Search Marketing for the Gaming Industry – Top 10 Considerations (Part 1 of 2)

Gaming is one of the hardest industries to find Search Marketing success within, but if you can get it right the rewards are enormous. My top 10 considerations can be found below - good luck!

1.The 'gaming industry' is not one industry
2.The big search terms are very big search terms
3. Limited long tail but not for long
4. Plan for Seasonality
5.
Loyal users aren't so loyal
6. Relevancy or Credibility?
7.
Gaming on the move
8.
UGC brings in the VIPs
9.
Don't forget the emerging markets
10.
PPC is still a good gamble

1. The 'gaming industry' is not one industry
All online betting websites seem to offer the same range of products - there's the poker room, the roulette wheel, the slots machines, the sports book and, particularly in the UK, the virtual bingo hall. It's convenient of course, but heavily flawed, to group them all under the banner of 'gaming' and consider them all branches of the same conceptual product. From a search marketing perspective, this grouping makes for poor strategies as they are typically seen as products that are searched for in the same way, consumed in the same way, and influenced by the same tertiary factors.

A good illustration would be to look at just one way Poker differs from Sportsbook:

  • Poker has around 4 major product variations - stud, texas holdem, Omaha, Six Card
  • Sportsbook has dozens of product variations - football betting, horseracing betting, rugby betting, volleyball betting, mixed martial arts betting, uefa cup betting, darts betting, snooker betting, grand national betting, etc.

This is an important difference as the Search strategy is completely different for each of the two types because of the number of product variations each gaming type offers. From an SEO perspective this equates to huge differences in the number of search terms you should aim to rank for, how the site architecture needs to reflect that, and whether landing pages need to be created to maximise return from the activity. From a Paid Search perspective this equates to differences in the choice of networks to leverage, to what degree contextual networks are useful, whether next generation bid management software can make a small or huge difference, how to approach landing page construction, etc, etc.

These differences extend much further than simply what people are querying for in the search engines. The people doing the searching differ wildly too. Online bingo searchers are almost all women, football betting searchers are almost always men, grand national betting searchers are mixed in gender but predominantly once-a-year gamers, mixed martial arts betting searchers are either English, Russian, or Japanese speakers - the list continues. This is important info to know as how you build creatives for Paid Search and what you say in your meta titles and meta descriptions for Natural Search should reflect the target audience, compel greater click-through, and secure the wager.

So, treat each type of game as an industry all of its own and ensure your strategy reflects that elevation. Your results will improve exponentially just by looking at them as important in their own right and not as cogs in the same wheel.

2. The big search terms are very big search terms
Different industries can be categorised by how much of their searching audience use big generic search terms versus how long and voluminous their 'long tail' is. 'Finance' for example is short on long-tail; the vast majority of money made in Search in that industry is for less than a dozen search terms, queries like 'credit cards', 'car insurance', 'loans', and 'mortgages', being the most popular by a significant degree. 'Travel' is the reverse - the long-tail is far, far longer and more important than the head terms. Travel breaks down infinitely better as a product than Finance does, e.g. there's no Finance equivalent of a search query as specific and valid as something like '4 star Sheraton Hotel in New York'.

Gaming is almost identical to Finance from this angle as the big terms are very big and the long-tail not particularly long. Search terms such as 'casino', 'online casino', 'poker', 'online poker', etc., are amongst the most popular search terms in Search generally, let alone in Gaming. The long-tail extends, from a commercial feasibility perspective, not much further than actual variations of certain games, such as 'online texas holdem poker'. Whilst money can of course be made from promoting your site for super gaming long-tail, the revenue is nowhere near what is delivered if you rank for the big stuff.

So, you can spend all the time in the word building hundreds of pages to target search terms like 'online bingo advice uk', but don't expect that strategy to make you much money when gamers search for what they want very generically and uniformly.

3. Limited long tail but not for long
Whilst the big terms are very big in Gaming, with a limited long tail, we do need to appreciate how things are changing, particularly in the world of sport, and what that has in store for the viability of targeting the long-tail in the not too distant future.

Firstly, a Greenlight client made £1m of revenue last year from wagers taken on hand-ball betting. This was possible due to wagers coming in from multiple countries. A sport that is niche in one country isn't a huge opportunity, but if that same niche for the same sport exists in multiple national markets then suddenly it becomes quite compelling to target. Increased consumption of global products by domestic audiences means this will grow well into the future.

A good example would be betting on Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). This was traditionally a niche sport in Japan under the PRIDE fighting tournament. It was a circus-like affair with 500lb Sumo wrestlers fighting tiny Jiujutsu practitioners and crazy match-ups like that. As the sport grew more professionally focused and attracted more attention, the circus-like promotions stopped and fighters became professional athletes, mirroring the evolution that took boxing into the mainstream in the early part of the last century. The US then created its own MMA tournament called the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). With some clever promotion and some new rules (like no eye gouging!) it became the fastest growing sport in the US and within a few years UFC belt holders were making serious money and attracting huge audiences.

