Knut Thomas Smith, Partner and head of development at OnlineCasinoMonkeys.com, gives an exclusive interview to SiGMA News as part of our latest series on affiliates
How did you first get into the affiliate space, and were you always focused on the iGaming sector?
I had a burnout in 2015 after working way too much as a sales manager at a BMW dealership. I was tired of sales and wanted to try something new after my hiatus. A friend introduced me to the iGaming affiliate business, and I've been working within iGaming ever since. But to diversify our portfolio, we began developing some new sites at the end of last year. So within the next month we should have three new concepts ready for launch.
How is your affiliate business structured, and what aspect of business development are you currently focused on?
My partner and I have been working together for a couple of years, with him in charge of content and marketing, while I handle all affiliates, development and SEO. For all other needs we outsource it to different contractors. It took as a while to find good ones for the right price.
Right now, I'm focused on developing OnlineCasinoMonkeys.com to be our new affiliate flagship. We are using the Mercury affiliate theme from Space Themes, which is my favourite theme for casino affiliate sites. The structure fits perfect for the content-rich site we are building. It’s a site we've had on the backburner for a couple of years. But now we are putting a lot of time, effort and money to get the site ready to be a contender in the big leagues.
Which markets do you focus on and do you see any potential in the emerging markets?
We are focusing on our home market, Norway. In addition to being a really good market, things could get more interesting there in 2021. Even though it's already illegal to advertise for casinos on TV in Norway, there is a loophole for those that broadcast to Norway for countries like England. The government is looking for ways to close this loophole. That would mean that many casinos would need to find new channels to advertise, thereby making affiliates and other channels much more relevant.
There is a lot of potential in the emerging markets for sure, but we will probably continue to focus on northern Europe and stick to what we know.
What makes your traffic proposition/traffic sites unique? What can you offer that others don’t? Are there any exciting plans in the works that you can tell us ?
We offer a wide range of sites and channels to market our partners, from regular SEO driven sites to social media traffic, Snapchat, podcasts and we have a non-gambling site with 400 000 readers a month for doing branding in Norway.
Is the grass greener on the other side - Have you considered giving white label casino or sports betting a go?
I did have a go in 2016, with Captain Charity. A new casino concept where we gave away half the profits to different charities. We got some initial funding to get everything going. We got approved for fundraising through Seedrs in the UK but failed to get enough investment to get the fundraising started with Seedrs. After a little over a year, we had to shut down as the costs got higher than the income. So we went back to focusing on developing affiliate sites again.
Are you concerned by the impact on the affiliate sector from shifting regulatory environments? (In particular UKGC, Sweden’s Spelinspektionen, and Germany’s 2020 State Treaty on Gaming Regulation)
I don't mind stricter guidelines and rules. It helps keep the business clean and weeds out unwanted elements of the iGaming industry. But there has to be a balance and predictability for the different players in the business.
What is the main thing that you’d like SiGMA readers to know about your traffic? Are you focusing on SEO? PPC? Any other traffic source?
SEO will always be the foundation for our traffic. But we also use Snapchat, content marketing. We are testing out some podcasts and a few of our non-affiliate sites with banners and text links. Our main focus now is to get consistency in our other traffic sources. Some campaigns convert well, others not at all. So we are working on cracking the code to get great campaigns each time.
Are you contemplating bringing in investors to scale or grow your business? Or, with such a big M&A market, have you ever contemplated selling the business?
We have looked at it, but we prefer to grow organically so that we have a healthy growth that is sustainable in the long run. We recently sold one of our sites and will be funnelling the funds back into our other projects to grow them even bigger in 2020.
What can operators do to increase support from affiliates?
Most of the operators I have worked with deliver a high level of service and are eager to help out in any way they can. But there is one thing they could do to make life easier for affiliates and themselves. Create a one-stop-shop for all regulated casino brands, with XML feeds with updated bonus offers, T&C, game providers etc. This would not only ensure that the information players get from affiliate sites are always 100% correct and in compliance with guidelines from the different regulators, but save a lot of time for the affiliates and affiliate managers.
