EEGReport Magazine: It’s been a while since you’ve started together with ROMSLOT the development of the “Responsible Gambling” program in Romania. What is the development of the project and what is the progress since our last interview
V.D.: Yes, several years have passed since then. Also, the program has a strong tradition of its own, as it was launched 4 years ago. The “Responsible Gambling” program was an innovative initiative for the Romanian gambling market at the time of its establishment, not to mention the fact that it was launched proactively. This premiere for the local landscape, the “Responsible Gambling” platform, was and still is a self-regulation program which was born from the interest for nurturing a responsible attitude towards the gambling actions among both operators and players.
The initiative grew in time and is currently developed by ROMSLOT together with Romanian Bookmakers association. The program has
now national coverage and psychology clinics in Bucharest, Cluj and Iasi, the 3 most important regions of Romania, but any person from Romania can receive specialized counseling though a free of charge HELPLINE. Besides this, it is important to remind that the persons with gambling issues also: beneficiate for free of online self-testing sessions, on www.jocresponsabil.ro, can have a free evaluation and counseling sessions at one of the program’s clinics, can read informative materials about responsible behavior in gaming halls.
More than that, as this responsible behavior is encouraged among all actors from our industry (be they players or the operators and their employees), the program also ensures training courses for the persons working in this industry, which are held by the program’s psychologists.
The fact that the program grew and offers a real help at national scale can be seen also from figures, as last year, the programs website was visited by almost 18.600 unique visitors who accessed the informative materials, or the auto-evaluation tests or read more about the program itself.
Besides this, the messages of the program and the encouragements towards responsible behavior when gambling were also disseminated through dedicated events, be they organized by the „Responsible Gambling” program or by other entities which invited the „Responsible Gambling” team to talk about the platform and about the best methods for approaching the gambling problems topic.
The positive results didn’t fail to appear. We can see that people take this subject more and more seriously and think about it. For example, last year, almost 1,200 persons called the HELPLINE and beneficiated of free psychological counseling (mostly men).
The fact that the program set the Romanian standards for responsible gambling and that it has a complex approach on this topic, through a varied range of services, is also shown by the fact that other players from the market followed the model and the idea of our initiative. This pleases us as it proves that the general interest towards a responsible behavior and for promoting healthy business approaches is rising. These positive signs are coming to the “Responsible Gambling” team from a newer segment of our market, as well: the online gambling sector, as we were approached by players active on this segment.
EEGReport Magazine: We’ve noticed that you have the support of many psychologists, including the most famous psychologist “DR. Cristian Andrei”. We can say you have a real team of specialists ready to give a helping hand to those that struggle with diverse problems. Tell us more about this team and what they managed to achieve until now in terms of providing a professional Responsible Gambling service.
V.D.: Our interest is to offer a real long term support to persons with gambling problems and to help them have a responsible, balanced and mature approach on the topic, to help them see that gambling is just entertainment and a relaxing activity, during which you have fun and spend quality time with other members of the community or with friends. For having a correct perception on this activity, balance is needed, like in any other segment of life, in fact.
To succeed in bringing a real and long term help to those having an issue, the “Responsible Gambling” program needed a strong team with specialists with various areas of expertise and with a vast experience behind. That is why, the platform has a national coverage and psychology clinics in Bucharest, Cluj and Iasi and an extended team of psychologists.
This network is coordinated by me along with a team of 3 experts with an extended expertise in various segments of psychology:
- Cristian Andrei who also has a degree in psychiatry and is specialized in treating similar problems in other industries as well (to have an interdisciplinary and cross-industry approach on the topic).
- Leliana Valentina Pârvulescu, who is psychologist and the “practical” coordinator of the program and has an extensive experience as psychologist. Also, Dr. Pârvulescu is specialized in innovative treatment techniques, is also sociologist and trainer specialized in, NLP, F.A.C.S and body language. Besides these, Dr. Pârvulescu is an expert in behavioral analysis and evaluation, nonverbal language and truth evaluation, just to mention some of her expertise segments.
- Psychologist Steliana Rizeanu, who is the “scientific” coordinator of the program, having a PHD in psychology in topics related with gambling problems. Also, Dr. Rizeanu is author of several books approaching this very topic.
This structure and team (which will continue to grow in parallel with the development of the program) makes us confident that the gambling related problems are approached and managed with utmost care and that the persons who enter the program overpass their issue and can continue their activity in a balanced and responsible way.
EEGReport Magazine: As the number of players rises, so does the number of problems. What are your plans for the near future in overcoming unexpected situations in the online gambling industry?
V.D.: As the market develops, the landscape becomes more complex it is true. But, in the same time, so do the opportunities, the interest of the local market for responsibility.
What I mean by this is that due to the various educative and communication actions, unfolded in the past years by the “Responsible Gambling” program, this topic was put on the public agenda, the interest for it grew, the model of our platform inspired others to launch initiatives or similar messages.
Also, another thing that encourages us, is that people started more to get in touch with us and to beneficiate by the assistance offered by our program.
Besides this, the development of the online sector and their interest in approaching the “Responsible Gambling” sector makes us be hopeful for the future, as there is place for joining efforts and for promoting the responsible behavior principles both online and offline, for the overall benefit of the Romanian market.
EEGReport Magazine: Can you give us a statistic, or tell us more about how the Romanian gamblers, compared to other European gamblers, manage to overcome personal gambling problems? Are the Romanian gamblers overcoming these issues better than other countries?
V.D.: The most recent statistics on this topic are those offered by a national research conducted by GfK (research company) and ROMSLOT, in 2013. It was the first study on the local market ever done, proactively started by ROMSLOT, and shows us that, compared to other markets, Romanians’ the interest in slot machines is quite lower compared to other European markets.
For example, out of the total number of adult Romanians, only 3% played in the last year at slot machines. Out of them, only 1% played weekly. Compared to these local figures, according to international statistics, the number of people gambling in other European countries is 4 times larger, in Britain approx. 13% of the population was playing at slot machines in 2010.
One of the reasons for explaining these percentages is that, in Romania, playing the Lottery is a lot more popular, as approx. 20% of the population plays here, out of which 5% plays weekly at the Lottery.
