SEO, Online Gambling & Canada: How igambling brands can achieve success in Canada.

With over 35 million citizens and sparse iGambling regulation, Canada is a lucrative market for online casinos, sports books and affiliates. In recent years, many Canadians have moved online to place sports bets and wager on virtual casino games.  Offshore (Malta, Gibraltar, Curacao, Central America) and Canadian, provincially regulated gambling entities have taken notice. Increasingly, they are offering online sports betting and casino games to the Canadian population.

For companies to secure Canadian web traffic to their online gambling brands, search engine optimization (SEO) is a critical marketing channel to consider. By leveraging SEO, gambling brands can accrue more Canadian player registrations and deposits. This article will address the current state of the Canadian online gambling environment, including regulation and the search engine marketing tactics brands and affiliates can use to acquire Canadian iGambling players.

Is Canada still the online gambling wild west?

As opposed to our American neighbours, the Canadian online gambling climate is a free market and will remain so for the foreseeable future. To understand why the USA is not a free market like Canada, we have to go back to 2006. In 2006, sitting president George W. Bush signed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGA). The UIGA was backed by powerful land-based casino lobbyists who saw their lucrative gambling revenue syphoned to offshore online gambling entities. While protecting citizens was the rhetoric in congress, it was arguably the loss of tax revenue and the backing of land-based casino lobbyists that led to the bill being passed. 

Once the UIGA passed, it was difficult for offshore brands to accept credit card deposits from online gambling customers based in the US. The legislation made it illegal for banks to settle iGambling credit card transactions and ultimately led many offshore gambling firms to pull out of American iGambling market.  

Today, few offshore (Malta, Gibraltar, UK, Curacao, Central America) licensed iGambling brands remain in the US market due to barriers to accepting credit card payment transactions.   Those that remain have resorted to accepting player deposits and withdrawals using crypto currency and gift cards which make it next to impossible to market to the American masses.  

Some brands (will remain nameless) may still accept credit card deposits from Americans by masking the payment as a non-gambling expense, allowing banks to settle the deposit.  Ultimately, this is a risky and worthless venture as the volume of transactions can set off red flags and lead to funds being seized by the US government. 

Recently, American state-operated online casino licenses have been awarded to casino groups in America (primarily the same land-based casino groups who lobbied for the UIGA). High taxes and regulations inhibit established offshore-licensed iGambling brands and affiliates from re-entering the market. Over the past few years, some US states have regulated sports betting with others following suit. Consequently, state run online casinos and sportsbooks are beginning to flourish, using tax dollar proceeds from the iGambling sector and more large online casino groups to apply for licenses to enter their state. 

As America continues to regulate their iGambling market, our market in Canada remains free, allowing offshore, EU and provincially run licensed gambling brands to battle it out for Canadian sports betting and online casino player registrations. Any Canadian citizen who wishes to wager on a sporting event or play at a virtual casino can do so with no more than an internet connection and credit or debit card. The Canadian iGambling market is fertile land for online casinos and sports books.

Regulated VS NON Regulated online gambling brands targeting Canada?

The current Canadian online gambling regulation market is grey. Each Canadian province has its own gambling authority and offers a unique iGambling entity to its citizens. Below is an example of Canadian provincially regulated casino offering and their associated iGambling brand.

Popular Provincially Regulated Online Casinos

PLAY OLG

Licensing Authority: Ontario Lottery and Gaming

Play Now

Licensing Authority: British Columbia Lottery

Espace Jeux

Licensing Authority: Loto Quebec

 

Canadian provincial online gambling entities have evolved and are beginning to catch up with the non-regulated competitors who have been servicing Canadian customers for many years prior to the provincially regulated brands. While the casino game selection, software and sports betting markets are nowhere near as robust as the non-Canadian regulated brands, they are progressing by offering match bonuses and single game sports betting markets. Unfortunately, they still have a ways to go to compete with the offshore brands.

Next, we’ll look at the major non-Canadian regulated brands which target Canada.

