Believe it or not, it still happens on occasion: An operator launches a virtual casino or sportsbook positive that the customers are going to come flocking to the site. After a few weeks or months, reality sets in (the customers haven't exactly flocked) and the operators decide it's time to advertise. But where do you start?
The answer can vary depending on who you talk to. According to Tom Dugan with NewGate Internet, Inc., a company specializing in online marketing, advertising, public relations and research, the most important thing a site can do is utilize the search engines.
According to Dugan, "Banner ads are not effective. The most important thing is getting clients listed properly and in a good position in search engines. I think this is key and would do more help for a site."
NewGate offers such a service--known as search engine optimization--and charges $4500 up front. Additionally, they charge a monthly "per-click" charge per search engine and maintenance fees. It usually takes their company six to eight weeks to get sites listed on all of the engines. They have a staff of 12 working full-time on search engine placement.
"We strive to get our clients into the top of the list, as high as we can. Research has shown that the top 15 to 20 spots get 90 percent of the traffic," explained Dugan. His site, newgate.com, includes a graph from Jupiter Survey showing that 80 percent of Net users find websites through search engines.
He also says that one popular way online gaming sites generate additional traffic, affiliate programs, is fizzling out.
River City Group Vice President of Client Services David Garthe disagrees. "Everybody needs an affiliate program," Garthe said. "Site's need to brand themselves in connection with other, more established sites."
"It's free advertising that generates some additional income," he added.
For further information on affiliate programs, check out "Affiliate Programs Becoming E-ssential," a recent article in E-Commerce Times that accentuates the advisability of using affiliate programs.
When working with a new client, Garthe typically tries to get a feel for their marketing needs. He asks new clients several questions including:
- What kind of business is it - a sportsbook or casino? What are they pushing?
- Does the business accept U.S. players?
- How does this business differentiate themselves from other sites?
- How much money are they willing to spend?
There's an old adage that you need to spend money to make money. That includes spending money on advertising. Garthe and Dugan agree on some basic figures:
- $25,000 a month will sustain your current business.
- $50,000 a month is adequate to grow your business.
- Some clients spend $50,000 to $100,000 a month on advertising, while Garthe knows of at least one operator that typically spends $2 million a month promoting its site.
Those numbers can be pretty scary to someone who thought that simply having an online address was enough bring the customers rushing in to gamble. "Sites need an advertising budget," said Garthe, who recommends that this is where an ad agency proves most helpful. "Ad agencies or media buyers can buy in bulk (for placement of banner ads) for better prices."
Additionally, an ad agency takes care of all the negotiations and makes sure that the banner ads work right. "It's a time consuming responsibility, managing the banner ads," Garthe pointed out.
Rick Santos, Art Director for Graphic Jam, creates banner ads for a number of online gaming sites. A successful banner ad, according to Santos, needs a good layout and color, a good message that's "short and sweet," and a good clincher like "Free" or "Click Here Now."
Oddly enough, he said, some of the most effective banner ads are the gray ones with radio buttons that look like a message box from the web browser. "They don't have a lot of yield," he cautions. "It fools a lot
of viewers, so they don't stay."
Santos works with advertising/marketing firms, site operators working as a mediator for other sites, and the actual site owners. Each group requires some different handling.
"With the advertising firms, they already know what they want. They trust us to provide what they need," explained Santos. The mediator sites need ads that are more geared to their design, such as matching the site or a common element to be used in the banner ad.
"When we work with sites (operators), we need to do a lot of educating," Santos said. For example, an effective banner ad needs to be made big and bold, with a concise message. Graphic Jam staffers work with a lot of focus groups to find out what is most effective, plus they ask customers what brought in a good response with previous banner ads.
DoubleClick, a leading online direct marketing company, has a learning center on their site, www.doubleclick.com. In "Research Findings: Banner Effectiveness Tips" they list Ten Tips for Successful Direct Marketing Banners on the Web which we've condensed here:
- The Word "FREE" - because it not only catches the eye, but usually raises the click-rate.
- Pose Questions - to involve your customer.
- Bright Colors - they'll attract a user's eye also.
- Make Your Offer Clear - a good offer will help generate a response more than any fancy creative stuff will.
- Qualify your Audience in the Banner - a targeted banner will bring in real customers, not just flyby clickers.
- Use Animation - DoubleClick found that "Using simple Java or gif animation can increase response rates by 25%."
- KISS (Keep it simple stupid!) - Don't confuse customers with anything too complicated, make your offer simple and easy to understand.
- Call to Action - tell your customers what you want them to do, like "Click Here" or "Visit Now."
- Incentives - offering an incentive for clicking can increase both sales and click-through.
- Leads - use banner ads to gather qualified leads (DoubleClick's specialty.)
The Internet is full jargon, so naturally, online markets have there own lingo. Here's a handy reference for you to translate those mysterious terms into everyday speech:
Impressions - Refers to the number of times an ad is seen.
Click through - The number of times a web surfer clicks on an ad.
Stickiness - Retention rate, the number of minutes a site "grabs" a customer's attention per month.
Conversion rate - The number of players who actually come and deposit money on your site
after clicking on an ad.
Cost per player - A breakdown showing how much money you spent to actually get a new
customer. (Total cost of the campaign/Total number of sign-ups = Cost per
You can find additional information about marketing and advertising from a number of sites and other sources. Also, in an effort to better explain how important marketing is, River City Group offers a free weekly online marketing newsletter to industry members at:
It's important to keep in mind that simply having an online gaming site is no guarantee of success. You need to promote your business so those potential customers will know your name and website. Online casinos and sportsbooks that don't advertise are less likely to gain customers' attention and, thus, less likely to be profitable. Reach out to your customers before a competitor does.