Given the lower dimension of the market compared to other countries, the gambling problem phenomenon has, implicitly, a lower intensity. Nevertheless, this is not a reason to neglect its importance and risk potential.
That is why, the “Responsible Gambling” program approaches the gambling problems topics very seriously and continues its efforts of educating the market and of underlining the importance of having a responsible behavior both as a business and as a player. We are the first who militate for this durable business approach, as we believe that the market has to enter and to “play” in the “responsible profit” era.
EEGReport Magazine: Tell us more about your future projects and aims.
V.D.: As I was mentioning, we will continue to unfold communication and educative campaign and activities (workshops, conferences, participation at local and international events approaching the Responsibility topic) and to militate for promoting a responsible approach when conducting a business or as a player.
As the market develops and enters on newer segments (like the online gambling sector) we will stay opened and work with companies from the local market in order to grow our initiative and to meet the needs generated by these online and offline expansions.
EEGReport Magazine: Do you have partnerships with companies from other countries, or plans for a common platform involving similar projects?
V.D.: The core objective of our program is to expand our activities, counseling services and responsibility campaigns as much as we can, so that we can promote the “responsible gambling” concept and “responsible way of doing business” as much as we can, as far as we can. That is why, as I was previously mentioning, we are always open to collaboration and are currently investigating how we can grow this platform so that it can truly offer tailored help for players coming from various gambling environments (e.g.: online segment, besides than traditional offline gambling).
EEGReport Magazine: Helping gamblers that struggle with diverse problems is a very good thing, but preventing problems is even better. What should be done in order to prevent such problems in the future, rather than combating them?
V.D.: It is known that prevention is the best treatment. This is precisely why, a strong component of the “Responsible Gambling” program is focused on “education” and on having constant activities through which to transmit the messages regarding the importance of responsible gambling (from articles in the media, to workshops on this topic, to hosting or participating as speakers in conferences, both at local and international level).
In short, education and helping all actors from the gambling market realize the importance of responsibility and of having a sustainable approach is the key for having a healthy and successful business and industry.
EEGReport Magazine: And lastly, tell us about the vision of your company. Where do you see this company in 5 years from now?
V.D.: The greatest wish is to continue the directions started together with my colleagues and to develop at a larger scale the projects we initiated. To militate for a better legislative framework, which also takes into account the legitimate interests of our specific industry and to continue to promote the “responsible gambling” concept and the CSR principles.
Alexandre Tomic – Interview – (EEGReport Magazine – Issue 4 – October 2016 – January 2017)
EEG: We see the Virtual gambling industry as a new gambling industry in full development. How fast is it growing and how are people reacting to it?
A.T.: There is a great deal of interest around the virtual gambling industry, as there is around virtual reality in general. People have been waiting for virtual reality to become a truly viable option for the last thirty years or so, and now that it’s finally starting to get there, it’s understandable that people are eager to get their hands on it and give it a try. However the high costs are undeniably still an issue, as players need expensive equipment to run VR software, so most of the people who have played in our VR casino so far have been playing in 3D and not getting the full VR experience, meaning that it’s hard to tell at the moment.
We have however taken the VR casino on the road to industry shows and conferences. We took two sets of VR software and neither was ever empty; in fact people were queueing up to try it out. We have always had an extremely positive reaction from those who have tried it – players, the media, and industry professionals alike.
EEG: What are the current games that are available until now, and what other games can we expect in the near future?
A.T.: VR is going to be huge. There is so much choice already for VR games, and it hasn’t even reached mainstream acceptance yet. On Steam alone there are already more than 500 games, allowing users to fight robots, create art and machines, play sports, take a look around shops, explore abandoned buildings, dark forests and undersea worlds, protect castles from invading tribes, go out into space, and a great deal more.
While we can’t speak for the other VR games currently in development, we are hoping to one day improve the experience inside our VR casino by creating fully immersive VR slots. At the moment the setting is VR, but the slots themselves are still 2D, and players still play sitting in front of a screen. What we would like to do is create an environment in which players are surrounded by the features of the slot, with the reels in front of them but the actual background, animated characters, and other features of the slot all around them.
EEG: How do you think Virtual Gaming will affect people that never walked into a real casino, but still have a curiosity towards it?
A.T.: I think the fact that a truly immersive casino experience is now available to play from the comfort of a user’s own home will certainly pique people’s interest and make them more curious about trying it – not to mention the fact that they would do so using VR, a technology which a lot of people have been looking forward to trying since the 80s. Obviously it can’t replace the experience of going into a casino in real life, but perhaps people who try it in VR and feel that thrill of seeing others winning and winning themselves might then be more likely to give it a go in a real casino.
EEG: Suppose I’m willing to try a virtual casino. What are the things I need in order to get in there and gamble?
A.T.: You would need a high-spec gaming PC and a pair of virtual reality goggles. SlotsMillion’s virtual casino is currently compatible with the Oculus Rift goggles and we are working on becoming compatible with the HTC Vive in the near future as well. Theoretically, players could also use Google Cardboard or Samsung Gear, but at the moment we have no plans to make our application compatible with these devices as, considering that they are low-end, it would dramatically affect the quality of the experience and we are dedicated to offering our players the best.
EEG: Do you think that one day maybe, virtual reality will completely overrun reality, and maybe move absolutely all of the players into the virtual world?
A.T.: I think it’s a possibility. Virtual reality is that immersive – it’s incredibly easy to lose track of time and will become even more so as the technology improves and any side effects such as motion sickness become less of an issue. Business especially may find a place in the VR world – within the casino we could certainly work from inside, having meetings, supporting players and schmoozing with partners, affiliates and clients. We might one day spend longer inside the VR world than the players, and ultimately what started out as a game will eventually start to look like a new, revolutionary way of doing business. Gaming certainly isn’t the only industry with business uses for VR, though; education, medicine, the military, retail and many more are already starting to use VR to improve the services they offer, both to their staff and to their customers and users.
The more technology encroaches onto our daily working lives and the higher the amount of people who work in technology-based industries, the more likely it is that we will become accustomed to spending our working hours inside the VR world. VR could really revolutionise the business side of things as well as the player experience. The possibilities are endless, and it would be a shame not to explore and exploit them in every possible way.
