Improving the relationship between operators and affiliates

15 June 2020

James Ashton, Head of Content at FindMyUKCasino.com, suggests ways the relationship between affiliates and operators can be improved for the benefit of both parties.

The relationship between online casino operators and affiliates has been under the microscope for some time now, sparked mostly by the pressure being applied to both parties in this new era of regulation and compliance.

The GB Gambling Commission has made it very clear that operators are ultimately responsible for the marketing activity carried out by affiliates on their behalf, which in turn has forced operators to really get to know their publisher partners.

This has meant undertaking audits of affiliate sites and the people and businesses behind them, requiring a real collaborative effort to ensure that affiliates are promoting casino brands within the guidelines set by the GC and other watchdogs.

As a relatively new affiliate, we have been somewhat fortuitous to know and understand these requirements from day one, and have been able to design, develop and operate our online casino comparison site compliantly and responsibly from the get-go.

That being said, we have found that some operators are more willing to assist and support affiliates – particularly those that have just entered the space. But those that are less proactive are making the compliance challenge that bit tougher to overcome.

From not notifying affiliates about major updates, to asking for tracking links to be removed without providing new ones via changing partnership agreements and a general lack of communication, a better working relationship needs to be reached if compliance is to be achieved.

Below, I list some of the pain points we are feeling as a start-up affiliate business seeking to do all we can to be compliant and ensure we market to consumers responsibly. I also suggest steps operators and affiliates can take to bring the spark back to their relationship.

A lack of communication
At present, there is a general lack of communication between some affiliate managers and their affiliate partners. For example, one of our operator partners took the decision to close its UK-facing casino without notifying us or their other partners.

This meant we were sending casino players to the brand, which was only operating its sportsbook. We regularly check our links so were able to discover this fairly early on and contacted the operator in question to find out what was happening. Months later, we still haven’t had a reply.

The vast majority of affiliates are reachable via email and Skype, so there really is no excuse for not communicating with publisher partners, especially around major events such as leaving a market or even changes to bonuses and terms and conditions.

Of course, affiliates could make themselves more available to their operator partners, providing up to date email addresses and Skype IDs. They could also touch base with affiliate managers more regularly to ensure they are on top of any updates coming – we speak to most of ours weekly.

Tracking links
Tracking links are an affiliate’s income stream. If they are not working correctly, we are sending players without them being tagged and therefore the revenues they generate once active at the casino are not being attributed to us.

We have had instances where our operator partners have failed to notify us that tracking links have changed, meaning the ones we had in place were no longer active. On another occasion, we were asked to remove tracking links then had to wait almost a month for new ones.

This put us in a difficult position as our content was ranking well for the operator in question and we had a steady stream of traffic to their review page. We had to decide whether to remove the page and lose rankings and traffic or give our readers a poor experience with a broken link.

There are compliance issues to consider, too. If tracking links to full terms and conditions are not working, then we are not meeting UKGC requirements that state full bonus terms and conditions must be no more than one click away.

We understand that operators change links and offers from time to time, but affiliate managers should keep their partners up to date and if existing links are to be removed, have new links ready to replace them straight away.

This is not only to ensure the affiliate is being fairly compensated for the players they are pushing through to the operator, but also to ensure that links to terms and conditions are working and that players can access them via a single click – as required by the UKGC.

Mutual respect
As a proactive affiliate that goes to great lengths to ensure we are promoting our online casino partners responsibly and within the rules, it sometimes feels that there is a lack of respect from operators when it comes to the role we play in sending them new traffic.

We have had brands ask to be listed on our site, only for them to be completely inflexible when it comes to commercials when they suddenly adopt a take it or leave it approach. When we have questions aspects of deals, we have been accused of lacking experience and knowledge.

One big-name operator even took the decision to change its terms and conditions to require a minimum number of FTDs per month for our current agreement to stand – if we didn’t meet that criteria then our commission would be slashed from 40% to 10%.

This makes us – and other affiliates, I am sure – feel totally undervalued for the huge amount of work we put into developing our websites and brands, creating high value content and ensuring we offer the best possible experience to our readers.

Sure, we get compensated for this when players sign up and deposit, but we have to make a tremendous upfront investment in both time and money to get to the point where we are sending a steady stream of new players each month and generating revenues and profits.

Operators and affiliate managers would do well to remember this when they make major changes, exit markets or decide to revise commercial agreements that negatively impact the revenues an affiliate can generate from the players it sends through.

This certainly applies to affiliates that are also doing all they can to keep up with the changes operators require (usually at short notice), as well as using their initiative to take additional steps to ensure players are given the information they need to stay in control of their play.

I want to make it clear that the above applies to the minority of the brands we work with – in most cases, affiliate managers are proactive, responsive and for us at least, hugely supportive of our strategy and long-term approach to FindMyUKCasino.com.

But those that are not being as hands on are making the relationship between affiliate and operator more difficult than it needs to be. Ultimately, this should be a mutually beneficial relationship and by not working together in harmony, both parties lose out.

While the financial impact this has is concerning, for us the biggest worry is that we are not compliant and are putting our reputation, and the licence of the operator, at risk. By working more closely together, this can be mitigated and the potential of the partnership fully maximised.

James Ashton is the Head of Content at FindMyUKCasino.com, an online casino comparison site that helps UK players find the best online casinos based on their individual preferences.