31 March 2021
Recently our Search Marketing Director, James Kelly, and our Head of Content and PR, Hayley Stansfield, joined experts Assaf Stieglitz from Odds1x2.com and Scott Dodson from Hero Gaming for a chat about marketing topics all iGaming operators and affiliates should have on their radar for 2021.
For those who couldn’t attend, or even those who want a quick refresh on what was discussed, we’ve highlighted the key takeaways, paraphrased the answers and comments that we feel really stood out, and have even recorded the full panel for reference (video below). Surely we’ve got something for everyone so please enjoy!
Looking back at 2020, what – other than the COVID-19 pandemic – did you feel had a transformational impact on the industry? And how much of a lasting effect do you think the Covid-19 pandemic will have on marketing strategy in 2021?
Scott: I definitely think the pandemic will have a lasting effect […] but the dies have yet to be cast on what the change in consumer behaviour will be. It’s been a good year for us – as it has been for most operators – and while the sports market struggled in the early days, many were able to counteract with casinos (and other offerings).
For me, the change that is more profound, from an organisational perspective, is that the genie is now out of the bottle that people can successfully work remotely. At our company we have two centres of gravity – Sweden and Malta – with 140+ staff members across the organisation. I’d say 60-80% of our workers are remote and based all over the world, which is a fundamental change to how things were before. Marketing wise, and I don’t know if this is spurred by the pandemic, I see many [brands] taking on more of a market focus rather than a one size fits all approach […] and as people get more and more sophisticated and products differentiate a little bit more, [I believe] this will provide the ability to provide a lot more personalisation both from a marketing and product perspective. The opportunity to localise really has an impact on your conversation rates and bottom line, both in terms of marketing creative, marketing campaigns, and product offering.
Assaf: [For us] the pandemic caused a lot of havoc. Previously, we mainly focused on sports betting and [with the pandemic] there were no sporting events at all! So we saw a shift [in betting] to eSports, which emerged very highly during the pandemic and is still growing. We also saw a rise in fantasy sports and political betting. […] These are major shifts and they required a lot of personalisation. Naturally, punters interested in eSports have different characteristics than punters interested in horse racing […].
We’ve also seen a shift in the media channels that are currently being used due to a lot of new millennials entering the gambling market.
From the Affiliate side, marketing has traditionally always been very SEO focused. How did you respond quickly to those changes in channel preference? How did you manage having to switch very quickly from sportsbook to casino to eSports and what channels did you use to facilitate that change effectively?
Assaf: Having been very focused on SEO, we had to [quickly start] utilising PPC, very carefully of course, because of the pandemic and other restrictions […], but from the beginning there were two options – either to delve into misery because there were no sporting events. or take the approach of looking towards the future. We had plans to go after eSports in the past but never developed them so we used this time to develop that area, pushed forward, and we now have [successful] B2B and B2C eSports offerings. We also expanded our offering to media companies […] and started to focus on casinos and crypto as well to avoid having all our eggs in one basket. We just tried to be more proactive and better understand the landscape that we knew.
It’s typically quite hard to be super reactive with SEO. Over the last year, what changes have you seen in terms of how we look at onsite content and how we try to be more reactive to changes in the marketplace?
James: In 2020 we were forced to look very differently at how we live our lives and what we do […]. The macro approach where you cast a big net and throw a bunch of money behind it may have been effective in some markets but is now far less effective. One of the key areas that we’ve seen a lot of our clients focusing on is the ability to exploit their specialism or their niche. […] Ultimately, that kind of brute force where you say you can do everything and try to market everything, is not quite as effective as it used to be.
[…] Trust is so important now – both from Google’s perspective and our consumers perspective. There are so many new regulations coming in – especially around things like digital wellness and online responsibility – and focus in that area is big in both the government and society, so the way we talk about our customers and market to them has never been more heavily scrutinized than it is now. I think if you genuinely demonstrate value over and above what your competitors, you are likely to succeed. It won’t happen overnight and it does take time. [For a lot of our clients] the pandemic has presented a unique opportunity where […] we have space and time to invest in SEO and adding value rather than constantly working in a reactive cycle to keep [conversion] numbers up – and I think the fruits of that labour will come in time.