One day it will be almost impossible, or at least very hard, to distinguish reality from the virtual world. The only way we will be able to tell that we are in a computer generated simulation would be because we will hold on to the memories of our real lives – and we could even eventually remove this capability. But what if the game became so immersive that we couldn’t remember who we really are? In that instance it may even be difficult to tell which of our realities is the virtual world, and which is in fact the real one.
EEG: How could we satisfy the people that turn their backs at the virtual reality, saying that you can’t have a real drink on the house, or that virtual body language isn’t the same as the real one?
A.T.: Of course there are aspects of VR gambling that can’t quite live up to the real thing – it would be unreasonable to expect a game to do so. At the moment, VR isn’t meant to replace the experience of gambling in a real casino, but instead merely make it more accessible to those who perhaps aren’t able to visit real casinos often, or provide a more social and immersive experience for those who had previously been limited to playing online. As the technology improves, it will start to feel increasingly realistic and that immersive feel will be all the more present. In the future, however, we would like to use AR to add an extra layer inside the casino, and this is where users may start seeing the benefits of VR over real life, as the AR aspect would facilitate a much more personalised experience – including personalised offers and bonuses, for example – which may make players feel more valued and welcomed inside their casino.
EEG: Let’s talk about the legal aspect, do you think that strong regulations or laws could appear to restrict Virtual Gaming? And that it might keep this industry from developing?
A.T.: We were expecting when we sat down with our regulator, the MGA, to have to make a lot of changes and adjustments in accordance with their laws. However, they were very helpful, and it was great to see that they were open to the development of new technologies within the gaming industry. We have not had a lot of problems with regulations so far, and I think that’s a very good indication that the gaming industry is ready for a revolution like the one virtual reality is expected to cause.
Of course there is the fact that due to app store regulations we are unable to use the VR casino as a bridge between the worlds of social and real money gaming, as we had initially envisioned doing. The likes of Apple, Android and Oculus tend to restrict the displaying of real money gaming in their stores, which means that we are unable to use the VR casino as an acquisition tool for players and rather keep it as a retention tool for the players we already have.
EEG: What is the first thing you would improve in the Virtual Gaming industry at this point?
A.T.: Since virtual reality in the gaming world is still such a young industry, it’s quite difficult to answer at this point. Clearly there are elements of the technology that we still need to work on – side effects such as motion sickness for example – to make the experience as immersive as it has the potential to be, but that is sure to improve as the technology develops, so at the moment it’s more a case of wait and see.
EEG: Do you think hacking could interfere with this virtual gambling world? If so, how could we prevent that?
A.T.: I think it’s extremely likely that hackers could interfere with the virtual world, and the results could be terrifying. Think of the situation in the movie Surrogates with Bruce Willis, where a virus was created that was capable of destroying users’ virtual and real bodies both. The damage would not be quite that bad, of course, but the consequences could be much more severe than they currently are when hacking occurs, because the level of immersion inside the virtual world would be much higher. In this video, we can observe the confusion that occurs when a hacker tries to break into the user’s account – her reality starts to collapse and she has to start again from the beginning.
This is not something to take lightly, so we obviously need to do our best to prevent this from happening, as we do today. However no matter how many measures we take, we always have to be aware that hackers’ skills grow alongside the development of technology. It’s already crucial today to protect ourselves, but given that the stakes will be even bigger in the virtual world, we have to try even harder to outsmart the hackers. It’s the same good guy versus bad guy game of today, just on a higher level.
EegReportMagazine-SEO article – (EEGReport Magazine – Issue 4 – October 2016 – January 2017)
Perhaps you already heard about the latest(and also the last)Google Penguin Algorithm update, which is aimed at decreasing search engine rankings for websites that violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines! Follow these tips and make sure that you stay out of the Penguin 4.0’s radar!
What if you don’t know any SEO (search engine optimization) tips&tricks that will get your site all the way to the top positions? A lack of SEO practices can leave your website in a dark corner, which means no one will ever know you even exist, no visitors, no cliks which leads to no sales!
The truth is – that Search Engine Optimization ain’t no rocket science, getting to know and to master the subtle nuances takes time and effort, but the reality is you don’t need to spend years to learn the basics to optimize your website properly! We hope that you’ll find this simple article helpful in getting started with your SEO endeavour!
First thing’s first, what is SEO?
There are way to many definitions of SEO, but organic SEO nowadays is all about getting free traffic from Google (the most popular search engine in the world). (tedd a snippetet)
It’s also very important to understand what search engines are looking for?
To be very precise there are 4 main elements that search engines look at when determining which website is the most relevant and should show up in the SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages):
1, Content: the content must be relevant to what the user is searching for?
2, Performance: how fast is the websites load time and does it work properly?
3, Authority: is the content relevant and useful enough to link to and do other authoritative websites use it as reference or do they cite the information that’s available?
4, UX (User Experience): how does the site behave an look? Is it easy to navigate trough, doest it look safe? And doest it have a healty bounce rate?
The true purpose of SEO is to help users who are looking for you find you. In order to do that, you have to match the content on your website to what people are trying to find. It’s not about traffic, it’s all about figuring out what your goal is, and then optimizing for keywords that bring in visitors who want the same things.
Keyword Research / Content Research
One the most important SEO factor next to good and relevant content is a good keyword research. Most of the SEO experts still use the keyword research today as a tactic of identifying terms and phrases to use to optimize pages on a given website, the act of keyword research nowadays implies much more than a simple keyword research. In order to know what and how to do here are some examples of dont’s:
– don’t choose keywords that are to generic or to broad
– don’t choose keywords without enough traffic
– don’t choose keywords that are not relevant to your product or business
– don’t try to rank for one keyword at a time
Avoiding these mistakes you can find keywords that:
– have a really high search volume (keywords or keyword phrases that are often used by your audience to search for your type of business or product)
– with low competition level
– are relevant to the content of your website
You should also do a little research on your competitors, to see what are the keywords or keyword phrases that are getting traffic to their website!
