Pokerstars is without a doubt the biggest online poker room at the moment. Ever since their inception they have been one of the biggest, and the UIEGA made them the clear winners in regard to traffic. And why shouldn’t they be the biggest? They have excellent customer support, which is very responsive no matter the player. They have beautiful software, a wide variety of games, incredible tournaments, one of the best loyalty programs and some of the biggest celebrity professional poker players endorsing them, like Daniel Negreanu, Joe Hachem, Chris Moneymaker and Greg Raymer.
When it comes to creating an online poker room, Pokerstars are the one company that every new poker room should strive to emulate. New poker rooms should try and do what Pokerstars do in every department possible….
…except the affiliate side of things, which is one of the worst I have ever seen from an online poker room.
This article isn’t critiquing the individuals that work in the affiliate department at Pokerstars. Through my dealings with the likes of Carly, Chris etc, I’ve found the people who work there very nice and helpful. However their affiliate program in general is – to be frank – a complete disaster, and needs worked over from the ground up.
First I want to address something – Pokerstars do not need an affiliate program. This should be obvious to everyone. They, and to a lesser extent Full Tilt Poker, are the only poker rooms that could still do well without affiliate programs. Pokerstars have so much going for them that generates enough word of mouth, as well as lots of offline marketing methods in various forms of media, and finally great search engine rankings for key terms like “online poker”, that they really don’t need an affiliate program.
However that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have one, or that they should leave it at the bottom of the totem pole in regard to priority. An affiliate program can help them bring in so much more revenue, and get the word out about Pokerstars even more. You think the word of mouth ROI is good now? Wait until you have thousands of happy affiliates working for you and doing everything they can to get players to the site. Pokerstars HAS been doing changes after basically ignoring the affiliate side of thing for years, however there are still many, many problems. This article isn’t going to be a negative article bashing them in any way although it may seem like that at times; the point of this article is to hopefully help them in creating the best affiliate program for online poker.
Affiliate Response: This is without a doubt, the biggest issue I have with the Pokerstars affiliate section. To me, I expect a response within 24 hours from an affiliate department on a regular business day. I consider that the standard in the industry. Most programs fall under that category. However the response time at Pokerstars is extremely bad. If I get a response within 3 days, I’m surprised. It can often take at least 5 days. I do routine tests of affiliate support, just to get an idea of how long they take to respond, and also for a future article. So I e-mailed poker rooms a simple question as a new affiliate – can I get unique signup/bonus codes for promoting your site offline. This is one that any affiliate manager should be able to answer within seconds, and I sent this to over 30 affiliate programs. Of those 30 programs, 25 responded within the 24 hour mark, 4 responded within 30 hours. Pokerstars?
8 days. That’s how long it took for them to respond to such a simple question. I understand that the affiliate department is understaffed, but this is completely unacceptable, and the affiliate department needs more resources immediately, because response times like that will turn off any affiliate from ever promoting them.
Marketing/Bonus Codes: This is something else that needs to be clarified immediately at Pokerstars, and really should be. First, some affiliates are allowed personal codes to use which seem more legitimate and encourage players to use it. Yet some affiliates aren’t. So if I am recommending players that sign up at Pokerstars, am I going to get equal conversions from a marketing code that says “STARSBONUS” or a marketing code that says “JohnsPokerSite.net”. No, I’m not, and this needs to be addressed immediately so that, like the majority of poker sites out there, affiliates are able to use any custom code that they want. I like to market offline, and I’d love to promote Pokerstars offline around Christmas time, and be able to tell people to gain entry into a $10,000 freeroll that I am running, all they have to do is enter “DANSXMASBONUS” or similar as a marketing code. People see that, they understand it, and it converts well. But if I have to tell them to enter “JohnsPokerSite.Net” as the marketing code? Yeah, that just isn’t going to convert anywhere near as much.
