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The four commonest mistakes in affiliate conversion and how to fix them

| By Stephen Carter
Having been both operator and affiliate, Digital Fuel's Oliver Liebscher knows the mistakes operators often make with affiliate conversions. Here he offers some solutions

Having been both an operator and affiliate, Digital Fuel's Oliver Liebscher knows the mistakes that operators too often make with affiliate conversions. But fortunately this gave him insight into some of the solutions

Affiliate managers are always looking for ways to increase customers for their operator brand. This usually consists of either finding new affiliates or pushing new offers to existing ones. There are two drawbacks to these approaches. Firstly, there are only a finite number of potential new affiliates out there. Secondly, regularly creating new and enticing offers is very time-consuming for operators and it’s difficult to stand out in a crowded marketplace.

My personal opinion is that operators don’t do enough to help their existing affiliates grow. Mid-level affiliates that are big enough to be converting customers but not big enough to have a complete in-house team have bags of potential.

Simple changes to search engine optimisation (SEO), user experience (UX), information architecture, copywriting and design would be obvious to an operator’s in-house team or digital agency but little known to a mid-level affiliate.

Plus, operators have much more data to work with than affiliates — sharing this can be beneficial to both.

As someone with a technical background who’s worked operator side, agency side and as an affiliate, I believe I can see the bigger picture and can identify the issues that stop mid-level affiliates reaching their potential:

Issue 1: affiliate managers aren’t technical

The role of an affiliate manager is reporting on affiliate output, alerting affiliates to new offers and features and making sure affiliates are compliant. Affiliate managers are great at what they do but this is more of a financial and administrative role than a technical role. What holds back mid-level affiliates is…

Issue 2: affiliates often lack certain technical skills
Although some affiliates are professional organisations and have specific departments dedicated to SEO, UX, copywriting etc, a high percentage of affiliate websites are smaller side-line projects.

This means two things: firstly, the amount of time the affiliate can work on its site is limited; and secondly, the affiliate is most likely going to lack certain skills. To run an affiliate site successfully requires a very wide range of skills — everything from SEO to UX to coding.

Naturally, a small affiliate run by one or two people is going to lack a number of these skills. 

For example, an affiliate might be an expert on horse racing and an excellent copywriter but lack UX and SEO skills.

Not having a full range of technical skills often doesn’t mean that you can’t do something (that’s often easy to figure out with some Googling), it’s just that you’re unaware it’s an issue in the first place.

Issue 3: incomplete user data
Operators and affiliates both have very useful information that is rarely, if ever, put together. Sharing the data between operator and affiliate would instantly provide meaningful insight for strategic decisions. For example:

Affiliates know:
• Volume of website visitors from different channels
• Number of visitors that click an affiliate link
• How many of these clicks turn into depositing customers
• User journey prior to clicking an affiliate link — entry source, previous page etc.

Operators know:
• Lifetime value of all customers versus the affiliate’s referred customer’s lifetime value
• Specific user behaviour. For example, affiliates will often just see ‘sports’ in their affiliate reporting software, whereas operators will be able to see extra detail: ice hockey, first division football, greyhounds, etc.
• User statistics: age, gender and location
• Betting trends: where there’s been increased betting activity in recent months  

For example, wouldn’t it be great if the operator approached the affiliate with some insights such as these:

• Your website is mostly talking about football. However, a lot of your referred players go on to bet on horse racing. Have you considered diversifying into other sports?
• Did you know that 35% of customers you have referred are women aged 25-35? You could set up a Facebook advertising campaign targeting this demographic.
• We’ve noticed an increase in betting on politics in the past six months. Would you consider adding a political betting section to your site?

Issue 4: regulation and relationships
The current environment between operators and affiliates, with regards to regulation, isn’t a pleasant place to be. Affiliates work hard to promote the operators, they send the operators many customers and make them a significant amount of money. Now that there are one-strike policies in place it only takes a single slip-up and that could spell the end of a long-term mutually beneficial relationship.

Operators being more involved with affiliates and their websites will invariably mean that sites are more likely to be compliant and thus relationships between affiliate managers and affiliates improve.

Now that we’ve highlighted the issues, what are the possible solutions?

Solution 1: technical affiliate managers
A technical affiliate manager would work for the operator or could be part of an external agency. Their responsibility would be to work with affiliates to improve their websites and ultimately increase conversions for the operator. They would manage this in the following ways:

1. Leverage internal teams to review affiliate sites. This would involve SEO, UX, design, development and copywriting. The internal teams wouldn’t need to spend a great deal of time on each site — a highly trained professional should be able to offer more insight in 10 minutes than months of Googling for answers.
2. Drill down into operator data on affiliate-referred customers to look for opportunities.
3. Compile a report for the affiliate site once every couple of months or once per quarter. This report would contain recommendations from the internal teams, detailing opportunities uncovered in the data.
4. Measure and track the growth of the affiliate. This shouldn’t just be customers, but also affiliate site visitors, conversion rate and user engagement metrics such as time on site and pages per visit.

Solution 2: affiliate workshops
The affiliate industry is great at arranging conferences where affiliates and operators discuss performance, financials and their plans. Again, there should be more focus on the technical side of the affiliate industry.

Technical affiliate workshops would allow affiliates to speak directly with operator technical experts and figure out where they need to improve their sites and how to go about doing it.

I’ll wait for someone else to do it
As an operator you might be reading this and thinking: “If my competition goes ahead and helps these affiliates then I’ll see the benefits without having to spend the money.” Perhaps this is true, but then as an affiliate you’re more likely to help the operator who’s helped you.

I believe operators getting more involved with affiliates and helping them improve their websites can only be a good thing. It would mean increased conversions and fewer untrustworthy-looking websites, and would hopefully contribute to a more favourable public opinion of the gambling industry as a whole.

Oliver Liebscher is head of design for Digital Fuel Marketing, owner of Comparethelotto.com and formerly head of design for Betfred.

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