All of that put very simply – be an expert in one thing, don’t try to be all things to all people; do one thing really well, and scale the rest from that. That’s one of the core approaches we’ve been communicating to our affiliate brands. – James Kelly
Hayley: We’ve experienced the same thing for a journalist point of view as well. Even before the pandemic hit there were huge restrictions being put in place around gambling advertising and with those in place, we’ve found that more and more journalists are requesting content based on really detailed, demographic-focused content. Additionally a lot more journalists are requesting justification for a lot of content – especially when it comes from iGaming brands – and asking things like, why did this brand produce this content, can you justify it? You have to be able to justify it and think outside the box without overly encouraging people to gamble.
What’s been the biggest barriers you’ve had in terms of creativity with ideas and how have you overcome them? How can you ensure all campaigns are relevant whilst adhering to compliance requirements?
Hayley: […] From my point of view it’s flipping campaign planning on its head and reaching out to the media [beforehand] rather than just guessing [if your campaign will be a success]. A lot of journalists have been on furlough, made redundant, etc. so your key contacts are now more crucial than ever. Maintaining communication with them and learning about what they want to and will cover is important. Make yourself that go-to guy for them rather than being overly reactive and trying to go out with a campaign for every single sector or sending through pieces on everything and anything.
James: The data driven element [of PR] is so important now as well. Journalists are basically not interested [in campaigns] unless they have that data backing behind them that lets us say “we’ve got something here that’s genuinely unique”. Usually that data is publicly available, so it’s just framing it in different ways or even analysing it in a way that hasn’t been done before.
Looking at things from a channel perspective – which ones have you been levering and which ones have you deprioritised over the last 6 months? What platforms or channels do you see emerging and being sustainable for the future?
Scott: […] SEO has been such a big focus for us and wasn’t previously. From the get go Hero Gaming knew they needed to get after it and I worked with them to help them understand that this [SEO] thing is a long term, high payback investment channel – you can’t expect it’s going to have immediate returns. [The pandemics] been a really good environment because the tailwind in the market has enabled us to say “ok, the wolfs not at the door” let’s look to the future a bit and see what we can invest in – and with that, I’ve watched it [SEO] become a major channel for us.
As a dark horse, we also do surprisingly well with media in the markets where we’re allowed to do so […]. Human beings have this obsessive need to know and understand and because you can measure everything on Digital channels [as opposed to other media channels], there’s a disproportionate amount of money that’s being poured into that space. I joke with people – I think marketers would rather have less performance and certainty, than better performance and not know where it’s coming from. I think you have to be able to embrace that uncertainty if you want better performance overall.
For affiliates, what do you see as the fastest area of growth?
Assaf: eSports emerged big time during the beginning of the pandemic and I think it requires a more niche approach [to harness growth]. Until now, most of the bookies have merged eSports with horse racing, football, etc., […] but the user experience for each market is completely different. […]. We are approaching this [eSports] on a niche level and building a dedicated eSports website that does not have other sports on it because we don’t feel that putting all sports together makes sense – it’s [eSports’] a different world, a different audience, different characteristics, etc.
What technologies have you been taking advantage of at present?
Assaf: With technology for affiliates, it really depends on the toolset they have. We are currently working on an AI tool that, according to historical data, will suggest the next bet punters should make. I know that a lot of operators are working on this type of technology too, but to tell you the truth, I haven’t seen anything that’s a real game changer. I’m hopeful that we’ll see something soon that will take things to the next level.
James: From the tech side [anything that is] added value – delivering something over and above just the expected experience – is ideal. I think that, especially for affiliates, it’s so critical that you give someone a reason to use you over and above the operator, so figuring out what that method of differentiation is is so important. If it’s an automated tool, then great, my only worry with data and automation is making sure that you not only demonstrate that value to your users, but that you’re also able to demonstrate that value to Google.