UFC has recently bought PRIDE which has now consolidated the two largest MMA audiences under one promotional group and it's speculated that the WEC Cage Fighting Tournament will be the next acquisition. This has resulted in a tournament that encompasses the best fighters from around the world - it has Jiujutsu experts from Brazil, Sambo fighters from Russia, muai thai experts from Thailand, etc, etc. This means that there is a global interest in a single championship - UFC is now shown in 36 countries worldwide. So when George St. Pierre fights Anderson Silva, you have Canadian fans and Brazilian fans betting in favour of their national representatives. When Yushin Okami fights Evan Tanner, it's the Japanese and the Texan gamers that put their money where their mouths are.

This is contributing to what is a huge growth in that sports popularity. Last year, UFC betting revenue surpassed that of Boxing's for the first time ever, and nine out of ten people on the street wouldn't even know what it is!

This pooling of international MMA betting revenue into one tournament, and the same trend across other sports, presents a great opportunity for gaming companies to target potential consumers from all parts of the world through MMA betting and other 'niche' sports, and then convert them then into wagering into other sports too, as well as cross-selling them into poker, slots and other casino games.

This trend won't stop at MMA and hand ball.

4. Plan for Seasonality
Gaming is a highly seasonal business. In Sportsbook this is more obvious as betting in linked to the dates that various events take place during the course of the year. The Google Trends graph below shows the peaks and troughs experienced in 2007 with consumer searches for four key search terms. Note how achieving revenue from the search 'Grand National Betting' would be pretty helpful given how deflated it is for Football Betting at the same time.

Diag1

Poker and Casino searches are much flatter, as you'd expect, given that seasonality doesn't really play into how and when people interact with those products online, other than a general uplift in December to March:

Diag2
The important point here is that, with Poker and Casino, the revenue derived from your rankings will remain largely static throughout the year whereas with Sportsbook you'll need to plan your Search Marketing around dates, events, and fixtures to exploit the peaks and reallocate SEO and PPC spend and resources away from activities during the troughs. Sportsbook is just far more volatile than other gaming verticals which means that there's a need for significant forward planning - however, given that most of your competitors are highly unlikely to be doing this level of planning for Search, there are huge opportunities to move into less contested areas within Search and take more than your fair share of revenue.

5. Loyal users aren't so loyal
Gaming customers are quite different to the customers you see in most other industries when it comes to loyalty to a brand. Most gaming companies will know that they are one of several gaming websites that their customers have accounts with. The reason for this is that gamers will often use a different provider for different 'products' - so Site A might have great football betting odds and Site B might have a great poker provision - so a gamer will use whichever site best suits their specific needs at that specific moment in time. Furthermore, gamers might use different sites to see if there are different odds for the same event at any one given moment in time, before wagering.

This is important to know as, given the lack of traditional brand loyalty, how do you make sure that you're someone's first account if they're just starting to game online? Also, if you're not their first, how do you make sure that you're their second or third? The answers to these questions are different depending on who you are and what you specifically offer. It can all be researched and analysed though and the insights should drive your Search strategy (and your entire online strategy for that matter). Differentiation is of course key, and that's true for every online business, not just Gaming, but it's also about being front of mind and a preferential search engine presence is the first and most important step to achieve that.

It's important to identify what users use your site for and why they use someone else's. For example, it could be the case that some customers use you for playing poker because you have a good sized poker player base, but use someone else for their slots gambling because you only have one slots game variety which people don't think is particularly fun or fair in its payout. You can discover this information by data mining consumer sentiment on the web. This involves analysing every conversation on the internet pertaining to your industry, product, and competitor to identify what consumers want and how they feel about you and your products. Info from places like Hitwise can help understand who you're sharing your customer with.

Who influences people's decision making process as to who they should play with? For example, uswitch influences a significant percentage of people in their journey to select an energy supplier. Who is it for poker, bingo, football betting, rugby betting, slots, roulette? Offline influence of course - e.g. some people will go directly to Mecca or Gala due to knowing or using them offline. What is that influence focused on - odds, customer support, website aesthetics, website functionality? Not having a downloadable client for example - is there an impact?

Play to your strengths but work on your weaknesses.

Key insights & figures courtesy of Greenlight's Profiler Unit
Greenlight's Profiler Unit is a dedicated research and strategy unit delivering the knowledge required for market domination in Natural and Paid Search.

Don't miss the remaining 5 considerations in part 2, out July 2008

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