Popular Offshore-licensed Online Casinos

BETWAY

Licensing Authority: Malta

JackPot City

Licensing Authority: Malta

888 Casino

Licensing Authority: Gibraltor

Offshore brands have been offering their services to players in Canada long before Canadian provinces launched their own online gambling entities. The amount of games, sports markets and bonuses that offshore brands offer to Canadian customers is far more robust than their provincially regulated competitors. Furthermore, by offering affiliate programs they allow non-operators (portal websites that promote online gambling but don’t accept players or deposits) to promote their product to Canadian customers and give them a portion of the net gains of the players losses in return. More to come on this below…

Licensed and Non-licensed Brand Authority in Canada

To understand how provincially regulated brands compare to a non-regulated iGambling online casino in Canada, let’s look at comparative Google search volume (amount of times the brand name is searched in Google) in Ontario.

PLAY OLG VS JACKPOT CITY

Online Casino Ontario

The image above displays the search volume for branded keywords “Play OLG” vs “JackpotCity”. The Google search volume in Ontario is higher for a non-provincially regulated brand. 

Online Gambling Brands Geo-targeting for Canadian Players

In order to improve their brand authority and Google rankings and to increase player conversions in Canada, non-provincially regulated online casino operators are geo-targeting the landing pages, content, website copy and deposit methods to cater to Canadian players.    

We would like to preface this by saying JackpotCity is not the only online casino group focused on the Canadian market (many non-provincially licensed brands target Canada). We use them as an example since they are doing the best with their digital marketing efforts. Any brand looking to enter the Canadian market should use JackpotCity as a blueprint.

Landing Pages:

Jackpot City Landing page

The screen shot above is what Canadians see when they visit JackpotCity’s online casino (Malta-licensed). The arrows highlight their Canadian geo-targeting marketing efforts. Below the fold of the landing page, we have identified four Canadian geo-targeting methods. Let’s break down each optimization effort.

URL:

JackpotCity has created a custom subfolder (build a Canadian specific page on your website) and URL— jackpotcitycasino/canada — which serves a custom landing page to users with a Canadian IP. By implementing this strategy, JackpotCity will see a lower bounce rate, greater dwell time and higher conversions from Canadian web traffic.

META TITLES:

Canadian Casino Meta titles

Above is a screen shot of the JackpotCity page source which displays the website’s meta title and description. Meta titles are a crucial way of indicating to the Google robot which keywords you would like your site to appear in the Google search results.

Below is the meta title and description for the custom Canadian landing page JackpotCity submits to Google.

Title: Online Casino Games Canada – Get a Bonus of CA$1600 at JackpotCity Now!

Description: JackpotCity Online Casino Canada offers players top Online Casino Games and a Casino Bonus of CA$1600. Play online slots & casino games Today!

Canada, CA currency and online casino games is what they are indicating to the Google robot to rank in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERP).

CURRENCY:

From the previous screen capture, we can see that they are promoting the Canadian dollar with C$1600. This indicates all deposits and withdrawals will be settled in Canadian dollars and assists in converting sign-ups to depositing players.

CONTENT:

Casino copy targeting Canada

The image above displays the keyword density of the word “Canada” in the JackpotCity website body content  The fact that “Canada” appears 13 times throughout the content indicates to Google that this is a main target keyword.

LANGUAGE:

FR landing page Jackpot city

The image above displays the search results in the Canadian city of Montreal, Quebec for the keywords “JackpotCity”.  We can see that JackpotCity has created a specific landing page, URL, content and language to cater to Canadian citizens residing in Quebec. This tactic will significantly decrease bounce rates and increase customer conversions in this province.

DEPOSIT METHODS:

Canadian Casino deposit methods

JackpotCity offers depositing and withdrawal methods specific to the Canadian market.  Many Canadians do not use credit cards, but debit cards issued by the bank (Interac) which allows for more secure payments. EU-licensed brands are aware of this and provide debit card deposits to Canadian users.  