After you’re done picking the right keywords, it’s important to start crafting on your content. All search engines have bots, that automatically will crawl your website and try to find out what it’s about and then deciding which keywords each of your web pages should rank for. The bots can be influenced by strategically optimizing your website content for certain keywords. It’s true that keywords are important, so you better make sure you’re writing for your visitors first, and then for the search engines bots where you can. All of your website content needs to highly relevant, fresh and engaging, if not you won’t have a chance in converting your websites visitors into those highly desired customers.
When you’re writing your content you should focus on:
– Titles: write eye-catching titles that catch your visitor’s attention from the first glance, you have one shot to make a great first impression.
– Keywords: use relevant keywords that will help you bring people to your website.
– Quality: you must have unique and quality content, your visitors came to your site searching for information or for a solution so make sure you’re delivering the best possible solution or information for them.
– Links: make sure you link to quality sites that confirm what your website is all about, this will make other websites to also link to you.
– Length: if you’re looking to get links for your content then make sure you create 500+ word long posts
– Freshness: you need to add new relevant content on a regular basis, this could also be a in a form of a blog.
Don’t forget to optimize your code
The bots of the search engines don’t just read your website’s text, they also read your website’s code. With a well optimized code you have the chance to rank your website high in the search engines:
Your URL structure has to be friendly and clean, otherwise search engines will have a hard time crawling them and in this case they won’t be able to properly index it, which means you will not rank in the search engines.
Keep this things in mind if you want to achieve an SEO-friendly site URL structure:
– your URLs should not contain extraneous characters ( $ @ ! * % = ? )
– Numbers and letters should only be used in URLs.
– do not use underscores, the search engines prefer dashes.
– shorter URLS usually rank better than longer ones.
– sub-domains can rank better than sub directories.
The way you cross-link web pages will make a big impact on your rankings. Here are some good tips when cross-linking your web site:
– keep the number of links on each page under 100.
– links within your content usually carry more weight than links within a sidebar or in a footer.
Each of your web pages needs to have a unique title tag that describes what that page is all about. A title tag is the main text that describes an online document. Focus on the title tag because this is what people see in search engine results when they’re searching for your service or product. The title tag also shows up in posts shared on social media sites like Facebook, so next to including your main keyword in the title you also have to make it enticing enough to convince people to click it.
When you write your title tags, make sure you:
– add your keyword in the tille
– include a unique title tag for each page
– make sure you keep your title tag between 42 and 60 characters, including spaces. To make sure your title is properly displayed, try not to go over 60 characters.
Meta description tag
The meta description needs to summarize the content on your page, the reason for this is that this will show up in search engine results together with the title tag.
Meta descriptions are HTML attributes that provide concise explanations of the contents of web pages. While it won’t help you rank higher in the search engines, a well-written meta description can have a huge impact on whether users decide to click through or not.
When you write your meta description, make sure you:
– include your keywords
– write a different one for each page
– includes a call-to-action that convince people to click
– stay between 100 and 150 characters, including spaces
Heading are used to visually break up the content of a web page into sections (from a usability point of view) and to tell the search engine spiders what that page is about. These come in a specific order. H1, H2, H3, H4, and so on, with H1 starting the page as the main heading. Your headings should also contain keywords that are relevant to the content on your website.
A sitemap is like a road map for search engines. They give the bots directions to all of the different pages on your website, so you better make sure they find everything. There are two types of sitemaps: XML sitemas and HTML sitemaps. The difference is that XML sitemaps are created for the search engines and HTML sitemaps are created for your visitors.
After your XML sitemap is created, you should submit it to Google Webmaster (Search Console) and Bing so that the major search engines can crawl and index your web site.
In order for search engine bots to properly index images on your website, alt tags need to be added to each image, in form of a brief description. For example, if there was an image of a “casino logo”, I would tell the search engine that the image is XY’s casino logo by using an alt tag. Also make sure your image names are relevant to the image. The picture of the casino logo would be called thenameofthecasino.jpg instead of image6.jpg.
The next step would be measuring the effectiveness of your SEO efforts and see how your website is performing. How many visitors per month is your website attracting? Which are the most popular pages? How much time are they spending on your website? These are a few of the things that you can uncover by using an analytics tool, make sure you set up your Google analytics now so you can start collecting data right away.
Google Analytics is the best choice because it’s free, easy to set up and use, and provides loads of useful information about your visitors’ behaviour on your website.
Google Webmaster Tools (Search Console)
The Google Webmaster Tools (Search Console) allows you to go more in depth and see things like:
– who is linking to your site
– what search terms are sending visitors to your site
– whether your site has any issues that need to be fixed quickly and so on
If you have a WordPress website, you should install an SEO plugin to help you optimize your content. One of the best plugin is Yoast. Why? Because it’s completely free, easy to use and packed with powerful features. The Yoast SEO plugin will help you meet all of the recommended SEO criteria while you become comfortable writing keyword-optimized content for your website.
The robots.txt file includes a list of commands, like: allow and disallow, that tells web crawlers such as the Googlebot which web pages it can or cannot retrieve. If a URL is disallowed in your robots.txt files, that URL and all its contents won’t appear in Google search results.!
Links are still an important ranking factor and continue to be a great indicator of what content is important but also relevant. It’s very simple: the more websites that link to your website, the higher your webpage will rank! from a search engine’s point of view, the more trustworthy, non-spammy sites are linking to your website, the more authority you must have on the topic. Nonetheless it’s not about getting thousands of links really quick but about getting quality and authority websites to link to your website.Before you start building or earning links you need to know the following:
– links from related sites are worthier than links from non-relevant websites
– content links are more effective than links from a footer or sidebar
– create great and purposeful content, that is useful and engaging so that people want to link to it and share it with others too
– promote your content in order to reach the right people who will be motivated to link to it and also share it
– build relationships with influencers in your niche and convince them that your content is of a high enough quality to share
– avoid links from spammy or irrelevant websites
– Site wide links tend to hurt more than they may help
– don’t buy links
– do not use reciprocal links (I link to you and you link to me)
The most effortless way to get links is to see who links to your competition and contact them by email telling them the benefits of your website compared to your competition. You can also submit your website to directories, general ones or more relevant ones to your service or product. Getting on social media sites like StumbleUpon or Digg won’t just drive you a ton of traffic, they will also increase your visibility, which improves your chances of getting linked to. Search the web for citation of your brand or company name and turn thhem into links! Try guest posting on highly authoritative and relevant websites.
