Today's affiliates are a new breed, with many needs that their predecessors didn’t have. However, their concerns can still be summed up fairly easily: Players are harder to come by, and good players are even more scarce. Therefore, player retention is the heart and soul of successful affiliate marketing.

There are lessons to be learned by examining how affiliate marketing has changed in recent years. Website design was once much less of a consideration than was the all-mighty SEO and keyword functionality. Today, there is so much competition for keywords that affiliates are tending to favor those programs that not only converting well but can retain players that are sent. This is because reliably depositing players are becoming harder and harder to obtain due not only to the increased competition but also the obstacles that depositing players endure when banking, which serve to discourage a large number of them.

The combination of obstacles in the banking sector (thanks to UIGEA) with poor retention efforts really make an impact on affiliates, since, unlike casinos, they cannot absorb the waste (loss of players) that a casino can afford and still remain in business.

As predicted by this author years ago, the market has unfortunately evolved into a situation where many affiliates have but a handful of big players who make up the majority of their income every month. If this number of major players should happen to shrink, it can spell disaster.

That's why the better-established affiliate programs get the most attention from savvy affiliates these days — they have the best retention rates. Newer affiliate programs haven’t had the time to build up their attention rates. But that doesn’t mean that all older programs have great retention rates; the competition is still stiff, and some long-established programs have recently been questioned about issues pertaining to retention and are seeing their banners fall to back pages, replaced by those that are proving to have better retention.

So, retention will likely always be the biggest concern of affiliates. But retention isn’t always a black-and-white issue. Depending on what kind of visitors an affiliate typically receives, the successful affiliate will know how to pick the programs that best appeal to his or her traffic base — and this will itself lead to improved retention.

Knowledge is power; therefore, the more affiliates know about their surfers' preferences, the more this knowledge can be utilized for better conversions and more favorable retention rates. What kinds of games are they playing? What promotions seemed to be favored? (This angle doesn’t seem to be often discussed openly with affiliates). What is the player's most common complaint? (This is another area that is not openly discussed with affiliates, likely due to programs not wishing to show themselves in an unfavorable light. But that kind of hesitation doesn’t do anybody any favors.)

In some cases, affiliates don’t feel that their concerns are being heard by the right ears, because it is nearly impossible to believe these concerns are not given more attention. One such example is a program that offers only one payment method for affiliates in the United States, which leaves affiliates vulnerable to any potential investigation of that method, since it is the only option available.

So it may be that affiliates are being heard by affiliate managers, but their issues go unaddressed by the company itself, leaving the affiliates to wonder whether the matter ever went beyond the AM. The end result is that affiliates may be left thinking that their issues are not considered worthy of making an effort to address.

To sum up, the biggest concerns of today's affiliates are not contests or special considerations. Rather, affiliates should be concerned with finding a program that strives to take care of its partners. And that means retaining the players that are sent there.

The bottom line? The affiliate program that enables its partners to fly by giving them the kind of bottom line that will enable them to grow will be the affiliate program that will be able to outgrow its competition. As the market evolves, many factors will continue to change, but this bottom line is likely to remain the same.

Steve Briggs (aka bb1webs) is a veteran affiliate marketer and senior member of the CAP Forum.

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