Affiliate marketing is definitely one of the most powerful marketing tools that iGaming brands – from online casinos to online sportsbooks – have at their disposal. It’s one of the most cost-effect strategies for driving new customers to their sites. Nevertheless, many new brands find themselves faced with the common affiliate program vs affiliate network scenario, wondering which one is better.

Those who struggle to come up with an answer typically do not understand the differences between these two options. If this is you, not to worry! We’re here to help you clear up any confusions you may have about affiliate programs and affiliate networks so that you can decide what option makes the most sense to your online gambling business.

The following is a look at the fundamental differences between these two affiliate marketing opportunities.

What’s the Difference Between Affiliate Programs Vs Affiliate Networks?

Before we start discussing these two types of platforms, it’s important to understand who are the primary players in affiliate marketing:

  • Affiliate Merchants – These are the businesses (i.e. online casino operators) who own the products/services being promoted, and who want other people to help them market/advertise what they offer in exchange for a small percentage of the profits that are made from their help.
  • Affiliate marketing publisher/Affiliate marketer/Affiliates – These are the people who are willing to promote another company’s products for a small percentage of profits that are made from their sales. The purpose of these affiliates is to create a marketing funnel.

As for affiliate programs and networks, while they do have differences, it’s important to note that, ultimately, the affiliate marketing goal of both systems is the same: It is a way for merchants to reach a wider audience and sell more products and for marketers to introduce their audience to these products and take their cut for doing so.

Basically, the main difference between a direct affiliate program vs an affiliate network is that an affiliate program is created directly by the company selling the products and services, while an affiliate network is a separate platform run by a third-party business that functions as the intermediary between the merchant and the affiliate marketers.

With that said, let’s take a closer look at how each of these affiliate systems work, including the main advantages and disadvantages associated with each.

Direct Affiliate Programs

An affiliate program is an online platform that is launched and operated directly by the business that creates the products or that offers services they want to sell. Those interested in being affiliate marketers for the company, join the program and promote the company’s products and services. In return, the affiliate is paid a pre-determined percentage of the profits directly linked to their efforts.

This means, if you want to take the affiliate program path for your iGaming business, you’ll need to create the program yourself. It’s up to you to set the terms, the rules, the commission, the types of payments you offer, etc. as well as research, find and reach out to affiliates.

How does it work?

There are three sides to an affiliate program:

  • The product creator – You
  • The marketers of your products – Your affiliates
  • The consumer – Your potential customers

Once you’ve created an affiliate program, when someone signs up as an affiliate for your product, they promote it on your behalf to their audience, using your provided marketing materials and based on your rules. Each affiliate is assigned their own unique link and/or banner to use. It is through this unique link that a company can track where web traffic is coming from to their site and award the affiliate based on the agreed-upon payment model. Popular payment model types include: Cost Per Lead (CPL), Cost Per Acton (CPA), Revenue Share, and Mixed Model.  

Using a CPA online casino affiliate program as an example, typically a casino affiliate receives a commission for each real money player they bring to the casino. In other words, it’s not just a matter of the affiliate’s visitor clicking through their unique link and landing on the casino site (as in the case of CPL), but that visitor also taking the extra step of converting into an actual player by registering an account with the casino and making their first deposit.

Curious to find out more about the other types or commission models? Learn more about the different types of online casino affiliate programs here.

Pros of creating an affiliate program

  • Cost control – You have greater control over the cost of starting your own program, simply because there is more than one option to set up your network. For instance, you can purchase a template to incorporate into your site, or, even easier, you can sign up for a white label affiliate program. Many online gaming software providers have multi-tier affiliate systems that are already built into the white label platforms that they offer, giving you control over setting commissions for affiliates, the ability to view statistics for each affiliate link, the control to pay affiliates each month, and so on. Of course, having more control over cost doesn’t mean it will be cheap to run your own program, you’re still looking at spending hundreds to thousands of dollars to build a successful system.
  • Control over creation – You have control over the creation and operation of your program. It’s up to you to set the rules, the terms, the commissions, how often affiliates will be paid, customer support (affiliate managers), and so on. Although the trick is definitely to remain competitive within the iGaming industry, at the end of the day, you’re still in the driver’s seat.
  • You keep more money – Since you’re not part of an existing network, you don’t have to share your profits with anyone but the affiliates. When you join a third-party affiliate network, the network takes their cut, too.
  • Create a personal relationship with affiliates – Since you need to find affiliates yourself and you’re managing your own program, you have a better opportunity to find the most ideal partners and create a personal relationship with them, including paying higher and more competitive rates. This can provide affiliates with greater incentive and loyalty which can turn into more traffic and profits for you.

