In the Daily Fantasy Sports episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, John explains how DraftKings' "website once had search engine optimization phrases with multiple instances of the word 'betting' and sites usually use alt text like that to tell search engines what they are". I helped the show's researchers fact check and edit the script for this episode but understandably all the SEO details couldn't be explained on air. Watch the segment to the right then read on to learn the full SEO backstory.
DraftKings is a daily fantasy sports website that the Nevada attorney general recently declared to be illegal gambling and required the company to obtain a license or cease and desist. In response, DraftKings said in a statement, "We strongly disagree with this decision and will work diligently to ensure Nevadans have the right to participate in what we strongly believe is legal entertainment that millions of Americans enjoy." The company claims it is exempt from online gambling laws because it does not meet the determinant of what constitutes gambling: they offer a skill-based rather than a chance-based game.
The Nevada AG in its memo points out an image on several pages of their site that uses alt text with the word "betting" (which, as a reminder, the dictionary defines as "the act of gambling money on the outcome of a race, game, or other unpredictable event"). Alt text is the text-based description of an image that's used as a signal in search engine ranking algorithms to determine what a page is relevant for. Since search engines can't see what's in an image, they rely on alt text. The memo goes on to say, "it appears that although the sites’ representatives publicly state that they do not believe daily fantasy sports involve 'wagers' or 'bets,' they do use the terms 'betting' and 'wagering' when they are not dealing with law enforcement agencies."
Although little to no searches occur for the full phrase “weekly fantasy basketball betting” on Google, it's the fragments contained within that DraftKings wants to be found: “weekly fantasy basketball”, “fantasy basketball”, and “basketball betting”. These fragments get 20, 590, and 74,000 searches/mo respectively.
As John Oliver masterfully points out multiple times throughout the episode, instances of DraftKings saying they aren't gambling yet doing everything that points to the opposite is a recurring theme with this company.
John Oliver talked about daily fantasy AND their use of SEO optimization tonight. Embarrassing how entertaining that was for me— David Riva (@driva13) November 16, 2015