RAISING THE STAKES IN INTERNATIONAL GAMING


THE FRENCH GOVERNMENT is changing the rules on online gaming


There is a new phenomenon sweeping thought the gaming industry. The loosening of international gaming laws has a lot less to do with reacting to public demands than it does with creating new revenue streams for national governments.

THE FRENCH GOVERNMENT is changing the rules on online gaming so it can be taxed, but in doing so, it is opening a market that is going to rival the UK in terms of both customer numbers and budgets. This market is untapped, therefore, unlike in the UK where finding 'new' sign-ups is becoming increasingly expensive, in France, every customer will be 'new' and every referral that affiliates create is going to be worth commission.

Fast moving affiliates who can react quickly to the changing regulations in new markets like France are likely to be able to take advantage of this new frontier in gaming, ahead of the big names, and make serious profit.

Why affiliates can take advantage

Gaming providers who need to apply for operating licences agreeing to various advertising constraints face a lengthy route to market. On the other hand, affiliates using natural search can enter the market on their own terms and at their own pace.

Beyond this, without the internal politics and lengthy sign-off processes common to larger organisations, small, nimble affiliates can make changes to their website quickly, adapting to the evolving algorithms of Google and other search engines.

Flexibility and high speed-to-market are massive advantages for affiliates. While major gaming corporations need to perform long-term analysis of market potential before joining a new market, affiliates can hit the ground running, make up the rules as they go and take first mover advantage.

Different markets, different rules

While there are many similarities between England and France, there are also some very big differences. When planning an international search campaign of any flavour, these need to be taken into account.

Transliteration is not the same as translation

Language is the 'biggie'. French people speak French. They don't speak English with French words and English phrasing, they speak French with French phrasing. Say your UK SEO activity has shown that a phrase like 'Play Poker Online' is a good converter. It's easy to assume the same will be true in France, so you pop the phrase into Google Translate, and it tells you that the equivalent is 'jouer au poker en ligne' - a literal translation. While this makes sense, and might have some volume, there are alternatives that actual French people will use:

• jouer au poker sur Internet
• jouer au poker sur le net

In terms of search volume, Google's Keyword Research tool suggests that both are about the same - 8,100 searches per month. In the UK, there are about 12,000 searches for 'play poker online', and less than 150 for 'play Internet poker'.

It isn't impossible for a non-native speaker to perform keyword research, but someone who does not appreciate the nuances of a language will not be able to structure their approach so as to recognise how users actually behave, and what the motivation around a particular phrase would be.

It's also massively important to remember that user search behaviour can change quickly when a market grows suddenly and you absolutely must keep on top of things. While a small hardcore of players are likely to congregate their searches around a comparatively small number of high volume keywords, as the market is widened and more casual players look for services online, there will be an increase in generic terms and as a consequence, a rise in the overall number of terms that are being used.

It's important to keep track of how user behaviour is changing as the market matures. Regular search query reports of a P PC campaign demonstrates which new keywords are delivering volume to your website, and if sufficient volume is available, informing the overall strategy of the SEO campaign.

Outside search, your best friend when trying to understand linguistic nuances is social media.

In France, online communities are not a new fad. The country pioneered domestic connectivity and students were using technology similar to 'Usenet' to organise their social lives back in the 1980s demonstrating a deeper penetration of social networking within their culture. While Facebook and Twitter are popular, exploring other channels like Skyrock is important. Skyrock which is virtually unknown in the UK, but is ranked in the top ten most popular websites in France. The key learning from social media is usually the ability to spot emerging trends, and be able to demographically target users based on their interests.

The competitive landscape

Wherever you are in the world, the same link building approach applies - the more high quality, relevant websites that you can convince to link to your website, the better you will rank.

However, the definitions of both "quality" and "relevance" that Google use to determine the value of a link are fluid and representative of a particular vertical. You will be judged on what is going on around your website, and in most cases, this is done on a keyword basis.

In the case of a highly competitive and mature SERP such as 'Online Casino' in the UK, all of the top ten websites have engaged in fairly aggressive link building activity.

Transition

In industries that are restricted by prohibition, the average transaction profit is high compared to the value of the item, whereas in a comparable legal market, there is a larger overall market, which offers a lower transactional profit.

The ungoverned nature of an industry operating under conditions of prohibition attracts participants who undertake questionable practices. From an SEO perspective, this means that the majority of the websites that are competing for visitors are prepared to use black hat tactics.

When an industry is prohibited, participation is not directly open to legitimate companies such as the larger gaming houses like 888.com or Bet365. Instead of directly competing for customers, they must operate through proxies, using affiliates to provide their presence. This creates an environment in which risk is managed differently. In an open market such as the UK, where branding is important, the risk of large brands being banned from Google as a result of using black hat SEO techniques is too great for them to engage.

Excessive is relative. When compiling an SEO strategy, it is important to consider the parameters within which one can operate safely: what link building tactics are being used; the type of content that is required; etc.

An unregulated vertical is much like the Old West - anything goes - however, this can change rapidly with the onset of regulation. As larger companies begin to specifically target terms within the market, an impact will be the introduction of a lower risk approach to SEO that is brand protective.

So, what strategy should you go for when entering a newly regulated market?

Designing conversion

Take a look at these two websites: At the time of writing, these were the websites that ranked at number one in Google.co.uk and Google.fr for 'car insurance' and its French analogue 'assurance automobile'.

While both of these websites offer the same basic service, the user interface is entirely different. On websites that commoditise a product, incremental improvements to conversion can make a huge difference to profitability, so you can be pretty certain that both of these companies have engaged in a fair amount of AB testing to come to the optimal layout for their customer base, and the optimal colours to use for call-to-action -GoCompare uses orange, MMA uses blue.

Automated conversion optimisation using tools like Google Website Optimiser dynamically changes elements within the page to find the balance that delivers the best conversion rate for a desired action.

Building a website with a fluid design, and incorporating some form of AB testing that is independent of websites that you use for other markets will enable you to tailor the user experience to each individual territory, and grow your overall sales.

Appropriate placement

A conversion-friendly design and the most effective link building techniques differ between markets. Therefore, the most important decision to make is whether you are going to create an entirely new presence, or simply include an additional language to your existing websites.

Best practice would be to build your French website on a '.fr' domain, and host it in France. Having a website that is entirely in the French language that sits on a dedicated .fr domain, and is hosted by a French web hosting company in France makes a fairly solid statement about what the target market for the website is. You should also ensure that when you set up the Google Webmaster Tools account for the site that you include geo-targetirig information.

Using a separate domain also allows you to take into account the design nuances that are expected in a particular market. If you don't provide a user experience that is informative and pushes users towards converting to one of your goals, then your campaign will not return a profit.

Minimising opportunities for frustration within the user journey - jarring misuse of language; site design that does not correspond to their expectations; a multilingual website that welcomes them in the wrong language - will reduce the risk of the visitor leaving before they convert

What does it all mean?

Major changes to any market, such as the legalisation of gambling, will lead to a period of substantial upheaval as the forces of the market assert themselves and create stability. The only successful approach to entering a new market is dynamism. Without the ability to evolve your strategy and change tactics based on the evolution of both the macro structure of the industry in terms of the products on offer and the way people search for them, one is doomed to failure.

The goal of advertising is to make a product compelling to an audience. The goal of marketing is to identify that audience. In a new environment where conditions are yet to be established, it is the companies who are quickest to adapt that will prevail.
 
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