It's back! The post-lockdown opportunity for PPC Affiliates

By Aaron Noy

  • Article summary

Cross-selling poker players into casino was the key for revenue generation in licensed markets during the lockdown, but the return of major sports will present PPC affiliates with a unique opportunity, writes Feargal Byrne

The last few months have seen substantial shifts in search volume for sports betting, casino and poker terms. The upswing in casino searches and the fall in sports betting searches was easily predicted. However, poker terms saw a resurgence which caught many, including me,  by surprise. With the resumption of the Premier League on 17 June PPC affiliates will find opportunities on which to capitalise. Together with the easing of lockdown restrictions, this will present a unique search environment where affiliates can get on the front foot.


For the exact match search term (‘online poker’), search volume on Google in the UK was about 4,400 per month in February. This soared to 14,800 in March and 18,100 in April. Poker has been a big winner during the lockdown. However, it could be the last hurrah for a product that was on its way out before the pandemic forced people to stay home. From a search volume perspective, I expect a dramatic fall-off in June. The trend of the major poker sites dominating and networked sites continuing to struggle will continue post-lockdown, with the Microgaming Poker Network finally shutting down in May. The sector is consolidated and players who play regularly will continue their pre-lockdown behaviour. New players, meanwhile, will revert to sports.


During the lockdown, the key for revenue generation in licensed markets was to cross-sell poker players using casino minigames or directly into their casino product.
‘All roads lead to casino’ should be the philosophy of a well-run betting operator. However, I believe that affiliates should not get sucked into viewing poker as a viable strategy on search. Sports will come back and be the number one feeder product to casinos.


As everybody in the sector knows, sports betting has taken a major hit during the last few months. This is clearly borne out when you look at search volume on Google. In April 2019 there were about 40,500 searches for the exact match head term (‘betting sites’) in the UK, while in April 2020 there were just 22,200 searches. This reflects the lack of betting opportunities. When doing analysis, we must remember that Cheltenham, the biggest horse racing festival of the year, took place in March. However, February 2020 showed an increase of about 6,000 searches from the same month the previous year. On the other hand, March 2020 had approximately 6,000 fewer searches for the same keyword than March 2019. This clearly reflects the lack of betting opportunities in the second half of the month. The April figures above are the best representation of the fall in sports-related searches as most events were stopped for the entire month. However, the imminent return of the Premier League, coupled with more horse racing, means there is likely to be a surge in sports betting-related searches. Cost per click (CPC) for sports is likely to be high because of operator budget for the Euros and unspent budget from March to June which will be available to some marketing teams entering sports auctions. Operators who are looking to play catch-up on their yearly targets may increase the ad depth of auctions substantially. The flip side of this is that affiliates can sell their inventory for more. The compressed timeframe for sports makes it essential that operators become more aggressive on customer acquisition.


For the exact match head term (‘online casino’) April 2020 saw a massive increase in searches to roughly 60,500. This is a considerable increase on the 40,500 from April 2019 and maps closely with the fall in sports betting-related terms. We predict a drop-off in poker and casino searches and a surge in sports betting-related terms in June. We also believe it is likely that sports searches will continue into July with the restart of the NBA. It is essential that affiliates consider sports betting terms as casino volume will inevitably fall. Cross-sell to casino from sports is the true anchor of higher affiliate sports CPAs. By focusing on sports terms that have a high natural cross-sell rate you will be increasing the value of the traffic you send.


Understanding how operators view PPC is key to increasing FTD orders from operators and in some cases increasing the CPA commission per new customer. Operators need multi-product players to pay back their customer acquisition investment. So poker and sportsbook are really just low margin retention tools to engage potential casino players. If an operator can break even on the acquisition cost through sportsbook activity then the casino product can step in and deliver the profit. At the moment, the US is the darling of marketers. However, the search auctions across legalised (and Google-approved) states are nowhere near the maturity of the UK. There are also many new territories that have recently opened up to paid search on Google Ads. As a result, affiliates can provide value beyond just customer acquisition to operator marketing teams.


As an affiliate, you offer distinct value to operators which goes beyond the customers you send. It is important that you highlight the following benefits to marketing decision-makers within betting operators:
  1. Low-risk approach to PPC. Start with affiliates on CPA deals and assess the traffic before running an in-house campaign.
  2. Low comparative CPAs to in-house acquisition especially when you factor in staffing costs on the side of the operator. In some cases, even CPA commissions on the higher end may offer better value than an operator-run campaign, all costs considered.
Sports acquisitions must cross-sell to the casino product. So, request data on cross-sell percentage. I know some operators will be reluctant to disclose this but if they do it will be another layer of value you provide.


Online sportsbooks and casinos don’t make much from their average customer. The top 2% of players are what drives most of the revenue and with the exception of operators with a strong brand presence, PPC is the best way to get these customers. So, as a PPC affiliate, you can help operators acquire these valuable assets. In reality, the reason why operators can pay you high CPAs is the chance that a VIP will arrive. Most customers that you send will never break even on an individual basis with the CPA commission you charge. However, one or two VIPs will pay for the shortfall with other customers and drive profitability for the operator. So, marketing managers must view customers from PPC affiliates in large enough cohorts to fully appraise their value. Inexperienced managers at operators might not understand this so it may be worth highlighting it when discussing deals.


If you are not using a bidding platform a great way to improve your performance is to store Google Click Identifier (GCLID) on the operators’ affiliate tracking platform. Depending on how the operator has set up additional tracking parameters and the amount of data they make available to affiliates, this should be possible.
However, when you store GCLID you can use it for offline conversions. This is the most accurate way to feed conversion data back into Google. Microsoft Ads has an equivalent ID and also allows for offline conversions. By doing this you will be able to improve targeting and ultimately increase margin on your CPA commissions.


From an account management process standpoint, using ad customisers for every title and description will speed up how you can make changes to ad copy. This works exceptionally well for sports betting campaigns. You can manage your copy from a spreadsheet and you don’t need to delete your ads when you make changes. All in all, ad customisers will help increase your quality score and deliver a higher click-through rate (CTR).


Setting landing page URLs at a keyword level is a great way to achieve an increase in conversion and also an improvement in quality score. For high CPC auctions, it is definitely worth customising your landing pages for the major head terms.


PPC affiliates must not fall for the poker trap (it was a short-term resurgence) and instead focus on the anticipated surge in sports betting-related queries. Remember: casino terms are likely to normalise so it is important to focus on the pent-up sports demand to balance out your traffic. For newly regulated markets, PPC affiliates are the low-risk way for operators to sample PPC traffic. By offering operators a way to play catch-up on their sports acquisition targets PPC affiliates can drive revenue and balance out any post-lockdown fall in casino traffic.
FEARGAL BYRNEhas over 14 years of experience in paid search, seven of which were in the sports betting and casino space. He has worked in-house for operators and has also helped affiliates with their PPC strategy. He is currently the head of digital marketing forThe Unit, an advertising agency specifically for sports betting and gaming brands.
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