• SEO

Finding the affiliate marketing niche with Leadstar Media

By Laura Gumbrell

There was a time when operators were completely dependent on affiliates pushing gambling-related traffic their way. However, since Google took centre stage and SEO became an increasingly profitable, and reliable, traffic driver, the rules of this game have changed. Mason Kelliher, senior SEO specialist at Leadstar Media, chats to us about the state of SEO affiliate marketing in 2023.

From then to now: affiliates vs in-house SEO

For so long, operators’ dependency on third parties to drive traffic lulled some affiliates into a false sense of security. So much so that when operators started to employ in-house SEO teams to push players to their own sites, these affiliates were left ten years in the past.

The main problem was that they were used to new casinos never making a single investment online or offline; they simply turned up to affiliate conferences aided by an expert contact list and kicked off their online presence there. But the operators’ shift to a marketing model that embraces, or at least includes, SEO has affected some affiliates’ success in the white market.

It’s a situation not lost on Mason Kelliher, senior SEO specialist at Leadstar Media. “Google has gotten much smarter and in some ways much more cautious,” he says. “In regulated markets, the number of operators taking up real estate has certainly increased for certain keyword families. Even in the time I’ve been at Leadstar, Google has come on leaps and bounds. It’s now a case where we are seeing some affiliates succeed exclusively in grey and black markets – they can no longer survive above operators in regulated.”

The conundrum has affected affiliates across the industry: how can they enjoy the success they once had? How can they compete in a world now dominated by SEO? The answer, according to Kelliher, is quite simple: don’t rely exclusively on SEO – it isn’t the answer for everyone. “We use SEO to bring high-value traffic, but it’s not a marketing source for everybody,” he says. “It is hard to predict, quantify the impact of changes and it’s very competitive. Of course, many companies still compete, some by tricking Google, others by partnering with more credible sites, but as Google continues to get better many affiliates have had to refocus their goals.”

Why SEO isn’t the be-all and end-all for operators and affiliates alike

Google’s SEO algorithm is a complex beast with many moving parts – more so since it introduced its yearly updates from Product Reviews to Core Web Vitals. With this evolution, of course, comes the need for SEOs to find ever more sophisticated ways of ranking above their competitors. But SEO is just part of the challenge, with AI and bots now lending websites a hand when it comes to gaining organic traffic.

 “Google will get smarter – today’s winners won’t be tomorrow’s”

Kelliher highlights how it’s no longer always just a case of paying your way to the top of Google or building a simple review page for a gambling product, applying some SEO and sitting back and waiting to watch the magic happen. Instead, affiliates need to find that extra special something; that “niche”, as he puts it.

So is finding a niche in the market the way forward?

Kelliher believes the key to success for gaming affiliates lies in their ability to focus on a specific area.

“Of course, if there’s one thing we know, the affiliate space is only set to grow as the global iGaming market does and the resource-gap between small affiliates and bigger affiliates and operators is only set to increase with it. Really finding that niche and prioritising it is a solid way forward to retaining a customer base.”

With the gaming industry constantly evolving and new products and services continually being released, affiliates need to stay up to date on the latest trends and focus their efforts on those areas that drive quality, qualified traffic.

At Leadstar Media, understanding the niche is key. “We pride ourselves on being able to understand who our users are, what they want and then give them the best possible answer to their questions,” Kelliher explains.

The team has focused primarily on the unique value they can offer customers. Having this solid foundation of what the player wants has helped Leadstar to not only attract new players but retain them.

“My best recommendation to other SEO affiliates would be to figure out how to give users what they want,” Kelliher says. “Perhaps this means going beyond selling welcome bonuses. By honing in on a particular speciality we are starting to see affiliates create expert content for specific communities in the vertical. In doing so, they’re becoming a relevant, trustworthy partner for Google and this, in theory, should create a stream of high-converting customers.”

The importance of affiliate shows for building operator partnership

Some say that trade shows are in decline and are no longer needed in our post-Covid world. But the data would suggest otherwise, and with the 2023 iterations of ICE and iGB Affiliate London being the biggest on record, the negativity around live events seems both premature and some way off the mark.

Kelliher and Leadstar Media are not among the naysayers. For them, trade shows are an important means for affiliates to build better, longstanding relationships with operators. And that’s not all: live events offer a great opportunity for affiliates to stay ahead of the curve, identify key market trends and learn about product roadmaps ahead of time.

“We found the show really beneficial this year,” Kelliher says. “I think because Sweden is such a bubble, like for many of the companies travelling to get to ICE, it is so important for business. Everyone is here in one space – it’s a great show for affiliates of any size.”

Shining a spotlight on affiliate marketing in 2023

Leadstar Media believes there are three important pillars for affiliates to follow in order to recapture former glories: personalisation, adaptability and relationship-building. By really getting to know your customer, by attending trade shows to connect in person and expand your industry knowledge, and by embracing versatility in a fast-moving industry, opportunities will continue to happen – regardless of Google and SEO.

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