The other problem with marketing codes is that the field is actually there. Here’s how it should work: if Bob clicks through Pokerstars via my affiliate link and downloads the software and registers, Bob should get tracked to me. Period! I was the one that convinced Bob to try out Pokerstars with the review I have spent hours working on. However, this is not the case. Why not? Because while registering, Bob sees a field for “marketing code”. Hmmm…what’s that? Well, Bob will now google “Pokerstars marketing code”, find all these sites with marketing codes listed, and use one of those instead, even if it doesn’t give him anything extra. So I did the hard work in actually converting the player to Pokerstars, and I don’t get paid? That’s just not fair at all. If you MUST use the marketing code field, and I have no problem with it, the Pokerstars software should first check to see if this player came through a tracking link. Cookies or registry entries would solve that. And if the player is tracked? Then the marketing code section just won’t show up. Other poker rooms do that, why can’t Stars?
Pokerstars.TV: Did you know this actually existed? A lot of people don’t. But it’s there, and can do extremely well at converting players. How to get players there? Affiliates obviously, except affiliates aren’t able to do anything with that currently. This was brought up by Pokerprop back on May 16th, and still nothing has been done.
Newsletters: I get newsletters from affiliate programs on a daily basis, updating me on their current programs. They’ll provide me new promotions and features of their software, new banners, new content I can add etc. Some programs write weekly, some every two weeks, and some every month. Monthly is what I would expect from any promotion. The date of this writing is October 22, 2008. Pokerstars biggest competitor currently is Full Tilt Poker. Another site growing by the day is Cake Poker, who are a LOT smaller than Pokerstars. Here are the dates of the last 5 newsletters I have received from these poker rooms:
Full Tilt Poker
|July 31, 2008||September 24, 2008||September 8, 2008|
|June 24, 2008||August 21, 2008||December 6, 2007|
|May 9, 2008||July 17, 2008||July 25, 2007|
|March 3, 2008||June 13, 2008||March 15, 2007|
|February 5, 2008||May 24, 2008||January 10, 2007|
I should add to this, that in the PokerStarsPartners.com backend they have a section which lists all their affiliate newsletters, and they have newsletters for October 08, February 08, November 07 and September 07. However I’ve checked 2 different e-mails I have registered with Stars affiliates, as well as asked 3 other affiliates and none of us have any record of these newsletters. So either Pokerstars have had e-mail problems, or these were made available online or when you log into the software only.
Also on October 10th, there was a post by Pokerstars on the PAP forums about the new Boris Becker campaign that affiliates could promote. Guess what – not every affiliate reads the PAP forums. That thread got just 92 views, some of them most likely duplicate. I expect Pokerstars has a lot more than just 92 affiliates. THIS should be the things you are e-mailing affiliates in a newsletter, and keeping them informed. New promotions, new tournaments, new games, new additions to the software – all this would be great information for affiliates to receive in their inbox, and encourage them to promote.
PokerStarsPartners.com: Hey, first of all it is great that they finally implemented this after so many years of nothing but a “signups | deposits” report, however this still requires a lot of work. XML feeds are only available on request, and the last update I read they weren’t yet available. They have a few random screenshots of the Pokerstars software which is outdated. Worse, the screenshot of the lobby lists 471 players currently playing. Right now if I log in at 11pm EST on a Tuesday night, I see 112,896 players playing. So if I do a review of Pokerstars, where I talk about all the great traffic they have, and then post that screenshot listing 497 players, all credibility is just going to go out the window. If you’re going to have a screenshots section then great – but put some work and thought into it. Have screenshots of all the different games available, all the different skins, of the loyalty program, and most importantly keep it updated on a regular basis.
Yet another section that needs cleaned up is the affiliate banner section, mainly in general navigation. I have to click “Marketing”, followed by “banners”, followed by a “click here” link which opens a new window, to access a page that has the banners sorted by language, meaning I have to click again – which opens ANOTHER new window which has the banners disorganized, and all on one page. This section needs a complete revamp. Less clicks for one, second allow people to use filters. If I am looking for a 468×60 banner to use, I shouldn’t have to load up and scroll through a huge page of banners. I should be able to filter the page so I ONLY see 468×60 banners.
These are just SOME of MANY changes needed in the backend. I haven’t even bothered to discuss their “offline marketing” section which suggests players promote Pokerstars offline through flyers, CDs etc, and yet all they offer is newsletters that have been e-mailed to players! Nor the lack of statistics available(ie: click tracking).
