“Performance Marketing” is the new and improved term for what we have traditionally called good old affiliate marketing. You could even say the term “affiliate”, at least within the online gambling world, has developed a “dirty” reputation over the years, especially in the eyes of our good friend Google. “Affiliate”can even be a dirty word in the eyes of some operators who think, “why do we pay affiliates to bring us players when we can do it ourselves?”
And that’s just it. Our entire industry is focused on acquiring players as this is where the money is made. Affiliates still have their place in the market, but the best affiliates today have repositioned themselves as “performance marketers” that focus on delivering real, tangible results to the operators. With this new point of view, rather than falling into the “dirty” bucket, in the eyes of an operator, affiliates will then fall into the same bucket as TV advertising, for example.
We can all see that the iGaming affiliate industry is changing and maturing but it’s also growing, with new opportunities popping up all the time. These changes are reflected in the conferences we attend such as the London Affiliate Conference, an event that has enjoyed exponential growth over the past eight years and continues to grow.
As things continue change in our world, identifying how to stay ahead of the game has become much more important for successful iGaming affiliate marketing. Here are some key areas to focus on that will help you get ahead.
Back in the day SEO & Google crackdown on affiliates
For anyone who attended the SEO sessions at the London Affiliate Conference 2014, you would have noticed that the “black hat” SEO and spamming talk has died down (although it still does work for some) and the concepts of building a brand and providing value have taken center stage.
If we think back to Mark Lesnik’s CAC Amsterdam SEO sessions with the likes of Marcus Tandler, Bob Rains, Jason Duke and other SEO legends gracing the stage, things were pretty different back then, that’s for sure. If you had 1000 spammy one page, link filled sites that tricked the search engines – even for just a few days – you were raking in the money. Nowadays spammy and black hat affiliate marketing doesn’t fly with Google and unless you’re really, really, really good, your site(s) will be penalized.
Today the SEOs and other experts advise that affiliates, or performance markers I should say, develop a brand and add value to the user experience. Building a brand requires a very different business model than building a network of spammysites, but the end result will please the two entities the really matter – Google and the Operator.
Opportunities (or lack thereof) in America and Europe
Something that has drastically changed over the past decade is the regulatory landscape of the online gambling industry.
The largest blow to the industry was in 2006 when the passage of UIEGA resulted in a number of popular online gambling sites leaving the US market, thus leaving affiliates with a lot of US traffic with a much smaller pool of operators to promote. Don’t get me wrong, there are still some very profitable opportunities in America’s “grey” market, but for many the risk involved is too great.
Something also worth mentioning is that the regulated US market will be nothing like the grey US market, even if all the states eventually open upto regulated online gambling…so don’t even think about it. Opportunities in the regulated US market will be another topic for another day because it’s a different beast for sure.
On the other hand, there are also a number of affiliates in the UK and European markets, traditionally a tough area to succeed due to saturation and the now very fragmented European marketplace.
Despite these challenges, there are some affiliates that have been very successful in the UK by developingtheir own brand names and some even advertise on television such as OddsChecker.com and Gambling.com. Other UK affiliates have gone the white label operator route and reap the benefits of acquiring players directly from their portals. These types of affiliates might be outliers, but their business models have stood the test of time- they are moving in the direction of performance marketing vs. beating the search engines.
Where things start to get really exciting are in the emerging markets that range from new geographical territories to the arrival of modern technology and niches such as Bitcoin casinos, mobile casinos, binary options/forex and US facing skill games. These new markets are exciting because they’re relatively untouched and ripe for affiliates (and operators) to go in for the kill.
The biggest gold mine of them all is Asia, but the trick is learning how to penetrate this complex region of the world. A trick I’ve heard about is cultivating an email list of Chinese players viaforex or binary options (both acceptable in the eyes of Baidu), then providing these players with online casino information offline. So in other words, there are ways…it’s just figuring out what those ways are.
If cracking Asia is not your cup of tea, other interesting areas to investigate are Latin America, Africa and India, in particular Brazil, Mexico and Kenya. Things are heating up in these regions with the spread of the Internet,adoption of 3G, smartphones and even Bitcoin.
Focusing on sending players to sites that accept Bitcoin, mobile gambling sites and binary/forexare relatively untouched global niches that will serve as more friendly grounds for establishing a brand as an affiliate.
Another option to consider, especially for affiliates with tons of US traffic who don’t feel like applying for a license, is sending players to legal skills games in the US such as GSN Games.
Shift to “performance marketing”
The shift from black hat SEO to brand building and adding value is something that we’ll be seeing all around us in the online gambling industry. We’ll see it in our peers – those who succeed by adopting more of a performance marketing mantra and those who fail if they keep on spamming.
We’ll also be seeing some changes in the conference circuit, with events like the LAC moving away from affiliate marketing specifically and growing into a broader “acquiring players” event as this is where the money flows.
Expect to see the regular faces at flagship events like the LAC, but Alex Pratt of iGaming Business also plans to invite anyone buying or selling players and traffic, service providers for marketing companies such as email services, football clubs, TV networks, and the list goes on.
What happens next?
The first and most important thing to do as an affiliate is to change your thinking from beating Google to building a brand and adding value.
The next thing I would recommend is looking into the emerging markets and determining how you can build a brand and add value in any of those markets.
The last thing to consider is attending more conferences, even those that fall outside online gambling specifically. If you have the time and budget to attend a few more, try Affiliate Summit East in Las Vegas or Ad Tech in London or NYC – you never know what you may pick up from other expert performance marketers.