COVID-19 has not only caused international chaos on the health front, but on the economic front as well. It’s a pandemic that has had devastating impacts on lives, and many businesses around the world could never have envisaged the utter turmoil it has caused. As a specialist iGaming link building agency, we thought it would be good to show the impact of the coronavirus on search behavior in the online gambling industry.

The data below shows how gambling industry link building perhaps could, and probably should, shift during the COVID-19 pandemic that we’re currently facing. Please note that all data in this article relates to March 23, 2020 and before.

Taking the topic “online casino” and looking at Google Trend data over the past 30 days, it has remained fairly stable:

Chart 1

However, since the pandemic has really begun to set in over the past five days, with businesses closing and countries going into lockdown, searches around the topic of online casino have seen an upward trend:

Chart 2

The incremental increase may be somewhat marginal, but nevertheless, there is certainly a pattern there. 

However, the same marginal increase cannot be said for online poker related terms. If we take a look at the data for Google searches around the topic “online poker,” the trend is remarkably different. Rewinding back to the end of December—when COVID-19 wasn’t a household term causing the devastation we’re seeing today—searches around online poke’ remained fairly constant. However, since the world has gone into isolation and lockdown to varying degrees, the surge in these types of searches have been somewhat staggering:

Chart 3

And when we look at it over the past 30 days, the curve is sharper still:

Chart 4

And that is similar for the past 10 days:

Chart 5

In a nutshell, searches for topics around online poker have seen a sudden surge, to the extent they’ve seen almost a 400 percent increase in search volume over the last 30 days—quite a staggering statistic.

Furthermore, the same can be said about searches relating to “online bingo.” In fact, search volume around this term has seen an increase of over 400 percent in the last 30 days alone:

Chart 6

These sharp increases in online poker and online bingo related searches coincide with the worsening of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s no coincidence that as the situation worsens—and more and more people are forced into taking residence in their own homes—there is an incremental increase surrounding these online gambling related topics.

As we approach a stage in the pandemic where almost all major sporting events are being cancelled or postponed, less and less people are searching for terms around this. As an example, here is the Google Trends data for the past 30 days, on searches around the topic, “sports betting:”

Chart 7

It has taken a massive nosedive, with only 35 percent of search traffic the topic had 30 days ago on February 23.

So, what does this mean for online gambling companies and affiliates? It certainly presents a real opportunity for those who operate in the games, casino, poker and bingo spaces, or those who wish to shift their strategy towards these areas. There are arguably more searches than ever before on online bingo and online poker topics. As people are being forced to stay in their homes, it is clear that there is a large chunk of the population who are looking to entertain themselves with these particular products that the i-gaming space has to offer.

As such, link building in the i-gaming space should change. We wrote previously about how gambling industry link building is different, but the COVID-19 outbreak could possibly force gaming operators and affiliates to change their tact.

If we take, as an example, the site that currently ranks in position one (at the time of writing) for the search term, “best online bingo sites,” we come up with Bingo Views. If we then plum their landing page for this the aforementioned search term into Ahrefs, we get the following data relating to organic search:

Chart 8

Organic traffic to this page has almost doubled over the past 25 days or so—likely as a result of the significant increase in searches around this term.

Likewise, if we analyze the organic search data from Ahrefs for the top rated site in Google, for the search term, “play poker online,” we come up with Party Poker, and we also see that organic traffic to the page that ranks for this term has also shot up:

Chart 9

It may not be as clear on this graph as the bingo one above, but according to Ahrefs data, organic visitors to this page have increased from around the 143,000 mark each day, to over 165,000 a day—an uplift of 22,000 visitors each and every day to this page.

Of course, Ahrefs data isn’t entirely accurate—nothing is, unless we had Google Analytics data. But it gives a good idea.

 

I-GAMING SEARCH DATA INSIGHT

Moving onto i-gaming search data in general, we analyzed the search behavior in the UK for the last year in four specific i-gaming products and search terms: online casino, online betting, online poker and online bingo.

