To celebrate our 15th anniversary, we contributed an article to leading industry publication iGaming Business on how player acquisition has evolved over the history of Income Access – and where it’s heading next.

The piece was originally published in the print issue for this year’s ICE Totally Gaming conference in February 2017. Below is the final part of the piece. You can check out the first part here.

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Mobile Acquisition in 2017

2015 was a tipping point for mobile gaming. That year, online poker brands like PKR saw mobile acquisitions cross the 50% threshold, while sportsbooks such as Coral reported that player sign-ups via smart phones and tablets had exceeded 55%. Mobile uptake has considered apace in 2016, with 85% of Gaming Realms’ content being accessed by mobile players, according to company founder Simon Collins. He forecasts that rising to 95% in 2017.

In the context of this device shift, a native app is now as mandatory for operators as a mobile website, especially when users’ preferences are considered. According to Smart Insights, users spend approximately 90% of their mobile time in-app with only a fraction surfing the mobile web.

The development of an app does require a significant investment from operators. Costs for a moderately sophisticated app can reach £50,000, according to Abbacus Technologies. However, such an investment has strong ROI potential, considering that an app opens up a new acquisition channel for operators – app stores.

According to Apple, 65% of its hosted apps are discovered by users’ searches in the App Store. By focusing on app store optimisation (ASO) – maximising their app’s search visibility through targeted keywords and enticing users to install with impactful written descriptions, compelling screenshots and preview videos – operators can introduce their brands to an untapped audience.

However, ASO results can be as erratic as its older online cousin, SEO. Fortunately, Apple has started introducing its equivalent of PPC – App Store advertising (ASA). In October, the firm unveiled Search Ads, allowing US app developers to promote their apps within App Store search results. Like Google’s AdWords, App Store ads work on a bidding system with relevance to users’ search terms improving their ranking.

Following its introduction into the UK market in 2017, ASA will provide a powerful complement to ASO. Similar to PPC’s relationship to SEO, operators can use ASA to rapidly raise their App Store profile. They can reduce their paid search spend when their app installs and player reviews and feedback – these feed into Apple’s search algorithm – are sufficient to allow a shift of focus onto the lower-cost channel of ASO.

From PPC to Affiliate Marketing & Media Buying

Given ASA’s emergence, is PPC still relevant in 2017? Since Google opened the digital door on paid search for iGaming in 2008, acquisition costs have risen steeply. All of the 10 most expensive keywords for UK AdWords ads are iGaming-related, with costs per click (CPC) varying from £122 to £149, according to SEMrush.

With the high investment required for PPC, savvy operators will diversify their marketing mix in 2017 with a greater focus on affiliate marketing. The channel’s performance-based model ensures that operators only pay for players who actually convert.

Just as importantly, affiliates in 2017 are no longer solitary webmasters with sites focusing almost exclusively on banner ads. While around two thirds of affiliates (69%) surveyed recently by Income Access still leverage this approach, today’s affiliate sites more commonly feature value-added content such as news, match previews and casino game reviews. An overwhelming number of affiliates – 83% surveyed – have adopted this content-focused approach.

Amidst a consumer landscape where ‘pull’ rather than ‘push’ marketing is more effective, affiliates can serve as a space for brands to host insightful and user-driven, valued-added guest op-eds and advertorials. The content can be complemented by banners ads targeted very specifically to players, according to their location, language, date and time of day, to help maximise conversions.

Such native advertising campaigns can also be developed with high-traffic iGaming publishers, many of whom were once affiliates. These publishers today boast the traffic to demand media buy deals from operators on a cost per mille (CPM) impressions basis. Traditionally, media buying was highly effective for brand building due to the high levels of traffic to which an ad could be served, but was compromised by the erratic conversions rates of advertising based on impressions rather than performance.

However, in 2017 operators can ensure their media buys are highly targeted through programmatic advertising and real-time bidding (RTB) using ad exchanges. Automating the process, programmatic and RTB allow an operator’s ads to be served very specifically to web users according to demographic info (age, gender), interests (based on browsing history) and location, and across a wide range of relevant high-traffic websites (from poker news publishers to the sports webpages of British tabloids).

A sportsbook can now target Chelsea fans in South London with a banner promoting the upcoming Man City match by serving this on the Daily Mirror’s Chelsea FC news page. If the Blues fan clicks through but doesn’t convert, the brand can then retarget him as he moves across the web, re-serving the ad to him at other sites he frequents.

Media buying in 2017’s sophisticated targeting and retargeting capabilities are ensuring the channel is becoming as cost-effective as affiliate marketing, which is itself diversifying to provide brands with a broader canvas for content marketing and other collaborative digital marketing strategies. With App Store advertising’s introduction into UK-facing brands’ marketing mixes this year, operators have the acquisition tools to ensure that the industry’s growth continues to set records in 2017 and beyond.

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How will Gaming acquisition evolve this year and beyond? Tell us your insights in the comments section below.