How Affiliate Marketers Can Empower Gamblers To Make Better Decisions

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketers must be a voice of authenticity for their readers.

This applies doubly to the online gambling industry, where genuineness can mean the difference between bettors making sound, responsible decisions, or busting their bankrolls.

Online gambling affiliates are not in the business of plugging headphones or desk chairs, where the worst outcome is subpar sound or an uncomfortable backrest. No, they are dealing in an industry where funds are exchanged for an uneven chance to win more funds.

The best online casinos and sportsbooks realize the playing field is already tilted in their favor and don’t tilt it further (some even partially balance it out), while the trashiest employ a variety of predatory and manipulative tactics to get players spending, and losing, more.

It is therefore the duty of affiliate marketers, who act as a critical liaison between customers and online gambling sites, to embolden readers with an arsenal of knowledge, and to steer them through the power of transparency.

To that effect, some strides have been made, but we’re not doing enough.

Affiliates promote too many sites

Monetization through affiliate marketing isn’t inherently bad but it can create massive conflicts of interest.

These conflicts can largely be avoided by following one simple rule:

Only promote sites that you yourself would play on.

This mitigates the need to “fluff up” review scores for less deserving partners, providing marketers with a much clearer path toward authenticity. That 9.2/10.0 or 4.5-star rating will now be warranted because you’re only promoting books and casinos that you as a player would recommend.

While the rule itself is elementary, the execution requires some planning and effort on the part of the affiliate. Multiple approaches can work, but the one we find to be the most successful is a combination of vetting, outreach, and elimination.

#1 Vetting a potential client

First, it’s imperative that representatives of the affiliate site, preferably the person in charge of writing reviews, actually spend a significant amount of time testing the product. For an online casino this could entail:

      • Registering and making a real-money deposit
      • Running through a welcome bonus
      • Testing for software bugs and lag, on desktop and on mobile
      • Evaluating the return-to-player (RTP) of the best and worst games
      • Checking out the responsible gaming tools
      • Making withdrawals using multiple methods
      • Gauging loyalty program value
      • Asking customer support some tough questions

And this is just scratching the surface. For online sportsbooks, the checks should run ever deeper.

      • How do the lines stack up against the competition?
      • Do the promotions offer a positive expectation?
      • Does the site employ shifty tactics like changing lines at the point-of-sale?
      • What is the book’s business policy toward sharp and break-even bettors?

And the list goes on. This sounds like an awful amount of work, and it is, but that’s the price of becoming a reputable brand in a space that has an unsavory reputation.

Affiliates can cut down their workload by doing some outside the box thinking. Namely, they should consider hiring real players with plenty of hands-on experience.

The dual benefit here is that real players are more likely to offer knowledgeable, unbiased opinions.

Personally, I’d rather work with someone that was just an average writer but active at six different sportsbooks than a professional writer who mainly exists outside gambling.

By preferencing real opinions from real players, affiliates can increase their authenticity dramatically, which leads us to our next point.

A note on SEO

One of the most undeniable tells of a bad affiliate site is one that posts reviews laden with spammy keywords. If an affiliate writer stuffs phrases like “best online casino x” or “sportsbook y bonus code” into their review whenever it makes an iota of sense, and then does it again for every single online gambling site within their niche, you can be pretty assured that the affiliate is biased.

What’s funny here is that Google does not reward sites who saturate their posts with keywords.

Instead, affiliates can improve their Google rankings by generating backlinks from quality sites. And the key to getting good backlinks? Provide quality, authentic supplemental value (more on that below) to your customers.

#2 Outreach: Keeping communication lines open

No man is an island, and you can’t paint a complete picture without the opinions of others. Social media is an invaluable resource for affiliates that is underutilized far too often.

It’s simply not enough to plug a few articles here and there. Affiliates must actively engage with their audience.

A surefire way to get called a corporate shill on Twitter is to constantly promote your partners. Sorry, but it’s well-deserved.


Through engagement, affiliates can learn more about what players care about, and then shape their opinions accordingly. They’ll also learn about a brand’s flaws. Do players constantly complain about withdrawal times on Sportsbook X? Maybe other players on the same site are having poor customer service experiences or their in-play wagers rejected. Reach out to these players and find out more.

Just as a player might think twice about using a site that’s received myriad complaints, affiliates should think twice about promoting them. It’s common sense.

Ok, it’s not realistic to engage everybody, otherwise, you’ll be sifting through a sea of #GamblingTwitter conspiracy theories, and no one should be subject to that.

Instead follow and engage a healthy mix of advocates, professional sports bettors, and reasonable recreational players that don’t have a financial stake in the industry. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned about the intricacies of various sports betting and casino operations through just a handful of Twitter DMs.

Also, be sure to open other lines of communication, such as surveys, forum engagement, and email questionnaires. Engaging and learning from your target audience is the pillar upon which trust is built.

#3 Write first, choose partners later

Through proper vetting and outreach efforts, affiliates will be able to distinguish the good apples from the bad. But it’s really all for nothing if they’ve already forged partnerships with every online gambling site under the sun.

