Santa Barkēviča, Head of Affiliates and Sales of MyBettingDeals Ltd, joins the latest series of affiliate interviews on Affiliate Grand Slam
Santa Barkēviča and the team of MyBettingDeals Ltd have worked hard during the COVID-19 lockdown and managed to design and build a network of GEO-targeted sites, with each site focusing on one country and vertical - follow her story below.
How did MyBettingDeals take off? And, is iGaming your only vertical?
It all started with an idea in the end of 2018, when few iGaming enthusiasts came together to build a new concept and platform. Our first and main website was finally launched in the summer of 2019. The idea was to cover everything in the iGaming industry in one website to become a gambling Wikipedia. Today, MyBettingDeals provides everything from casino, sports betting, eSports, but also industry-related news, free casino games, brand reviews, and exclusive promotions. iGaming is our only vertical, but we cover everything within it!
What were MyBettingDeals biggest challenges when first starting? What’s been your biggest nightmare to date?
Every start-up business is a big challenge on its own; especially in such a competitive industry. So, we always look for unique products or services in order to stand out from our competitors. The other biggest challenge has been to keep up with Google Updates and how best apply them to collect sustainable traffic and SEO value. More specifically, our “biggest nightmare to date” has been restructuring our website code and architecture from a global approach into a geo-located one.
What helps make your performance successful? What were the main challenges for the sector in 2020, particularly during this pandemic?
What helped us remain successful throughout 2020 during this pandemic, was the fact of not limiting ourselves to one product or country. For instance, last year, while sports - and therefore sports betting - was on hold, we kept on working and achieving in the casino and eSports verticals.
How is MyBettingDeals structured, and what aspect of business development are you currently focused on? What is MyBettingDeals' vision?
Our vision is to be a quality partner for operators, and a first-class, all-inclusive experience for online players. We aim for long-term success and added-value. Here it is worth adding that our group has now also acquired online casinos, a sports betting platform, and is launching new, smaller, and more specific affiliate websites. As mentioned above, we had to restructure our first site to answer to the latest, major Google update that included a focus on GEO-location. This gave us the idea to develop new sites to cater for specific countries that showed potential on MyBettingDeals but were underlooked.
What sets you apart from other affiliates?
Nowadays, it's really hard to be unique, but it's not impossible of course. Firstly, we pay attention to what players are passionate about. Our team loves casino games as much as them and each post reflects this passion and expertise. The result being that our readers won't be finding generic gaming tips, but all the information that matters the most to them. It's also worth noting that we recruit experts from the countries we focus on. Furthermore, we offer content in various media, from detailed articles and reviews, to video tutorials and free online games.
Which markets are you eyeing up as a priority and why? Do you see any potential in the emerging markets?
We cover worldwide traffic at the moment. Our first focus was the English-speaking market with the https://mybettingdeals.com/ website, with main focus on the USA, the UK, and Canada. But with growing strengths and experience, we moved forward and saw new opportunities. As mentioned above, we started a network of GEO-targeted sites. Putting the COVID-19 lockdown to good use, we designed and built this project. Each site focuses on one country and vertical, like the freshly launched https://casinodeals.co.za/ for casino players in South Africa. For 2021, we are planning to launch one new site per month and are looking at some strong markets, such as Canada, but also smaller and often underlooked ones, such as India.
Which niches work best for MyBettingDeals, and which are the most profitable?
The COVID-19 pandemic has had its influence on our last year results and evidently, we scored higher revenues with casino brands and products. But, since our team covers a wide range of expertise in terms of verticals and countries, we do not limit ourselves. Instead, we seek new opportunities and make them profitable. For instance, we used our long-time collaboration with multiple South African professionals and brands covering this market, to develop an already promising https://casinodeals.co.za/ website. From my end of the business, a steady, long-term partnership is what makes us achieve in multiple niches.
What makes your traffic proposition/traffic sites unique?
I believe our uniqueness comes from the diversity within our team; and our SEO strategy takes advantage of that. Our team's expertise covers various iGaming fields, but more importantly, various markets. We do not only chase traffic shares in crowded markets, we also target those smaller markets that might be overlooked by competitors and for which we benefit from strong expertise and insights. That also helps us be precise with our SEO content plan, hence to create content that interest say market and attracts quality traffic. We also optimize content in various formats to target all SERP features, including FAQs, unique imagery, and videos.
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? Have you considered going down the operator route?
We partially answered this when pointing out that we have already taken down the operator route in addition to our affiliate sites. The https://wootabee.com/ Group now owns 13 online casinos and a sport betting product. Our main focus is still to finalise our own affiliate site software. Rather than M&A, all of this opens additional opportunities for B2B and white label business.
How can affiliates be more unique in their approach?
It's harder to be that unique nowadays. But for me, it's all about good partnerships with operators. There cannot be one great side alone. It's all about team effort, trust in each other and long-term investment from both parts. As well as team effort on the affiliate side with user-minded creative content writers, tech gurus, business brains, and number persons.
