Ron Chiti, Editor at Cool Products, joins the latest series of affiliate interviews on Affiliate Grand Slam
By focusing on the design aspect of their websites, Ron Chiti and his team are hoping to make their user experience stand out - follow his story below.
How did your affiliate business take off? And, is iGaming your only vertical?
I had an idea to create https://slotsandtables.com/ which would be a branded affiliate site focusing on games, slot games and casino table games. This wasn’t radical but we’re in the casino vertical for the long-term so building a brand met that vision.
It’s taken many years but we’re slowly finding our feet with it now and I think the future is bright for that site. We have other affiliate sites brewing in the background too, and hopefully we can model the success we’ve had from that site to others.
How did you first get into the affiliate space? And, were you always focused on the Gaming space?
I was introduced to it by a friend who worked in a digital marketing agency. Most of their clients were casinos and he advised that I should give it a go one day as there’s a lot of money in the industry and I’m a smart guy, surely I can take a piece of the pie!
How is your company structured, and what aspect of business development are you currently focused on?
We have our main HQ in Malta which is the brains of the operation, and we outsourced content writing to various contractors in Europe, Indian and the Far East.
Although we know how important content is, we want to switch attention to design and really nail down a great user experience. So our dev and designer have been working together to revamp the website page by page.
What can operators do to increase support with affiliates?
Affiliates have many operators to juggle, the account management side of the business can be overwhelming especially with new releases and bonus changes. Some operators are good at maintaining this information on their affiliate portal but others don’t use it much and rely on Skype to update us.
Trouble is Skype conversations can get convoluted so we’d value operators really using their portal to put as much information as possible so we can allocate staff to log in and pull the information we require.
How can affiliates be more unique in their approach?
Of course, it’s becoming more difficult to be unique. One thing I haven’t seen much of is player interviews and player reviews of casinos. There are reviews written by experts but hardly any written by players, so that would be nice to see.
What makes your traffic proposition/traffic sites unique?
We’ve tried to go after the design and really try to make sure the user experience makes us stand out so we can have players visit us directly because they like the website. I’m afraid content can be very similar across affiliates so it’s difficult to be unique there but being creative with design allows us to be unique.
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 would always welcome additional funding, it seems you can swallow a lot of cash in this industry and fast! A large cash injection would help us push our other affiliate sites and scale every department.
We wouldn’t consider selling at this stage. It would be fun to grow the business into a much larger company first.
Which qualities and skills are essential in an affiliate team/business?
Aside from the vast array needed to build and operate the business, the most essential I would say is to maintain a close relationship with the operators. That way you can get exclusive offers to promote and write about the latest iGaming news stories. Being able to break a story can help get the recognition affiliates need in the industry.
What sets you apart from other affiliates?
Our processes and procedures are very slick. We don’t waste time and waste resources, we run a lean operation which is easy to scale up or down.
We have therefore managed to achieve a lot for a small budget and are willing to move slowly in this way till our revenues significantly increase. When they do our technology and communication platforms will allow for rapid growth without having to re-write or update our processes.
How does technology play a part in your day-to-day?
Having access to collaboration tools means we can work remotely in global teams with almost the same effectiveness as everyone being in the same office.
Payment providers also allow us to pay for resources and services globally meaning we can hunt down the best value from anywhere without restrictions.
So technology plays an essential role, without it, our costs and efficiency would greatly suffer.
Which emerging technologies like AI and big data will impact the affiliate industry in 2020 and beyond?
AI content writers are improving and could play a role to help scale up content at an affordable price. We have tested many of these products but sadly we rejected them all in the end due to the time required to proofread and correct.
So, I think we could be looking at approx 3 years plus before that technology makes a mark on our industry.
Is the grass greener on the other side - have you considered going down the operator route?
Yes, we have considered being operators. The more we looked into it the more we realised the number of players already in it is huge. Of course the same could be said for affiliates, however, the budgets required for being an operator are much greater, and therefore the risk is much greater too.
Perhaps one day if the opportunity presents itself to partner with someone we would take it on.
Which markets are you eyeing up as a priority in 2020, and why?