Pokerstars Affiliate VIP Tools: Did you know there is a whole section of tools available to promote the Pokerstars VIP program? There’s calculators, gif and flash banners, as well as videos. Are these available in the backend at all? Nope. The only reason I found them was by going to Marketing->Banners->Click Here, which opened up a site separate to PokerstarsPartners.com, and it has a link in the navigation menu for “Affiliate VIP Tools”. Also there is EPT Live Broadcast streams, logos and artwork. WHY are none of those incorporated in PokerStarsPartners.com? Why am I stumbling on this valuable marketing material out of sheer luck?
CPA/Revenue Share: Anyone that knows me, knows that I don’t like CPA. A poker room can offer me $150 CPA for players with no requirements at all except they deposit and I’ll turn it down. I’m just not a fan of CPA at all, as I prefer revenue share where it encourages me to bring in the highest raking players. I’m explaining this just to make this sentence stronger: Pokerstars should not do revenue share, or at least, not in the form that they are apparently currently doing it. This has been a topic debated for a long time. Ever since Pokerstars started, they worked on a tiered CPA system, and it worked. It doesn’t mean affiliates will promote it as strongly as sites with revenue share, but they’ll still promote it for the most part.
For the longest time, revenue share has been wanted at Pokerstars. Earlier this year Pokerstars decided to move to this model, however the way they have did so has been a disaster, by being extremely selective in regard to what affiliates are allowed on revenue share or not. Even if you tell Pokerstars that you can bring in lots of high stakes players, they won’t agree to revenue share. The whole thing has just been a train wreck from start to finish, and Pokerstars have to come to a solid decision on this. Should we offer revenue share? Do we understand the pros and cons of revenue share? Do we have the security set up to minimize the amount of people opening up new accounts? Do we have a system in place to stop rakeback? Why are we currently alienating affiliates, by only offering revenue share to select affiliates? Do we not realize that this is just going to offend affiliates? These are just SOME of the questions that Pokerstars need to ask themselves, and only then can they decide whether to go with revenue share and/or CPA, and then they should do it for everyone. By dragging their feet like this and being selective, all it does is turn off many affiliates. For example, I could probably send about 200 big players a month to Pokerstars. Should I? Well, I’d do well on their tiered CPA system, however I’d do a lot better if I was able to get revenue share. Is revenue share coming to everyone? Maybe, maybe not. Until I know the details, I’m just not going to promote Pokerstars at all, as I don’t want to miss out on any potential earnings. Guess what? I’m just ONE of MANY affiliates who think the same way, and don’t promote Pokerstars as strongly, or at all, because of this.
Higher Volume Affiliates: It’s a fact that at Pokerstars, higher volume affiliates are treated differently, and obviously better. They’re on revenue share and are given the ability to use custom marketing codes for example. This is the wrong way to go about things. Want to treat higher volume affiliates better? Sure, that is a great idea. Give them extra rewards, 50FPP instead of 100FPP for all players etc. Don’t give them unfair advantaged over other affiliates. It is just mindblowing that only certain affiliates get access to custom marketing codes, or given alternative revenue streams. The Pokerstars affiliate program is turning off affiliates before they can even get started bringing in players, due to all the reasons mentioned above. You think you have high volume affiliates now? Fix the issues above(which is just a start), and the amount of high volume affiliates you have will at least triple, because affiliates will actually start promoting you strongly again. Guess what? I’m a high volume affiliate, however I will not get the chance to show Pokerstars that, because some existing affiliates have been given an unfair advantage in regard to marketing and promoting Pokerstars, as well as a larger portion of funds thanks to revenue share, and I’m just not interested in bringing traffic to a site that won’t even allow me to use the same marketing materials as other affiliates, due to their existing volume.
The sad thing is, these are just SOME of the problems associated with the Pokerstars affiliate program. Is Pokerstars the best online poker room for the player? As I wrote at the beginning of the article, I think it is. Google things like “poker room reviews” or other terms that a new player would be searching for. You will find on many of the sites in the top 100, Pokerstars isn’t even on them, or is in low positions. There are many reasons for that, and one of the biggest is just how insignificant affiliates feel when they attempt to promote Pokerstars, especially when it takes 8 days to get a response to a simple question.
If you are reading Pokerstars, please listen closely – you have an incredible poker room with so many features, so many ways to entice new players. You have great promotions, great software, and a very strong brand name. I want to promote Pokerstars strongly. I know many other affiliates want to promote Pokerstars strongly.
Make it happen.