Jon Horsfield, Founder of SmashCasinos, joins the latest series of affiliate interviews on Affiliate Grand Slam
How did you first get into the affiliate space, and were you always focused on the iGaming sector?
I run a number of eCommerce websites and I was looking to diversify my business portfolio. I have always had an interest in the iGaming sector and in January 2020 I launched smashcasinos.com - a casino affiliate website.
How is your affiliate business structured, and what aspect of business development are you currently focused on?
Currently we have five members of staff working on the site, split up both by countries-targeted and languages. We are focussing on adding three new languages to the site by July-2020 around the LATAM and Asian markets as we have seen a number of big players move into them already.
Which markets do you focus on and do you see any potential in the emerging markets?
Currently UK, Spain, and Canada. In the future, I will look to target Germany, Italy, and maybe Asia. At this current point in time, I don’t want to get ahead of myself and overload myself with too much work.
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 about?
All traffic is content lead, with a big focus on providing useful information. Every article is written with the aim of ranking for certain keywords, whether it be slot game keywords, table game keywords or how-to-play related keywords. Much effort and research go into creating every piece of content including in-depth slot reviews, comprehensive how-to-play guides and articles about innovation and new casino games. My site is still new, and this is a long-term project, with the aim to continue to publish great content.
Is the grass greener on the other side – Have you considered giving white label casino or sports betting a go?
For now, with several of our staff having worked internally and agency side of the sports betting markets, we want to focus exclusively on our affiliate offering. Should we build up a firm database of subscribers where we feel we would be able to negotiate a strong white-label deal and present a unique enough offering to the market, then never say never!
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)
To not be concerned would be naïve, as the threat of losing commissions or marketing for a casino site only to be ousted when they decide to sell out or shut down is always going to be on our minds. We try to only market reputable casinos who we have an ongoing rapport with and trust that they will keep us in the loop with any regulatory pressures they are facing.
With that being said – our team are looking at the affiliate game as a long-term play so commission delays, changing regulatory stances and updated advertising rules are things that we will take precautions with in favour of a quick buck.
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?
After the foundation was laid, thought went into site structure and keyword research with the aim of giving my site the best chance of ranking for all the keywords I have chosen to target.
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?
I am still growing and with small overheads (purposely done) and an appetite to continue, neither investors or buyers are really part of the picture right now.
What can operators do to increase support from affiliates?
A silly answer I suppose, but be adaptable. One month an affiliate might bring in a heap of players and the next few literally nothing - it's dependent on how they market. Those operators who work with you and don't just cut your revenue share or strong-arm you with their Terms and Conditions generally keep our loyalty and will be the ones who we choose to promote hardest down the line. Also, high rev shares are great - but we're realists and prefer operators who make enough themselves WITH us to keep marketing our players and retaining them.
Which qualities and skills are essential in an affiliate team/business?
Aside from trust when you have multiple parties involved, it is finding a way to work together as a team and play on each other’s strengths. For example, having one person communicating with the various operators, another running point on content and an additional member handling the marketing is great - but unless they are all communicating effectively to each other - it can become a dangerous and costly mistake. Also having people who are used to working remotely helps when a lot of business is online
How does technology play a part in your day-to-day?
As affiliates almost all our day-to-day is run online. With several staff members situated in different countries, I rely on e-meetings to do most of the communication and run most of the marketing with online software. I think in this day and age, if you don't consider yourself to be an avid e-enthusiast, the potential for expanding your affiliate gaming portfolio is limited.
How is the Asian market shaping-up for affiliates?
While I haven't personally forayed into this yet outside of Australia - Asia Pacific seems like an interesting game. India is one I am keeping my eyes on as their isn't a lot of data available yet, but with such a vast difference in wealth levels among the population - it will be interesting to see how different operators find lucrative offers to pull them in.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when starting out?
It’s not always the keywords you think will make you money that do. Having experimented with vanity terms, I’ve had better successes with longer-tail keywords and a strong SEO agency and have profited more from adapting my strategy to the modern search landscapes.
What’s been your biggest nightmare to date?
Getting everything translated! It’s amazing how many non-native speakers claim to be legitimate and it’s expensive if you fall into the hands of the wrong ones! Fortunately, I now have native speakers in-house and are pushing on strong.
What are the challenges in managing relationships with multiple operators?
With many different operators offering various affiliate deals based on scale, market and vertical, it is often tricky to plan your marketing spend ahead. While there are various software’s out there that offer to amalgamate all your accounts into one place - Excel is my go-to solution, but can sometimes feel a bit tiresome keeping track of MoM performances
What are the benefits of attending large iGaming events, and what can they do better?
While international travel and free entry for affiliates are both flexible, the lack of flexible accommodation for last-minute bookings at hotels is not easy. The benefits, however, include meeting new operators, catching up with existing partnership managers and the seminars often shed new light on some of the legislating markets that I am looking into.
Have you ever been to SiGMA? Would you consider attending SiGMA Manila or SiGMA Malta at some point?
Yes I have, although unfortunately we didn’t get to meet all the operators we were hoping to. Maybe next year will be better.
Of course, we’re all living through different times with Covid-19. How has it affected your business, and how do you think it affects the iGaming sector in general?
This question has lots of answers, but the truth is I focus on the casino landscape which has seen little negative change. Of course the betting market is in ruins with most markets now closed and the trading vertical is volatile and not as appealing as it was before ... but hopefully we will see the survival of some of the biggest brands and a lot of new faces when the path clears for us to work with. This crisis affects everyone so, hopefully, the iGaming sector will endure through teamwork and cooperation with each other to come out the other side stronger than ever.
Tell us a bit about yourself – after all, business is done between people, not just companies!
Would have to be Orlando, I would say it is because I have 2 kids, but I think I enjoy it more than they do.
Where would you relocate with family if you had to pick one city?
Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.
Favourite sport and childhood idol?
Boxing and for his never say die attitude Mike Tyson.
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About SiGMA LatAm Focus
This event brings the Americas closer to delegates from Europe and Asia, with an interesting agenda featuring a line-up of speakers that showcases the company’s commitment to covering the various gaming verticals. Explore the full agenda here and register now, this one’s on us!