Which qualities and skills are essential in an affiliate team/business?
Each skill is unique and essential and, in our team, we value the abilities of each individual, which helps to develop the business. From an affiliate perspective, they are: communication, negotiation, focus not only on creativity but numbers as well, analytic skills, multitasking, and to be in the loop about the industry.
Do you create all the marketing material you need to promote in-house, or do you out-source it?
We do create all marketing material in-house. This includes written content, designs, and videos, but also IT and development. However, we hire many freelancers which helps us cover more market-specific material. We use various third-party tools for tracking results, scheduling CRM campaigns, or editing each site, which all feel time-consuming and redundant to build in-house.
How important is social media activity for your affiliate business? How difficult is it with Google's constant updates?
Social media activity is vital for SEO; therefore, our team builds social profiles for each new launch. However, we have found that the iGaming traffic from it is rather poor and, at the moment, we automate our regular posts instead of creating social media specific content.
Some Google updates have indeed been tougher than others! Looking back at the updates we had to apply accordingly, we also suffered from our rookie level in the game. As we enter our second year of business, we realize that most of Google's future updates will only require but few tweaks from us. Our technical structure and content are now healthy, expert, and trustworthy in the eyes of Google. We avoid any black hat techniques and focus on sustainable SEO strategies.
How does technology play a part in your day-to-day?
With the ever-growing use of mobile devices, we had to place a larger focus on long-tail keywords and questions in our SEO strategy. The idea being to target those potential users who go for voice search rather than the few obvious keywords queries. Furthermore, we prioritize page speed over certain features. Being new in this ultra-technological and competitive world, we had to make some compromises to keep page speed optimized, rather than adding more functionalities that would drastically slow it down. As you know, this is also vital for Google ranking.
Which emerging technologies like AI and big data will impact the affiliate industry in 2021 and beyond?
We have been very involved with AI technologies last year and will continue in 2021. We have been perfecting our content with AI assistance and believe that will continue being a trend in our ever-competitive industry. Additionally, ultra-automation is something we will be digging in more, while maintaining a customer-centric approach. We already mentioned automated social media posts for instance.
How has the fragmentation of regulated markets affected your business? UKGC, Swedish regulator and now also the German regulator is mulling regulating this space.
Market regulations have affected our online casino end of business in obvious ways. The impact is much lesser on our affiliate sites. We had to go through a few updates to be 100% compliant in the UK. Being one of the toughest regulations, we tend to apply some of its requirements to other mature markets or markets in the way of regulation. Additionally, we need to keep up with brand information that might be impacted, such as restricted countries and promotions.
How is the Asian market shaping-up for affiliates?
Our sole experience with Asian markets so far is with India. We benefit from the assistance of local partners and get local insights and tips on the best ways to target and promote in the country.
What are your predictions for the future of the sector?
It's fast growing at the moment. If we take a look at the charts, it still tries to reach the highest point. Here is a question - when is it going to reach it and when are we going to get our stability? Regulations of course are going to impact all this industry and give fewer space for new brands. On the other hand, markets will become more organized, regulations will help understand guidelines better from all perspectives.
What can operators do to increase support with affiliates? Do communication and support with operators meet your expectations? How do you manage your relationship with them?
Good and frequent communication is key to good partnerships between affiliates and operators. Though most of these relationships are great, friendly while professional, some others could be improved. It can be tough for newcomers to get timely answers from bigger brands.
SiGMA Europe, Africa, Asia, or Americas - which of these four expo shows would you likely book on your diary for 2021, COVID-19 permitting?
SiGMA is a “must-do” for anyone working in iGaming. SiGMA Europe is the most reachable expo at the moment, especially in 2021, I guess. But if we take a look back at 2020, the pandemic impacted and changed the way we understand a conference's meaning. From one side, we lose the face-to-face meetings and side events. But on the other end, online conferences proved to open the opportunity for professionals from anywhere, to attend with less time and expenses. The option to attend virtually should remain in addition to the actual conferences in the future.
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 got interested in iGaming when I first moved to Malta. It was all around me and I got to talk with friends who already were involved in it. After some research, I understood it could be an industry for me because it is a dynamic, international place that never sleeps and is full of challenges. In my free time, I devote myself to self-growth, love to travel, explore new places, new cultures, and get to know new people. My soul hobby is motorcycles and Supermoto racing where I can forget about daily work stuff, business management, and just listen to the engine sound, feel the burned tires smell, and just race...
Since the first day of my career, I am directing my way with the quote: “To achieve all that is possible and to accomplish the impossible.”
SiGMA adds Hindi as its 7th language:
SiGMA Group is excited to announce the launch of a 7th language to its website. Users can find all content, including the SiGMA News website, in Hindi. The latest addition to SiGMA’s portfolio of languages will run alongside the recently launched French, Russian, Mandarin, Spanish, and Portuguese content, and aims to cater to SiGMA’s global vision.