It’s no secret that it took affiliates some time to address the mobile channel as a source of revenue – and with good reason. At the outset, there were concerns that there were not enough operators in the mobile field, standards and quality of mobile gambling offerings were varied, and there was a lot of confusion and a lack of understanding of the mobile marketplace among affiliates. Not only was it unproven but there was an opportunity cost to spending resources on mobile versus the tried and tested desktop. Most importantly however, tracking was an issue.
Given that organic affiliate traffic is now being dominated by smartphones and tablets, change is non-negotiable despite the fact that there are no easy solutionsWhile some of the concerns outlined above have been completely resolved over time, such as the volume of operators and the quality of services/sites, there remain several key obstacles, including the tracking problems and understanding the nuances of mobile versus desktop consumer behaviour. However given that organic affiliate traffic is now being dominated by smartphones and tablets, change is non-negotiable despite the fact that there are no easy solutions. To borrow from Baden-Powell’s Scouts – it is imperative to “Be Prepared” so as to capitalise on the revenue potential and find workable solutions for all involved.
The importance of mobile
Juniper Research predicts that mobile gambling will generate a turnover of $100bn by 2017. Currently the sector is driven by sports betting, which commands 70% of activity, however this is projected to completely flip over time, with gaming becoming the dominant vertical.
Across the board, all operators continue to experience incredible growth in the mobile platform. For example, 60% of Betfair’s customers use smartphones and tablets, Paddy Power is seeing half of revenues from the platform, and William Hill’s latest results show mobile betting as having increased by 38% to approximately half their betting revenue, and gaming products have experienced 116% net revenue growth on the devices. It’s not just the Tier One operators, it’s all operators that are experiencing this phenomenon and therefore it’s imperative for affiliates to react to this, despite whatever difficulties the channel poses for them.
Casino and games are lagging behind mobile sports betting (as Juniper has predicted), however they are fast gaining ground thanks to the exponential increase of tablets, which are very well suited to gaming due to the larger screen and the fact that consumers spend more time on these devices – and also because there is emerging a 'mobile only' market of gaming customers.
Marketing ON Mobile: Search
Google has identified that 89% of all smartphone owners use search on their device, yet mobile search is very different from its desktop counterpart, and this necessitates a specific strategy. Simply mimicking or replicating the desktop tactics is insufficient and ineffective.
Some key points:
- While Google commands approximately 70% of all desktop search, it pretty much owns the mobile platform with more than 95% of all traffic
- On average, search queries will be 25% shorter due to the fact that typing on a handset is harder and less precise than using a keyboard
- Long-tail searches are less common on mobile than on desktop. The average mobile search takes approximately 30 key presses and 40 seconds to enter. This is why most queries are limited to two or three words when performing a search query on mobile
- Mobile searchers will opt for a Google-suggested query far more frequently; therefore predictive search reveals a new SEO prospect, making it imperative to be ranked for the most common predictive phrases
- Mistakes in spelling are common
- Search on smartphones is often the first step in a longer research process that continues on a tablet or computer
- Android users are always logged in, so personalised results are shown more often than in desktop search
- Offline ad exposure leads to mobile search. Up to 71% of smartphone owners have performed a mobile search after seeing an ad. That's 51% on TV, 46% in a shop or business, 41% in a magazine and 43% on a poster or billboard
- 55% of conversions from mobile searches happen within one hour
- On average tablet users make around three times as many queries as smartphone owners, and ten times the number made by feature phone owners
- Smartphone results have different filters at the top (Web, Images, Places and more versus Web, Images, Videos, Maps, News, Shopping, Gmail and many more). Fewer places to filter may mean a higher CTR in mobile search
- If promoting an app, a specific click-to-download link should be used, as this incorporates rich information about an app in the ad unit itself, such as image previews, description and rating information
- According to Google, the best-performing results are the ones with keywords in the headlines
- Site design is important for search. If a site is light and simple, it is best to use responsive design (noted by Google as best practice) as it’s easy to manage and there is just one domain, the same URLs and no worries about technical considerations such as separate sitemaps and canonical tags. However, if the site is heavy or needs to contain different content (such as specific offers or product-prioritisation for mobile clients) it will need to be either dynamically served on the same URLs or have a separate mobile site on a different domain or a subdomain created. In the case of the latter, Google recommends placing annotations on both the desktop and mobile pages to alert the crawlers to alternate versions of the website
- Search should be targeted by device. Serve Android-focused ads to Android users, and iOS to Apple customers
- Google’s Enhanced Adwords should be used to its maximum effect. Smartphone targeting can be refined with bid multipliers and customised messages. Bid multipliers for mobile are set at campaign level, and allow a percentage increase or decrease from the default level. It is important to create baseline bids as everything is set, up and down, from there. Multipliers range from -100% to +300%. If you need to opt out of displaying ads to smartphones, then a -100% bid multiplier effectively reduces the mobile bid to zero.
Use a conversion optimiser which accounts for a variety of factors including time of day, day of week, browser type etc. It will address these factors on an individual basis and adjust bids automatically. All the multipliers work in conjunction with one another. Consider device, time of day and location as filters, then bid more or less aggressively depending on the characteristics of the target.
Marketing FOR mobile products: Mobile web and App Store optimisation
According to data from a multitude of sources, including mobile analytics company Flurry and comScore, app usage dominates in mobile internet access. Flurry found that app usage across smartphones and tablets takes up 80% of consumers’ time, and in fact titled one of their reports: “It’s an App World. The Web Just Lives In It”.
