Mikael Gabrielsson, Founder of Online Value Group, joins the latest series of affiliate interviews on Affiliate Grand Slam.
With websites aimed at three separate continents, Online Value Group is continuing to expand their reach within the iGaming industry. Mikael Gabrielsson tells us what it takes for an affiliate business to make its mark - follow his story below.
How did your affiliate business take off? When did you start your affiliate business, and what brought you to iGaming? Is gaming your only vertical?
I’ve worked in gaming for most of my adult life. In the late ‘90s, my family owned a betting shop in Sweden. I was introduced to online poker in 2005 and went on to play professionally for three years.
In 2008, I moved down to Malta, where I worked for one of the biggest iGaming operators on the island.
In 2015, we founded what is today Online Value Group, with our HQ based in Marbella, Spain. We have generated traffic through many different sources over the years, such as PPC advertising and different media-buying campaigns.
Today, we are an SEO-focused affiliate business within the casino, sports betting and loans niches, and we are mainly focused on the German-speaking market.
How many employees are currently with the company? Can you tell us a little about how your company business is structured?
The company currently consists of a hard-working team of three people, all of whom work full time. We also have five external consultants who we work with on a regular basis — one who assists us with design and four who help with our content.
We take great pride in creating high-quality content because we believe it will benefit us and our readers in the long run. Our full-time content manager, Marcus Brandt, goes through everything that is published on our websites. It can be hard to find high-quality content writers who understand the business and ensure everything is written for players, not for search engines. We always ask ourselves if the content we publish is going to help our visitors and bring some type of value. If not, we simply will not publish it.
Which markets do you focus on and do you see any potential in the emerging markets?
Switzerland was the first market we entered, which caused us a lot of headaches. After 12 months of moderate success in Switzerland, we were forced to close down due to regulatory changes in that market.
We knew we had a good structure, and it turned out that we could use some of our content and the site network to set up our first German website, deutschercasinobonus.com. Since then, we have created a number of casino guides in Germany and Austria, each one with a different angle and focus to provide the most value to our visitors.
We have also created casino guides for Japan and Spain, which we are excited about. With a view to taking a more global approach in 2020 and beyond, we are investigating new and emerging markets.
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?
As I mentioned earlier, we focus a lot on generating high-quality content that brings value or answers questions our visitors might have. I believe that this approach makes us unique, and we have received great feedback from impartial sources regarding our content.
Another thing that makes us stand out a bit (good and bad) is that we do our best not to take shortcuts with our SEO. In fact, we might be a bit too careful with our SEO strategy sometimes, but we are betting on this being a profitable strategy in the long run.
We are very proud of what we have created so far, and we are now taking the next step toward our goal of being a global player in this industry. In April 2020, we went live with casinocompadre.com, which is focused on Spain and Latin America. We’ve identified an interesting gap in this market where I believe our quality content strategy can be successful. Due to the COVID-19 situation, we have temporarily paused all campaigns in Spain. However, we will continue to monitor it as a potentially interesting market down the road, and we have continued our investments in SEO throughout this time.
In May 2020, we also went live with our Japanese website, jpcasinos.com. This is probably the project I am most excited about right now, and I think we can bring something to Japanese casino players that currently doesn’t exist. I can’t give away too much, but we are really excited to expand and grow our business outside of Europe for the first time.
Have you ever considered looking into emerging technology for that competitive advantage, such as application of AI, Big Data or other?
That’s a very good question. We have been looking into emerging technologies, and I agree that it will certainly be a part of the future of this industry. However, for right now, we are investing both our time and money into avenues that will give us a good ROI in the near future.
However, we are keeping a close eye on developments in emerging technologies as the possibilities there are endless.
A number of other affiliates have gone down the real money operator route and tried their hand at white labels. Have you considered giving white label casino or sports betting a go?
The simple answer is “no”. I was actually involved in a white label startup many years ago on the Entraction platform. We launched just weeks before the platform was sold to IGT, who then cancelled the platform. However, from that experience, I learned that if you do have limited resources, you should focus on one thing at a time. If you do a good job generating traffic through SEO or other sources, stick to that for the time being and develop that skill. First learn to crawl and then start to walk.
This is why we are not currently considering the white label route.