If you follow these advice’s and tips, your traffic from search engines will increase. You just have to be patient as it takes time for search engines to crawl, index your website and start ranking it.
The Real BlackHat SEO – (EEGReport Magazine – Issue 4 – October 2016 – January 2017)
BlackHat SEO is the process by which you manipulate elements on a website that you believe, or were told, can actually affect your positions with search engine rankings like Google. This is also known as SEO, Search Engine Optimisation, GreyHat, and yes…WhiteHat. In fact, Wikipedia says…”black hat SEO refers to the use of aggressive SEO strategies, techniques and tactics that focus only on search engines and not a human audience” . Have you asked for, bought or posted a single link on a directory ever?… then you my friend are a BlackHat.
I have always tried to deliver information that Affiliates and Operators could put to use rather than twist the information into a ‘why you should hire Vanguard to do it’ thing. I’ve been heavily criticized for authoring many articles and conference sessions on BlackHat and teaching many of these techniques. Do I teach how to hack a WordPress site? No. But can we? You better believe it. Wanna know how to run a constant DDOS attack or get a website de-indexed? I don’t go that far because there’s always that one nefarious individual that will use it for the opposite reason I talk about it so openly. You need to know what these guys are doing in order to identify and/or protect your income. So this personal opinion of mine has obviously given critics a reason to bitch and complain.
Two problems I have with this criticism; Problem 1. I started as an Affiliate 20 yrs ago so I know how difficult it can be. Knowing what the competition may be doing to hurt your income and having the ability to protect yourself should be a no-brainer. If you know what they are doing or may do in the future, you can protect yourself and be proactive about it. Like the saying goes, ‘I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it’. Problem 2. I just don’t care what they think. Honestly. The big guys pay me the big bucks for the same stuff I give away to any Affiliate for free. The difference is I do the work for the big guys and Affiliates do the work themselves. I can do this because typically the big guys have a ‘no brandbidding clause’ in their Affiliate agreement. This doesn’t mean your competition/fellow affiliate isn’t targeting your website. It also doesn’t mean I can’t monitor your new domain purchases and scoop your .net and .org or a ccTLD and hold you hostage or rank better than you for your brand and become an Affiliate. We’ll talk more about that later.
The fact is that if you do ANYTHING to increase your rankings you are essentially qualifying for BlackHat status. At least that’s they way the people doing this type of BlackHat feel about it. So when I write about BlackHat techniques I’m not referring to DDOS attacks, Spoofing or Trojan viruses, I am referring to the type of rank manipulation, or BlackHat, that anyone can do; A competitor, an upset client or an ex-employee that you fired.
The Real World BlackHat Effect
A study done by Harvard University found that a single review on Yelp can affect your yearly income by 10%. Another showed that 80% of all online shoppers did their homework online. This was regardless of whether they actually bought it online or in the brick-and-mortar or offline store. One of the most seemingly “clean” dating sites eHarmony, has over 1000 negative reviews on Yelp alone. In fact I think it’s closer to 2000 than 1000 now. Are these a few of the hundreds of other dating websites that they compete with doing aggressive BlackHat? Or is eHarmony actually doing something to cause these?
The fact is that there are many reasons, from auto-pay issues to fake profiles. Every dating site has them. It’s Inherent. Just like having cheats in online gambling, or Amazon con games you can find step-by-step instructions for on the Dark Net.
Websites like BlackHatWorld.com and fiverr.com can be used for this, and many other services are available that can hurt your websites rankings and reputation. This is Real World BlackHat. And anyone can do it. What I have written this article for, (and the reason it’s my main topic of discussion on several sessions I have given and will be giving at Dating and Gaming conferences this year) is this: As a an SEO Company that specializes in Reputation Management we have seen these tactics becoming more common and more successful. You have two choices: you can be proactive or reactive. One is much more expensive. Guess which one?
I am going to tell you about the most popular tactics such as manipulating review websites and lesser used tactics, although very effective, such as subdomain and subdirectory attacks. I deal with mainly Dating and Casino sites and trust me, there is nothing more motivating for someone than a broken heart or empty wallet. These guys will stop at nothing to feel vindicated. Beyond those types of negative content, your competitor is responsible for the other 40%, and will likely not give up as long as they can afford a hundred bucks a month or so.
Then I am going to tell you how you can combat these attacks when, not if, they happen. And also how the right prevention tactics can immunize your websites, and is well worth the investment.
Brand-Bashing Still Works
Fifteen years ago I had a moving company trash a solid oak bedroom set I had. They refused to pay. In 3 days I ranked #1 for their company name. I sent them a link. Then I sent them an email and the replacement cost. I received the replacement check in the mail two days later and removed the page. Sorted. So in some cases the internet is a useful consumer tool that has put the power back in our hands. I mean how many times has a business truly just ripped you off?
The problem is that as an Affiliate you have competition, as an Operator you have competition and Affiliates to contend with, and heaven forbid you have a well-branded company because it’s open season on you guys. You are tasked with dominating the top 10-20 search results for your brand or become a part of that 10% statistic.
Reduce your traffic and revenue by 10% then factor that into a lifetime value…what is that figure compounded over a year, because as people see this they will link to it and then it starts gaining ranking positions. The ludicrous point I will make here is that many companies spend money for CRM and Social Media, but they spend nothing on proactive Brand Protection or reactive Reputation Management. In many cases they have absolutely zero Engagement as well.
Most Brand-Bashing is a result of an unhappy customer that can be made happy
The Real Estate
It is all about the Real Estate. Those top ten positions on Google, Yandex or Baidu for your brand or your website. Every position that you do not hold costs you more money. If you are not in Google’s top 3 organic results then you are not syndicated across their network partner sites that use these top 3 results for an extra revenue source, and then the rest from their database or another third party that pays them to list their results. If you are not in the syndicated search results then you miss out on traffic from sites like AOL that has double the conversion rate of anyone, MSNBC, iWon, and so on. All these search engines are in Google’s syndication network.