However it’s not as straightforward for gambling – it never is! Take the following facts as a few of the many obstacles that face the gambling industry:
- It’s a well-known fact that Google Play does not accept gambling apps
- Many smartphones are on corporate contracts and bettors may not download gambling apps to work devices. Also, there may be a reluctance to download onto a tablet which may be used by children
- Apple owns less than half of the tablet market despite having created it just a short few years ago, which is imperative to understand given the growth of gaming on these devices
- The correlation between sports bettors and iPhones is and has been very close, but this is not always going to stay that way. More high-end devices are arriving on the market on a daily basis, in particular from Asian manufacturers, and emerging gambling markets are not as predisposed to the iPhone
- The gap between the revenue value of iPhone versus Android owners is slowly decreasing
Most of the key operators have native apps, therefore App Store Optimisation (ASO) becomes a critical part of any affiliate's business model, as this is where the customers are being acquired and retained. This means incorporating app downloads into search results as well as linking directly to mobile websites.
Admittedly, ASO is arguably primarily the domain of the operators themselves, as they are joshing for position versus their competitors for prime keywords. However it has relevance to affiliates through the opportunity of 'partition' or 'secondary' apps.
These are apps which contain, within them, links and adverts for the gambling apps or websites. The operators use these companion apps themselves, in particular for large events such as the Grand National or the World Cup. However forward-thinking affiliates are also using (less complex) apps to make their mark – for example apps for sports events, TV programmes or calendar events (such as Christmas), mini-games which link to casino apps, companion apps to lottery etc).
There is an endless opportunity in this regard, however 60% of all apps uploaded never get downloaded on either Play or the App Store, therefore as lucrative as it can be and as important as it is to an affiliate (behind SEO), it’s a complicated process to get right.
Good positioning in app stores is critical for the success of an app, as browsing through app stores and specific searches are behind a significant majority of all customer downloads. A study by Fiksu determined that 75% of users found apps on Google Play through a search. AdMob surveyed users regarding how they discover iPhone apps that they subsequently decide to download and the results were as follows:
- Browsing through the top App Store rankings: 59%
- Searching for a specific type of app: 56%
- Word of mouth: 38%
- Seeing ads while using other apps: 25%
- Familiar brand reaches out and introduces an app: 15%
There are many issues to tracking on mobile, both for apps and for web:
- App download: The majority of gambling companies operate on a last-click-wins model, however if the conversion doesn’t occur on a website, but a mobile app, then the sale cannot always be attributed to the affiliate.
- Mobile web: Contrary to a common misconception, cookie tracking is extremely simple to incorporate on mobile web as it is identical to standard affiliate tracking using cookies on the desktop. The issue however is that not all mobile browsers accept cookies, and in particular Apple’s Safari has a default setting in which all cookies are automatically blocked and it is up to the user to actively change the setting permissions if they want to. Android is more open and permits third-party cookies, however unlike the desktop, the absence of security software on mobile devices means ad networks cannot rely on third-party cookies persistently remaining on the device browser when they are able to write them.
- Combination of devices and platforms: An additional challenge for mobile tracking is that consumers access content through both applications and mobile websites, and sometimes through both Android and iOS operating systems in the event that the user owns multiple devices (which is quite common). On mobile devices, applications and websites are separate domains, using separate identifiers. This means that from the tracking perspective a single user may look like one or more separate individuals.
- Web to app marketing: There is a tracking chasm between the mobile web and apps. Quite simply there is no direct link or connection. An app identifier can only be obtained when there is access to the operating system API, i.e. some code running inside an app. There are several possibilities using bespoke tools offered by specialist third-party vendors in this regard, who use SDKs to hardcode tracking into the app, and there is also a cookie-based solution that has potential.
- Download lag: There is often a gap in time between the time a user downloads an app, and starts using it – known as the “download lag”. An app is not tracked until it 'wakes up', i.e. is used for the first time, and many current solutions on the market will not try and sift through days/weeks of UDID data if there is a significant amount of time between the two actions, as there could be billions of records to process. Therefore the above situation will not be accounted for and remain untracked.
The mobile platform is extremely complex and affiliates are losing out on legitimate revenue by the fact that conversion is, through no fault of the operators, not being registered correctly or accurately.
The operators that are willing to reach compromises on commercials are the ones to whom affiliates should flockIt is standard practice for operators who use affiliates as a key acquisition practice to have an “affiliate team" – more than ever this team now needs to work with the affiliates themselves to find an appropriate workable long-term solution.
This might mean new commercial models for mobile traffic or using known data to approximate affiliate traffic, e.g. 100 visitors to generate 50 downloads (at which point the tracking stops). Affiliates drove 30% of the 100 visitors, therefore they are attributed with 30% of the 50 downloads. This is a simple unscientific calculation, but an open-minded approach may be necessary to reach a compromise, else it is very likely that affiliates will either back off and/or make concerted efforts NOT to send traffic to downloads, which might be the primary objective of the operator.
The operators that are willing to reach compromises on commercials are the ones to whom affiliates should flock. Tracking can and will continue to be used in as much as it can on mobile, but the 'untrackable' gap must be breached using different metrics and 'most likely' and 'expected average' scenarios. This is probably the most workable short-term solution, and while it isn’t pretty, it’s certainly necessary.
Aideen Shortt is an independent consultant in the gambling industry and the author of several reports on mobile gambling. For more information email [email protected]