For the past 6 months our paid search team have been reviewing the paid search strategies of the major online gambling advertisers and thought it was about time that we shared our findings. Hopefully this will create a healthy discussion on paid search within the Igaming space and more importantly make advertising budgets go much further. We have witnessed significant amounts of wasted online marketing spend in 2010 with our analysis uncovering that approximately 34p in every pound spent is wasted on paid search, and this is simply too much to ignore.
Our research began on April 29th 2010 when we found out that the Champions League final would be played out between Barcelona and Bayern Munich on May 22nd, and was completed as battle commenced between England and Australia for the Ashes on November 24th. The events involved in our analysis were as follows;
- Champions League Final.
- FIFA World Cup.
- Royal Ascot.
- Wimbledon Tennis.
- French Open.
- Tour De France.
- Commonwealth Games.
- The Ryder Cup.
The analysis started 2 weeks before the first day of each of the above events and was completed the day after the event / tournament concluded. To make sure our approach remained consistent throughout the analysis we used the same keyword qualifiers and combined them with the particular event and the events abbreviations to ensure that we captured a variety of keywords relating to each major sporting event. For example, for the Champions League Final, the following keywords were used;
- Champions league final betting.
- Champions league betting.
- Champions league bets.
- Champions league odds.
- Champions league final bets.
The above searches were conducted twice on each day of the analysis (morning and afternoon), with Google UK search result pages saved for future analysis. Advertiser landing pages were then reviewed in order to determine the effectiveness of the landing pages to the users search query and ad text.
Our team uncovered a number of key issues from the analysis and whilst advertiser strategies differed from tournament-to-tournament, there were 7 key areas that were consistently highlighted by our paid search team.
1 - Negative Keyword Strategy
Many of the major advertisers failed to implement an effective negative keyword strategy throughout the major sporting events, which would have resulted in unwanted impressions and unnecessary marketing spend due to irrelevant and undesirable traffic. From our own experience, the use of negative keywords tends to be overlooked by advertisers and whilst the effects can be relatively small in some low CPC industries, in the high CPC gambling sector, the lack of a solid negative keyword strategy certainly harms ROI and player acquisition costs.
Put simply, in competitive and aggressive sectors such as online gambling, an effective negative keyword strategy is a 'must have'. With some CPC's commonly exceeding £25 per click for the more competitive, high value terms, it's even more important to eradicate this unwanted traffic through the effective use of Search Query reports within the AdWords system.
Our analysis highlighted that some very well established brands were appearing (and paying!) for visitors looking for world cup tickets, world cup hotels and world cup history related keywords, which would of course affect the quality scores and the amount paid per click for other more relevant campaign keywords. If we were to think of the bricks and mortar high street bookmakers for a minute, they wouldn't want a punter entering a bookies and asking about products and services they did not offer, let alone paying for the pleasure of this individual!
During the analysis we also found a number of generic gambling / betting negative keywords that are still actively displaying gambling ads for major advertisers and therefore need reviewing. A search for any of the below on Google.co.uk will display a number of gambling advertisers that would benefit from revisiting their negative keyword strategy.
- gambling commission
- gambling addict
- gambling counseling
- betting advice
- betting problem
- stop gambling
- betting scams
- betting fraud
- gambling fraud
- gambling scams
There was also significant brand exposure for a variety of undesirable casino, roulette, poker and black jack keywords, which would be generating unwanted impressions, clicks and spend that is ultimately harming the ROI generated from paid search campaigns.
Regularly analysing search query data and excluding unwanted keywords can have a dramatic impact on player acquisition costs, whilst improving conversion rates. Despite the relative simplicity of completing such a task, it was one of the most obvious and overlooked aspects of our PPC analysis.
2 - Ad Text Relevance & Creativity
Displaying a highly targeted ad that directly reflects and relates to the users search query is of fundamental importance. It allows advertisers to achieve the best CTR's, and therefore the lowest CPC's, but despite the positive impact that CTR has on campaign performance, and the large potential for cost savings in such a competitive area, it was another area in which our paid search team noticed very poor performance from some advertisers.
