The annual Income Access survey shows that commissions, content development, mobile and SEO dominate affiliates’ plans, says Paysafe’s Sarafina Wolde Gabriel
In the igaming space we find ourselves once again expecting a year that will be characterised by a broad spectrum of outlooks, approximations and uncertainties. In no area is this more likely than in affiliate marketing.
Adequately preparing for the months ahead requires first taking the pulse of the affiliate sector itself. This is something we do with our annual affiliate survey, which last concluded in Q4 2017.
We sought feedback from our network of affiliates, which includes traffic partners specialising in a broad array of verticals and geographic regions.
Of our survey respondents, 65% have been affiliates for at least five years, and 56% for ten or more. This depth of experience brings robustness to the findings. The survey presents no shortage of notable takeaways.
From expectations of operator partners to marketing practices and the ongoing evolution of their SEO strategy, our respondents provide valuable insights when we consider both the current and future states of affiliate marketing.
Partnerships and commissions
It’s predictable, yet telling, that affiliates are primarily concerned with the complementary goals of acquiring new players and receiving appropriate compensation for those efforts.
This is specifically evidenced by the 30% of affiliates who say that the most important consideration when selecting an operator partner is their available commission structures.
A partnering brand’s exposure and profile is the second most significant consideration at 23%, and being mobile-friendly is 15%. Finishing in the last spot, without any nominations, is how operator partners are leveraging big data.
Moreover, 55% of respondents identify revenue share as their preferred commission structure or, at the very least, the type of structure they’d like to transition to in the future.
This number thoroughly outpaces all other commission deals, including hybrid (30%), cost-per-action (CPA, at 19%) and flat fees (17%).
Several written responses elaborate on the reasons for preferred commission structures. These include the long-term retention and loyalty associated with revenue share.
CPA, however, is championed by respondents who say they want to ensure some form of payment for acquiring customers, regardless of how well they are monetised post-registration.
“Hybrid structures are great for sites that generate a lot of first-time depositors who will not come back,” says Maria Kerridge of Lushbingoslotoffers.com.
“That is the norm these days, unless a site throws interesting and easy-to-understand promos that are different from those of their sister sites.”
Commissions aside, when considering a potential partnership, affiliates acknowledge as key determinants an operator’s willingness to invest in marketing materials, its reputation for paying affiliates and its history of resolving disputes.
Reaching your audience
Another factor when evaluating a potential partnership is common target markets and verticals.
Predictably, the UK is the market in which the most affiliates currently operate (65%) as well as where they are most aspirational about growing in 2018 (43%).
For the latter question, the second-most popular response is the United States (33%), followed by Asia (24%). Australia, Eastern Europe and Western Europe (excluding the UK and Scandinavia) all received 22%.
When asked to expand upon the reasons for choosing a market, several affiliates highlighted how sharing a common language can greatly facilitate business dealings.
Other factors include the perceived strength of social gaming in the US, as well as the expected growth in markets such as Asia and Africa.
As crucial as focusing on appropriate regions is determining a set of verticals through which one can provide expertise and also promote effectively.
According to our survey respondents, the ‘big four’ of casino (44%), sportsbook (37%), poker (31%) and bingo (27%) remain the top verticals that affiliates are considering promoting.
US-regulated gaming (ie casino and poker, at 27%), esports (25%), lottery (21%) and social gaming (21%) all earn strong recognition as growing and emerging verticals.
When determining the optimal method for engaging their target audience, affiliates have also grown increasingly savvy when it comes to leveraging social media.
Looking to 2018, respondents identified which of those channels they expect to prioritise. Facebook is top with 62%, Twitter next at 49%. Instagram ends up with a distant but encouraging 28%, with YouTube (23%) and Snapchat (13%) rounding out the five major channels.
Although Snapchat, Instagram and YouTube have all enjoyed significant growth in popularity, a 2017 report by FIPP shows that Facebook was still the fastest-growing social network from Q3 2015 to Q3 2017.
It gained 527m new monthly active users during that period, Instagram 400m and Snapchat 87m. Twitter trailed with 23m new monthly active users.
With regards to promotions, respondents show themselves to be open to a variety of tactics, although there are several front runners.
Content, primarily relevant news stories as well as casino and poker site reviews, is used by 77% of respondents. The next most popular is banner adverts with sign-up offers (55%), then Twitter accounts with trackable links to operator sites (30%) and Facebook accounts with trackable links to operator sites (28%).
Marketing and technology
One of the questions we were most eager to ask affiliates is what they expect to be their most valuable marketing activity heading into 2018. Although the responses are fairly diverse, the most essential initiatives easily make their way to the top.
The most popular response, by a wide margin, is an evolving SEO strategy (38%). This highlights the fact that, although SEO is nothing new to the affiliate industry, it still demands sustained diligence and self-education.
The second-most popular response was from the 26% who say some form of website redesign. In third place is the implementation of a revamped content marketing strategy (21%).
Respondents were also asked to predict what they thought would be the most significant industry-wide tech focus in 2018. Although the influence of artificial intelligence (AI) on ad development was expected to be more popular, 26% say that recommendation engines will be the year’s most significant tech focus.
Not far behind is the propagation of marketing technology and data streaming platforms (19%), followed by push notifications and real-time marketing at 15%. The influence of AI finished tied with voice search optimisation (VSO) and programmatic/automated media buying at 11% each.
One of the survey’s more one-sided outcomes concerns mobile optimised sites: 87% of respondents claim to already have one in place. Only 10% say they have neither a mobile site nor a mobile app, and 14% are set up with both. This is one of several responses that supports the widespread view that affiliates are at the forefront of both technology and strategy, encouraging operators to push boundaries and adapt to industry evolutions.
When asked what their expectations are regarding the evolution of the affiliate marketing channel, our respondents offered a variety of answers, from the bullish to the cautiously optimistic to the somewhat doubtful.
Some affiliates give a more strategic assessment, positing that “affiliate marketers will need more diverse and engaging content” and that mobile and social media will continue to see their respective stocks rise.
Others are warier of the future, citing expected changes in regulation as well as the impact of “brand mergers and less creativity in marketing materials for affiliates”.
Most revealing was the final question: affiliates were asked what will be the most important question they ask of themselves and their team as they head into the new year. Respondents touched on a range of topics, including mergers and acquisitions, regulation, big data, mobile, relationship building and more.
Although these are all expected to be significant talking points throughout the year, there is one answer that plainly encapsulates the mindset with which many affiliates seem to be approaching 2018: “How can we stay ahead of the competition?”
Based on our findings and ensuing conversations, the answer to that question will take a different shape for each affiliate that strives to address it.