Chart 10

You'll notice that searches for the term online casino have been higher than any other, followed by online bingo, online betting and online poker. The averages over that period are indicative of that trend too:

Chart 11

The search trends for these online gambling products are such that we can deduce the following:

  • Online casino is typically searched, on average, to a degree of 3.5x that of online sports betting;
  • Around 20 percent more people search for online casino than online poker, and around 75 percent more people search for it in comparison to online poker; and
  • Online poker sees around double the searches than online betting.

 
How are these trends changing? Searches around sportsbook products appear to remain fairly consistent, with a small recent decline—which of course we can attribute to the postponement and cancellation of major sporting events due to the coronavirus outbreak.

 The same can't be said for searches around casino, bingo and poker products—all of which appear to have been on a steady increase, even prior to the pandemic we currently face.

So, what does this mean? It means that our link building in the i-gaming sector needs to channel its efforts into the relevant products, where applicable. Of course, some operators only offer one product, and some gambling affiliates only send traffic for one particular product, but that's not the case for everyone. Whether you're an operator or an affiliate, search traffic is key to success—and just like every other industry, keyword rankings in Google, for relevant search terms, form the forefront of that battle. And we're far better off ranking for search terms with greater demand, as we're seeing in the online casino, bingo and poker areas.


 
THE GROWING IMPORTANCE OF BRAND AWARENESS

Gaming operators and i-gaming affiliates are taking brand awareness evermore seriously; brand coverage, PR (both online and offline), and getting the brand in front of people is becoming g increasingly essential for market success.
 
And we have some data to back that up. If we look at Google Trends, and take a look at the top related queries to “online betting,” we can see that people are overwhelmingly searching for the William Hill, one of the industry’s better marketed brands.

Chart 12

The same goes for “online bingo” searches, where the more popular brands dominate the results. 

Chart 13

And the same can be said with rising related searches involving the phrase “online betting” and “online bingo:” 

Chart 14

 

Chart 15

The data shows us that more and more people are searching for brand-related enquiries, thus showing and increasing need to get the brand in front of people online.


 
 ADAPTING I-GAMING MARKETING STRATEGY
 

Data is key in anything we can do digitally, and the online gambling sector is no different. The data is telling us a couple of key things:

  • Operators and i-gaming affiliates need to determine and chose the right gaming products to increase traffic; and
  • People are searching for brand related keywords.

So, how do we get our brand in front of people and encourage them to search for our brand? Aside from the traditional media buy offerings available, link building can play its part. Here is our take on it:
 
As an i-gaming link building agency, we've built tens of thousands of links for our clients in the gambling industry. But given we're specialists in the area, and gambling industry link building is different, we're always looking to work with our clients to ensure we're working to the best possible strategy.
 
Old-school, black-hat techniques don't work like they used to, and put the offending site at serious risk of a Google penalty—both algorithmic and manual. Gone are the days where we could get 10,000 forum spam links, or build hundreds of links into deeper, commercial pages, with an exact match anchor text strategy. Now, we must move with the times—not just to avoid a penalty, but to do things the right way, and to ensure that we're getting the best results we can.
 
There is a lot to be said about homepage links, with branded anchors—yet many seem to want to avoid this strategy, in favor of a more aggressive approach. Our response is a clear one: i-gaming link building needs to be natural, and we need to ensure we've got the right balance of branded/non-branded anchors, exact match/phrase match/no match anchors, and homepage/deeper page landing pages.
 
Building links into the homepage, with branded anchors, is a great strategy when combined with a proper internal linking program. Send the SEO equity into the homepage, and then use a proper internal linking/anchor text program to channel that equity into the relevant commercial pages. SEO isn't all about external links—the internal ones need to be right to. And if the two are running in tandem, both cogs of the wheel are aligned; that's where we typically see the best results.
 
Links from high traffic sites will see more eyes on the brand within the body of the text. And furthermore, it's a great strategy to get the site ranking, as a whole, for more commercial, non-brand terms.