Affiliate marketing in the online gaming sector has always predominantly been based on one monetization model, namely converting Web traffic into player signups at casinos, poker rooms, bingo rooms, sports betting sites, etc.
While other online gaming sectors have continued to flourish, a number of changes in the poker sector have occurred over the past few years that have made financial success as an online poker affiliate far more difficult. From my experience running the Cardplayer Lifestyle poker site, I believe that a shift towards alternative monetization strategies is paramount in order for an online poker affiliate to succeed financially.
Rev. Share and CPA Just Don’t Work Well Enough Anymore
The UIGEA and Black Friday were a 1–2 punch that knocked out the US market. At the same time, as a direct consequence of focusing solely on poker, PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker (both the original and new iterations) came to absolutely dominate what remained of the online poker player pool.
Boasting the overwhelming majority of active online poker players, the fact of the matter is that nowadays neither of these industry leaders truly needs affiliates anymore. This became all too apparent during the recent Full Tilt Poker re-launch, with their abandonment of prior affiliate liabilities.
As for the remaining small slice of the industry, the other online poker operators still very much rely on affiliates to supply them with players. However, two related factors combine to make rev. share and CPA models relatively ineffective for most webmasters:
- Online poker isn’t a new product anymore. Most people who enjoy playing have already opened accounts.
- Those fans of the game who don’t yet have accounts, including the constant flow of newly legal players turning 18, are far more likely to sign up via the biggest affiliate sites, which are well known, have a far larger reach, and have more resources at their disposal.
To be sure, rock-solid online poker sites such as PokerNews, Pokerlistings, etc. are large enough to survive and even thrive solely based on the standard traffic conversion monetization model. But what about the rest of us little guys?
The cold hard fact for smaller affiliates is that regardless of how good your sites are, how much traffic they generate, or how well a particular online poker brand converts, current market conditions essentially make it all but impossible to make decent money via rev. share and CPA.
The Answer: Think Different
Necessity is the mother of demand. Innovation and adaptation are the keys to survival. As such, some poker affiliate sites could choose to go the road of diversifying into new fields; for instance the aforementioned thriving online casino, bingo, and sports betting sectors. Another, more extreme, example would be the recent move by renowned poker affiliate website Pokerstrategy to try and make online financial traders out of online poker players via its new Tradimo.com platform.
But what about poker purists? Poker websites that draw heavy traffic are successful precisely because of their persistent passion for poker, which is conveyed to their audience through new content, new contests, op-eds, reviews, infographics, etc. Many such sites currently find themselves in a situation where they’ve got excellent engaged traffic that, for the reasons mentioned above, they’re simply unable to convert into players.
I contend that it’s still possible to monetize online poker websites via a different approach, namely by following the tried and true established business models of televised and print media. The key is to begin thinking of your website as valuable online real estate via which you and third-party advertisers can sell products to your audience
Alternative Website Monetization Methods That Work
Obviously the most important ingredient in getting these alternative monetization methods to work is to have strong, well-trafficked poker websites and an engaged audience. Under the assumption that you’ve already got that, here are some ways to monetize your sites:
Just like billboards in the real world, you can charge advertisers a flat fee (by month or CPM) based on the banner’s size and prominence. These can appear site-wide, on your homepage, on internal pages, or on blog posts.
Sponsored posts and pages
These work just like TV shows and sporting events. You produce the quality content that your audience wants to read and then credit and link to the commercial advertiser in a short acknowledgement at the bottom.
Sponsored product reviews and advertorials
There are the distant cousins of TV infomercials. The post’s sponsor produces content that you agree to publish on your site. An advertorial or sponsored product review should be clearly marked in the interests of full disclosure as well as to distinguish it from other similar-looking content on your site.
Sponsored social media advertising
If your site has a strong social media following, this represents “a little something extra” you can offer to potential advertisers. Typically you won’t be able to lure in and charge advertisers for a standalone social media campaign. However, oftentimes throwing in a sponsored Facebook post and/or Tweet is a nice little sweetener that could help you close a deal with a potential advertiser interested in reaching the largest possible audience.
3 Important Tips to Remember
1. You’ll lose your audience if you clutter your site too heavily with ads
As tempting as the ad money may be sometimes, remember that the reason people visit your site (turn on the TV) is in order to consume your content (watch the show), not be exposed to the ads (commercials). Strike a good visual balance so you don’t alienate your visitors.
2. Vet potential advertisers carefully and exercise editorial discretion
It’s rare that visitors to a poker site would be interested in completely unrelated products, such as gardening equipment. Furthermore, it’s wise to exercise caution when closing ad deals, as you wouldn’t want to “anger the Google” by linking to websites with questionable profiles.
3. The more sites you operate, the more advertising revenue you stand to make
If you’ve got the resources to own and manage lots of prime online real estate, then by all means squeeze as much revenue out of it as you can. One advertiser may often prefer to strike a deal for ads throughout your entire site network. Cha-ching!
Some skeptical poker webmasters may be inclined to take everything I’ve had to say with a grain of salt. “Sure,” they’ll say, “all those alternative monetization strategies may sound fine in theory, but in practice they wouldn’t work.”
Let me assure you, dear reader, “If you build it, they will come” isn’t just a line from Field of Dreams. It may take a while, but if you dedicate yourself wholeheartedly to embracing these alternative monetization strategies and put all your efforts into running great poker sites, the revenues will indeed start streaming in.
About the Author
Robbie Strazynski is the Founder of Cardplayer Lifestyle, the go-to news and information source for recreational poker players and fans. He has worked full-time in the gaming industry since 2010 and is currently the Content Editor for the Euro Partners family of online casinos. Robbie has been a part-time gaming affiliate since 2009.