This article was recently published in the igaming business magazine – the leading casino business and affiliate marketing publication.
2009 – ‘The Year of Mobile’
2009 has been the year the mobile internet took off, with the game-changing success of the iphone driving forward the entire market. Mobile handsets have become much more user-friendly for web usage as a result of touch-screens and improved browser technology. Network operators have finally begun to rollout flat-rate and lower cost mobile data access packages and are investing heavily in marketing mobile internet services to consumers. The growth in ‘App Stores’ has opened up a new distribution channel for service providers and big brand mobile services like m.facebook.com are attracting mainstream users to the mobile web.
As a result, many people in the affiliate marekting industry are now seeing mobile as The Next Big Thing. So what are the opportunities in mobile for the casino affilate industry?
Mobile commerce is developing
Whilst mobile internet usage has reached the mass market, commercial transactions have been slower to develop on the mobile platform. Spending is currently concentrated in mobile-focused areas such as downloads (applications, ringtones, games) with very limited activity in key verticals such as travel, finance and retail.
Despite the massive improvements to mobile user-interfaces there are still barriers preventing mobile commerce from taking off. For example, financial products such as mortgages or insurance typically involve a lot of researching and from a UI perspective usually require lots of tick-boxes, which are not well suited to a mobile screen.
However, there are some signs that this is beginning to change. iphone applications are showing that users will purchase goods and services using their mobiles if they are given the right user interface. For example, Pizza Hut recently announced that it had generated $1m in sales in 3 months from its iphone application. eBay also began to break out mobile commerce revenues for the first time earlier this year which showed that they are already generating $380m of sales over mobile in H1 2009/10.
Affiliate marketing on mobile is not new
Affilate marketing on the mobile web has been around in some form since the very early days of ‘wap’ with some of the first mobile adult sites developing very basic affiliate systems. The major ringtone players such as Jamba have also used affiliate marketing heavily to promote their subscription mobile content offerings. These were promoted mainly on the PC web, driving users to the mobile internet for content delivery. However, following the consumer and regulatory backlash against these subscription services, the ringtone players have retrenched and are no longer leading innovation in mobile web affiliate marketing.
The Casino sector is now leading the way
As a result of the collapse in the subscription ringtone market, and the slow development of mobile commerce in other sectors, the major mainstream high-value mobile service category is casino gaming. Consequently, affilliate marketing on mobile is now being lead by casino players in terms of both service development and affiliate technology. Simon Liss from the Mobile Agency We Love Mobile says, “Mobile affiliate marketing only really works when the deal can be done via the device. The ability of mobile casinos to acquire users and take payment on device means that traffic from third parties is very easy to track and monetise – as a result the casino players are leading the way.”
Specialist Casino Affiliate networks quicker to roll out mobile services
A number of the specialist online casino networks have already moved to develop mobile affiliate offerings. Typically, services are provided as downloadable applications which provide access to the standard range of casino games including Poker, Bingo, Roulette, Black Jack and Slots. These mobile applications are linked to a credit card account enabling them to function in a similar way to an online/ PC-based service. Affiliate payouts are linked to the download of the application (CPA) or spending by a particular user (revenue share).
Some of the casino affiliate networks offering mobile services include:
- Brightshare which offers the All Slots mobile, All Slots iphone and Wild Jack mobile services on an affiliate basis
- Income Access runs affiliate programs for the mfortune and Gold Mobile Casino brands
- Europartners has developed a mobile affiliate program around the Casino Tropez mobile service
Tracking mobile affiliate sales requires different approaches
PC/ online based affiliate services typically track sales using cookies. However, this approach does not work effectively on mobile. As a result, affiliate networks need to use alternative approaches such as server-based tracking. To date the major generalist online affiliate networks (Trade Doubler, Commission Junction, Zanox) have not yet extended much into mobile and the major in-house affiliate APIs such as Amazon also haven’t been adapted for mobile affiliates. However, there are also some mobile-focused affiliate networks emerging that offer a range of programs, including casino:
- Mobpartner is a french mobile affiliate network which operates across a large number of small mobile-web based affiliates
- MPEX is an adult-focused mobile affiliate platform and site building tool that also offers casino services
- Sponsormob is a German mobile ad network which works directly with merchants and advertisers on a CPA basis
For affiliates, generating mobile web traffic requires slightly different approach to on the PC-web. Natural Search/ SEO is not yet effective on mobile, as Google Mobile Search largely ranks sites based on their PC-driven scoring, which provides little any room for mobile-only players to achieve high positions. As a result, affiliates have to focus on paid traffic generation, but this is not easy as at present, “demand for quality mobile traffic is growing faster than the supply of it” according to Peter Glaeser from the mobile CPA network Sponsormob.
Paid search on the mobile web is effective but there is limited inventory and as a result, CPCs are high, especially for competitive keywords. The main sources of paid search inventory include:
- Google – easy to use, you can buy mobile search terms through the same interface used for web-based ad sense/ ad words
- Yahoo! – highly rated by media buyers, but more difficult to deal with (their sign-up for mobile search purchasers needs manual approval)
- Specialist mobile search services such as Jumptap and MCN
Buying advertising space directly on other mobile sites is another way of generating traffic. Operator portals are the major place to go for high volumes but outside of these sites tracking down potential deals can be more difficult. One issue is that there is no equivalent of the ABCe or Comscore for mobile so it is difficult to find high traffic sites. Also, many of the big online or media brands do not necessarily have high mobile traffic. On the other hand, “mobile-only” services such as communities and chat networks can drive huge volumes of usage, despite being relatively unknown.
Mobile ad networks are the most common channel mobile web affiliates use to buy traffic. There are well over 30 different mobile ad networks, the largest of which is admob, recently acquired for $750m by Google. Other networks to try include Imobi, Buzz City, Adfonic, Deck Trade and Quattro Wireless. Prices for particular countries or handset types can vary significantly across networks so there is a real advantage to working with multiple players. The majority of networks sell based on a CPC basis with higher prices for specific countries and greater targeting control. However, traffic quality on these networks can be low, and conversions poor. There are also premium mobile ad networks which can demand a CPM-based fee for their inventory, sourced from higher-quality partners such as branded sites or operators.
Analytics and Campaign Management
Getting ROI from mobile ad spend requires the same level of attention to creative and campaign management as on the PC-web. Affilliates need to track click-throughs and conversions carefully and ensure to include handset types in targeting. A common error with many casino affiliates is not checking the types of handsets which different mobile casino services support and targeting advertising accordingly. Similarly, with many mobile ad networks saturated by Casino-affiliate based advertising, it is important to develop strong creative, varying and optimizing banners and keyword text.
Lots of opportunities for the casino affiliate marketing industry
So, although it is still very early days, mobile does represent an important new channel for the casino affiliate industry. The platform continues to grow in terms of adoption and usage and there is more and more activity in the market. Success will come to players who can master the differences between mobile and online in terms of traffic generation and campaign management and continue move up the learning curve as mobile services continue to evolve.