Last year Google announced their upcoming Core Update, Page Experience, set to go live in May 2021. What are your thoughts on this and how are you preparing?
James: Frankly one of Google’s big limitations [at present] is that, while they are fantastic at understanding content, text, etc. […] they’re not so great at understanding how users actually experience sites and how that should impact SEO rankings. However, in May , Google is launching a massive update which is fundamentally focused on that particular element of search. They’ll be looking at things like first-contentful paint, last-contentful paint, cumulative layout shift, how the page behaves when you load it, because they see those as very good indicators, in a macro sense, of how good your onsite experience is. […] This update will likely have a radical impact on the affiliate space.
[…] Be sure to run your site through the Lighthouse tool, sooner rather than later, and don’t worry about scoring a perfect score – the goal right now is to be better than or as good as your competitors. People think that if you only have a score of say 40, then you might as well not bother – you’re so far behind that you won’t get anywhere. But, if your market all operates at a score of 20, then you’re the best of the bunch. It’s all about the context.
Assaf: We found that while preparing for this [update], sometimes things that may be considered as minor can have a substantial effect on your score. Something you didn’t even think is important […] [can] make such a difference!
What are three things you should have on your radar when prepping for the May core update?
James:[…] Of course, it’s important that you look at the core qualities of your site, because all of that will be re-evaluated in this major update, but in terms of the top three things, use the Lighthouse tool to find out what you need to focus on – look at things like first-contentful paint, last-contentful paint, and cumulative layout shift. Run your site and your top two competitors through Lighthouse, stack them up against each other, find out what your site’s lacking in comparison, and base your priorities off of that […]. Start ripping up trees now because doing it in May or even after the fact is too late.
Reversing the effects of a core update is SO much harder than preventing them from happening in the first place and Google have told you exactly what to look at for this one – all this info is out there, it’s easily accessible and if you don’t consider it you put yourself in such a difficult position. – James Kelly
As we emerge from the pandemic – with some uncertainties still ahead – what learnings are you taking with you and what do you feel is going to be a game-changer for the industry in the coming year?
Scott: I think marketing, for me, is a combination of short term performance activities and long term brand building. We get very caught up in the quick performance stuff but the problem is this focus sells out the long term for the short term. I understand that for many marketers, you’re mostly presented with short term KPIs […], but you have to fight the fight and stress the importance of long term investments – whether that be SEO, content, brand building, etc. Find a mix of delivering on short term [KPIs] to earn yourself the political capital to justify long term investments. If there’s ever a time to invest in the long term, it’s now because it’s not going to get easier when people are free to move about again. We’re not just going to be competing with online entities like we have been over the past year, we’ll be once again competing with [brick and mortar] and this is where those long term investments are going to have to pay off.
Hayley: In terms of moving forwards from a PR point of view, the next year will be all about considering all the channels out there to help maximize the reach of your campaigns. We’re seeing a lot of big affiliates and brands pushing out large campaigns and content for link building purposes and ensuring they tack on additional display or social media campaigns to keep their messaging consistent across all channels. It’s not something everyone does but going forward I think it’s important to keep your message consistent and consider channels that can help you do so.
James: […] Don’t just run a soft serve marketing campaign that’s only goal is to drive a few links – think about all your core objectives and produce something that’s genuinely a strong piece of thought leadership, that’s market leading and genuinely something different. Being genuine about your marketing is so important in 2021 because people see straight through it – most of the people that we’re marketing to now are digital natives – and so does Google.
We’d love to keep the conversation going on the topics above and are keen to further discuss how a strong digital marketing strategy can drive maximum engagement, acquisition and ROI for iGaming operators and affiliates – even in these unprecedented times. Interested? Get in touch now for a free, non-obligatory 1-to-1 chat with our senior team – email@example.com!
We’d love to chat with you about your next project and goals, or simply share some additional insight into the industry and how we could potentially work together to drive growth.