80% of buyers are window shopping your site online before they become a depositor/buyer/client. Almost the same number (80%) represents the number of these tire-kickers that actually use what they found online in their decision making process. I know this to be true because that’s what I do, and I buy almost everything online due to living on a tiny island called Gozo in the middle of the Mediterranean. My team did the research and I don’t care who you are, whether it’s Gaming or Dating, you have a negative review or some ugly content that can be found right now. It may be on a subdirectory, subdomain, review site, forum or hate-site, but I assure you it is there and we were able to find it. We searched the top 100 Gaming and 100 Dating sites on Google and we were able to find negative reviews for every one of them. Some are not ranking in the top 10 or even the top 50, but they are there, and because they are there means I could buy 10 link wheels for $50 or just buy a few decent links and that little gem could rocket to the front page if there are not stronger pages in place.
I won’t delve on this too much…because it hurts too much to hear or see. But these are the real world costs associated with negative content;
- Payroll – what it costs to be reactive and pay staff to handle negative sentiment rather than spend their
valuable time proactively creating positive sentiment and a game plan for engagement and retention.
- Payoffs – Yes, believe it or not everything has a price. Many clients have elected to offer a payoff or
return what this person spent. It’s just the cheapest and quickest way out in some costly circumstances.
Especially the incidents where you are guilty. These types will never quit.
- Repeat Offenders – They did it once. What says they can’t create a new Gmail account and repeat
whatever they did before and hold you hostage again? Oh, but this time you have to pay in Bitcoin so
you can’t track them and know it’s the same person. Rinse. Repeat.
- DMCA – Digital Millennium Copyright Act – 1996 saw this ‘Supermarket Turtle” poke it’s head out, ready
for action. It can protect you against some of these negative tactics, but besides the average 2 months
it takes to get it removed, there’s also the time and money it takes to enforce it by your staff. And it’s a
US law which can create further problems.
- Legal – The last option and most expensive result. Most of the guys using Real World BlackHat know
that getting a ‘Lawyer Letter’ means nothing. At best it means they got your attention and they become
even more motivated. It the worst cases it could even mean litigation or case filing costs, etc.
And drumroll please….the top reason being reactive rather than proactive is so expensive?
The Real Estate. Remember the 10% rule; One negative review in the top 10 results = 10% less revenue.
Over time this will snowball and then you get two pages/websites in the top 10, then three. Everything
is about protecting your real estate.
Besides the obvious places negative content can end up in search results on such sites as Facebook
Pages, G+ and 40+ other Social Media websites, there are a dozen other techniques that anyone can do.
They can learn how to do it themselves on YouTube or they can pay someone to do it for them. These are the same guys that email you about getting you to the top of Google for $500. The only difference is they can actually do this. Here are the most common techniques that we are seeing industry-wide that are being used to steal your top 10 real estate:
Subdomain Hijacking/Injection – I have a well-ranked site out of my network of 13,000 that targets your niche and I add a subdomain. YourBrand.MyWebsite.com. Then I host it on a server in your target geographic region and start building links on some of my other sites using your brand as anchor text, or not. It doesn’t matter. I rank top 10 for your brand or website. An even more seriously nasty tactic that is used along with the next one (WordPress Hacking) and is when these guys find a WP security hole and exploit 100k sites running an outdated version of WP or a certain plugin, and then through this newly created back-end access they add a hidden page that the website owner never sees, but the Search Engine Spiders can see them. These can actually rank for your brand.
WordPress Hacking – Probably one of the easiest things to learn in terms of ‘actual’ hacking and can be found all over YouTube. Every time there is a WordPress update or one of the 15 ‘really cool’ plugins that makes your site so cool and unique is updated, they can leave a gaping hole. They will take the easily obtained plugin code and place it side-by-side with the code for the old plugin, note the differences and employ a good WP guy to find a vulnerability. From here you can get into the site and change or delete pages, add a noindex command and get purged from search results completely, or various other invisible ‘upgrades”.
Subdirectory Hijacking – There are dozens of people that are the equivalent of website hitmen, and they are more than willing to sell their services. One of them that I found out about in Poland can take a 50,000 website-strong network and inject 50,000 pages of scraped and scrambled content and put your brand/ website on a new optimized subdirectory page on their websites. No link, just your brand/website in the content and the URL. After doing a brand search for the client we saw 30 of these pages ranking in the top 100 results on Google worldwide and on all their data centers.
Negative Link Buys – Everyone knows you can buy good links, well, let’s just call them ‘links’, but you can also buy bad links. Earlier I mentioned buying 10 link wheels on Fiverr. This will cost you $50. You can imagine the state of the websites your link will get posted on. Or I can use SEOMoz or Ahrefs and get a trust rank comparison and just choose the de-indexed, penalized or porn sites to post a link to you or the ranking page you have in the search results that I want gone.
Hate-Site Creation – Beyond using the above tactic, anyone can buy a domain (with or without your brand/website in the URL), host it and have a WordPress theme installed for under $50 complete and ready-to-roll. Done correctly this site can rank for your brand/keyword/domain, especially if you do not have other pages within this real estate that out-perform this new hate-site.
Startup Hijacking – I mentioned this earlier, now I’ll explain it. You spend your time and money obtaining all that’s required to get an Operators license and open a casino. Or your an Affiliate that is going to market your site that reviews one of these niches. You buy BeerGuzzleDating.com or HereIsMyWalletCasino.com (as an Affiliate of 20 years I assure you this worked then and it works now). You can use one of many free tools available to target keywords like ‘Dating’ or ‘Casino’. DomainTools will email me whenever someone buys a domain with one of these keywords in the URL. I setup a domain sniper that will automatically buy these domains for a few dollars. Now I own YourWebsite.net/.org/.co or any extension that is available. We see ccTLD’s like .info, .co and .tech all over the top 10. And if they get the Facebook crowd confused over who is who, you might even lose a large number of followers or end up paying an Affiliate for that traffic. Facebook draws 10x the traffic as Google Adwords for the same cost. Conversions are about the same though, but so is the cost and you also have Likes, Followers, Groups, etc. that it builds as well.
