When I was on 2+2’s Pokercast the other day and Mike and Adam asked me about the impact on affiliates. It was a tough one to answer on the spot and very difficult to answer in a podcast sort of format but I’ve been thinking about it and I wanted to at least scratch the surface on the topic a bit here.
One of the things that makes it difficult to answer is that there are many different layers of affiliates. You have rakeback affiliates, training sites, long tail keyword sites, news sites, product based sites, etc, etc. I can’t possibly provide a comprehensive list but let me delve into this just a little bit and see if we can’t at least get some sort of general picture.
I think at one end of the spectrum you have a lot of these sites that targeted site specific keywords like “full tilt bonus codes” or whatever. These guys are probably the hardest hit if they’ve mostly been attracting US traffic. Their best bet might be to try to shift the geographic focus but some have just given up and are selling their sites to other affiliates better at monetizing European traffic. Most bloggers fall into this category too since they tend to write on a diverse group of topics and all but a very few are actual authoritative enough to overcome their wide focus when the search engines to classify them.
Other sites out there were targeting long-tail but for very specific phrases. For instance, take a look at CasinoFYI. It’s a very general site promoting lots of different sites and both poker and casino games. It doesn’t seem to target any high-value keywords like “Play Online Poker” or “Texas Hold’em”. They obviously rely on long-tail keywords to get their traffic. Sites like this one are trying to catch a good SERP placement for search terms that most people aren’t going after. This can be a successful strategy if they can figure out buying search phrases. Phrases that convert well but aren’t obvious.
Moving up a level from there (and there are some minor intermediary levels between) are sites like (formerly?) Shirley Rosario’s Poker Babes website. Her site (or should I say PokerStars’ website) website comes up for some very high-value keywords like “play online poker.” I’m not sure of the SEO strategy for this site but she probably built up some Google reputation with long tail keywords and eventually had enough Google-cred to aim for rank for some more competitive keywords.
Going up the value food chain you find sites like PokerListings
(also a PokerStars’ owned property) which aim to be actual resource sites providing valuable information. I don’t really put PokerListings on the same level as PokerNews or other more journalistically focused sites but they’re sort of in a larger group of authority sites.
Going in a totally different direction you have the rakeback affiliates who use the same sort of strategies as the traditional affiliates in terms of smaller sites targeting long-tail, some rakeback sites having built their business on brand specific offers (i.e. “full tilt poker rakeback”), and some like Rake The Rake have branched off into being able to compete for super high-value keywords.
Then you have sites like the poker training sites that offer a completely different value proposition like PokerStrategy or even Deuces Cracked. Even within the training area the models can be very different as is the case of the two previous examples.
All of these sites are going to be impacted differently. I think everyone is going to feel a pinch long-term. Sites that have an established relationship with their players like the training sites and the rakeback affiliates will be in the best position to transition their players to another platform and might even make a short-term profit off of the situation. Long-term I think the overall decline in US player activity is going to hurt nearly everyone who has not focused very heavily on non-US markets though.
The lower you go down the affiliate food chain the more the impact will likely be felt though. I already have friends telling me that their numbers dropped off a cliff overnight and some are basically preparing to get out of the poker affiliate scene altogether. Some, gasp, are even talking about getting real jobs.
As gloomy of a picture as all of that may sound, surprisingly, there are some people who have a very optimistic viewpoint. They realize that they’re going to take a short-term hit but they learned enough from the UIGEA to not have all of their eggs in one basket and to scout times like these for opportunities. Almost immediately after the announcement of the DOJ indictments I saw people offering to buy affiliate websites at distressed prices. They obviously see some opportunity to make money when the blood is in the streets.
As you can see this is a hard topic to summarize into a few seconds on a podcast and I’ve only really scratched the surface. I can already think of all sorts of niches and exceptions to what I’ve written above but it almost feels like if I covered everything I would end up writing an entire book’s worth of content. I may follow up on some of those thoughts and make revisions to what I’ve written above in the future but for now I think that the main message is that there are going to be some winners and some losers and typically what will make the difference is how much people relied only on the US market and whether or not they have the skills and/or desire to adapt to a non-US world.