Frank Op de Woerd, Head of Content at CasinoNieuws, joins the latest series of affiliate interviews on Affiliate Grand Slam
Frank Op de Woerd of CasinoNieuws believes in having an honest news website that uses and shares sound sources. He loves writing in-depth interviews and features about subjects that don't get as much attention elsewhere. He highlights that it is crucial to focus on what people are looking for - follow his story below.
How did CasinoNieuws.nl take off?
We started building the site about a year ago with the goal of becoming the number one source for casino news in the Netherlands. With a market about to get regulated, it seemed to be the perfect time to launch something that brings reliable and unbiased news on casinos and gambling.
Tell us a bit more about your business model, concept, and culture.
I strive to bring reliable and well-sourced news from the casino industry as well as news focused on the consumers. My philosophy is that if you like a subject enough to google something related to it, it's not just desultory news but also welcome some in-depth articles. So, I bring both news about someone winning a million on a jackpot and write about take-overs and mergers.
What sets you apart from other affiliates?
I'm as honest as can be when it comes to everything related to gambling. I'm upfront on the chances people have when playing certain games and stay away from hyping up games or casinos just because it might give me an extra dollar here or there. I even go a step further: in every aspect of the site, I focus on the recreational players who are well aware that there's such a thing as a house edge and that they're going to lose in the long run. I'm fully compliant with everything in the Dutch gambling laws and will only work with licensed casinos. Many affiliates in the casino market take a different approach to working with unlicensed partners and promoting games. But I want to do everything by the book and be open and honest.
What makes your traffic proposition/traffic sites unique?
The traffic that comes through my site is well-read and looking for something particular. That is valuable, of course, as they are the people who know how to deposit, know what games they want to play, and understand how casinos work.
What importance do you give to responsible gaming?
It's of the utmost importance to me. First: I share the feeling that gambling is something that has its darker sides. The product I'm "selling" has its dangers, and people need to be aware of them. I think anyone running a responsible business should pay attention to that. In the Dutch gambling laws, the responsible gaming element has been the cornerstone since day one.
Secondly, no one can run a business on people with a gambling problem; neither casinos nor affiliates. I wouldn't dare show my face at a family gathering if I actively targeted people who have problems controlling themselves. I actively try to stay away from anything that can get recreational players to become problem gamblers.
Having said all that: I do feel people have their responsibility. I run an honest website with factual information, but it's up to the visitors to read it and make their decisions.
What helps make your performance successful?
I'm still starting, so we'll have to see what works and what doesn't, and we'll see if the performance turns out as successful as I envision it. Call me back in a year, and we'll see. I believe there's room for an honest news website that uses sound sources and shares them as well. I believe running news articles results in a credible position in the market, something that the search engines value. We'll see if I'm right.
Which markets do you focus on, and do you see any potential in the emerging markets?
I solely focus on the Dutch regulated market. The new law came into effect on April 1st, and the first regulated online casinos are starting operation on October 1st in the Netherlands. These are exciting times. The entire market is emerging as there has been no regulated market here before, and the grey market has had restrictions for the last couple of years.
Which niches work best for your affiliate marketing, and which are the most profitable? How did you find your most profitable niche?
As I'm still starting, there are still a lot of things that I need to figure out and learn. I love writing about land-based casinos like anything related to Las Vegas, but it remains to be seen if that's as interesting to my audience. I love writing in-depth interviews and features about subjects that don't get as much attention elsewhere. I'll keep you updated if that's working out for me.
Do you create all the marketing material you need to promote in-house, or do you outsource it?
I create most things myself as I have enough experience with design to make it work and I have access to a library of existing content that comes in handy. I also was lucky enough to get granted access to Holland Casino Amsterdam for two full days of photography, so I have a whole private library of high-res photos from all sorts of gambling games. I can't thank Holland Casino enough for working with me when I had nothing to show for yet.
How important is social media activity for your affiliate business? How difficult is it with Google's constant updates?
You should have someone dedicated specifically to social media. Often – and I too have been guilty of that sentiment in the past – people think it's something you can do on the side. Just tweet that article or put that photo on Instagram. I don't have the resources to focus on social media entirely, so I do post every now and then without a clear vision or strategy. In time, that'll change, and I'll get more focused on it.
The Google Updates are always on your mind as they can make or break you. But Google's ultimate goal is to get the best pages as high as possible, so I strive to make the best pages and write about things people want to know. Of course, there are a million tricks you can try, and a lot of them work. Till they don't anymore. When I'm writing about blackjack – for example – I'm just starting with a list of what people wonder about when they google the term blackjack and go from there. I'll use structured data to make it as easy as possible for Google to find it, but the visitor is always vital when creating a page.
Subsequent to what I said before, a focus on what people are looking for is crucial – I believe. News articles will result in good backlinks. Substantial pieces will result in people finding what they're looking for, resulting in a longer time-on-site and generating stronger leads for my partners. There are millions of articles written and videos published on SEO and affiliate marketing, and there's a lot to learn, but in the end, nothing beats a focus on the visitor. That's what it all boils down to, I think.
How does technology play a part in your day-to-day?
The decision on the platform/CMS was crucial. The decision for a platform I was already familiar with and that already has a massive library of plugins influences me every day. So far, I have not run into any insurmountable boundaries.
Which emerging technologies like AI and big data will impact the affiliate industry in 2021 and beyond?