At this point I can 301 (redirect) from these URL’s to my money-site. When the time comes I can reverse the redirect and push the new TLD’s or ccTLD’s up. Or, I can add a subdirectory or a subdomain to a good existing website on a page I create targeting your site/brand. Then use a 301 redirect to the new domain and pass on the link juice. I can also just build a entirely new site in a day and start pointing links at it and doing advanced SEO. This site will target your newly purchased brand/domain. So by the time your dev guys get the platform, customize it and actually are able to launch it, I already rank for it. Now comes the meaning of the term “CyberSquatter”, or “Super Affiliate”, or worse, you are an existing company that pissed me off and I monitored WhoIs domain name purchasers and get notified that you bought OurFabulousNewCasino.com and I do the same thing as above, but this time I start posting negative content.
Automated Tools and BlackHat Networks – I mentioned subdomain and subdirectory hijacking, as well as Link Wheels and Negative Link Buys. These are but a few of what money can buy. Anyone’s money. Remember it’s not always about a competitor trying to steal your real estate, it’s also about the haters that will inevitably wish to harm you or steal your traffic. ScrapeBox, XRumer and SENuke are just a few of the tools meant for something other than BlackHat techniques when they were created, but they are the most widely used by the ‘guy next door’ that doesn’t know a thing about coding or hacking. You would be surprised to see what a hundred bucks can buy. For $50 you can access a BlackHat server with nothing but programs used for negative SEO. They have over 50 planted there for open access for a price. You can even hire someone to do everything for you. They offer a menu and Paypal payment.
Review Websites – As a company that does as much Reputation Management as we do SEO, I can tell you that review sites like SiteJabber and TrustPilot are showing up in the top 20 results for almost every brand/website search that has a review posted. They carry a lot of trust with Google and the other search engines. I sometimes compare them to Wikipedia, except that Wikipedia is policed by everyone, not just the review site’s Marketing teams. You can “join” for a hefty and ongoing price, and have some control over what is posted about you, but again the time and cost factor needs to be considered in the overall cost of doing business equation, and if you are guilty you may need ‘special skills’ to erase it. Add to this to the powerhouse presence Social Media has become and the real estate thins significantly.
The good news is that most of these tactics can be proactively prevented from happening. There are also a few tricks you can go do right now that will claim back some of your real estate. I listed these below the defensive tactics.
Subdomain Hijacking/Injection – Probably one of the worst and easiest methods because the only defense you have against this is reaction rather than prevention. Once you have been hit the only way to fix it is by contacting each website via email or WhoIs Webmaster/Admin details (provided they are not hidden) and notify them of the page so they take it down. Usually telling them it’s a scrambled/spun mess of non-relevant content, or it links to a porn site, will usually motivate them to remove it, but not always. In some cases there is no one to do it. They paid a friend of a friend to install a WordPress site and it is still running an antiquated version of WordPress, the theme or a plugin. This means you may have to take the DMCA route through Google = 2 months. But even if it is removed today, not updating it will just invite another attack tomorrow. There are programs that search for these vulnerabilities, or you can just Google the code.
WordPress Hacking – Personally I avoid WP whenever possible. Primarily because it can slow sites down for several reasons like running cache on them or code-heavy plugins (images, sliders, video, etc.), but also because it creates a need for additional security measures that cost money, and also constant updating that is required depending on the number of plugins you have. Less common but more dangerous is what I described above, Hijacking and Injection.
Subdirectory Hijacking – This can happen on a private network of their own, or on lots of sites running WordPress but not updating them or installing SiteLock or taking other security measures. But again the
only way to fix it is by contacting each website owner via email or WhoIs Webmaster/Admin details (provided they are not hidden) and notify them of the page so they take it down.
Negative Link Buys – Run a tool once a week that analyzes your backlinks. SEOMoz, LinkAssistant and
Ahrefs are among a few that can do a comparative analysis and identify the spammy links. Create a disavow file. This says you do not approve the link. Be sure to disavow at domain level to prevent future attacks and be careful when selecting the links because you can hurt your site if you are lazy and do not do the research.
Hate-Site Creation – These can get very serious because anyone can create them with little or no knowledge. If they find a few people that feel the same as they do then online sentiment starts to kick in and you get the ‘snowball effect’. It may not rank now, but let it get a few good backlinks and it comes out of nowhere. We have seen this time and time again. Remember, broken hearts and empty wallets are a big motivator. In some cases they replace searching for a date or a gambling habit.
Startup Hijacking – This one is easy. Buy the.org and .net domains for a few dollars, create a typepad or other simple site immediately. Add an RSS feed if your lazy or add content to the primary domain and forward the others. Do a few social bookmarks and manually submit it through Google Search Console to get it indexed and your good to go. Operators need to be sure to include a non-compete for branded keywords to your Affiliate agreements.
Automated Tools and BlackHat Networks – Because of the sheer number of tools and techniques widely available to the people looking for them, these networks and the tools they use are constantly evolving. The best defense against all of them is to be proactive. If you aren’t budgeting at least the same amount you do for CRM and legal networks/staff on Reputation Management and a proactive plan to defend your property then you need to run the numbers and see for yourself why this is an essential part of your overall strategy.
Review Websites – I despise these sites. So much that worldwide I have thousands of active reviewers across 70+ review sites including my own personal accounts. I despise caffeine-free coffee and people that give me road rage in a supermarket as well, but alas these are a few things I cannot change. The difference is that I can’t add caffeine to my coffee, or ask the turtle in front of me to move it along…calmly or rationally, but I can defend my rank status on most review sites. This defensive strategy can come in many forms. Sometimes the Vanguard SEO Team has to handle it, sometimes ReviewPool, and in the toughest cases IronStoneConsultants have to handle the dirty work. In many cases just asking existing clients/players/members to offer feedback for credits, spins or other incentives will be just the thing you need. What you need to know in this instance is that there are services available that can run your rating in to the ground very easily. If I post a negative comment on SiteJabber today, it may cost you a dozen
depositors/clients. What if two of these are “Whales”?
Sitelinks are the extra listings below your primary domain listing and they link to pages Google may or may not lists
under your actual domain listing and description when someone does a brand search. These are the easiest,
fastest and most effective way to claim back your real estate. Some believe it’s helps with SEO and non-branded
PPC – If you are doing paid search or PPC on Google already this is a quick trick. Sitelinks appear in ads at the top
and bottom of Google search results. You can add sitelinks when you create your campaign. You can edit your link text and URLs.
