Note from Geno Prussakov: I am excited to welcome our newest guest blogger, UK-based Pete Campbell. Enjoy his first AM Navigator post below.
Very few things in life are black and white (zebras and pianos are notable exceptions) and, more often than not, things fall into that difficult and morally ambiguous “grey area”. This is just as true for affiliate and SEO marketers as it is for everyone else.
If you’ve come across the terms black hat and white hat in an online marketing context before, you’ll know precisely what I’m talking about. In highly competitive niches such as gambling (bingo and poker), law (personal injury claims) and finance (payday loans), it can be difficult to choose between doing your online marketing the “right” way (according to Google), and doing things the “wrong” way in order to gain the upper hand.
What colour is your hat?
The problem is, no matter how tough Google is getting with black hatted online marketers who engage in spammy techniques, doing the dirty is still paying off. You only need to type a highly competitive gambling search term such as “bingo sites” (which has 18,000 monthly searches in UK) into Google and although it might not be obvious, most of the websites on Page 1 engage in spammy black hat techniques. The use of paid link networks and link farms is still rife and still generating search result rewards – for now.
Yet, by all accounts, the days of paid link building are over. Google may not have managed to banish every trace of SEO spam from the SERPs, but the search engine certainly means business. While black hat techniques may inflate your rank over the short term, if you have long term ambitions online, they’re not likely to go the distance.
Google get serious about spam-laden queries
You only need to look at Google’s clamp down on payday loan search terms to see this in action. In tandem with Panda 2.0 (which was updated to get even tougher with low-quality sites with crummy duplicate content and spammy back links), Google released a Payday Loan Algorithm update in May 2014. Designed to target “very spammy queries”, particularly in those competitive niches I listed earlier, the update was launched to start getting rid of the spammiest offenders who target these competitive terms.
While the Payday Loan Algorithm update will affect a small 0.2% of English search queries, it’s a clear signal of intent from Google. The search engine have also claimed that they plan to start proactively penalising and even banning affiliate sites which fail to add value for visitors.
And if you think Google are calling spammy webmasters’ bluffs, think again. Back in January 2014, gambling giant William Hill was hammered with a serious penalty thanks to its spammy backlink practices. The penalties sent the gambling site hurtling down the SERPs costing them what must have been hundreds of thousands of pounds in revenue.
How to keep your nose clean and win big
If you’re keen to avoid a future without penalties and want to do things right, it might feel like you’re fighting a losing battle against your less scrupulous contemporaries right now. But the truth is, you don’t have to play dirty to win big. Google may be slowly starting to punish black hat behaviour, but they’re also in the habit of rewarding websites which play by the rules. Increasingly, websites who focus on producing awesome, hyper-relevant content, great user experience and high-quality editorially earned links are starting to win on page one.
I’ve been running content strategy over at Two Little Fleas (a UK based bingo portal) throughout this period and, thanks to some concerted effort and creativity, great content has helped Two Little Fleas make page one for highly competitive terms including the aforementioned “bingo sites”, 100% paid link free.
But cracking content only is not the be all and end all to page one rankings. One of our most successful strategies has been reaching out to affiliate partners to collaborate on and distribute content has been a big contributing factor. We’ve explored ways to work with affiliates, leveraging these relationships to build great, relevant links and some pretty cool stuff.
3 ways you can leverage your affiliate relationships too
Interviews & “Ego Bait”
Everyone’s a little bit susceptible to flattery and, if asked, we’re all pretty keen to share our wisdom and opinions a lot of the time. It’s normal. But it’s also very helpful if you want to generate content that’s interesting to your readers and highly sharable within your niche. Take some time to build relationships, reach out and ask industry experts and influencers about a topic you’re writing about. When you come to set keyboard to paper, make sure you reference them by name, then let them know once your content is live.
Example: For Two Little Fleas, we’re currently running a series of interviews with organisations like The UK Bingo Association & Marie Curie Cancer Care who run Tickety Boo Games on their thoughts about the decline & comeback of the Bingo industry.
Just as we all like flattery, we all like to compete and win. Look into setting up your own awards for your affiliates, rewarding them for providing great user experience for their (and your!) players. This will win you plenty of social media attention and will generate links from all sorts of sources within your niche.
Example: WhichBingo run an annual awards ceremony for their affiliates – well worth checking out for some inspiration. Their awards event has won them tons of great quality links from affiliates including Gala Bingo.
Build an “operator” review section into your website and hire a journalist quality writer to independently and transparently review site operators. Make sure you also include key facts about each site, alone with the pros and cons to ensure your readers find the reviews really, really helpful. Then take things a step further by encouraging users to add their own reviews and comments into the mix.
Once you’ve collected all of your reviews, you could even consider designing an “Approved by *YOUR NAME*” badge which you can then offer to operators. In many cases these badges will give their brand extra credibility and boost their conversion rate. That makes them even more likely to display your badge along with a link back to – you guessed it – you!
Example: Two Little Fleas has placed badges on numerous operator sites, as an example though you can take a look at the one on the bottom of http://www.paddybingo.com/. (This site is owned by the same group company as Two Little Fleas)
Have you tried leveraging affiliate relationships to create amazing content and win powerful, natural links? What has worked for you? Where do you stand on the black hat/white hat divide? Share your views, tips and experiences below.