The Evolution of Affiliate Marketing
Published 19th July 2016
An underlying theme of my articles for iGB Affiliate is how we, as webmasters, are living and working in a constant state of change. Your decisions and actions now, or lack of, will affect how successful you will be in the future. Behind every successful webmaster, there is a story of how they have changed and adapted to a new environment, and taken some risks in order to make the affiliate market work for them. In other words, if you are not taking pre-emptive steps and are instead just blindly following others, you aren’t going to reach the top in this field. Here’s a quick summary of what I intend to cover in this article focused on the evolution of affiliate marketing, What they said
- Meet your next challenger
- Tech, speed and security
- UX design: not your ordinary designer
- Tools and resources
- Know thy user and content marketing
What they said
They said it, not me! The iGaming affiliate space is undergoing significant change at the moment.
Nik from LatestCasinoBonuses.com “The LCB network has grown tremendously over the past few years through acquisitions and the purchase of smaller or competing affiliates. We see this as a trend within the industry as larger companies continue to grow and expand their networks. It is possible we will witness some big affiliate mergers in the near future. So the game has already changed and our strategy is to continue to strengthen the company through more acquisitions and keep on innovating at the same time.”
Stephanie Wynters from 138.com Affiliates “I believe that the biggest change has been in technological advances. Affiliates and affiliate managers need to move fast and learn about all the new ways to track and quantify data. Try the new marketing resources and various methods to acquire customers while doing A/B testing. Pay close attention to your data and have the knowledge of what your player value is per campaign.”
Marius Filip from Bonnier Gaming “I have over seven years of experience in the iGaming Industry and the wave of consolidation and mergers, predicted to happen to the industry six years ago, has evidently increased in 2016. The gambling industry has undergone a series of acquisitions which have happened so fast that it suggests further consolidation will follow. The start of this process in the affiliate space was marked by big affiliate network companies acquiring the majority of strongly ranking sites in International and Scandinavian markets.” “I make millions working just four hours a week.” Said no-one, ever!
Meet your next challenger
For many of us in the business, we have a lot of friends that are competitors. Some are directly competitive; others indirectly. There are some affiliates which are getting even bigger: LatestCasinoBonuses. com acquiring WizardofOdds.com and more recently Catena Media buying AskGamblers.com. There are many affiliates that recently entered the space and have seen short-term success, while other more established webmasters are struggling to maintain their performance with the formula that brought them initial success. As long as you are earning a decent income from a niche, or someone thinks you are, expect someone to try and construct a very similar site or, horror of horrors, something even better. You can expect the market to become more competitive as time goes on, with newer affiliates jumping into the business. What they lack in experience, they make up for in enthusiasm and ability to adapt since there is a greater need for them to do more than just create another standard gambling portal. Your next challenger is willing to work harder and smarter, with their targets set on creating a better-performing website.
Tech, speed and security
Technology, site speed and security all go hand in hand, but we will break down each of these items to give you an enhanced understanding of where the future lies. For all of your big projects and websites, you have to dedicate time, money and resources to your tech setup which usually involves custom programming. I will cover each of these areas in general detail before going into databases, programming languages and services that can help you with speed and security.
Changes in technology:
Tech is changing at a fast rate and of course we should expect that working in a tech industry that just happens to be gambling. If you are not staying up to date with the world of programming then this is one area that you can fall behind and is an avenue a competitor can use to gain a significant advantage over you.
Is speed really that important?:
Google has already said that speed is a ranking factor but you need to think of this in another way: if you can improve your site speed, that will reduce bounce rate and directly influence how much more time users will spend on your site. A faster loading site could translate to more time on site and more pages per visitor, which should result in more sales as well.
Of course security is important - getting your website hacked is more damaging than you think – and if this hasn’t happened to you yet then it is an-ever present danger. Hackers can do things like inject competitor links into your site, which is probably the easiest thing to do without being detected. If malicious code is injected into your site, that is a sure way of losing direct traffic and possibly search traffic. Simply put, getting hacked means your programmers have to do extra work, and unless you are the only programmer then it’s doing extra work to fix your site rather than improve it, which isn’t an effective use of your time. Now that we have briefly covered those three items by way of a general overview of the technical baselines, we will dive deeper into databases, programming and speed tools.
