Search engine optimization (SEO) can determine whether a casino Web site thrives or fails; here are some steps to insure the former
By Peter De Crescenzo
Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is a method of making a Web site readable for search engines and for the people using those search engines. When a search engine can read the site, it can then analyze and index the site, making it available for users looking for a particular topic, product or service. This is what makes it possible to search for something like “casino in Indiana” and receive a list of sites related to casinos in Indiana.
With so many casinos competing for the same customers, it’s important to stand out among the others. One way to do this is with high search rankings through SEO. Whether a potential guest is searching for your particular casino or just one nearby, being at the top of the list will greatly increase your chances of being that person’s choice, especially in the extremely competitive gaming and entertainment market. Most people don’t look beyond the first or second page of a search, so the higher up, the better chance your casino will be found.
SEO can level the playing field so that a small casino who invests in an SEO expert can compete with larger casinos in their market for search ranking. When executed properly, SEO can produce an excellent return on investment by increasing site traffic, converting that traffic into actual visitors to the casino, and increasing revenue.
There are many components of SEO, and we’ll touch on some of the most important ones here so you can rank higher and draw more guests. If you don’t already have analytics set up on your site, have your Web master set up analytics to measure where your site ranks now and where you can best improve.
Google, Yahoo!, Bing, and other search engines use programs called spiders, robots or crawlers to index pages. They don’t look at the whole Web site, but at individual pages and how they relate and link to each other. Most spiders can only read plain text, not pictures or graphics. They create a hierarchy of importance within the pages, ranking titles as most important, headers as second important and the page content as the least (although still) important.
Search engines create rules for optimization so users can better find the results they want. If Web masters were allowed to index their sites without rules, a user might type in “casinos in Indiana” and get celebrity gossip instead. This ranking manipulation reflects poorly on the search engine and is frustrating for users. With proper optimization using the search engine rules, users can search for what they want and find relevant sites, converting to potential business for those who are ranked highly.
White Hat vs. Black Hat
As with anything, there are good ways and bad ways to utilize SEO. White hat and black hat are used to describe types of SEO practices: A legal, positive practice that will produce long-lasting results is considered white hat, while black hats use deceptive practices that could get their sites banned from search engines.
Black hat SEO includes hidden links and text (to boost keyword density without looking keyworddense), cloaking (provides different information to users and search engines), registering misspellings of popular sites and link farming (building sites solely to link back to the main site), among others. Basically, if something seems sneaky, don’t do it. If you are party to any of the “illicit practices” as outlined here, you risk your site being removed entirely from this search engine. Still unclear whether or not your SEO practices are white hat or not? Check out the Google best practices page (www. googlebestpractices.com) for guidelines.
Spiders scan each page on the Web for particular items including content, URLs, metadata and alt tags. Based on the results in each of these, it can then categorize the page for the search engine. So to make sure your casino’s page ranks highly, be sure to include the keywords that people might look for when searching for your page.
To find the best keywords for the site, there are a couple options: Look at competitor’s sites to see what keywords they are using, look up keywords through a site like Google AdWords (www.adwords. google.com), or consult an expert in SEO who can find the best customized words for your casino’s site. Once the keywords are established, it’s time to integrate them into the site.
Writing for the Web asks for two requirements: writing for the viewers and writing for the search engines. To write for people, text needs to be clear, succinct, and have around 300-500 words per page. Keyword saturation should be around 3%, or around three keywords per 100 words. If the content is too saturated, it may appear as spam, to either readers or to search engines. Viewers read in an “F” pattern across pages, so the most important information should fall in the headings, beginning of paragraphs and on the left side of the page. Search engines see headings and subheadings as most important on a Web page, so be sure to include keywords in those lines.
Images and Graphics
Images make sites visually appealing and can make them easier to read. The problem is, when text is placed in the image, search engines won’t be able to read that text. Engines like Google only read plain text, so they see the entire image (or Flash or other graphic) as one chunk of an object, not individual layers of text and image.
To correct this problem, put the main keywords in the headers, sub-headers and body of the text. Use <alt> tags on the images to create readable text for them, using keywords if appropriate. These <alt> tags are the text that shows up when a user places his or her cursor over an image.
Metadata is information in the code of a Web site that isn’t available for users to view. Meta keywords are just like the regular keywords, but hidden in the site’s code for search engines to see. Since these words and phrases are just for the search engine, they can be listed in a row within the metadata, rather than worked into copy. Each site is allowed up to 10 meta keywords. The meta description is the short description that shows up in search results when a viewer uses a search engine.
For example, searching “casinos in Indiana” might yield “Indiana’s X Casino (www.indianasxcasino.com). Indiana’s X Casino is the premier casino in Northwest Indiana. Open 24/7 with complimentary drinks.” Google doesn’t use metadata to rank pages, but it also doesn’t penalize sites for having metadata. Some search engines still do use this information, so it’s an important aspect of SEO.
Build Out and Link Back
Another way to increase a site’s search rankings is to increase visibility through backlinking. This just means users are directed to the casino’s page through a link on another page. Here is where black hat and white hat come into play: Good backlinking includes linking from press releases, guest blogs on other sites and published articles about the casino. Black hat backlinking would include using link farms to generate unethical traffic to the site.
Social media—including Facebook,
Twitter and blogs—are another great way to increase traffic to the site and boost rankings. These mediums can connect to people who are already interested in casinos and open them up to more interesting information. Social media is a great way to promote the casino’s site, but remember that viewers don’t just want to hear about self-serving information— include other interesting information and links to other related sites.
Search engines like Google are constantly updating and changing how SEO works, so visit the Web Master Best Practices for the most current information. Implement analytics on the casino’s site to view and track the site’s users. Google Analytics (www.google.com/analytics/) and Bing Toolbox (www.bing com/toolbox/) are both options for Web masters to see how many users are visiting the site, what pages are most popular, the geography of users and how they were directed to the site. This information will be helpful in further improving the site.
Having an optimized Web site is critical for casinos to be able to successfully compete in the gaming and entertainment industry. When you are competing for reservations and clients, you want to be at the top of the search engine results.
Peter DeCrescenzo is owner of WSI Online Solutions and a WSI franchisee who has worked with clients in the gaming and entertainment industry. WSI is a leading provider of digital marketing solutions for small- and medium-sized businesses. He can be reached at 954-302-2616 or PeterD@wsionlinesolutions. com. For more information, visit http://www.wsi-onlinesolutions.com.