Konstantin U, CEO and Founder at Vseprosport Ltd , joins the latest series of affiliate interviews on Affiliate Grand Slam
Starting vseprosport.ru as a hobby, it is now a leading betting tips website in Russia and CIS, with 1 million unique visitors on peak of the football season - follow Konstantin U's story below.
How did your affiliate business take off? And, is iGaming your only vertical?
I joined the iGaming industry in 2008 when I joined Betfair in Malta. From a customer service agent, I grew to Marketing manager for Russia and CIS. After Betfair, I worked as a country manager for bet-at-home and Rivalo. I also worked in Catena Media for a few years.
Being a sport fan and knowing everything about sports, in 2013 I decided to start a betting tips website and a friend of mine helped me to build it. At the beginning, it was a sort of a hobby for me. At that time, I had a full-time job and I worked on this website from home. Being an expert in football, tennis, and ice-hockey I was writing the content myself and at the same time, I was slowly learning about SEO.
Eventually, my website started making some money so I could hire content writers to increase content and invest money in SEO and development.
Nowadays, vseprosport.ru is a leading betting tips website in Russia and CIS with 1 million unique visitors on peak of the football season.
How is your company structured, and what aspect of business development are you currently focused on?
Currently, we have over 40 people working on the project. We have teams in Russia, Ukraine, and Armenia. Our main office is in Moscow where we have key people there. Our main focus is on the product and UX now.
What can operators do to increase support with affiliates?
For my opinion, operators need to focus more on building relationships with affiliates and understand specifics of every affiliate. Operators with whom we have good relationships and trust, in general, have better exposure on our website. It also depends on professional qualifications of affiliate managers. Sometimes, lack of understanding of our industry and its specifics by affiliate managers prevents from getting good exposure by their operator. Let me give you an example. Our website is something between affiliate website and media website. We don’t just have organic search traffic, but over the years we managed to build a brand. In fact, we have 75% of returning users to our website. We have very loyal audience who reads our content (i.e., average session duration is around 4 minutes and each session has on average 4-page views). Operators can get not just FTDs, but huge brand awareness with us. But you have to understand this value and pay extra for this. Some operators understand this and we have long-term relationships with them. But some measure everything in FTDs and try to get as much exposure as possible by offering just revenue share deal. It doesn’t work that way. They must have basic understanding between an SEO website which ranks on brand keywords, and a website with quality unique content with loyal audience. Unfortunately, many affiliate managers don’t see this difference.
How can affiliates be more unique in their approach?
You need to give users some added value. You need to create content for users, not for Google, and build trust with them so they come back to your website.
What makes your traffic proposition/traffic sites unique?
As I already mentioned, on our website operators can get huge brand awareness (we are talking about 9-10 million of page views per month). Unlike any sport website, all our traffic is 100% betting traffic. So, operators advertise their brand to their target audience only.
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 actually did. In 2018, I have sold half of the business to the biggest Russian affiliate BRL Lab (main product is bookmaker-ratings.ru). With their added expertise we managed to grow our revenues 3 times in 2 years. I didn’t do this for money, I saw it as a potential to grow my business by moving it to the next level.
Which qualities and skills are essential in an affiliate team/business?
First of all, you need to have understanding of product, SEO, and content part of the business.
Secondly, you always need to learn and improve your users’ experience. It’s a never-ending process. When I first hired developers, I thought that they will build me a website and that would be the end of their job. But since then, our development costs never decreased. It has actually increased 3 times in the past few months due to the launch of new design.
Thirdly, you need to know how to build relationships with operators and know how to sell, how to explain value you bring to operators.
What sets you apart from other affiliates?
We are not just an affiliate website which ranks high in Google. We have built the brand in Russia. We have our own ambassadors who give betting tips to our users: ex-football players Roman Pavlyuchenko (Spartak Moscow, Tottenham, Russian national team), Alexander Mostovoi (Spartak Moscow, Celta, Russian national team), Maxim Kalinichenko (Spartak Moscow, Ukraine national team), as well as the famous MMA fighter Alexander Emelyanenko and ex-KHL coach Fedor Kanareykin.
How does technology play a part in your day-to-day?