Databases, at least in theory, may not be as complicated as dealing with the large array of programming languages, but picking a database is by no means a simple task, let alone designing your database or having your programmer do that. If you have a talented programmer who you can trust, then it won’t hurt to listen to their recommendations as well as working within their skill set. There are however many programmers taking the time to learn these newer programming languages and working with the newer databases. Knowing these experts are the future, the question you need to ask yourself is, are you getting on board now? And if you are adopting a wait-andsee approach, how confident are that you won’t need them one day anyway?
SQL vs NoSQL
With databases, the NoSQL option has advantages in terms of speed and scalability. That said, it doesn’t mean that you should ditch SQL databases completely, as every website and project will have its own set of needs, so by no means will NoSQL databases fully take over. You now have more to consider in terms of options but with those considerations come risks, alongside the potential rewards.
MongoDB: Released 2009
Companies using MongoDB include Google, BuzzFeed, Facebook, Craigslist, Adobe, etc. The list of MongoDB users is serious, fairly large and growing. In plain terms, MongoDB isn’t stored like a table as mySQL is for example, which means faster retrieval and editing of data. To learn more on this, you may want to do research on ‘sql vs nosql’ to develop a better understanding of how MongoDB is different.
Redis: Released 2009
This is a NoSQL database system, that rather than being your complete database, acts like a buffer by storing data in memory, also known as memcached. The end result could be one of the fastest possible systems. You can use Redis with MongoDB or mySQL, and because the data is stored in memory, it’s ready to go and delivered faster. Companies using Redis include Twitter, GitHub, Pinterest, Snapchat and Craiglist.
Cassandra: Released 2008
Cassandra has been acknowledged as the database of choice for scalability. Companies using Cassandra include Facebook, Twitter, Reddit. Final note on databases: there are some advantages of using newer options for databases but it doesn’t mean SQL databases are ever going to disappear either. Every website and project should dictate the type of database used. With that all said, the new databases certainly have some speed and scalability benefits and it is worth investigating and paying attention to competitors that make the switch.
Node.js: Released 2009
Also referred to as NodeJS, it’s becoming the new standard for interfacing a database with a front end and is central to MVC frameworks.
Using Node.js can speed things up by using parallel requests.
MeteorJS: Released 2012
If you need to see a site using Meteor, check out Gaffg.com for starters. Meteor is beyond new, and is pushing the boundaries of what apps and websites can do. For a list of sites and apps using Meteor visit www.meteor. com/showcase
With frameworks I’ll only talk about this in the general sense. You have newer frameworks to choose from such as Meteor or MEAN (Mongo/Express/Angular/ Node) and the number of php frameworks is really exploding as well. The latter are improving all the time and you’ll probably have an easier time finding a developer in one of these frameworks than for Meteor or MEAN. A quick list of these frameworks includes: Laravel; Yii 2; Symfony; CodeIgniter; ZendFramework; CakePhp.
With programming and databases changing, frameworks are certainly not standing still either, and every year there seems to be more toys to play with. Wordpress is still the #1 CMS but it is probably the #1 target for hackers as well.
Ghost is a very light blogging platform, it’s great if you want to just blog and it uses Markdown as the editor, if you have ever used it, you’ll know it’s sweet and it will probably start to replace a lot of the WYSIWYG editors.
UX design: not your ordinary designer
I’ve spent the past few years focusing more on conversion rate optimization and while I think that topic and industry will continue to grow and become more important than SEO, I still think it needs to be put to the side, with User Experience Design (UX Design) given its own showcase. If you ask any SEO, designer or conversion optimization expert, each will claim that they are the most important person to hire out of anybody else. Likewise, your average website designer will claim that they can solve all of your conversion problems by having a superior design. Personally, I would rank the importance of these four types of professionals in the following order:
- UX designer
- Conversion rate optimization specialist
- Website designer
#1 and #2 are up for some heated debate right now, however my reasoning is that if you spend more time answering questions about what you want or expect your users to do, you’ll design the right layout and navigation that will inherently solve some conversion issues. Others however will argue that solving the conversion issues will solve the user experience issues. A suitably qualified SEO should always help, but we are assuming this person has at least the basics covered. I do think many SEOs focus too much on their work and put less emphasis than they should on other elements such as content marketing, design and conversion rate optimization.
