We recently contributed an op-ed article to industry magazine iGaming Business‘ ICE Totally Gaming issue The piece was published in the January-February 2017 print issue for the conference. You can, however, also check out the first part of the piece below (while part 2 is available here).

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The UK gambling market is today dominated by iGaming. The sector’s gross gambling yield (GGY) of £4.5 billion for the 2015-2016 period exceeds the separate GGY for the country’s retail bookmakers and the National Lottery, according to the UK Gambling Commission.

While the market is bigger than ever, competition is also unprecedented. Brands wanting to grow market share are facing an increasing challenge. To gain an advantage, a forward-thinking acquisition strategy is essential. As we mark our 15th year in the iGaming space, we take a look back at marketing’s evolution and how operators can develop a 2017 strategy that position brands for the future.

Making iGaming History

It has now been over 20 years since the launch of the first online sportsbook in 1996. Traditional British bookmakers rapidly recognized the internet’s potential, with William Hill launching an online brand two years later, followed by Ladbrokes in 2000 and Paddy Power in 2004.

As well as leveraging offline marketing, these established operators promoted their new online brands via the then-new digital marketing channels of organic and paid search. Search engine marketing was even more central to the acquisition strategies of the online-only sportsbooks and casinos that began emerging in the early 2000s.

By 2004, Google dominated the search engine market with a 41% share of searches, according to Net Applications. Search engine optimisation (SEO) became a powerhouse marketing strategy, with experts tailoring strategies to react to the search giant’s frequent algorithm updates and developing long-tail keywords tailored to their brands’ unique selling points.

Despite Google’s mutability, SEO remained a viable channel for iGaming brands in contrast to paid search. After AdWords’ launch in 2000, the search company restricted pay-per-click (PPC) ads for online gambling just four years later. The prohibition lasted until late 2008, when UK-targeted PPC ads were again permitted.

A residual effect of Google’s paid search lockdown was an opportunity for affiliate marketing to flourish. The channel emerged with affiliate programmes for online poker brands amidst the ‘poker boom’ that started in 2003. Then online bingo and casino operators began leveraging affiliate marketing. Also driven by WordPress’s launch in late 2003 and the subsequent blogging revolution, affiliate marketing had become a key element in operators’ acquisition strategies by the time of Google’s 2008 PPC volte-face.

iGaming marketing has always been driven by users’ changing digital preferences. By the late 2000s, social media’s strong popularity opened up a new channel for operators. This was formalized in 2008, when Facebook rolled out its business pages and adverts, followed by Twitter’s unveiling of its ‘Promoted Tweets’ in 2010.

If social media provided brands with an additional acquisition channel, another shift in technology and users’ preferences revolutionized the entire iGaming experience. The launch of the first iPhone in 2007 followed by the iPad in 2010 were mobile gaming’s foundational events. In subsequent years, smart phone and tablet usage rose exponentially. This shift culminated in Google’s mobile coronation in 2015, when its #mobilegeddon algorithm update penalized mobile-unfriendly sites.

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Part 2 of our iGaming Business article, which looks at iGaming acquisition in 2017 and beyond, is available here. Once you’ve read both parts, please don’t hesitate to share your own insights on the changing face of player acquisition below.