Martyn Hannah: Stop link building start writing

Martyn Hannah, director of Ghostfoundrysays US sportsbook operators should shift link building budgets to content creation.

I’m going to come straight out with it. US online sportsbook operators need to stop spending thousands of dollars a month on link building and invest that money into content.

Link building should form part of a wider SEO strategy, but it is simply not as important as it used to be when it comes to building authority and driving traffic towards a website.

John Mueller, Google’s webmaster trends analyst, had this to say about link building: “In general, I try to avoid that so that you’re really sure that your content stands on its own and make it possible for other people to, of course, link to your content. 

“We do use links as part of our algorithms, but we use lots and lots of other factors as well. So only focusing on links is probably going to cause more problems for your website than it actually helps.”

Google considers 200+ factors when determining where sites rank but among the most significant is the experience the user receives once they have clicked through to a site.

The user experience is broken down into several factors including:

  •       Click-through rate – do users actually click through to the page once their search result has been returned
  •       Time spent on page – if the user does click through, how long do they spend on the page. The longer the better
  •       Pages per session – do users then click through to other pages on the site. Google wants to see users click through lots of content
  •       Social signals – if users are liking or sharing content it is a good indicator that they are being provided with valuable information  

As you can see, content is the foundation on which the above criteria can be met. It is no use simply ranking for a keyword or phrase, you must be able to provide what the user is looking for.

So, while link building can build authority into a site quickly, the influence that authority has over where a site ranks seems to be dwindling in the eyes of Google.

This is certainly true of links that have been secured on sites with a high domain rating but a low number of site visitors – these sites are often built for the purpose of selling back links.

Google really is putting back links under the microscope and now even looks at the number of click-throughs the link receives to confirm its value – if no one is clicking through it shouldn’t be there.

Not only that, but Google regularly audits back links to individual websites and if it believes those links are bogus and not authentic, discards them.

This makes “investing” in link building a challenging area for online sportsbook operators – many SEOs and marketers still believe it is the fastest and most effective way to rank.

This is because most are not willing to put their faith in Google and do what the search giant is asking them to do, which is to focus on user experience and content.

I believe the reason for this is a lack of patience. In the US market in particular, there is a sense of urgency as everyone is trying to leverage the first mover advantage.

But to succeed now and in the long-term, operators are going to have to play the long game, trust what Google is saying and refocus their attention on content.

When it comes to the types of content to create, operators need to think big. Written, audio and video should all form part of the content strategy.

This includes news, previews, reviews, guides, interviews, data, analysis and more. Think like sports media giants such as theScore and Fox Sports and follow their lead.

Of course, content must be of the highest quality and deliver the information, insight, answers and entertainment that searchers and punters are looking for.

If it is, users will stay on page for longer, click through to other pages plus like and share content. In short, they will have an excellent experience with an operator’s brand.

And of course, this is exactly what Google wants to see from a website that is ranks highly for specific keywords.

This is not hyperbole on my part, content marketing really does work. One of our clients has been publishing two 600-word posts per month plus one 2,000-word guide per quarter for ten months.

Over that time, they have had 9,000+ page views across all articles created with an average bounce rate on each article of less than 10%.

They are also ranking on page one for several business-critical terms and all of this without any proactive link building activity whatsoever.

The content has been linked to but naturally and this is exactly the sort of back link that Google is looking for – when the content is unique and excellent, other sites want to link to it.

So operators should stop burning thousands of dollars a month on link building and instead spend the cash on creating content that engages, educates and entertains.

Those that do will be best placed to cash in on the huge potential the nascent US online sports betting industry has to offer.