Instead, we implore affiliates to write their product reviews first and then decide which partners to go after.

This accomplishes a couple of critical goals.

First, it allows affiliates to paint a complete, and more importantly, unbiased picture of the industry. Starting from a place where no review is monetized allows writers to speak freely, increasing genuineness.

Do be sure to write reviews for every site within your niche, even the ones you know you’ll never promote. Just as players deserve to be steered toward good sites, they should be warned about the trash.

Now think about the opposite scenario, where the affiliate crafts a few deals first, and then puts pen to paper. Despite how much knowledge they’re armed with, can they really remain completely unbiased if they know Site A is going to give them a big fat check, and Site B isn’t? Maybe, but expect this approach to invite skepticism.

Secondly, a “write first” approach allows affiliates to assign a measurable weight (score, stars, etc.) to each prospective partner. These scores can then be easily grouped them into buckets:

      • Bucket 1: Top-notch sites
      • Bucket 2: Solid sites with flaws
      • Bucket 3: Sites where the bad outweighs the good
      • Bucket 4: Sites worth blacklisting

That first round of negotiations should only be with operators from Bucket 1, because they’re the ones that you, the now well-informed affiliate, would feel comfortable throwing a few bucks on yourself.

Sites from Bucket 2 should probably be further vetted before a determination is made, or perhaps revisited at a later date. And just forget about Buckets 3 and 4, unless they completely revamp their business model.

Be careful with CPAs, and never revenue share

In the affiliate marketing world, there are two primary deal structures. The first is called a cost-per-acquisition or CPA.

Cost per acquisition

With CPAs, the affiliate is paid when they send a new player to a partnering site.

The qualification criteria for a “send” varies a bit from partner to partner. It could entail the player using an affiliate link to successfully register for an online gambling site, and that’s it. Or they may be required to make a small real-money deposit and at least one wager. Some partners supply affiliates with unique promo codes, others do not.

Regardless, once the player meets the qualification criteria, the affiliate is paid a fee, and the transaction is complete. The affiliate will never receive another dime from the partnering site for that player.

CPAs aren’t perfect. If an affiliate sends a swarm of bonus hunters and advantage players to a partner, the partner may lower their rate. This may encourage some affiliates to only target high-volume players. However, that scenario is an anomaly. In most instances, the affiliate will send a healthy mix of bonus hunters, recreational players, regulars, and a few whales.

Another problem with CPAs is that partners may pay more for a featured slot on the affiliate site. If you’re at all familiar with the affiliate marketing industry, you know that sites often provide “Best” lists, where they run down their top 3 or 5 recommended products. The products are often ranked by how much the affiliate is paying, not the merits of the merchandise.

Best lists represent a pretty serious conflict of interest for affilaite marketers, as the affiliate is incentivized to feature products that pay higher CPAs.

One way around this is to follow the advice we already outlined: Only promote the very best sites. But even then, you may be motivated to place a “Very Good” site ahead of a “Great” site if the former pays a better CPA.

The better answer is to not have “Best” lists at all.

Revenue share

On the other side of the coin are revenue share deals. Instead of an upfront payout, the affiliate is paid a percentage of the player’s net losses over a predetermined period. Sometimes it’s two years, sometimes it’s a lifetime.

Rev share deals deeply inhibit an affiliate’s ability to remain unbiased. And why? Because they’re now 100% incentivized to send high-volume players and whales to their partners. A cautious well-informed player might only net them a few bucks, whereas a whale could keep the lights on for a month.

For the rev share affiliate, it makes little sense to teach gamblers how to trim the house edge and gamble responsibly. And there’s all the motivation in the world to send players to predatory sites where they’re likely to be quickly separated from their bankrolls.

Affiliates that try to maximize profits from revenue share deals might as well promote problem gambling.

The affiliate looking to provide transparency will avoid rev share deals at all costs. Luckily, most legal U.S. online gambling affiliates craft CPA deals with their partners these days.

Can this revenue model work?

If you’re thinking that this post should be subtitled, “How Not To Make Money As An Online Gambling Affiliate Marketer,” well I can’t say that I entirely blame you, but I don’t believe that to be the case.

Yes, by thoroughly vetting operators, only promoting top sites, and forgoing “Best” lists and revenue share deals, you’re short-term profit potential is going to take a serious drag through the mud.

However, this will be offset by an increase in brand awareness, trust, and reputation, and that will result in the one word every business owner loves: liquidity.

It bewilders me how casino operators have changed their paradigms over the years. It used to be you go to the casino, play table games with good rules, maybe dabble in the nickel machines, and enjoy a buffet or steak dinner for under $10. Even casual players were treated like royalty. The casinos of yesteryear provided more value, and over the long haul that translated to increased brand loyalty.

These days, the prominent gambling conglomerates like MGM and Caesars seem more concerned with bleeding their existing database dry than adopting a value-focused acquisition strategy. This is not a good long-term business practice, especially in the age of social media, where manipulative marketing and cost-cutting measures aren’t going to go unnoticed.