AFFILIATE MARKETING:

Affiliate marketing Canada

Above is a screen capture of the organic search results for the keyword “online casino” in Ontario, Canada. The arrows point to two non-operator online casino portal websites that rank high in the search results. These are called affiliate websites which promote and review many Canadian facing non-provincially licensed brands that do not offer their own affiliate marketing services. The image shows that these affiliate sites outrank the provincially regulated playolg.ca in search results. Affiliate websites give users the opportunity to compare Canadian-facing online casinos prior to choosing which one they would like to visit. These affiliate websites promote online casinos with the best retention and conversion rates for Canadian player acquisition.  

AFFILIATE MARKETING:

Canadian Casino affiliate

Above is a screen shot of the top-ranking affiliate website nbso.ca. They are using geo-targeting (i.e. .ca domain, Canadian content, Canadian imagery) and search engine marketing optimization to outrank their competitors in the Canadian Google search results. The top-ranking brand they are promoting is JackpotCity casino. For each player nbso.ca sends to JackpotCity, the owners of nbso.ca earns a percentage of that player’s net losses. You can read more about JackpotCity’s affiliate program here.

Is the Canadian Online Casino Market Saturated?

Online casino Canada google trends

Above is a screen capture of the search trends for the term “online casino canada” over the past 12 months using Google trends. The graph demonstrates that search trends for “online casino canada” continues to grow in Canada. With the closing of land-based casinos due to COVID-19, Canadians are playing more online. Once Canada removes pandemic lockdown sanctions, it is likely that Canadians will continue to play online for the foreseeable future due to health concerns and the convenience of continuing to gamble online.

The Canadian market is competitive. Any new operator or affiliate looking to enter the market has provincially run casinos and non-regulated established brands to compete with to acquire new Canadian iGambling customers. Success in Canada is still attainable by understanding the market and implementing a strategic digital marketing road map. Online casino entities that are not targeting Canada are losing out on a highly profitable market that continues to grow.

Developing an Effective SEO Strategy in Canada

UNDERSTANDING THE CANADIAN GAMBLING MARKET:

While search visibility is competitive for online gambling terms in Canada, there are many opportunities to advance in the market. Brands and affiliates can achieve search results by targeting the right keywords (online gambling terms Canadians search in Google), prioritizing effective link building and producing quality content.

If you are a brand or affiliate, it is crucial to understand the Canadian market prior to creating an SEO strategy. For an offshore sports book looking to enter the Canadian iGambling market, understanding the user search intent will assist in ranking and conversions. While soccer is the major betting market in the EU and growing in Canada, NHL hockey is king in Canada. Optimizing your landing pages and keyword focus to reflect this will increase conversions and traffic in Canada. 

As another example, roulette is a French word and many casino players in Quebec are searching to play live roulette games by searching “roulette en ligne en direct” (live online roulette). Targeting these less competitive, high value keywords in French speaking Canadian markets can lead to increased search visibility and conversions. These are a few examples of why understanding the Canadian market prior to creating an SEO strategy will greatly increase an online casino or sports book’s success.

HIGH USER INTENT KEYWORDS AND LOW HANGING FRUIT:

Building your SEO strategy around high user intent keywords and less competitive (low hanging fruit) keywords can increase a brand’s search visibility and rankings faster than competing for broad, related online gambling terms. High user intent long tail keywords are phrases that have words (such as real money, bet, play, match bonus, Canada, legal, or deposit) associated with a broad keyword like online casino, sportsbook or specific games (e.g. roulette, blackjack, poker, baccarat, etc.). Targeting high user intent keywords with low- to mid-monthly search volume may not result in an abundance of traffic, but the conversion rates will be higher since the user has intent. 

For example, ranking for a lower user intent broad keyword will see 1 out of 1000 users who are referred to your site from Google search results register an account, whereas a high user intent long tail keyword will see 1/10 users register and deposit at your brand (given you have a highly optimized landing page). Retaining that customer and encouraging frequent deposits depends on the quality of games offered (software), mobile usability, the sports betting markets offered, depositing/withdrawal methods and customer support.

Ahrefs data overivew

The image above displays an Ahrefs SEO software keyword overview for “online casino Canada real money” search data. This longtail keyword exhibits high user intent since the user searching this term in Google is looking for an online casino in Canada with the intent of depositing real money. By ranking high in the Google search results and generating a click through, there is a high probability the user will make a deposit at the brand. This would also be considered a low hanging fruit keyword since the difficulty to rank at the top is medium and the search volume is high with strong user intent.  

