In The Spotlight: Maureen Doris, SEO specialist at Paddy Power

Maureen Doris

Maureen Doris is an SEO specialist at Paddy Power.

She is the fourth digital marketer to feature in our ‘Industry Insight’ series. Follow Maureen on Twitter.

How did you end up working in SEO for Paddy Power?

Maybe not the usual path!

I studied music in college first, but after graduating found that nobody really needed a new composer, so I sold out and studied computer science afterwards. I was working freelance as a soprano throughout and, after college, I took a part-time job working in Paddy Power customer support.

The time spent in customer support was great in terms of really diving in deep with our products and our customers. I’d recommend anybody who works in-house to spend some time with customers.

We learn so much from our analytics, but there’s no better way to get to grips with what customers want, and where their pain points in the user journey are, than actually speaking with them directly.

After a few months I went on secondment in marketing, working on the BetDash social betting game and the Facebook RMG Sportsbook app Paddy Power Social.

At this stage I’d developed an interest in the marketing technology side of the business and eventually I joined the SEO team full-time in the Online Marketing Group.

With my background in computer science and the experience on secondment, it was a really good fit for me. It’s been great to work on a team that sits both in Online Acquisition and Marketing Tech.

What does a usual day involve? Is there such a thing?

It might sound clichéd but there’s no such thing as a typical day.

Obviously there are certain daily tasks – monitoring rankings across all products, the health of the site, reporting on organic customer acquisition, competitive analysis, link audits, and so on.

But the great thing about working in-house in such a big and fast-moving company is that there’s a constant stream of new product launches and site improvements requiring the input of the SEO team.

It’s an exciting challenge and our strategy has to constantly evolve to support new technologies adopted throughout the business. We’ve been having a lot of fun with Ajax lately, for example.

We’ve put a lot of work into what you might call evangelising SEO across the business – and for the most part people are conscious of the importance of including us in the development phase of any new products to ensure a smooth launch. Part of our daily work is very much SEO consultancy related to this.

Aside from this, a lot depends on the sporting calendar. Cheltenham, Grand National, World Cup, The Euros – that’s what I imagine Christmas is like for other companies. A lot of our Sportsbook strategy is heavily event-driven.

What type of activity has had the biggest impact on traffic during your time at Paddy Power?

Everything we do moves the needle in some way, but if I was to pick one thing that’s had the most impact it would be the work we’ve put into mobile optimisation, particularly over the last year in the wake of Mobilegeddon.

We didn’t see a huge fallout from this, but there were cases where the mobile rankings weren’t quite aligned with desktop, and our technical set-up wasn’t as well optimised as it could be. In an industry as competitive as gambling, it’s important to keep on top of things like that.

We have a separate URL structure across desktop and mobile which presents its own challenges, but we’ve developed a really strong strategy for any new mobile products being built. Once implemented across our existing domains, we saw a rapid improvement – and it didn’t take long for our mobile rankings to realign and perform as strongly as our desktop share of voice.

And we’re constantly refining this strategy to fit the business needs, particularly with the introduction of JavaScript Single Page Applications, or new app indexing requirements.

Gambling is a sector where historically it’s been heavily link-focussed and somewhat ‘spammy’. Is this still the case or are the more white hat content-led tactics the ones which are driving success?

Certainly, gambling traditionally has been viewed as a “bad guy” when it comes to link spam. We’re still the go-to spam example in a lot of SEO articles you’ll see online.

But, realistically, we’re in the same boat as every other industry. Google is constantly evolving more sophisticated ways of isolating spam and punishing offenders. Any company that doesn’t adapt their strategy to keep up with this is just not thinking long term.

Links are just as important as they’ve always been, but nobody smart wants to get in touch with some guy who owns a casino-related PBN any more. We put a huge amount of effort into creating consistent, quality content, and the kind of links that earns are so much more beneficial.

However, an area that we’re finding increasingly problematic is link spam attacks.

A crucial part of our strategy is the frequency with which we audit our backlink profile to keep on top of this. “Know your backlink profile better than your mother” has become my motto. If you do, you’ll notice anomalies immediately.