ORGANIC – Create xml sitemaps. Screaming Frog has a tool that does this daily and uploads it. Sitelinks are not
guaranteed to show, and only for brand searches. Google says that if they believe they would be valuable to the user, they may show 2, 4 or 6 sitelinks. It has been shown that creating an xml sitemap and manually submitting it may help. Keep your chosen sitelinks at the top. Whenever you add content you should generate a new xml sitemap. These are not guaranteed to show, it’s up to Google’s ‘secret formula’ call their algorithm.
These are limited to brand searches so they have limitations, but if you are a branded site then this is a must-have.
Here are some additional tips that may help you get sitelinks to show, or increase the number of the sitelinks that are showing already;
- Improve your site’s speed and page load times. Optimize Images, take css offsite, etc.
- Make sure that your site has clear and logical hierarchy. Use the ’silo’ strategy
- When using internal links, use very accurate anchor text and alt text
- Only Include your most important categories in the main menu
- Use relevant and descriptive meta descriptions
- Avoid thin or automatically generated content
- Don’t use onsite duplicate content
Schema markup is code that is added to your sites code but does nothing to the appearance, and will help search engines return more informative results for users. It is based on latent semantic analysis which is supposed to understand for example that when you search “Lory” in the UK your looking for a truck, and if you are in the US you are looking for a bird. If you’ve ever used rich snippets, you’ll understand what schema markup is meant for. It is an agreed-upon set of code markers that tells the major search engines what to do with the data on your website. It’s great for SEO, but in this instance we use it to claim more real estate. Products, event schedules, articles, etc. (there are hundreds of categories and customized available free online) can show in the form of links below your website. Websites that use schema markup rank better in Google results than companies without markup. One study determined that websites with markup ranked an average of 4 positions higher in the results than those without schema. Think of it as your companies online business card. Think about the real estate this can reclaim and the
added benefit of possibly better rankings and I would have someone starting on this immediately.
Getting a Search Box in Google Results (using Schema markup)
Once again we are talking about the top 10 results and the accompanying real estate. Those of you that have a branded website, this technique will add additional information about your website above and beyond the existing description that Google pulls for your description (do your homework on rich snippets). It is also in addition to Sitelinks and even more valuable real estate. The Google Search Box and Schema markup looks like this;
< script type=”application/ld+json”>
“query-input”: “required name=search_term_string”
*You need to change the “url” and “target” examples to your URL if you want to use this.
Having a search box is the most used Schema markup for the top 10,000 ranked websites and takes up more space (real estate). It’s also great for usability and adds a sense of legitimacy to a website. In any case, you must have your ducks in a row, so to speak. You must be prepared and had better have your Social Media and CRM people working together with your Rep Management and Engagement people to proactively reduce your risk and exposure. Or do what we did and just create one massive Team.
SEO/Social Media is a Must
In cases where the damage has been done, you need to evaluate your current structure and model it around these 5 areas (especially for those that slept through the last 10 years);
- Engagement – Proactive and reactive across all social media sites, review sites and onsite
- Reputation Management – Monitor your brand/URL/Website for negative and positive content. Not
just for brand/site, but for any keyword that sent traffic. Monitor this 24/7.
III. Brand Protection – Have DMCA doc’s ready to go at all times and programs in place to monitor all
search results for every type of site, whether it’s a buried blog/forum or a ranking review site.
- Acquisition – This is part of your Marketing team’s remit, and very important because Google’s “realtime”
search requires lots of fresh content and activity, and these provide that. (Ie. viral contests,
giveaways, polls. etc.)
- Retention – I say it again…if you budget for CRM you need to budget for all of the above. This person
or team needs to merge with your SEO/Social Media/Marketing teams because they are all running
the same race, they are just wearing different shoes and are on different racetracks.
This is what Social Media Teams look like in the future.
Get everyone running the same race and overtake, improve your positions, and look back at them rather than as a huge hurdle that’s suddenly in your face and costing you at least 10% of your revenue due to a single negative post on a single website. The reputation and online sentiment of your company is at stake, and countless other unknown long-term damages.
Okay here’s the commercial I promised (I didn’t really), but it won’t cost you anything so it’s not really a commercial. It’s WWW monitoring software. We use it for data analysis. And did I say it’s free forever? It’s software called WebGenius. It monitors a brand or a website or even your name. Where most tools fall short is that they only use Google’s api. If the negative content is on a de-indexed page you will never know about it. It still counts as negative sentiment and potential risk. Or maybe it gets re-indexed and suddenly appears? This tool covers all Search Engines, all data centers, all forums, blogs and 2-3 tiers deeper than the tools available right now. And they cost money! Negative content, whether it is on Google or not, poses a potential threat. Create positive sentiment, engage with your client, and rule Social Media for your site or brand.
This is how to protect yourself against Real World BlackHat.
Written by: Gary R. Beal
MD | Vanguard Online Media
ReviewPool | WebGenius | IronStone Consultants
p: +356 9981 7907 p/f: +356 2155 0457 a: Gozo, Malta
e: Gary@VanguardOnlineMedia.com s: GaryTheScubaGuy
Gary R Beal (a.k.a.GaryTheScubaGuy) has been in the business for
over 20 years. He started out as an Affiliate and after moving to England to run a couple of Top SEO Gaming Agencies he opened
Vanguard SEO. Gary sold Vanguard and moved to Malta where he runs Vanguard Online Media, Ironstone Consultants and his
newest creations; ReviewPool.co.uk. and WebGenius Software
Gary has been a popular speaker at conferences around the world for over 10 years. From SMX to ICE and anything to do with
Gaming, Dating, SEO, Social Media or Affiliates, Gary was probably there. Known for his matter-of-fact, non-commercial sessions
that truly teach, he also is known for the free 1-on-1 sessions.
“Each of our companies rely heavily on Social Media at every level. It’s another tool for our arsenal, and it has proven to be a very
strong performer when used properly. The biggest problem we see is companies or individuals not using it correctly, or in the most
effective way for your unique or competitive niche. This is why we decided to offer Turn-Key services” Gary R Beal
Gary will be speaking on these and other topics at the Conference so sharpen your pencils and bring any questions you
have along with you!
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