This is an article I wrote for iGaming Business Affiliate Magazine earlier this year
Online Reputation Management in iGaming: Online Reputation Management (ORM)
We trust Google.
Here is some proof. When we’re considering a purchase, 84% of us are influenced by what we see online. Google is where 91% of us navigate the internet from
Pew internet did piece of research on the trustworthiness of Google. They found on average 66% say that search engines are a fair and unbiased source of information
Another piece of work from Eidelman around trust in information sources, shows that we trust search engines as trusted as traditional media i.e. newspapers and TV
Source Edelman Trust Barometer
Generally people trust Google and they trust what Google ranks. So arguably your brand is what Google says it is.
We ask Google questions.
When we use Google its because we have a question to ask. A typical search query is ‘your brand name’, or ‘[your brand] reviews’ and whatever the results are, they will influence consumer buying decisions.
If a brand has a number of bad reviews or negative feedback that ranks on their most important ‘consideration’ phrases, it can be damning.
iGaming brands rely heavily on affiliates to act as their commission only salespeople. Affiliates make money by passing on converting traffic to iGaming operators. Because affiliates are only interested in passing on traffic to converting operators, they will say anything (within reason) to get that traffic passing through to the operator.
A good example of how iGaming differs from other sectors, is in ‘review’ phrases. Online reviews are important for any iGaming brand.
According to a survey by Dimensional Research with 1046 respondents, 90% of us are affected by online reviews and 86% of us are affected by negative online reviews. This validates the importance of good online reputation for any brand.
Source: Dimensional Research / Zendesk
Review phrases are ‘consideration’ phrases i.e. someone is thinking about buying, but hasn’t made their minds up, so they want some 3rd party unbiased information to help them make a decision.
Google is very good at surfacing information that will help consumer make better buying decisions. If you do a search for ‘galaxy note 3 review’ you will mostly see experts talking about the merits of this mobile phone.
In iGaming it’s different. if you search for [name of operator] review’ you will see mostly affiliates.
Affiliates know they can convert users from review phrases, so they deliberately build sites geared to reviewing iGaming operators.
Affiliates will typically give the highest ratings to whoever gives them the most commission and is the most likely to convert the traffic they bring through.
On top of that, consumers don’t really like to talk about their online gambling interests, so there is very little natural review feedback online and what there is, won’t be very useful because of the small numbers of reviews.
Because Google search results can be gamed, affiliates outrank these genuine review sites and consumers end up seeing so many fake reviews, many of them will believe the untruth.
Of course operators who have the strongest brands, get the best conversion rates and the greatest lifetime values, will be able to offer affiliates the greatest commission revenues. Because of this operators get the best ratings and therefore get the most new accounts.
If an operator has a weak brand, bad customer service, poor user experience, then lifetime values will sink and affiliates will abandon them. So in a peculiar way even though the review feedback is largely fake, its true..if you see what I mean.
Saying all that, I believe consumers are far more online literate than ever before and they understand when something is fake. All that happens is they see so many affiliates saying the same thing, users see a consensus and sort-of trust that.
And finally, if the free bet offer is good enough, all a user has to do is click through the banner or link because they trust the brand and convert. For this reason, online reputation is very distorted in igaming.
The only way really useful review information will surface on Google is if operators stop paying affiliates such huge commissions (unlikely) or if Google does a purge on affiliate sites (possible)
Conclusion: It’s a broken ecosystem that works for all the wrong reasons.
‘Stole my money’
There is another place online where affiliates don’t focus their efforts, yet the information can be damming for an operator. In this place, the sites which rank, are the uncommercial ones and so the most trustworthy.
The way Google and most other search engines determine ranking is by a combination of relevance i.e. the content on the website and the number of good web links to the content. When there is information of genuine use or interest to others, people will link to those sites. This is why consumer advocacy sites so often rank well.
One huge fear for consumers is when they make some money and their account is closed by an operator, or if they feel the operator is rigging the odds.