Backlink Maureen Doris

What are Paddy Power’s biggest day-to-day challenges at the moment?

A big company challenge, and one that impacts SEO, would be reliance on third-party technologies. From an SEO perspective, in some cases this can mean waiting on the next release of a third-party system for quite a small on-site change.

But the business has really taken this issue in hand and, over the last year, a serious focus has been put on replacing third-party technology with our own IP.

We released the new Paddy Power Sports native iPhone app recently, entirely built in-house. It was a huge achievement involving collaboration from all parts of the business, and everybody involved is super proud of it.

And there’s so much more coming very soon.

Paddy Power is renowned for some of its edgy marketing; is this ever planned with SEO in mind, or is it executed for broader purposes?

One of the strongest assets Paddy Power has is its brand. One unique thing about Paddy Power is how much every single part of the business performs with the brand in mind.

This company-wide alignment with the brand is really a winning differentiator for us in terms of having such a unique voice among a very crowded space. It’s also a big challenge, ensuring every creative asset we push out fits the brand personality.

Paddy Power is famous for its mischief-led marketing. In order for these kinds of stunts to be successful, the brand team often need to keep their cards close to their chest in the run up to launching these kinds of campaigns. It can be all very hush hush – and from an SEO point of view, this can be difficult to keep on top of.

We’ll always get great press coverage and traffic to our blog when these stunts happen.

But often we find out at the same time the media finds out. We do endeavour to monitor and find unlinked brand mentions online around these kinds of stunts, and try to optimise the search benefit as much as possible.

Do you view each piece of content as having specific social or SEO goals? Which leads which?

As well as the SEO team, there’s an in-house Paid Social team and an Organic Social team. Individually we all have different KPIs, but we collaborate as much as possible to enable success in all areas.

We leverage social data to inform decisions on what kinds of content we should be producing to maximise shareability and reap the most benefit from all of the content we produce.

How does the SEO strategy differ between sports and casino?

We do approach our strategy across all products with a holistic view that has a lot of crossover. That’s particularly true of our technical strategy, apart from where the underlying technology platform differs.

Where you would see the biggest differences would the event-driven nature of Sportsbook versus E-Gaming channels. A lot of the outreach and content work we do for Sportsbook will be dictated by the upcoming sports calendar.

Poker has this to an extent when you consider events like the Irish Poker Open.

But for the other E-Gaming products it’s quite different. It’s harder to earn links in these niches; you have to be a lot more creative in your content creation.

For Sportsbook, it’s easy to tie in with sports journalism, betting previews, and so on.

For E-Gaming we like to try a variety of things, creating content targeting traditional gamers, or casino-themed movie tie-ins and so on. We even tried to crowdfund a casino for cats with one of our agencies, Receptional. I still haven’t really shook the ‘crazy cat lady’ abuse over that one.

Paddy Power has an in-house SEO team; where, if anywhere, do you see a role for agencies within your future strategy?

We currently incorporate some agency work in to our SEO strategy, mostly for two reasons. For sportsbook, it helps to supplement the work we do in-house in the run-up to big events like Cheltenham or the Grand National.

The second reason is that our team doesn’t have any design resource so, for any creative outreach activities and content creation, we use agency support to work on these kinds of projects.

Finally, what advice would you give to someone wanting to work in an SEO role in gaming?

Definitely make sure that there’s an aspect of sports betting or gaming that you’re passionate about or excited by. When you work in-house, you have a set suite of products to optimise for in one industry.

Some people will have moral quandaries with this industry; if that’s a concern for you, steer well clear.

Choosing a company with a good Corporate Social Responsibility network might help offset this for you. Do your research on company culture – but that’s a given for working in-house in any company.

Gambling is an extremely competitive industry, and you need to work at pace to ensure long-term sustainability in search performance. What I love about the gaming industry is how fast it moves. Every company is racing to release the most compelling new product before anybody else. If that’s the environment you like to work in, you’ll thrive in gaming.

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