I'm a small fish in a large pond. I don't have delusions of grandeur. AI and big data interest me a lot, and I have only scratched the surface of seeing what it's capable of in the field I operate in. I think the pushback on it in the form of regulation will impact me more than the possible upsides since I'm such a small player right now. Tracking cookies and pixels are interesting elements, but I don't benefit significantly from using them and they are not my focus in the stage of my site that I'm in.
What can you tell us about the Gambling Laws and Regulations in the Netherlands?
After years and years of debating, the law passed in February 2019. After some delays, the law came into effect on April 1st, and the license application process started. In six months , i.e., October 1st, we'll see the first regulated online casinos. Holland Casino, the state-owned land-based casino operator with a monopoly on table games, is poised to become a significant player. When it comes to online casinos, most of the usual suspects will only be allowed to enter the market a bit later, giving the incumbents a head start.
The Kansspelautoriteit, the regulator, has its work cut out for them. We'll see how they combat unregulated casinos and what will happen when it comes to marketing. Industry experts expect a tsunami of marketing, which might cause some pushback from more conservative folks in my country.
One interesting thing is that in the Netherlands, there are no B2B licenses. The B2C operators are the ones applying for a license, and they're responsible for all the partners they work with. That means not just software providers, for example, but also affiliates. We'll see how the operators handle that responsibility and what that means for more rogue affiliates.
What does it take for an affiliate business to thrive?
I worked for PokerNews for 13 years, my last few years as the head of content for the .com portal. I got there not because I studied marketing or because I was an affiliate guru, but because I knew everything there was to know about poker. I started because I was a poker fan, not good enough to make it a professional. I learned along the way.
I wouldn't call them mistakes, but there is a lot of stuff I would have done differently with PokerNews had I known what I know now about the affiliate and SEO side of things.
A combination of both in-depth knowledge about the subject you're site is about, and knowledge about the affiliate side of things is critical when running an affiliate site. Only knowing affiliate stuff might work for some industries – I don't know – but when it comes to gambling, I genuinely believe you need to know your stuff. Having been to countless land-based casinos and having played online myself helps me every day running the site. Knowing enough about development, affiliate marketing, and SEO to communicate on a decent level with the developers and writers is elemental in making a site a success. But again, whether I'm correct or not, remains to be seen.
What are your predictions for the future of the sector?
The Netherlands is one of the last markets in Europe to become regulated, so there are many other countries we can look at to get an idea. The market will open with a bit of a bang as the first casinos all try to get their market share. With some of the bigger online casinos joining later because of the so-called cooling down period – that wave (or tsunami, if you will) of marketing might be a bit longer than in surrounding countries. That could result in pushback from some political parties that use disgruntled reactions as justification to bring their aversion to (online) gambling to the forefront again. So I expect online gambling to be a hot topic, even though we're just regulating the industry here in the Netherlands.
The land-based casinos will make some mistakes trying to make the transition to online. Some will fall, some might be forced to merge. The incumbents benefit from going in with many of the heavy hitters forcibly late to the market, but it remains to be seen if they can find a spot for themselves in the market. Some are drawing dead – to keep in gambling sayings. There are some companies spending thousands right now with little chance of success. A lot of it comes down to attracting people with the know-how of the business, and not all seem to realize that.
How do you choose your operators, and how do you manage relationships with multiple operators?
That's easy: I want to work with all companies that obtain a license. The requirements as set out by the regulator derived from the gambling law are very strict. I don't have to worry about doing my due diligence, as the vetting they subjected themselves to when applying for a license is very heavy. If they don't get a license, I don't want to be affiliated with them either. It's that easy.
The market hasn't opened yet, so I'm not working with the operators on that level right now. That will change on October 1st, of course, but the number of licensees in my country will be manageable.
I'm already talking to some future licensees. Others I already know from my time with PokerNews, so that makes things easy.
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?
I have never been to one before, but I plan on going to Dubai if COVID-19 permits it.
Tell us a bit about yourself—after all; business is done with people, not just companies! Your hobbies, favorite book, favorite quote, whether you are into gaming yourself, etc.
I'm 37 years old, and I live in the small Dutch town of IJsselstein, close to Utrecht. I'm married to my beautiful wife Annelies, and we have a son of 1.5 years old: Jop.
I used to watch a lot of movies and TV shows and game a little, but having started CasinoNieuws.nl has prevented me from spending a lot of time on that. My son and his refusal to sleep full nights also contributed to that fact. My absolute favorite movie is Heat, but there are a lot of movies I’ve seen a ton of times. Rounders, Casino Royale, The Rock, and Man on Fire come to mind. I won’t call them guilty pleasures as I’m not ashamed of liking them. I’m a huge fan of the Uncharted games and used to play GoldenEye and Mario Kart 64 religiously back when I was younger.
I used to gamble a bit before I discovered poker. I played a fair bit of poker myself but soon found out I wasn't good enough to make it as a professional poker player. The actual strategy and math part of it wasn't something I could overcome (though I was hardly the next LLinusLLove), but the emotional toll was what truly did me in. The joy of winning wasn't enough to me to make up the melancholy I felt when I was losing. I got lucky meeting the professional player, Menno Vlek, who eventually introduced me to Noah Boeken and Jordy Veenboer, who were running the Dutch PokerNews site. Through some bluffing and a lot of hard work, I went to Vegas to the WSOP for them, and the rest is history. I've been to poker tournaments all over the world and visited casinos on all continents that have one. I enjoy writing about the world of gambling but hardly play myself. When I'm in Vegas, I'll try to play some poker, but I'll mostly stay away from the pit. Being in casinos as often as I've been, it's a good idea not to gamble yourself too much.
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