2016: App Time For Affiliates?

2016: App Time For Affiliates?

With 85% of mobile time, spent in-app, 2016 may be the year to develop one. Alan Petrilli discusses the process and challenges with leading affiliates who already took the leap.

Published 29th March 2016

Are you reading this article in print or on a mobile device? The latter possibility is increasingly likely, given that eMarketer estimates that 50.3% of the UK population regularly use a tablet, while the country’s smartphone penetration is expected to reach 90% this year, according to Kantar ComTech. Whichever device they use, far more of consumers’ time is spent in apps than surfing the mobile web. As such, apps offer numerous benefits to forwardlooking affiliates, though they also pose development and marketing challenges.

Mobile websites and developing apps

Affiliates’ mobile traffic is increasing. In 2014, only a fifth of affiliates (22.2%) surveyed by Income Access were receiving more than 40% of their traffic from players on mobile devices. Last year, the situation had changed significantly: half of affiliates (47.2%) were receiving more than this threshold of mobile traffic. “Mobile is the future for not only iGaming, but for just about every industry,” says Matthew Parvis, Chief Creative Officer at poker affiliate PokerNews. “People spend more and more time on their phones each and every year.” PokerNews responded to the mobile revolution early, with the affiliate relaunching PokerNews. com as a mobile-friendly site in 2013. Not all affiliates were this prescient. However, Google’s Mobilegeddon algorithm update in April 2015 made website mobile-friendliness a necessity rather than a luxury. Unsurprisingly, today the majority of affiliates – 83.3% of those surveyed – have a mobile site. Is a mobile site enough? In fact, smartphone and tablet users spend relatively little time browsing the mobile web. According to Nielsen, apps makeup the lion’s share of consumers’ mobile usage: 85% of their time is in-app, with mobile browsing and sites accounting for the remainder. Nonetheless, affiliates have been relatively slow to join the app revolution. Over three-quarters of affiliates polled (77.8%) had neither an app nor any plans to develop one. When developing an app, affiliates certainly face technical challenges. “Most affiliates are used to creating websites, but building native apps is quite different to this, as a good app product is real software,” says Marc Pederson, Director of Business Development at bettingexpert. com, a sports-betting affiliate. “There is a need for much better development practices, error handling and QA.” Given the technological complexity, app development takes time. Pederson estimates that the first versions of the iOS and Android apps for bettingexpert.com took around five months to develop followed by four months of testing and bug-fixing before they were launched in 2014. Understandably, this process also involves significant financial investment. According to app developers Abbacus Technologies, a moderately complex app with a database, API and social media integration can cost £3,500 to £7,000. Meanwhile, development costs for more complex apps with 3D graphics and animation can reach £35,000. Once developed, an app needs to be hosted in an app store. “By far the biggest problem in developing apps in the iGaming space is navigating the rules and regulations that both the iOS and Android marketplaces have in regards to gambling products,” says Matthew Parvis of PokerNews, which launched its first apps in 2012. Despite the challenges involved in bringing an app to market, these are more than balanced by the advantages. An app can significantly improve consumers’ engagement with an affiliate’s content. “We utilize our apps as brand extensions and ways to continue to connect with our audience,” says Parvis. Anna Woodward, Commercial Manager at sports-betting affiliate Easyodds.com, agrees. “Our apps allow the user to have a fully engaged user experience,” she says. Woodward emphasizes that push notifications are a key means of “targeting an engaged audience in real time across multiple devices”.

Player acquisition

If engagement is a core benefit, apps also serve to drive traffic to the brands affiliates promote. “The Easyodds native app enables us to strengthen our relationship with iGaming brands throughout the sector,” says Woodward, describing affiliates’ apps as “a new platform to push partners’ offers”. Consumers who have installed an affiliate’s app can then be served in-app adverts. While Parvis says that though PokerNews’ main promotional focus is native advertising, the affiliate does leverage in-app banners and interstitials, and has fixed-fee deals with partners looking to increase their mobile exposure. Easyodds.com’s apps also feature in-app banners. However, the affiliate’s development of its betting basket allows players to place bets on a range of brands’ sporting events without ever leaving the app. Other affiliates have adopted a more exclusive partnership approach: bettingexpert.com is only partnered with Bet365, offering betslips on the brand’s live sporting events in-app. While affiliates can adopt a range of advertising approaches, challenges remain. “Mobile tracking issues for many operators makes direct ads in-app even harder,” says PokerNews’ Matthew Parvis. Meanwhile, Anna Woodward of Easyodds.com emphasizes the issue of data. “Two of the largest challenges for affiliates and operators alike are the management of users’ data securely and the processing of data, ensuring it is visible to users within real time,” she says. Data and tracking remain important issues for affiliates and operators. However, new software solutions are increasingly making it possible for both parties to overcome these challenges.

Affiliates’ app marketing

Aside from technical challenges, affiliates will only maximize their apps’ revenue if they also maximize installs through an effective marketing strategy. Their primary focus can be on targeting existing users, as these consumers generally account for most installs. “We can still see a large number of users choosing to sign-up and join the site as well as partner sites via desktop and then utilizing the Easyodds app once sign-ups are complete,” says Anna Woodward. Poker News’ Matthew Parvis agrees. “We focus on organic growth as our primary marketing channel – most of our app users come through our own sites,” he says. “When users come to our sites and are detected as mobile or tablet users, we will display download options for the corresponding app.” Ideally, on-site advertising for the mobile app will feature prominently on the affiliate’s homepage, so that users don’t have to search for the relevant tab. The site’s app section will succinctly detail the app’s features and end with a compelling call-to-action that drives traffic through to the relevant app store to install. Existing consumers can also be targeted using off-site marketing channels. In the countdown to an app’s launch, affiliates can develop email marketing campaigns that emphasize the benefits of installing the app. These mailers can be supported by their social media channels. Subtly promotional Tweets and Facebook posts can be used to drive the affiliates social following to either their site’s app page or directly to app stores. As a secondary focus, affiliates will also target new users. According to Nielsen, the main way apps are discovered – 47% of iOS and 53% of Android apps – is through organic search within app store. This makes app store optimization (ASO) a key secondary marketing focus for affiliates like PokerNews. Keyword research is the foundation of effective ASO.

Once affiliates have defined both generic keywords (“casino reviews”) and long-tail phrases (“breaking US poker news, tips & views”), they can develop their title, which ideally will include a tagline, as well as the app’s description. User reviews also factor into app stores’ search algorithms, so negative feedback will need to be addressed by the affiliates’ app team as a matter of urgency. Of course, app discovery is irrelevant if a user doesn’t convert by installing. It is important that the app page content is enticing as possible. The description will ideally express the app’s USP in its first 200 characters, so consumers don’t have to expand it to discover more. Screenshots and even 15 to 30-second video previews for iOS apps will allow players to visualize the app before making the decision to install. Whether affiliates develop apps or place more emphasis on their mobile sites, one thing is for sure: affiliate marketing will become more mobile-focused going forward. Some affiliates, including bettingexpert.com’s Marc Pederson, argue that tablets and smart phones are iGaming’s future. “Internet usage is going towards mobile-only,” he says. “There is no compelling reason to assume it should be different in our industry.” If this forecast is correct, 2016 may be the year to develop an app. 

“Affiliates have been relatively slow to join the app revolution. Over three-quarters of those polled (77.8%) had neither an app nor any plans to develop one.”

“A moderately complex app with a database, API and social media integration can cost £3,500 to £7,000. Development costs for more complex apps with 3D graphics and animation can reach £35,000.”

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