When I think of how a gaming company can build reputation and trust, I’m taken back to PokerStars. Not the PokerStars of today, which is a shadow of its former self, but the one from the pre-Black Friday era. PokerStars offered an extremely low rake, and an otherworldly rakeback system where players would get up to 70%+ of their “taxes” refunded to their bankrolls. This kept players liquid and attracted new players to the site, full knowing that their education would be relatively inexpensive.

I’ll concede that the online poker climate has changed dramatically over the years, with player competition becoming much steeper. But that alone doesn’t justify why PokerStars did a complete 180, and today barely rewards poker customers with any sort of meaningful rakeback. Instead, the focus is on redirecting traffic to its casino and sportsbook, where players are more likely to lose faster.

Likewise, affiliates tend to value short term gains, especially in the sports betting industry, where everyone is scavenging like rats for a piece of cheese. Remember when former Action Network CEO Noah Szubski likened the revenue share model to “Happy fucking birthday” for affiliates? That attitude needs to go.

Profitability can be achieved in the gambling affiliate space by harnessing the powers of integrity, trust, and transparency to grow liquidity. It might take a little longer, but the juice will be worth the squeeze.

Provide supplemental value

A tendency among affiliates is to blast their homepages with banner ads and partner links, write a couple of short reviews, and call it a day.

To say that these sites do little to empower and educate the gambling public is an understatement.

The very best affiliate sites don’t look like an affiliate site at all.

Writing informative, unbiased reviews is great, but they’re not enough. Instead, an affiliate site should provide players with supplemental value. We’re happy to say that more are going this route these days, but there’s still too much useless spam.

Affiliates have a lot of freedom with regard to the direction of their supplemental material. For instance, at The EV Chief we’re all about education, with the end goal of helping gamblers make wiser playing decisions. Maybe they can even become winners, or at least that’s the hope.

Other sites, like SportsHandle, take a more journalistic approach. Its seasoned writers cover a variety of topics as they pertain to the sports betting industry, including legislative efforts, new site launches, merger deals, and insights from prominent industry folks.

 

SportsHandle homepage

SportsHandle is tops when it comes to sports betting journalism

 

Or take OddsBoom, which provides players with a tool that minimizes the burden of line shopping. Users are shown the best possible line (on both sides) for most major market events, and what sportsbooks are offering them. It used to only cover New Jersey, but now appears to span a large segment of the U.S. regulated online betting market.

 

Oddsboom

OddsBoom is about as unbiased as it gets

 

Oddsboom is an affiliate, but instead of actively promoting sportsbooks, it lets the lines do the talking. Being an impartial observer is about as unbiased as one can get.

There are plenty of other angles to explore. Maybe you can create tools that help sports bettors make quick calculations, or support a slots database that shows the RTP and volatility of a ton of different games. The sky’s the limit.

And remember the more quality supplemental material affiliates place on their website, the more backlinking opportunities they’re going to have. This will pay dividends for their stock on Google rankings.

Admittedly, providing authentic, well-crafted supplemental material will set the affiliate back financially. If monetization is an immediate concern, you can place your best articles, tools, and online courses behind a paywall.

Just never, ever sell “expert picks” as that’s a surefire (and warranted) way of losing credibility fast.

Disclaimers everywhere

Our final tip is that affiliates should be 100% transparent about having a financial agreement with various online gambling sites.

Most affiliates already have an advertising disclosure page that outlines its monetization methods, but it’s usually buried way down in the page, in dark recesses where few users travel.

This isn’t enough. We advise affiliates to place disclosure links in plain sight on their homepage and to place them close enough to the top that users don’t have to scroll to find them.

Going further, we advocate that disclosures be placed on every single page that an affiliate monetizes, again, preferably high up on the page. For instance, on a monetized review, consider a disclosure near the discussion of bonus terms, because that’s a hot spot for affiliate links and is usually highlighted in the first or second subheader.

While it may seem counterintuitive, disclosures can be beneficial to an affiliate’s bottom line, as the extra layer of transparency will forge a bond of trust between affiliate and readers. The result could result in the affiliate gaining a customer.

Conclusion

A ton of skepticism surrounds the online gambling affiliate marketing industry, and rightfully so. Who can blame people for being cautious of an industry that generates revenue by sending others off to lose their money?

But by marketing themselves the right way, affiliates can empower gamblers in ways that online gambling sites could never dream. It had looked like the industry was steering closer toward this brave new world in the early 2010s, but the recent and widespread proliferation of online sports betting has caused some weeds to sprout.

Our approach is just one of many that can work on the behalf of players, but it’s the one we will be implementing should The EV Chief align with online gambling sites.

We would love to hear your thoughts on how affiliates can act as a positive influence on the gaming industry. Hit me up on Twitter @RobertDellaFave.

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Written by Robert DellaFave
Robert DellaFave is the Head Chief of The EV Chief. Previously, he worked for a variety of gambling publications, but got tired of being yelled at by casino reps for being too honest. Hobbies include a healthy mix of advantage gambling and being a degenerate, and tending to his lovely 1-year old daughter.