If you pick any operator and type in a query like this: ‘[Operator] Stole my money’, you will see horror stories from consumers explaining how a given company has closed out their account.
When you see consumers screaming because an account with £ thousands that has apparently just been closed without reason, it will make any prospective customer nervous. One consistent theme is how helpless people appear to be when dealing with a big anonymous operator.
Operators will probably look at this kind of content and dismiss it. They will argue that people on forums panicking about having their money stolen are probably not telling the whole story and any potential customer examining this would take a balanced view of the situation and ignore it.
I think that’s a very naive view and in no way accounts for all the evidence there is around how powerful, toxic negative sentiment on Google actually is.
In a recent study by BrightLocal with 3600 consumers it was shown that a massive 79% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
Another study by Cone Communications shows a source of information is trustworthy when:
Source: Cone communications
In other words, if a person complains that their account has been frozen and their money has been stolen by an operator, he or she has
- used the service before
- they have topic credibility and expertise
- because there are often whole forum threads with other people recounting their stories…
it all makes a compelling case for NOT trusting an operator with your gambling account.
But thats not all. In another part of this study 80% of consumers have changed their minds about a purchase because they saw negative information about a product or service recommended to them.
Source: Cone Communications
So lets assume consumers trust Google, they largely trust the information they see on the forums and if its negative, they believe it.
Yet despite this, brands do not engage, even when its so obvious there is a huge marketing issue.
Why don’t brands engage?
I put it down to tracking and job titles. In any organisation budget decisions are made around evidence for something producing profit or stemming a loss. If you think about it, there is no way to definitively prove whether a consumer decided against buying from an operator because they saw negative information online.
You may say this is such an obvious thing, at least someone should deal with it, but who? Marketing people don’t want to be involved because there is no trackable benefit to them. Customer services can’t typically go online and tackle these issues. Search Engine Optimisation specialists don’t get involved because they will be asked to concentrate their efforts on ranking on generic keywords and not sensitive content with no clear benefit. Legal departments don’t want to touch it because generally they are risk averse and there is no clear benefit to their engagement.
PR people care.
The only people who do care are are the Public Relations teams. However even they often don’t want to engage with it because it not promoting the good news about the operator, nor it is crisis management in the traditional sense.
How do you fix the problem?
Firstly a brand needs to understand this is a serious issue that needs some budget. Why? because there is a compelling body of evidence that suggests this is a Public Relations issue.
Because Google is the axis point here, it’s a case of:
- Using a scoring system to asses where the greatest reputational damage is happening per keyword. The score is weighted by search traffic volumes and the ‘toxicity’ of the phrase for the operators.
- Create content that tackles the issues head on. If someone is screaming about their account being frozen, then operator should have a help section that explains why they would freeze an account. They should explain why they take the whole matter very seriously and why they are rigorous about doing their checks. Create content for 3rd party sites explaining the same thing.
- Rank this content so it is No1 for phrases like ’[operator] stole my money’
- Get engaged on these forums and make sure the operator’s side of the story is heard
Recently, we have seen far many more of our clients take reputation management seriously. Apart from the obvious things I have talked about, the other big driver is Google.
They are making traditional ‘hard core’ SEO far more difficult and at the same time have blocked keyword tracking information to operators. So now we cannot say 100% a conversion came from a given keyword. So SEO is becoming more like PR from an attribution point of view. Operators have budget for SEO, but not the attribution they had, so they are looking for new places to employ SEO to fix obvious reputational issues that affect conversion.
If you are interested in seeing a conference presentation I have done on reputation management, then check out : http://90digital.com/blog/nick-speaking/reputation-5368.html
Nick Garner is CEO of 90 Digital, the iGaming Search & Reputation agency. He is been in iGaming since 2006 where he began as search manager for Betfair and subsequently became Head of Search for Unibet. At90 Digital his team of 44 works with brands like Betfair and Pokerstars.