produce. www.footy-tipster.co.uk has only 14 referring domains in its back-links profile but has over 80 rankings in top 10 positions in comparison the operator skybet.com has 6398 referring domains but only ranks for 23 top 10 positions, this emphasising the need for more than just links.

In tandem with content a strong social presence can also be a powerful ranking factor, and again examples of strong social brands positively influencing the SERPs can be seen from the new breed of affiliates who predominantly use social media to promote operators. For example footyaccumulators.com have created a strong social media brand with over 17,000 shares of its content through Facebook alone. It appears that very little effort has been placed on traditional link building as the site only has 117 referring domains yet they are ranking higher than many operators, with 64 rankings in top 10 positions in the SERPs. This outranking many established operators with far greater links but a much weaker social presence.

2015 will continue to see Google algorithm updates and the need to constantly evolve SEO strategies will extend to be critical in order to retain and improve search engine rankings especially in the competitive gambling industry where competition not only exists in the SERPs from operators but also numerous affiliate sites. Nobody can truly predict what 2015 holds for the Google algorithm and we can only continue to speculate, whilst utilising the possible indicators of what may be favoured and adapt our strategies in order to remain on top of the SERPS.