The affiliate market in Asia’s online gambling industry is expanding, with Covid giving an additional push, but any website without deep and local content will struggle to survive.

As the pandemic forced people to stay at home there was a shift to online in all aspects of daily life, but it proved a mixed blessing for Asia’s affiliate industry. It’s true players shifted online, but there was also a major hit to consumer spending power as companies furloughed workers.

“Operators and affiliates had to restructure the way they have been working by sending everyone to work from home and this had an impact on acquisition and payments,” said Dov Allin, CEO of Marketing Cross Media. “Acquisition and player value rose at the beginning as players had more time to play from home. But if your business grew more than 25 percent in 2021, well done. If you have a stable and secure activity, be thankful. Definitely some brands and affiliates suffered as the financial crisis was there.”

“Agents lost the most and had to convert into affiliates and this is why I believe we saw an increase of new affiliates and brands, especially in Vietnam,” he said. 

How is Asia’s affiliate business changing?

The affiliate market in Asia is in its infancy relative to Europe, with many operators having preferred to work through the agency system. Allin estimates that in 2015 about 90 percent of online traffic was through agents, with virtually no affiliates working in Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia or South Korea. 

In the past few years that has changed dramatically with only half of the traffic coming through agents. Changes in the Asian market happen quickly and what might take six years in Europe happens in three in Asia. 

This increased competition has boosted the need for high-quality affiliate content sites.

“The battle for users’ eyeballs has increased dramatically,” says Jonathan Casuncad of 88 Interactive. “Thin affiliate sites with not enough original, high-quality content and full of mostly affiliate banners are starting to drop in search engine rankings.”

“Big affiliate websites with high-quality content are surging on the search engines and taking a bigger piece of the online traffic pie,” he said.

That content also needs to be properly localized and not just churned out using software or web translations, which poses a major challenge given the diversity of languages and culture across the region, or even within individual countries. 

For SEO, this content is critically important, Casuncad says.

“Good content means being able to cater to different users on different stages of their decision process. From those who are looking for information on how to play a particular card game, those who are looking for no deposit bonuses, free spins, and those who are looking to play for real money or researching on which operators they should sign up with, deposit and play. Good content must be able to answer the different concerns of different users across the different stages of their journey. There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to content strategy.”

Challenge of Google algorithms

Even with high-quality local content, affiliates everywhere need to contend with Google’s ever-changing search algorithms. Google is also getting better at assessing websites in languages other than English.

 “Google is making algorithm changes almost every six months, so the business is very up and down,” Allin says.

“Some good affiliates with strong content have disappeared. It’s sometimes difficult to say whether it’s the quality of the content or whether it’s the backlinks or Google dance, which takes into consideration the branding and localisation of the site,” Allin adds. 

It seems that Google was forced to change its algorithm base during Covid to avoid all the articles talking about ‘how to make extra money during covid playing online casino.’

“It always takes at least two months for Google to adjust its algorithm, usually they do the first change, look at the results and do re-adjustment again.” Allin said

Casuncad adds and Allin agreed “it’s no longer enough to simply have the needed keyword density, or writing keyword-stuffed meta tags, to get good results from an SEO campaign.

In terms of geography, the Asian countries that are top priority for Asia-facing operators are Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Korea and Indonesia. 

Japan is a favorite for European operators, given the widespread use of credit cards for payment purposes. Although online gambling is not legal in Japan, the government has not been as active as some others in the region when it comes to cracking down on activity. Japanese players also tend to be loyal to one brand and have a higher lifetime value.

The Philippines is also returning to favor as a market since the Philippines Amusement and Gaming Corp (PAGCOR) began issuing licenses to allow domestic online gambling at the end of 2020. It has long been a hub for igaming companies offering their services outside of the country but is the first jurisdiction in Asia to attempt to regulate online gambling at home.

Have lockdowns affected acquisition channels?

SEO and AdWords are still the number one in terms of acquisition channels for affiliates in the region, followed by social media. But Media Buying is seen as having great potential and could become number two in the next few years. 

“Youtube, social media and streaming sites are popping up but I’m still not sure their player value is as high,“ Allin said “People who come through social media might take a few months to convert while older people, 35 and above will Google and they are ready to play now.” 

With more than 60 percent of the global population in Asia, the market will continue to be a major focus for online operators and affiliates seeking to capture player attention. However, it’s still not for the faint of heart and the rising competition will reinforce the need for in-depth and localized content.