Whilst there were 3 advertisers who consistently presented users with what we consider to be best-practice, tailored ads with a strong correlation to the sporting event, a large percentage of ads were of a generic sports nature and contained dynamic title tags that rely heavily on their brand.
Whilst we recognize the importance and the power of brand recognition, this shouldn't be at the expense of best practice ad creation. There is certainly room for both and it was clear which advertisers were really working on the CTR and benefiting from lower than average CPC's.
Best Practice Ad Creation Tips:
- Use dynamic keyword insertion within ad titles, ad body and display URL in order to reflect the users search query.
- Use capitalisation where possible i.e. the first letter of all words in order to make your ad copy stand out from the crowd.
- Use strong calls-to-action; highlight bonus offers and other USP's.
- Further to the above, use time sensitive offers to convey urgency in your call-to-action.
- Use abbreviations in order to make the most of the limited characters.
- Be creative - review competitor's ads and make sure that yours stands out from the crowd.
- Make use of sitelinks where the system permits in order to increase the prominence of your ads.
- Test, test, & test even more variations in order to get the most from your ad copy.
During the major tournaments there were very few advertisers (only 2) that created targeted ads and campaigns around individual matches. This demonstration of strategic forward planning and excellent account management would no doubt have yielded excellent returns, but it was very unfortunate to see that these advertisers were the exception rather than the rule.
For example, on Monday 7th June 2010, specific ads appeared promoting England v USA, which ran for the week before the match on Saturday June 12th. The advertisers using this strategy rotated a good mixture of general England world cup ads and individual match ads that covered the Algeria, Slovenia and Germany matches. Unfortunately this strategy finished on Sunday June 27th as England crashed out to Germany, although the less said about that, the better!
This strategy obviously works better for longer tournaments where the fixtures are known in advance as this gives time to plan, create and launch without affecting ad quality scores. Some advertisers were also failing to make use of site links for brand ads, which is certainly a missed opportunity. Overall it became apparent that there was a distinct lack of specific tournament focus and creativity for most of the ads. Better strategic ad planning and defined times for execution and delivery, would certainly benefit a huge amount of advertisers, with the best ads being in the right place, with the right message, and at the right time. This would of course allow advertisers to acquire customers much more effectively.
3 - Landing Page Quality
Excluding irrelevant traffic and creating attractive ad copy is only half of the battle, the real challenge is convincing visitors that your offer is so compelling; they simply must sign up and become a customer.
User behavior and intent varies depending on search query and although our research identified some excellent examples of customized landing pages, it also uncovered many that did not factor in this critical aspect of a successful paid search campaign.
In some instances, visitors searching for specific events or fixtures (Commonwealth Games Betting) were simply directed to the home page or a general sports landing page with no real correlation with the users original search query in mind. In other instances, visitors were directed to a generic sign up landing page, with no relevance to the query.
It still amazes me that advertisers are prepared to pay upwards of £20 per click and simply send that visitor to a generic page as opposed to answering their search query with a tailored, user friendly landing page that encourages engagement and satisfies their original query.
I suppose in the bricks and mortar bookmakers it would be the equivalent of entering the shop with the intent of placing a horse racing bet, asking a question of the cashier and being responded to with odds for a football match. Equally as bad, the generic sign up landing pages are like asking people to provide all their details and deposit money before they are allowed in.
Making sure you remove any unnecessary hurdles is key to finding the winning landing page formula, if a user wants to place a bet on the Grand National, then deep link to your Grand National landing page. If visitors are interested in Champions League Odds, send them to a page that answers their query. If these pages do not currently exist then build them!
It is vitally important to focus on relevancy and delivering a landing page that matches the user's goal can have a dramatic impact on conversion rate and significantly decrease your player acquisition costs.
