BET 365; GOOGLE CAN’T SEE YOUR WEBSITE

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Javascript is a programming language used make cool interactive stuff on websites (like pop ups, drop down menus, animations and maps), while all this stuff is great and might potentially benefit the user experience (whatever that is), heavy use of Javascript can hamper SEO performance. Why? Javascript files are pretty big and can slow down page load time, but more importantly, if crucial elements of the page like text, links and images are configured using Javascript, Google may not be able to read and process them properly, and therefore may have trouble understand what the page is about, and may have trouble navigating around the rest of the website.

You see, it’s easy for Google to crawl and understand HTML files, Javascript; not so much. Potentially, the more Javascript you use on your website, the less able Google will be to crawl and understand it. In some extreme cases, Google may not be able to see your website at all. This looks to be the case for Bet 365, a huge name in sports betting.

Let’s take a look at their homepage with Javascript enabled, then with Javascript disabled.

JS enabled:

Bet 365 SEO

JS disabled:

Bet 365 Javascript Disabled

Oh dear.

How exactly have they built this site? if we look at the ‘What it Runs’ plugin, we can see that Bet 365 is at least partially built with SWF files. This is a type of Javascript used by Adobe to make Flash animations

Yikes. What should check next? Google have a ‘Mobile Friendly Test’ tool which will allow users to get an idea of how Google is rendering a given URL. In Bet 365s case, there do indeed appear to be some problems.

Mobile Friendly test tool

Google will also give some clues as to what elements of the page they’re having issues with.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR PERFORMANCE?

Next, let’s check the performance of the site to see how these issues might be affecting them. Below is Bet 365s ‘potential traffic’ score from SEM Rush over the past 5 years (N.B this is not always indicative of how much actual traffic they are getting, but it can be good for spotting trends);

As we can see, Bet 365 experienced a sharp drop in potential traffic from May-June 2019. This does coincide with a change in the SEM Rush database which could be a confounding factor, however, this was a database growth, so you would expect Bet 365 to become more visible, not less (unless of course some of their competitors became more visible in SEM Rush’s eyes because they started ranking for keywords which weren’t previously in the database). If we look back to just before this potential traffic shop, the site does indeed look very different.

Above is a screenshot from February 2019. It’s looking fairly likely that Bet 365 co completely rebuilt their site in Javascript around May 2019. So how is Bet 365 performing in terms of non-brand keywords? Again, if we use SEM Rush to check, the answer is not very well at all.

If we use SEM Rush to sort all the keywords that Bet 365 ranks for, but filter out ‘365’ to get rid of branded queries, the above is what we have. This means that Bet 365 are relying on their brand power to drive the vast majority of their organic traffic. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it does mean they are leaving potential revenue on the table.

Is this because of the supposed change to the way the site was built in May 2019? This could actually be a red herring. I had to go all the way back to 2015 in SEM Rush to find a time when Bet 365 had some decent non-brand rankings (see below)

It could be that Bet 365 have been performing poorly in Organic Search for a very long time, possibly due to a Google algorithm update they failed to recover from, or other changes to the site.

In contrast, if we do the same with William Hill and filter out branded keywords, their non-brand rankings look much healthier, they appear on page one for some high volume terms which are likely to convert (interestingly most of their traffic comes from subdomains).

If you’re thinking this is all about the brand strength, then you’re mistaken, [Bet 365] is objectively a bigger brand than [William Hill], the respective ASVs are 4 million, and 2.2 million. Bet 365 also has way more backlinks (165 million vs 29 million) according to SEM Rush.

WHAT CAN THEY DO TO FIX IT?

Google offers a workaround for Javascript heavy sites that they may not be able to crawl and understand properly. This is called server-side rendering and involves serving Google static HTML versions of pages that they can easily crawl and render. You’ll need the help of a dev team to implement this, and buy-in from several stakeholders as it’s likely to be a lengthy and expensive project.

The other option might be to do a William Hill and set up subdomains that are built in HTML to target the key non-brand terms. Since the site is getting very little search traffic anyway, Bet 365 could test canonicalising the current pages to their new subdomain equivalents.

Maybe Bet 365 don’t care about organic performance and are aware of this issue. Maybe they see the future of online betting being app-based. Whatever their view, the fact remains that they are leaving organic traffic on the table for their competitors to snap up. Given the size of the brand and their backlink profile, they’d be well placed to compete for at least some of this traffic, of they paid a bit more attention to technical SEO.

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