Which qualities and skills are essential in an affiliate team/business?
A focus on details, quality and service. I believe these three things are the foundation for success no matter which industry or position you have in any job.
How does technology play a part in your day-to-day?
It's all and everything in what I do, without computers, internet, etc, I wouldn't have this job, and not have the flexibility of going anywhere, living anywhere and still get the job done. And then you have the specific tools needed to do quality control and tracking progress, like Grammarly, Ahrefs etc. They make the job a lot easier.
How is the Asian market shaping-up for affiliates?
We have considered the Asian market after hearing a lot of positive things, but without having a lot of knowledge about the market, we have decided to stay within the European market, at least for now.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when starting out?
How important attention to detail is in this business. It can make or break a new site or campaign. It takes a little longer doing the work, but the result turns out so much better.
What’s been your biggest nightmare to date?
Not getting Captain Charity up and running properly. I believed in the concept and thought it was a great way to fund different small charities that do a lot of good with little to no funds. So if there are any operators out there that are feeling charitable, there is an organisation in Norway, Plastpiratene (The Plastic Pirates)that needs funding for this season of plastic clean-up along the Norwegian fjords. They are doing great work to keep our oceans, fjords and beaches clean for the next generation.
What are the challenges in managing relationships with multiple operators?
When you are dealing with several hundred operators, and mostly communicate through skype and email, it's hard to develop a close partnership. Many operators also have a big turn over with their affiliate managers, here one day, gone the next. But on the positive side, there are many good conferences like Sigma where you get to spend time with them face to face. It's strange how just having one or two beers or a meal with someone changes your relationship.
What are the benefits of attending large iGaming events, and what can they do better?
Getting to meet all the people I chat with every day on Skype and email face-to-face and having time for a proper talk, to get to know them better. And of course, meeting a lot new potential business partners. The ones I've been to have been great, and can`t say that I have anything to add.
Have you ever been to SiGMA? Would you consider attending SiGMA Manila or SiGMA Malta at some point?
I've had plans on going for the last two years, but something else has always come up, making it impossible for me to go. So this year I hope I will be able to attend.
Tell us a bit about yourself – after all business is done between people, not just companies!
A quiet tropical beach, no cars, not a lot of people, and no technology. Have time to relax and unwind.
Favourite book ever read? Favourite book you look forward to read some day?
Watchers by Dean Koontz. That book was so exciting that I couldn't get to the next page fast enough. The way he paints a picture with words is amazing. My all-time favourite writer. I want to read the Odd Thomas series from Dean Koontz, I started on the first book and then found out there are four more books in the series. Just have to find the time first.
Where would you relocate with family if you had to pick one city?
That's easy, Copenhagen. I love that city, with all low buildings, canals, bicycles, great cafes and not to forget Nyhavn. I spent a lot of time there when I was working for a Danish company and was always left wanting more of that city.
Luck is when opportunity meets preparation plus action.
Favourite sport and childhood idol?
Never been big on sports, I do however like to catch a good fight on Eurosport now and then. Never been big on idols either, but I gravitate more to the intellectuals, inventors and philosophers more than that latest pop star or football player.
Get to know other great affiliates, responsible for killer traffic! Click the link below to read more insights from affiliates:
About SiGMA Expo:
SiGMA 2020 Malta will take place November 17th - 19th 2020 at the Malta Fairs and Conventions Centre in Ta’ Qali. Positioned at the cutting edge of a very competitive industry, the event has evolved since 2014 into the definitive iGaming showcase, operating on both a European and world stage. In 2019, SiGMA’19 welcomed over 400 sponsors and exhibitors, 200 industry leading speakers and a record-breaking 15,000 attendees from over 80 countries, and in 2020 this staple in the global iGaming calendar is set to grow even bigger. To become a part of Europe's leading iGaming event, book a pass or sponsor & exhibit.
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For those planning to attend SiGMA events in 2020, this is the buzzing business environment to be expected: