Anton Charaev, Teamlead of Sales Team at AlfaMedia, joins the latest series of affiliate interviews on Affiliate Grand Slam
Anton Charaev speaks about AlfaMedia which he describes as one of the largest media buying agencies in Russia and Commonwealth of Independent States. It drives quality traffic from dozens of sources in various verticals, knows all the angles of user acquisition, bets on strategy, planning, and analytics - follow his story below.
From where did you start your affiliate marketing business and how?
We started our journey in 2016 as a small group of like-minded people. At first, there were only 10 of us. Today, there are more than 250. Although generally we work with almost all verticals, iGaming has been one of our most profitable sectors for many years.
What brings most troubles in your line of business?
The affiliate marketing sector is a highly volatile one and traffic sources are probably the most unstable part of it. Firstly, I mean Google and Facebook. These platforms often change their policies and adjust the algorithms - as a result we see multiple bans and a lot of trouble. However, we fight it from our end working hard to maintain the volume and quality of traffic for our customers. Sometimes, in order to satisfy the client, we operate at a deficit for the sake of a long-term relationship. This way we try to make this a win-win situation.
How did you scale up your affiliate marketing business?
In the beginning, our team was small. Then we started to recruit more and more employees. In addition to affiliate marketing, we kept creating new divisions. We have started our own media buying team, which includes more than 45 specialists at the moment. Thus, we keep evolving in several directions at a time. And all of them perform extremely well!
What do you know now that you wish you knew when starting out?
Affiliate marketing is not as simple as it seemed to us at first. Just a few years ago, we could, in a manner of speaking, jab a stick into the ground and have a tree grow out of it. Now the return on investment is lower than it used to be, but we make it work due to our turnover that has increased significantly.
What I wish we knew at the start? — That no pain brings no gain. You need to work all the time, adapt your ways to the ever-changing market; and only then will you make profit. It is also important to keep high spirits in case of failure and do not give up.
What helps make your performance successful? What are the main challenges?
We are testing out a slew of hypotheses at any given time, because we know that no product can consistently bring the same high profit in the long run. Only multiple tests combining different advertisers and partners can lead to success. We are constantly looking for new advertisers and partners, developing new traffic sources, and discovering new GEOs. This allows our business to develop at a high speed.
What motivates you to promote more, and what helps you boost your motivation?
The growing number of satisfied customers, the recognition of our company in the global market, new untrodden GEOs, and, of course, the company's profit that is growing every year. It allows us to scale, open more and more new divisions and hire dozens of employees.
How is your company structured, and what aspect of business development are you currently focused on?
We have a sophisticated company with numerous divisions — affiliate marketing, media buying, creative department, SEO department, Game Development Studio, Research & Development Department, special units for the iGaming, Dating, and Finance verticals, a unique legal support service for affiliates, etc. We have mastered all the well-known traffic sources, such as Google, Facebook, In-App (Unity, Vungle, Chartboost, etc.), TikTok, SEO, native. Our geographic reach is also vast — North America, Europe, Australia, Asia, South America, and even Africa.
Which markets are you eyeing up as a priority and why? Do you see any potential in the emerging markets?
We see huge potential in emerging markets. The audience there is fresh in contrast with the UK, for example, where sports betting and casinos have been known for hundreds of years. Nevertheless, we acknowledge that it is wiser to keep a firm grip on such profitable markets as Europe and North America which also have the most reliable partners. Thus, we cover both Tier1 and emerging markets.
Which niches work best for your affiliate marketing and which are the most profitable? How did you find your most profitable niche?
iGaming is the most developed and profitable vertical for us. However, we do not disregard other verticals and are currently developing Dating and Finance.
What makes your traffic proposition/traffic sites unique? What sets you apart from other affiliates?
Our company has its own application development team. Generally, few companies or affiliates are engaged in attracting the in-app traffic. We see it as a way to spur our progress.
In addition, we have an SEO division supporting more than 5,000 websites in different languages. There are also Google/Facebook divisions in our company. They have a department that is in charge of making creatives. All the operations are in-house. We rarely involve third-party developers and do not use outsourcing. We have sufficient internal resources to cope with everything!
Which qualities and skills are essential in an affiliate team/business?
The first is the experience and expertise gained from our past mistakes. The second is a close-knit team that has proven its worth over time. Third — the never-ending search for new approaches. In affiliate marketing, you cannot let the grass grow under your feet. The moment you stop is the moment you become weak. We never stop.
Affiliate marketing is one of the most in-demand skills within the iGaming sector. Why in your view?
It is more difficult to launch an ad campaign in the iGaming vertical than in any other. You can run Games or e-commerce campaigns with little experience, but iGaming requires special skills and expertise gained only by trial and error. Only those fully dedicated to this job, willing to learn all the time, and capable of testing various hypotheses can achieve great results in the iGaming sector.
How important is networking for your affiliate marketing?
We invest in communication with our business partners and colleagues. It allows us to get the missing piece of the puzzle and see the bigger picture of the market. It is important to build trust and maintain communication with other players in the market. Everyone benefits from the information we share. It is a win-win scenario.
How has the fragmentation of regulated markets affected your business? UKGC, Swedish regulator and now also the German regulator is mulling regulating this space.
Of course, it had an impact. We worked closely with that part of the market. But as I have mentioned, we like to test the waters, so we have multiple GEOs in development at the same time. We are flexible, so if the conversion rate drops significantly in one spot, we make a quick switch to a different market. That is to say, of course, we felt the impact of the fragmentation, but it was not critical.
How is the Asian market shaping-up for affiliates?
We have been stepping into the Asian market as of late. We have SEO websites for Japan. There are also ad campaigns ready to be launched for Japan and other Asian countries. It would be a stretch to say that this market is as profitable as our other GEOs. But we are actively digging in, and its share is constantly expanding.
What are your predictions for the future of the sector?
Due to the pandemic and the restrictive policies, many casino and sports betting lovers moved from real-life establishments to the online ones. We believe that this can be a huge boost for the iGaming industry. Also, do not forget that many countries have sports betting and gambling ingrained in their culture. So, people will carry on with said activities and the restrictions will only bring them into the online world (like the rest of our daily life). This is why the future seems more than promising to us. More than that, we see the iGaming sector partially legalized in the United States, for example. So, old markets continue to grow, and the new promising ones emerge (Africa, for example). This makes us very optimistic!
How do you manage relationships with multiple operators? What can operators do to increase support with affiliates?
Having multiple partners is a long-standing practice for us. As a rule, we have 5–10 business partners per market. This is how we minimize the risks.
What can an operator offer? — He can give better terms for cooperation. This being said, the pay-out rate is not the key indicator for us. The main ones are the quality of product and the conversion rate. That is, the total profit is what we are after.
For example, there are 2 partners. The first pays €100, the second — €200. But the first one brings us 20 conversions per 50 clicks. While the second one manages only 5 conversions per same number of clicks. Naturally, the one with higher conversions is more promising, even considering the lower pay-out.
Therefore, we would encourage the operators to work on customer retention and constantly improve the quality of product to bring the highest CR possible.
Have you ever been to SiGMA? SiGMA Europe, Africa, Asia, or Americas - which of these four expo shows would you likely book on your diary for 2021, COVID-19 permitting?
We have been to SiGMA Europe several times. In the future, the COVID situation allowing, we will definitely visit the events in Asia, America, and Africa. We want to get acquainted with partners from different regions in order to better understand the specifics of these markets.
Tell us a bit about yourself - after all, business is done with people, not just companies! Your hobbies, favourite book, favourite quote, whether you are into Gaming yourself, etc.
I like to play various musical instruments, as well as watch American sports. I regularly place bets on the NFL and NBA in various bookmakers. This also greatly contributes to the better understanding of my line of business.
One of my most memorable wins was when I bet on the Atlanta Falcons vs. New England Patriots in the 2016 Super Bowl. The match was late at night, so I went to sleep after the first period. And the first piece of news I received the next morning was that I had made a lot of money!
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