Cons of creating an affiliate program

  • It takes time to set up – Setting up your program, finding the right affiliates, and tracking will take time. Don’t expect your program to be a success overnight. You need to build an effective network and this is a process that should not be rushed.
  • You are in charge of everything – While this can be a major plus, it can also sometimes be a major headache. For instance, if something goes wrong with the front end or the back end, you need to deal with it.  
  • You need to find affiliates – Arguably, the hardest part of running your own online casino or betting affiliate program is that you need to find affiliates that suit your niche. This requires research, patience and advertising. You don’t have the luxury of relying on the convenience of an established network that already has loads of affiliates ready to go.

Affiliate Networks

An affiliate network is a separate online platform that brings together the affiliate marketers with the merchants. In essence, it is a digital marketplace. A network acts as a liaison (middle person) between the merchant and the affiliate marketers that are signed up within the network. In other words, the affiliate network sets up everything for the merchant (including setting the terms and conditions) and provides the merchant with easy access to a network of affiliates.

This means, if you want to take the path of joining a pre-existing affiliate network for your iGaming business’ affiliate marketing endeavours, you pay to sign up with a network and use their service. With the exception of your own marketing materials, the affiliate network platform you have joined provides you with everything you need to run your program.

How does it work?

There are four sides to an affiliate network:

  • The liaison – The affiliate network company
  • The product creator – You
  • The marketers of your products – Your affiliates
  • The consumer – Your potential customers

Once you’ve found an existing online casino affiliate network that appeals (we highly recommend researching the success of the networks that capture your interest), you sign up and pay fees to gain access to their services. The platform you require already exists and is ready to go. All you need to do is create the marketing content for you brand. From there, you have access to a pool of affiliates and can put your affiliate marketing strategy into motion.

Beyond that, the affiliate system works pretty much the same as discussed above in the affiliate program section. Affiliates market your products and use a unique link that is tracked so they can be paid the commissions they are owed. However, one aspect that is different is that some affiliate networks will also take a cut of the profits each time an affiliate makes a sale. In other words, you pay two commissions: one to the affiliate and one to the network.

Pros of joining an affiliate network

  • Everything is ready to go – The biggest advantage is that the platform and everything you need is provided so you can get started right away. You don’t need to spend hours setting up a program and all the necessary tech requirements, security, researching, etc.
  • Instant access to affiliates – Another huge advantage is that there are already affiliates ready and waiting to sell. With a few simple clicks you can find the ones you want to partner with within the network, allowing you to skip time-consuming steps like researching to find the right affiliates, sending outreach emails, etc.
  • Quick convenience – There’s no faster or easier way to get started with affiliates.

Cons of joining an affiliate network

  • High on-going costs – The convenience of joining a network comes with a high price tag, and fees are ongoing. Since everything is handled for you, it will cost you money to sign up and get setup. While this cost varies from one company to the next, on average you’re looking at anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 to start. Other fees may include monthly membership fees, add-ons, other one-time fees and having to pay the network a piece of your revenue every time an affiliate makes a sale.
  • You abide by their rules – Having everything done for you also comes at the cost of control. You do not create the guidelines for content, terms and conditions, rules for affiliates, commission rates, types of payment options available, etc. Expect for most things to be decided by the affiliate network. 
  • Readily available affiliates are not necessarily the best affiliates – Simply because you have quick access to affiliates this does not mean that these are the best affiliates for your brand. When you have your own program, you are actively involved in the vetting process of the affiliates you choose, giving you the advantage of finding those that are loyal and trustworthy and with the most ideal audience for your brand. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that instant access to affiliates via a network means instant profits.

How to Choose the Best option for Your Business

For many businesses, weighing their affiliate program vs affiliate network options often comes down to how much capital they have and deciding what’s worth more to them: their time or their money.

For a small start-up, money might not be an option, which means joining a network could be out of the question. For those with a little more financial wiggle room, the desire to get the ball rolling quickly with an existing network may be more desirable than taking the time to build a program.

That being said, it is important to think about your business’ long-term marketing goals. Keep in mind that if you manage to build your own affiliate program successfully – on your own or with the help of a white-label software platform – it could end up making you more money in the long run compared to continually having to pay fees and commissions to a network.

Still, there really is no right or wrong choice, only making the choice that makes the most sense to your budget and your goals.

Affiliate Program Vs Affiliate Network – The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that when it comes to successful affiliate marketing, reaching the right audience – which includes both affiliate marketers and the traffic they can drive to your site – is crucial.  The reality is that both direct casino affiliate programs and casino affiliate networks have the potential to help businesses find lucrative success.

Only you can decide what’s best for your brand’s goals. For this reason, it’s always ideal to research your options and find the answers to your most important questions before getting started with the creation process or signing on the dotted line. Curious to learn more about launching your own program? Check out TCS’ guide to launching an iGaming affiliate program.