If you’ve been to an online gambling affiliate conference its likely you’ve noticed a few young European males wearing the designer clothes, expensive watches, wacky hair styles and of course the exceptionally beautiful girlfriends. Chances are, those guys are affiliates– affiliates who got into the European market early, built a brand and are maybe not making as much as they used to, but in actuality, they could retire right then and there if they wanted to.
Its true that it used to be relatively easy to make millions as an iGaming affiliate marketer, in America pre-UIGEA and in Europe for even longer. It used to be easy even as a one man show, all it took was a site with banners and maybe a little black hat SEO expertise.
My, how times have changed.
One of today’s biggest challenges when targeting Europe, especially the UK, as an affiliate is the general saturation and maturity of the market, an environment that only the best affiliates can navigate through.
Charles Gillespie is the CEO of KAX Media, the company that powers Gambling.com and Casino Source, two UK facing affiliate websites. When asked about the current state of affiliate marketing in Europe, Gillespie confirmed, “It’s a game for experienced professionals with deep pockets and even then there are no more windfall profits”.
When operating in a saturated marketplace, one of the only ways to stay afloat is by finding a niche and that’s what successful affiliates in Europe have done and are still doing. Ian Sims, also known as “Simmo”, has run SlotJunkies.com for years and is one of the most knowledgeable and respected online slots affiliates in the UK marketplace.
“More than ever I believe it is important to pick a niche that you know well and can talk about knowledgably”, said Sims. “I think also the days of trying to target a generic subject (ie: gambling, horse racing, sports betting) are gone unless you can build – or already have – a strong brand. I also believe that SEO is virtually dead and anything a webmaster can do to manipulate a search engine ranking is simply a short-term strategy”.
Another big affiliate focused mainly on the UK market is Andrew Edwards, the MD of MadAboutBingo.com and MadAboutCasinos.com. Edwards agrees with Sims that focusing on a niche and building a brand are of paramount importance. “Affiliates have to continue to build on their site’s brand and try to provide something different from all the other sites out there. A lot of the old school affiliates have been hit by Google Panda and Penguin which has forced them to look at other ways to generate traffic”, Edwards said.
In addition to the fact that the European online gambling market is saturated, we’re also seeing consolidation and regulation, two things that reduce the number of brands available to promote.
The Founder of BookmakersReview.com, Pierluigi Buccioli has been in the online sportsbetting affiliate business since 2003 and is an expert in the European market. Buccioli confirmed that there are now reduced opportunities in the European market for affiliates.
“In the last couple of years we have assisted to several industry mergers, which alongside the introduction of national regulations in a number of European countries has reduced both the number of sports betting brands available for promotion as well as the European markets where to promote the available sports bookmakers”, Buccioli said.
Of course with regulation comes tax, so as countries within the EU continue to regulate online gambling, affiliate commissions are destined to dwindle. “More countries are regulating more products which is great but regulation brings taxes and compliance costs which reduces operators margins and therefore everyone’s margins”, pointed out Gillespie.
Regulation around Europe may cause some operators to pull out of certain EU Member States, but it will also create new opportunity within these markets for operators and for affiliates.
Sims pointed out, “As new countries legislate, new and existing brands are able to leverage their position in the offline gambling sector to attract customers online. Where this involves affiliates, it provides the opportunity to attract players by focusing on safety, trust and brand familiarity”.
Another opportunity that exists for affiliates focused on European markets is building affiliate sites in languages other than English. Gillespie suggested that there are much better affiliate marketing opportunities outside of online gambling these days, but if you’re going to go for it, “Publish in any language but English”, he advised. “Quality competition thins out quickly one you leave the US/UK world of digital marketing”.
Something that has created more opportunity for affiliate marketing within Europe and around the world is new technology, namely the rise of mobile and tablet.
When asked where the biggest opportunities in the European affiliate market now lie, Edwards said, “As more and more players use the mobile and tablets for searching and browsing on the internet, sites which take this into account today and make sure they are mobile optimised as well as looking into mobile advertising via PPC, banners and SEO will be ahead of their competition when search on these devices over take tradition online search by 2015”, said Edwards.
There is no doubt that focusing on mobile is becoming more and more important for affiliates who want to succeed in the online gambling space. At a higher level, something that has remained constant throughout the years, across the globe and into the future of affiliate marketing is the ability to offer value. If an affiliate site adds value to the user experience, there will always be a place for it in the market.
“Affiliates that have the ability to add value to the user experience through their websites rather than simply deliver traffic will continue to prosper”, said Buccioli. “As a player visiting a website, I’m looking for information (review sites, news portals, odds comparison) or for a place to discuss with other players (forums) or for the latest promotions (free bets and bonus sites). If a website operator can do at least one of these things in a unique way or better than everyone else and also have a strategy, that these days must include search, paid search and social, he can have a reasonable success as an affiliate”.
Along the same vein and on a inspirational note for all the affiliates out there, Sims added, “The future outlook for affiliates will entirely depend on whether they continue to offer value. Like any sales and marketing channel, if it remains viable, profitable and not too painful to manage, it makes commercial sense to do it”.