Affiliate Grand Slam by SiGMA
Christiaan Bollen, Founder of Boljoro S.L., joins the latest series of affiliate interviews on Affiliate Grand Slam
Starting in 2012 as an affiliate, Boljoro S.L.'s founder, Christiaan Bollen's main focus has been SEO. He is sharing his insights with us - follow his story below.
When and how did you venture into SEO? How much were you willing to commit to it?
When I started as an affiliate in 2012, I wanted to get more visitors on my websites. It was obvious that SEO would be the key to this. Since then, SEO has been my focus.
What helps make your performance successful? What are the main challenges of SEO today and how are they different from just a few years ago?
The search engines take so many parameters into account these days that you cannot just work on 1 thing. Some years ago it was easier, you bought some links and you would rank high. Now the algorithms outsmarted the quick win strategies.
I always try to optimise the technical SEO first and make sure that the user experience is good. That is the ultimate goal of Google too, serve the best results for the user, not for the machines.
Next to that you also have to look at the content, not only adding content but maybe also consolidate or remove content. And do not forget about the links, they are still important no matter what some people say.
Is there such a thing as iGaming SEO Specialists? Why is SEO important for gaming and how long does it take to see results from SEO?
Of course, there are iGaming SEO Specialists, I see myself as one. Different niches are handled differently by Google and need different tactics.
Google also does updates that impact specific niches. A very clear example that I like to refer to is the E-A-T or Medic update (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness). This update had a huge impact on the health niche.
How important are backlinks? And would you consider buying those given that many are reluctant to provide links organically to online casinos and sportsbooks?
They are not as important as in the past when everything was focused on backlinks, but they are still important. I do not believe in the theory of some people that say that backlinks do not matter anymore. For similar websites the one with backlinks will still outperform a website with less good backlinks.
So yes, I still consider buying links. But even if you offer to pay for the links, many are still reluctant to provide links to online casinos and sportsbooks.
How did SEO change in the last few years and what should one expect in the next year or two?
Soon Google will take the Core Web Vitals into account for the search algorithm. Speed and the technical part of your website are very important. Google might even show the speed of websites in the results in the future. Google will also try to keep improving their algorithms and machine learning. For us it will become more challenging to optimise for them as they become smarter.
Every SEO knows about BERT, the Google algorithm that helps with understanding the human language. This way the search engine will better understand what people are searching for and give them the best answer. But now they are working on SMITH, an algorithm that will outperform BERT and will be able to understand longer texts much better.
Black Hat vs White Hat - what is prevalent in Gaming SEO? What works and what should be avoided at all costs?
It is a mix, but compared to the past, it is getting more white hat. In the past the gaming industry was full of black hat, but now there are many big websites that have authority. Those websites perform with their white hat strategies better than black hat websites.
White hat takes more time but will perform better over time. Black hat websites are many times “Churn & Burn”, they get created, boosted, and then destroyed after some time.
Google is constantly updating its algorithms. From Panda updates to Penguin updates. Put yourself in Google's shoes - what can we expect in its next update?
The algorithms are constantly changing; it is not like in the past, where you have 1 big update that changes everything. Even the big updates that get announced are not a big impact like Panda or Penguin in the past. The updates are more subtle but more often.
Some updates will focus on speed, others on content or authority.
The next big update will be the one in May 2021 when the Core Web Vitals will become a ranking factor.
Besides Google, do you also focus on ranking on other search engines like Baidu in China?
My main focus is Europe, so I only look at Google and a little bit at Bing.
Domain protection / reputation - how important is it to the overall SEO exercise?
It depends on the customer. For a big brand it will be more important than for an average affiliate website.
Which SEO factors are not in your control?
As an SEO you don’t have any factor completely under control, Google can always decide to change their algorithm. Or you could get attacked by a competitor.
How does technology play a part in your day-to-day?
Technology is important. New technology might make it possible to improve the website speed which will improve the SEO.
Which SEO tools do you use? Link tracking tools, translation software tools, heat tracking maps - what's your favourite must have tools out there? Can you share a few of those and tell us what makes them so indispensable?
There are many tools available. If you look at the most essential ones you need to have, first comes access to Google Search Console for the website. You can get a lot of valuable information straight from Google and for free. Bing also released a new version of their Webmaster Tools, it is definitely worth having a look at, not just to optimise for Bing.
For paid tools, SEMrush is one of the most popular tools, I also use it. It is good all round tool for doing SEO research, optimise and track your own website.
If you look at link tracking tools, Link Research Tools is one of my favorites. It has some nice tools to clean up your links, find links and track new links.
For translation I do not use tools, I prefer using freelancers. It is always obvious when a tool has been used for translation and visitors of the website will not like it, when they read software translated texts.
Which emerging technologies like AI and big data will impact the affiliate industry in 2020 and beyond?
For AI and big data, I don’t see many applications for the affiliate industry yet. Maybe an affiliate could use it to make sport predictions or show data of sportsbook.
Ever heard of Voice Search? What impact will voice search have on SEO in 2021 and beyond?
I do not see many people use voice search on their phones. But more and more people have voice assistants in their houses. So, there is more use of it. For the gaming industry I do not think voice search will have much impact soon. For gaming you need a screen to play your slot or table game. Also, for sports betting it will take a long time if a voice has to tell you all the odds, a screen gives you a much better overview.
It could be possible to place bets straight through a voice assistant, but it will take time before Google or
Amazon will allow betting on their devices, if they ever will.
Who could benefit from voice search are land based casinos or betting shops. It is an easy question to ask for a nearby location.
How can SEO experts innovate and remain ahead of the curve in such a fast-paced vertical?
It is good to keep learning and communicate with other SEO experts. I attend multiple SEO conferences where you get information and share ideas with others. Also, outside of the presentations, the conversations with other attendees or speakers can be even more valuable.
Over the years you build up a big network of connections where you can share your ideas and help each other out. Now in corona times it is more difficult. But there are some online alternatives, although you cannot compare them to the real live conferences where you have real interaction with other people.
Which markets are you eyeing up as a priority and why? Do you see any potential in the emerging markets? Europe seems saturated and it's hard to rank on good keywords. Which regions are hottest today for SEO ranking?
For me Europe is still the priority. Outside of Europe I am looking into South America. As I live in Spain it is easier to go into a market that has a big Spanish speaking audience. Having to translate to Indian or another Asian language would be much more difficult.
What are your predictions for the future of the sector?
More regulation. Some countries that do not have online regulation yet are getting it, and the ones that already have a regulation are getting regulated more. Hopefully, the regulators do not go too far. If they regulate the market too much and put too strong restrictions, the players will go to illegal casinos where they have no protection.
Have you ever been to SiGMA? SiGMA Europe, Africa, Asia, or Americas - which of these four expo shows would you likely book on your diary for 2021, COVID-19 permitting?
I haven’t been to any real life SiGMA conference yet, it was always at the same time with an SEO conference I attend. But I want to go for a long time and I will try to attend one soon. Hopefully, the pandemic will get controlled and we will be able to travel again soon.
I did attend the online versions of SiGMA during the pandemic.
Tell us a bit about yourself - after all, business is done with people, not just companies! Your hobbies, favourite book, favourite quote, whether you are into Gaming yourself, etc.
My biggest passion is travelling, usually I combine it with attending conferences. I go to a conference and stay some extra days. During these days I can explore the city and usually I already have some meetings with business partners and friends.
Thanks for your time today Christiaan.
It's been great, thank you SiGMA.