Technology is our priority. We are building the best product on the market. Apart of web, we have IOS and Android apps. We are always following trends and trying to be the first ones to implement something new for our users. Over the years, I’ve seen many sites disappear from the first page of Google. They never improved their product, or thought about users. Algorithms improves all the time, so we have to improve as well.
Which emerging technologies like AI and big data will impact the affiliate industry in 2020 and beyond?
AI is on our to do list. My business partner has already implemented machine learning technology to his US start up meta.reviews so, we are looking into this as well.
Is the grass greener on the other side - have you considered going down the operator route?
Not really. I am quite happy with what I am doing now. However, if I get a proposal from a serious investor to be part of the ambitious team, I would consider it.
Which markets are you eyeing up as a priority in 2020, and why?
We’ve been quite busy with the current re-design this year. However, we managed to launch websites for Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus. Our plan is to launch African versions of the website by the end of 2020.
How has the fragmentation of regulated markets affected your business? UKGC, Swedish regulator and now also the German regulator is mulling regulating this space.
Well, regulation happened in Russia in 2016 and authorities declared a war against unlicensed operators. If you advertise or have links to offshore operator, your website will be blocked in Russia. This actually worked and major part of affiliates switched to legal operators within months. At the beginning, we all thought that it was the end of the affiliate business. Due to new players’ verification process (you can’t deposit and place a bet until you are fully verified), conversion rate dropped from 30-40% to 10-15%. Though, verification processes have improved a lot, we still see low conversion rates in our market. However, players became more loyal to operators. Churn rate is low. Affiliate business has grown substantially over those years in Russia. Nowadays, we have absolutely transparent business model. Most of the operators can only pay their Russian legal entity, so you have to pay taxes and offset your expenses by placing people on payroll.
How is the Asian market shaping-up for affiliates?
I think the Asian market has great potential and we are looking to launch our website in India next year. But we still have to learn about specifics of those markets. Events like SiGMA Asia will definitely help us.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when starting out?
Well, I have learnt a lot of things over the past 7 years. But the most important is to be user-oriented. User behavior plays a major part in website ranking nowadays. We see that links don’t work as good as they were some years ago.
What’s been your biggest nightmare to date?
We have two search engines in Russia: Google and Yandex. They have different algorithms. So, you have to choose different SEO strategies for each search engine.
What are the main challenges for the sector in 2020?
Very high competition. We even see some operators investing enormous amounts of money in their affiliate websites, making it very hard to compete with them.
What are your predictions for the future of the sector?
It will continue to grow but competition will increase even more. We will not only need to compete in search results but also against PPC websites. This might dramatically affect our margins.
How do you manage relationships with multiple operators?
We don’t have many operators in Russia. There around 20 betting sites and only half of them are actively doing acquisition. I personally take care of all our operators.
What are the benefits of attending large iGaming events, and what can they do better?
Sharing the experience with other affiliates. Building relationships with operators. Getting insights.
When you personally meet operators, it’s 100% more beneficial for both parts of the business. You are not only getting better deals, but also, building trust.
Have you ever been to SiGMA? Would you consider attending SiGMA Manila or SiGMA Malta at some point?
I’ve been many times to SiGMA Malta since I live here. I’ve been also to the Affiliate Grand Slam twice (in Tallinn and in Kiev). I had plans to visit SIGMA Manila this year before COVID hysteria ruined it. I am also looking forward to SIGMA Africa and SIGMA America since we have plans to launch our product in both regions.
Tell us a bit about yourself - after all, business is done with people, not just companies!
I like to travel. I’ve been to 46 countries so far. My favorite destinations are in Asia – I love nature, food, and SPA there.
What’s on your must-read list right now?
I don’t really have time to read now but I would recommend to read my all-time favorite “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand and “1984” by George Orwell. “The Song of Ice and Fire” is also very recommended, it’s so much better than the TV series.
Which quote do you live your life by?
“If you spend your whole life waiting for the storm, you’ll never enjoy the sunshine.”
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About SiGMA Europe - Malta
SiGMA Group has announced the postponement of its Europe summit, which was planned to be held in Malta on 17-19 November 2020. The show will now open its doors early next year in February, running from the 16-18th, making it the first event to headline the 2021 gaming calendar.