At Receptional, we like to take this a step further by breaking the elements down into primary and secondary elements. Primary elements being the key objectives and expected outcomes of the page for both visitor and advertiser, with secondary elements being the support of these actions. Examples of primary elements for the query 'champions league betting' could be:
- Call to action (sign up button)
- Odds for different champions league bets
If you were expecting a revelation here you will be disappointed. The majority of advertisers are currently failing to serve the most basic needs of the people that they are working so hard to get on the site.
We would love to get stuck in to testing variations of pages or the way in which individual elements of the page are displayed, but the current failings of the gambling industry and their PPC landing pages means we need to get back to basics and serve the primary target of the page first.
4 - Campaign Scheduling:
With our analysis commencing two weeks prior to each of the sporting events that we reviewed activity for, it was clear to us which advertisers had planned and coordinated their campaigns with user interest in the event. The fact that Ads are not approved instantly in the gambling sector due to Adwords reviewal procedures, coupled with the quality score hurdles that new ads face, it is extremely important to ensure that new ad variations are created well in advance of sporting events. This ensures that they are able to compete with more established ads during the major tournaments.
The screen shot below is taken from Insights for Search and shows interest for various sporting activities in 2009. Based on this data we should be planning to setup and manage campaigns before this time frame in subsequent years.
5 - Ad Inconsistencies:
Our analysis also highlighted a large number of inconsistencies relating to the ad copy themselves, in that many bonus offers mentioned in ads were not present on landing pages with offers also differing across search engines for the same company. We also found many out-of-date landing pages post-sports events which no doubt would have led to much higher visitor bounce rates for ads that were directed at these pages, and ultimately wasted ad spend.
Whilst many advertisers are dealing with a multitude of events in the various sports markets, it surprised us to see clear evidence of yet further poor planning and a wasteful approach to paid search. To think that the one hurdle, i.e. user lick-through, has been overcome only for an irrelevant or out-of-date landing page then causing bounces is a big hindrance to sign-up!
6 - Integrating Offline Advertising:
Our team was also surprised by the lack of consistency between online and offline activities. It is imperative that the message must be consistent throughout the promotional marketing mix. One prime example of this was William Hill's 'I Will' TV campaign, which was not mentioned at all in any of their PPC ads for football betting! This seems bizarre considering the cost involved in TV advertising, the wish to raise brand awareness and the fact that the message is largely designed to traffic online traffic to their site! Integrating offline and online presents users with a consistent brand message and can significantly increase the likelihood of a conversion, which in this case is a new player sign up.
Paddy Power were one of the few advertisers that have integrated their TV ads within Google AdWords and their 'Money Back Specials' theme ran aggressively throughout the summer months, especially during the world cup . As you can see from the below, 'Money back Specials' form a large part of their ad text and ensured a consistent message across many of the sporting events used in our analysis.
William Hill should certainly be focusing their AdWords campaigns on their recent 'I Will Football Campaign' and we were very surprised that Bet365 were not making more of the '50 In Play Markets' that Ray Winstone keeps telling us about!
Hopefully it won't be too long before AdWords Video Extensions are available in the UK, which will allow advertisers to fully integrate their offline campaigns and engage even more with potential customers.
7 - Current Advertiser Performance
In light of the fact that the PDC World Darts Championship kicks off next week, running into early January (16th December to 3rd January), our team have been reviewing the practice of advertisers for this event as well as for the UK Snooker Championship that is currently running (4th to the 12th December).
As the screenshot below shows, the results of a search for 'darts betting' are very mixed, with some advertisers being very far from best practice and surprisingly, none mentioning the forthcoming World Darts Championship.
Positive & Negative Points:
Ads that reflect the search query in the above screenshot are more noticeable and comply with best practice. In this instance, we would judge that Sporting Bet, Bet365 and Paddy Power are using the best ad titles, given the emboldened reflection of the search query and the targeted nature of the ad.
Too many of the other ads are generic 'one size fits all' ads, such as Coral's '£50 Free Bet With Coral' ad. The use of a tempting offer is certainly best practice but the eye is not immediately drawn to this and with CTR being so important here in improving quality scores, this ad could no doubt be improved.
