Whenever one of the major racing meets arrives in the calendar, the bookmakers rush to offer a slew of novelty bets, often with the aim of enticing occasional gamblers, often to pique the interest of existing punters. The Cheltenham Festival remains one of their peak times, but perhaps they didn’t put their best foot forward in terms of organic search.

We conducted some analysis of over 600 betting and horse racing keywords before events at Prestbury Park got under way. What did we find? That price comparison and affiliate sites were stealing ground from the well-known bookmaking companies. Bookmakers remain big players for generic betting terms in terms of organic visibility, but affiliates have wised up to the importance of event-specific search.

Event-specific peaks

Our analysis points to large search peaks for event-specific terms in March, April and June – times that coincide with the big three race meets – the Cheltenham Festival, Grand National and Royal Ascot. This contrasts with a largely steady graph for generic terms.

It becomes even clearer that event-specificity shouldn’t be ignored by bookmakers when you notice that for Cheltenham and the Grand National, generic terms are outstripped by event-specific terms during the meets.

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A peek at click distribution also shows the opportunity on offer here – from a significantly reduced keyword set, event-specific search terms deliver a noteworthy number of clicks.

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As might be expected, the Grand National leads the way in terms of event searches, reaching a peak of over 130,000 clicks as opposed to over 8,000 from generics, yet with fewer keywords.

Are brands leading from the front?

It’s not an easy ride in this ultra-competitive race for market share, so let’s take a look at how the key brands are doing.

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Paddy Power is at the front of the pack, a good length or two ahead of Oddschecker, an affiliate site. But then there’s a fiercely fought cluster that includes Ladbrokes, William Hill and others. It’s testament to the jockeying for position in terms of organic search.

That doesn’t tell the complete story though – when looking at the whole market, we can see that much of the success of affiliates is attributable to the event-specific terms, notably for Cheltenham and the Grand National.

One reason for the major brands not doing so well for the Grand National is that, as it’s seen as a race that attracts people who only have one bet a year, there’s little perceived value to targeting them online – these aren’t people who become loyal, frequent customers. But surely Cheltenham, which doesn’t attract a similar tidal wave of ‘Granny bets’ should see the bookmakers weighing in online? It turns out that isn’t the case.

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William Hill and Paddy Power do relatively well at Cheltenham, but Oddschecker dominates the market here. Cheltenham-Festival.co.uk, which is a free bets and tips blog, is a close second.

Content is key

So why are affiliates doing so well in horse racing when they’ve been doing much worse in other gaming verticals such as casino and bingo? The answer is, simply, content.

Content isn’t a natural fit with casino and bingo sites, but it is with sport, and that includes horse-racing. And it’s not just during the event, but year-round that bookmakers need to get their heads in the content game – affiliates are already providing relevant, rewarding and deep content for their customers so that they’re good to go when the events roll around.