We have identified Brazil as a potential target market due to its population and increasing wealth. The competition is obviously there but not as fierce as Europe. There are also many writers available who we can communicate with making it fairly easy to create large amounts of the content needed.
How has the fragmentation of regulated markets affected your business? UKGC, Swedish regulator and now also the German regulator is mulling regulating this space.
As affiliates we don’t feel that affected by regulators. There are enough operators out there to still allow us to be in those markets. All we would need to do is add/remove brands from our sites which of course is very easy.
We encourage regulation in iGaming to protect all parties, so we support it and we will adapt if needed to welcome it.
How is the Asian market shaping-up for affiliates?
Japan is a market we have considered. But we’ll need to do more research before making any commitments to enter that market.
With the large population and wealth in the country, it’s kind of obvious. The main question is really how Google behaves over there.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when starting out?
So many things! But the main one is quality. I always used to hear ‘write quality content’ but you only really know what that is much later down the line when you realise most of the content published is not up to scratch! So right from the beginning really go the extra mile on being thorough with the content.
Another one is competition. If a KW is marked as competitive on an SEO tool then be ready for that means, it means don’t bother unless you’ve got a massive team and budget. So know your place and aim for something realistic.
What’s been your biggest nightmare to date?
I guess it has been the reality of how difficult coming into affiliate marketing in the iGaming sector has been. We started off very confident and for the first 8 months to a year of SEO until it started to dawn on us that it’s going to be very difficult to outrank the sites on page 1.
Despite being close to throwing the towel in at that time, we just continued to plod along until one day when it just started to click.
What are the main challenges for the sector in 2020?
The biggest I think is for the smaller affiliates. Many of the big fish are buying up the medium and small fish making it very difficult for newbies to enter the game.
And of course, Google has already had multiple algorithm changes sweeping away many sites that historically used to rank well, so you really need to know SEO 2020 and stop doing SEO 2015 immediately.
What are your predictions for the future of the sector?
More M&A activity for sure and perhaps only a handful of companies controlling the market. This is probably true for many other industries anyway, but until now the dream of being an affiliate, making good money running it from your bedroom was possible. I fear that may longer be the case in the future.
How do you manage relationships with multiple operators?
It’s difficult to find the time to communicate with them as much as we’d like. This is an area we need to improve in as we are too engrossed in the battle with Google to rank higher, we can sometimes forget to keep our relationship strong with operators even though we know how important it is.
What are the benefits of attending large iGaming events, and what can they do better?
The main benefit is meeting our peers in the industry. Of course we like to find new operators to work with and see the faces of those account managers we always Skype with, but exchanging information with others in the same industry is extremely important to us.
Have you ever been to SiGMA? Would you consider attending SiGMA Manila or SiGMA Malta at some point?
Yes I have been to SiGMA twice, both times Malta. Manila is more difficult for me personally because of logistics but would be more interesting for me to see what goes on in that part of the world. Maybe one day soon I’ll be able to jiggle things about to allow me to attend.
Tell us a bit about yourself - after all, business is done with people, not just companies!
My background is in IT management which I fell into naturally because it suits my skill set. I am logical by nature but also a leader, I can’t just sit back and watch, I have too many opinions on how things should work. Painful for my wife mind you because I interfere even when she’s boiling an egg to advise her on how it could be done better!
I’ve recently taken up barbecuing on a serious scale. I have a huge gas one and a charcoal one and almost daily I’ll be experimenting with cooking a massive piece of meat. So if this affiliate malarkey ever ends for me you might find me on YouTube with my own BBQ channel.
What’s on your must-read list right now?
I’ve always had an interest in the financial markets and looking forward to reading ‘Unshakable’ by Tony Robbins. I’ve lost money in the markets in the past so I won’t be repeating the same mistakes. The insights in this book help to explain how the system works and safe ways to invest which sound suited to me.
Which quote do you live your life by?
‘If you think you’ve done enough, do more!’
You can put a lot of blood sweat and tears into something, both personal and in business and think you’ve done enough because you’re tired and reached your limit. But, right at that very moment, you need to think ‘I need to do more’ and that’s what will set you apart and make you stand on the podium.
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