One of the biggest surprises in our analysis of current events was the lack of sport-relevant landing pages. For example, the Coral landing page for the above ad was a generic, offer related page, rather than a Darts related page, that could have still contained a very prominent offer or at least been darts themed to maximise conversion rates.
William Hill's ad above is an example of mixed performance with the relevant sport mentioned in the body of the text, but lacking a strong title or display URL that are relevant to the search query. They are also the only advertiser in this instance to have sitelinks displayed, although disappointingly none of which directly relate to the darts query.
Darts Betting Best Ad Award:
Our best ad award for this search goes to Paddy Power. The reasoning for this is simply that they have a strong, reflective title, unique and relevant ad content e.g. 'throw a 180...', a good bonus (£50 Free), relevant display URL i.e. PaddyPower.com/Darts_Betting, and a relevant snooker-related landing page unlike most other advertisers. Of course, improvements to this ad could include it being in a stronger ad position and with it containing relevant sitelinks.
Doing much the same task for the term 'snooker betting', yields the following result which again shows that, despite a big event event being underway, only one advertiser (12BET) are mentioning the UK Championship.
Positive & Negative Points:
The screenshot above shows a similar picture to the darts betting issue in that not many ads reflect the users search query and comply with best practice. In this instance, we would again judge that Sporting Bet, and Paddy Power are using strong ad titles, as are William Hill in this area.
Too many of the other ads are generic 'one size fits all' ads, with Coral, Ladbrokes and Boyle Sports all using the same ad for both sports. This is nothing short of lazy and far from best practice as many improvements could be made to these ads.
Once again our team found a lack of sport-relevant landing pages for all advertisers, with the exception of Paddy Power, with many of the landing pages for the ads above being generic offer related pages, rather than snooker betting related page. Whilst using clear offer related landing pages can have a good impact on conversion rates, having a 'one size fits all' offer page could be improved by theming the page to the relevant sport! Nothing can be more frustrating than a user signalling their intention by clicking an ad only to then bounce off of the site due to a poor landing page.
Snooker Betting Best Ad Award:
Again our team selected Paddy Power as the winner, given the strong appearance and relevance of the ad. It makes use of a good title, offer and full use of the display URL, backed up by a good landing page.
The Receptional Best Practice Award Goes To...
Based on our research we are delighted to announce that Paddy Power win the award for Best Practice Gambling Advertiser and will receive a mystery prize in the lead up to Christmas! A big well done to whoever manages the Paddy Power paid search campaigns, and also to Sporting Bet and Bet365 who both ran Paddy very close indeed!
Summary & Opportunities:
The big question now is will gambling advertisers embrace the full potential of paid search in 2011? The issues highlighted above need to be addressed by advertisers, especially those that take paid search seriously and recognize the competitive advantage such a channel can provide. There is significant opportunity for improved paid search performance given the number of tools available in helping us to plan, execute and optimise our campaigns.
Many of the larger brands seem to be relying on the power of the brand too heavily and as such are ignoring many of the best practice paid search principles that could take their accounts to the next level. This is leading to higher than average cost per clicks and higher player acquisition costs, and ultimately a reduced return on their advertising spend.
We are already planning our next gambling analysis, which will be completed by the end of April 2011 and will include the following sports;
- PDC Darts
- The Grand National
- Australian Open
- Carling Cup
- 6 nations Rugby
- Champions League
- FA Cup
If you would like our analysis to include a particular event in the sporting calendar, we would love to hear from you, so feel free to drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are now working on a sporting calendar plan that contains campaign launch dates for all the major sporting events in 2011, so if you would like a copy of this or to improve your paid search campaigns through us in 2011, email us today: email@example.com . We're even offering one-month of free PPC management to new advertisers in January 2011, in addition to our free PPC Health Check offering, so why not get in touch?
We are also exhibiting at ICE Totally Gaming in January 2011 (Stand 6133) where we will be offering a free PPC health Check, so why not drop by and discuss the wonderful world of Paid Search?
The Receptional PPC Team