Hence, this is why I have ranked an SEO further down the list. If you really care about your users, you’ll fix the important items which will indirectly help your SEO efforts anyway. A website designer ranks lowest on the list, and by website designer, I’m referring to designers who don’t refer to themselves as UX designers or user experience designers. Generic website designers are a dime a dozen, and there are just too many companies and freelancers who will offer you just another design. The reality is these designers don’t have experience in conversion rate optimization and terms such as ‘bounce rate’, ‘time on site’ or ‘pages per session’ are not part of their vocabulary. A UX designer will take the time to learn more about your target audience so that they can create a design that matches their goals and needs, regardless of the page.
They may cost a bit more upfront, but they will save you money later on. I tend to separate UX designer and website designer from each other based on what you as a client get as a final product. Personally, I will never hire a website designer that doesn’t care for UX when making a website. To put this in perspective, I have had people who have spent close to $100k on new websites come to me and ask why it’s performing worse than their older design. Of course it’s easy to highlight the flaws that hurt conversion rate or user experience, but often these design agencies have no answer. They will all claim their designs will help your bottom line without data or proof to back it up.
Tools and resources
Design Tools & Resources:
Just like programming, design is changing at a very fast rate. Just as programmers need to upgrade their skills by adding newer languages and frameworks to their repertoire, there are also a host of newer tools and resources appearing within the design scene.
If you need to find your next designer, you can find talented people around the world here as this site is used as a vehicle to showcase their portfolios. I wouldn’t even think about searching for a designer in Google unless it’s important for you to engage a local one.
Sketch is as close to the website and UX tool of choice amongst designers as you are likely to find, and it has more or less dethroned Photoshop as the only real tool to use. There are still many talented designers using Photoshop but I’m convinced that by 2017, more designers will have moved over to using Sketch. If you search for someone that designs in Sketch, this means that you’ll get .sketch files instead of .psd. Using this as an interview question could help you filter out a lot of people. You will certainly let a lot of good designers slip through the cracks if you discriminate against Photoshop designers, but if you filter these to also find those working in Sketch designers, you’ll probably get someone who’s up to date on their tools, and the reality is that designers can create a site faster in Sketch once they know how to use it.
Moqups.com is one of the numerous wireframing websites around. Truth be told, there are too many of these sites around, and you can also find this facility offered within Sketch, but that’s for your designers to consider. If your designer wants you to do a wireframe first before they start the design work, Moqups is an easy tool for anybody to use, and it’s worth the effort to take the time to do the layout before sending the project off to your designer.
Know thy user
You users are changing, so be conscious of them. People are spending a lot of time looking at websites on their phones and for some casino portals, mobile visitors now dominate their site, so if your site isn’t doing the same, then maybe your site needs a mobile overhaul. Simply having a responsive site isn’t enough these days, as you have to map the navigation and user experience for mobile devices as well. Content marketing ties into the importance of knowing your user. Your visitors are probably getting younger as a wave of Millennials starts to take over the internet; or at least try to. The way in which you create content now can have a significant impact not just on your ability to rank for an article but on user engagement as well. Is it good enough to entice any user to click on your article? Once they are there, are you helping them get to the next step? If you want your site to stand out and engage users, it needs to be more than just another article, and the same goes for your website.
Everything is changing: technology, marketing, your audience, and if you are an established affiliate then you can expect to find yourself competing against a wave of new entrants who want their piece of the pie as well. Healthy competition can spark innovation, so whether you are a new affiliate or have been in the business for a while, you’ll need to challenge yourself to become better. To summaries, your key takeaway points are as follows:
- New technologies: learn about them and embrace them.
- Design should be user experience design: it has to be effective more than just looking good.
- Content marketing: put the user first and you can plan around them.