Ahrefs online casino data

The screen capture above is another example of a high user intent long tail keyword “online casino Canada legal.”  The top-ranking website in the search results is an affiliate website promoting non-provincially regulated brands to the Canadian user. This search term, although low in volume, will have a high conversion rate because the word “legal” will show trust followed by high value broad keywords like “online casino.”   Many of the casinos promoted in this search term are technically legal, just not provincially regulated Canadian online gambling entities.

TARGETING HIGH VALUE BROAD SEARCH TERMS IN CANADA:

Gambling SEO Authority

The image above displays the top search results in Canada for the keywords “online casino” using Ahrefs SEO software. The data shows that to rank in Google for a high value keyword in the Canadian market, you must have high domain authority and geo-target your domain and content (i.e..ca, subfolder). Websites ranking high in the search results have a domain authority over 50—other than onlinecasino.ca which has the keywords within their domain name. Ranking a brand or affiliate ranking for broad high value keywords can be difficult without geo-targeting the website and content while having high domain authority.  

LINK BUILDING:

Entering the highly competitive Canadian online gambling market with a low page and domain authority can be a daunting task. Without strong authority backlinks pointing to your domain, Google will deem your brand or affiliate website untrustworthy and your website visibility will be low. If you are an established website, a strong authority ranking for high value terms is possible as long as you properly geo-target and optimize each page with targeted high value keywords and content. The best approach to link building is to create a target list of potential website backlinks and an outreach program. SEO software can identify what links are pointing to the top-ranking sites and find similar and niche high authority links.  

Online casino backlinks

The image above represents the link profile of a top-ranking website for the keyword “online casino” in Canada.  The websites linking to the site have high URL authority and are in the Canadian iGambling niche. The sites linking to the brand’s site are trustworthy in the eyes of Google’s algorithm; by linking to the owner’s brand it passes that trust on to the website. The example website uses a mix of anchor texts embedded in the link to indicate to Google the keywords that the site intends to rank in the search results for. We see anchor text like “online gambling in Canada” and “win money in Canada.” Implementing keywords into the anchor text on Canadian gambling websites with a high URL rating will greatly increase your site’s visibility in Canadian search engines.

QUALITY NOT QUANTITY:

Link building is one of the most important factors in ranking a website. Creating a link building strategy prior to launching into the Canadian iGambling market is crucial to finding success.  Fully optimizing your landing pages and geo-targeting your website prior to implementing links will greatly assist in improving your ranking. Finding quality links as opposed to the thousands of non-niche/non-Canadian focused website backlinks will prove far more effective in the long run.

SEO CONTENT:

When creating content in 2020, the user should be in mind as opposed to catering to Google.  Previously, a content creator would build their content around influencing the SERPs by stuffing the meta titles and body with target keywords. Today, user experience is vital and will enhance your ranking. While integrating target keywords into your copy remains important, having informative content that aligns with search terms will lead to higher rankings.

CANADIAN IGAMBLING CONTENT:

When creating copy intended for the Canadian iGambling user, it is important to target keywords without overdoing it. Target keywords should appear in the meta titles, description and copy but with the user in mind. With the May 2020 update to Google’s core algorithm, sites that try to manipulate the search engine and have low user dwell time have experienced a loss in ranking and traffic. A content strategy for iGambling in Canada should be user centered. Determine what you find interesting about a particular gambling topic and build around this instead of focusing on what Google would want to see.

CONCLUSION:

Canadian iGambling is a burgeoning market with plenty of room for new affiliate and operators.  Starting with a solid search engine marketing strategy and digital marketing road map is essential to achieve success in the Canadian iGambling market.  

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A veteran search engine marketing professional with a diverse business background, who has owned and operated online media entities in North America, Europe, and Asia. Kris Harrison is an outstanding strategic thinker with the unique ability to develop, manage, brand and restructure organizations; from start-ups to mature businesses.
Managing Director JumpSearch
Kris Harrison
Managing Director