Australia, Japan, India, US and Canada, South-East-Asia, LatAm traffic: so many affiliates are looking outside Europe, which has become somehow saturated, to grow their business and diversify their portfolio. Are you looking at any specific markets for traffic? And have you found your new niche yet?
The regulatory process in many of the European markets has been tough on the industry, and in some cases, the regulators have even modified the products/games to make them less user-friendly.
I know many affiliates and operators feel that they must either go outside the regulatory markets or even go full black hat by listing non-licensed casinos. This is a big failure on the part of the regulators, and it will only push players to the non-licensed market.
As I mentioned earlier, we have expanded our horizons with our release in Japan. We are also looking into more emerging markets going forward as we progress from a local to a global player.
Has this fragmentation of regulated markets affected your numbers? UKGC, the Swedish regulator and now also the German regulator is mulling over-regulating this space.
So far, the biggest issue for us was Switzerland. The first mistake we made was to use a .ch domain for our main site, which we eventually had to close down. There were no rules against casino-related content on .ch domains when we started, but after a series of regulatory changes, the Swiss government forced us to take it down and focus on .com domains.
About a year ago, most operators in the industry decided to leave Switzerland and not accept deposits from Swiss players anymore. This, of course, was a bump in the road for us, but I think we have adapted well to the new situation.
Right now, we’re following the developments in Germany and the upcoming regulation changes there. The first drafts we have seen are extremely aggressive, and I cannot see the EU accepting this regulation in one of its biggest markets.
We can only trust that the government wants to have a regulated market that is attractive for both players as well as operators. We have seen many markets where over-regulation has caused players to prefer non-licensed casinos. At the end of the day, the operators and affiliates want to be where the customers are. So, if the regulators can’t create a healthy and attractive regulation, then both customers and operators will have to find ways around it.
I personally think that Germany has a real chance to do something good with its regulation—to be a model for other countries to follow. The question, however, is will they?
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?
Our traffic is more than 90% SEO-driven, and we focus on helping our visitors answer their questions as quickly as possible. All of our main content has a FAQ section where the visitors can easily find answers to the most common questions. We aim to be as clear as possible about games, bonus offers, licenses, payment methods, etc. This helps to minimize those questions to the operator support at a later stage. An informed customer is a good customer, and it helps prevent confusion.
I also think we can see things from both an affiliate perspective as well as from an operator perspective. As I previously worked on the other side, I can understand their point of view as well. We might not agree with the operator, but we can at least see things through their eyes in most cases.
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 had a few offers in the past, but so far, we have never really been interested in selling a stake in the company. The day might come when we decide to go down that road, but right now, we see no upside in bringing on investors unless it was a strategic investor who could offer us more than just money. We are not actively looking for investors, and in these uncertain times, we feel we need to wait for the regulatory storm out on our own.
What two pieces of advice would you give to any new affiliate starting today?
It is much harder to launch today, and you need a bigger budget to survive the first 12 to 18 months.
My first piece of advice would be to make sure you have enough money to push through those first 12 months before you see any form of income from SEO. After that, you can probably expect another six months to pass before you are profitable, depending on the market and spending.
My second piece of advice is to concentrate on creating deep content and choose keywords that your competitors aren’t already focused on. It takes time to build authority with Google and rank for the premium keywords. Focus on the less competitive keywords and build a wider range of traffic.
What has your biggest shocker been to date, without the need to mention the operator by name? Has any operator or affiliate manager ever let you down, and how do you prevent such a scenario from happening again?
I think most affiliates who have been around for a few years have experienced mistreatment from a few brands. We have also had our fair share of disappointments over the years. Something I have never accepted is when operators decide to close down an affiliate contract if no new traffic is generated. The affiliate has taken on all of the marketing costs for those customers and are entitled to a lifetime revenue share. In those situations, we do our best to settle with the operator in question, and we never send any more traffic to that source.
Have you ever been to SiGMA? Would you consider attending SiGMA Manila or SiGMA Malta at some point?
Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to attend the SIGMA conferences, but I have only heard good things about SiGMA. We’ve had two kids over the course of three years, which resulted in less travel on my part. I am planning to go to the Malta conference this year, as long as we are allowed to travel.
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