Mating a Tiger with a Toad

Combining Stars & FullTilt Websites After Black Friday

PokerStars FullTilt"Life is a bucket of shit with a barbed wire handle." -- Jim Thompson

After Black Friday, PokerStars acquired the assets of the defunct and disgraced Full Tilt Poker. Some of these assets had little (or even negative) value, while others had significant value, and others were undervalued because of mismanagement. This article deals with merging the Full Tilt websites into the PokerStars family of websites.

Elsewhere someday I'll write a very long article about search engine optimization (SEO) during the poker boom, looking at both my own activities and the industry as a whole, but since the merging of Stars and Full Tilt occurred at the end of the boom, I thought I'd break it off into a separate article.

Part of the reason Pokerstars was able to continue to dominate Full Tilt even when accepting phantom deposit players was because Full Tilt's search engine performance was quite poor, while Pokerstars' was the best in the world. Full Tilt mostly was only able to rank its main page for [poker] or [online poker] searches. On top of the traffic the main page brought in, PokerStars drew tens of thousands of visitors daily from hundreds of pages on the .com domain, plus traffic from the .net and other company domains -- one page for Tilt versus thousands of pages and many domains for Stars. No contest.

On top of that, when it comes to search rankings, you don't just want the first draft choice for your company. You also want the second and fourth and the ninth or whatever picks also just in case of injury or other problems. Some people may prefer to click the display for the third result rather than the first, for whatever reason... or they may click on a dozen listings to read up on whatever it is they typed in the search box about. The more things a person reads from your group of company websites, and the less they see anything about your competitors, the better for you.

Unfortunately for them, Full Tilt was woefully shortsighted (unsighted even) when it came to web marketing. They put all their eggs in (American) television advertising and player personalities. While both of these have value, both are inefficient if only because an online poker company exists online. Television ads are bit like telling a person in New York there is a good poker game in California. Even if there is desire, the person told about the game can have difficulty even finding the game they were told about. It will often even be the case that someone who sees a site's commercial might go to their computer and just type in [play poker online] and end up at a competitor.

Full Tilt paid little attention to detail in any aspect of its business, including their websites. But while Full Tilt had little longterm vision, its web choices were merely bad, not as utterly toxic as their other business practices. Still, this online company's lack of focus on online marketing lead to Full Tilt making very costly mistakes.

Three clear examples of this. First, the page did battle with the Wikipedia for the #1 ranking for various [Texas hold'em] searches (both "hold'em" and "holdem"). This held true in non-English languages too. In contrast, before Black Friday the page never ranked in the top ten for hold'em-type searches -- and in fact ranked around 110 or so for literally years.

This was great when they were competitors, but what a disaster for that to be the case now that Stars owned the Full Tilt domains. The Full Tilt site had to be completely redone. The url of the current Texas hold'em page for example became

Second, Full Tilt Poker rebranded as "Full Tilt", changing from to I imagine some snake oil salesman convinced the uniformed bosses to change it for "brand" reasons. However, even industry people barely aware of search engines could see that Ultimate Bet had long suffered for choosing a brand name without "poker" in its name or website URL. (Some "brand" looney once wanted to title all the PokerStars webpages as "" so when a person searched for anything they would always see Google display the brand in the title... completely oblivious to the notion that, duh, all the pages would stop ranking for anything since page titles were the main thing Google looked at (meaning a page titled "Texas Hold'em" is more likely to rank for a [texas hold'em] search than a page titled "" or "Ajax" or "Gingerbread").

Third, Full Tilt chose to "no index" fulltilt.NET. I assume this was because they were lazy and just copied duplicate content from fulltilt.COM onto fulltilt.NET. Search engines try to eliminate duplicate content from their results as no users want to click on two different links and see exact copies of the same content. So while thousands of people came to every day from searches, literally zero went to fulltilt.NET via search.

A side note about is, like with Party Poker when Google gave it a death penalty, when Tilt intentionally made disappear from the search rankings, Shirley's site started ranking first for [] and [] searches. Just imagine that... this huge entity is running commercials promoting, but when people who saw these commercials typed in [] into a search box, they came to a site I co-owned. Essentially they spent millions advertising for people to come to our website! True, we connected most of those people to FullTilt.COM, but still they paid us to do that, and some of those vistors instead chose one of their competitors we advertised. They lost a lot of revenue just because Full Tilt lazily slapped a "no index" tag on their duplicate site rather than spend less than $5000 to pay someone to rewrite the site with original wording.

PokerStars needed to upgrade the search presence of the Full Tilt domains, for the obvious reason of getting people to come to Full Tilt again, but also because, despite being mismanaged, the domains had fundamental strength. did rank in the top ten for a [poker] search, so there was no reason its Texas hold'em and other pages couldn't rank decently, even if we still always would want the corresponding page on to rank better.

On top of that, having three or four PokerStars-owned results on the first search result page would block the domains of Party Poker or 888 or Winamax or other competitors from those spots, and it makes it a more daunting challenge for new entities who want to break into the poker market from scratch.

There was also the consideration, since the company was not public yet, should it go public there should be the ability to sever the Pokerstars brands from the Full Tilt brands to increase the company's value. If the Stars domains are worth 99% and the Tilt domains 1%, there is little severability value. If it is more like 75/25, investors would be able to better appreciate the realities the company had: the paths of keeping both cardrooms; selling Tilt; or, selling both cardrooms to two different buyers. The Tilt part of the company could never be a true peer of the Stars part if the Stars domains are ranking #1 for most things and the Tilt domains rank in the 100s for the same searches.

A successful online poker company should own multiple websites in lots of languages. These should be sensibly organized, and employees should stay on top of them. "Organization" is what a successful company needs, not "simplicity" or "easy for employees". Having a large family of well-constructed websites makes it much harder for the new companies getting into the market to rip market share away from an industry leader. Multiple domains also protect the brand. Ideally the first page for [pokerstars] search results should all be owned by the company, plus the Wikipedia. When this is not the case, it allows affiliates (or worse, attack sites) onto the first page and the company loses money when the searcher ends up coming to the site via the affiliate instead of directly from company domains, or doesn't come at all because of what an attack site said.

Before Black Friday, this was mostly the case for PokerStars (though they still had too much cruft for my taste). The company's sites ranked great for everything, but now we had to integrate all these webpages of a disgraced company. It's a scary thing... almost like your good kids are suddenly hanging out with the kids of irresponsible parents. But actually they are just kids, and you are their foster parents now, so you just have to start raising them right. PokerStars never made the Full Tilt sites dominant in search engines, but they did make them more useful.

(The current Stars Group has really bunglediddled their websites. Search traffic isn't as critical circa-2020 as 2010 or before, but still, how a multi-billion dollar company can have all those bad redirects and 404 pages is stunning.)

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