Christiaan Bollen, Founder of Goedgekeurde Goksites, joins the latest series of affiliate interviews on Affiliate Grand Slam.
Christiaan Bollen, in addition to being highly focused on his Goedgekeurde Goksites, is also giving SEO consultancy with Boljoro. Knowing the language and understanding the culture is a huge advantage for his affiliate business – follow his story below.
How did your affiliate business take off? And, is iGaming your only vertical?
In 2012 while I was working full time as a software developer, I started building a Flemish affiliate website in my free time. It was right after they legalized online gambling in Belgium. The website grew fast and I decided to also create a French version of the website. After about 8 months, the website had such good results that I decided to quit my fulltime job and become self-employed.
With my company Boljoro, the point was to do software/web development and be an affiliate. In the end I did not do that much development for customers, 90% of the time went into my own affiliate websites.
As I mainly focused on getting traffic from Google I had to learn more about SEO. Over the years I have learned a lot, visited many SEO conferences and did a lot of networking. After so many years of SEO experience, I now also offer SEO consultancy to customers with my company Boljoro.
Being an affiliate is still my main business after all these years, it is about 80% of my work. iGaming is the only vertical as affiliate. My 2 first websites, https://www.goedgekeurdegoksites.be and https://www.jeuxdecasinoapprouves.be are still my best performing websites. They are getting outdated and I am currently working on renewing them. Goedgekeurde Goksites means approved gambling websites in Dutch/Flemish and Jeux de Casino Approuvés is the French translation. It is always difficult for people that don’t speak Dutch but it works well for my Belgian target audience.
How did you first get into the affiliate space? And, were you always focused on the Gaming space?
It started as a teenager in high school, a friend was having some affiliate websites and I also tried it. It was a good learning school for building websites and web development.
Serious business only started after I finished university and was working. When I was bored in my free time, I started building websites again. In Belgium online gambling just got legalised and I thought it was a good idea to give people an overview of where they could gamble legally.
It was just a hobby and I never imagined that I could earn my income as an iGaming affiliate.
How is your company structured, and what aspect of business development are you currently focused on?
It is a one-man company. I use freelancers for things like content and translation.
Sometimes I think about hiring employees and grow my company. But it will give me less freedom and more responsibilities.
There is still a chance that I will hire employees, but I have not taken the “big step” yet.
What can operators do to increase support with affiliates?
Better communication and honouring their promises would be a good start. There are big differences between the operators.
Some operators lack transparency. I understand they do not want to give us all their data but sometimes it is hard to trust the data they give us.
How can affiliates be more unique in their approach?
Affiliates can provide their content in different ways to visitors. However, sometimes legislation makes it hard.
For example, I was working on a nice bonus overview on my website and then the Belgian Gambling Authorities made a new rule that bonusses could only be promoted on the website of the providers. Afterwards they made it even worse and now providers can not even give bonusses to players.
Which markets do you focus on and do you see any potential in the emerging markets?
Belgium is my focus as it is the country I was born in and lived in until 5 years ago. I think it is easier to give content to visitors in your own language and culture.
5 years ago, I moved to Spain. Now that I have a good feeling with the culture and language, it will be easier to also make a site for Spain.
As most people I see potential in emerging markets. Soon I want to investigate Latin America, as a big part of it is in Spanish and it makes it easier. Portuguese might also be an option, at least it is kind of understandable if I see the texts in contrast to the Asian market, where I cannot even read the characters.
In new markets, local writers are a must for good content, but it is hard to find a good and reliable writer. It gives more comfort when you at least have some idea of what they are writing.
What makes your traffic proposition/traffic sites unique?
Most visitors come from Google so they are people that are really searching for gambling. They usually convert good.
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 have considered both growing and selling. Especially if you see some of the amounts that they pay for affiliate websites it can be tempting. But in the end, I earn a lot of money every year and in the long term I will earn more by keeping the websites, keep growing, and keep generating money.
Which qualities and skills are essential in an affiliate team/business?
Especially in the beginning of a website you need patience. Traffic will not just come to your website from day one, it takes time. Once you start building up and grow, your database of players will also grow and so will the revenue.
What sets you apart from other affiliates?
I have a strong focus on 1 legalised market. Also, for future websites I want to have a good knowledge of the market and culture before I go into the market. That is why I choose Spain for my next project.
How does technology play a part in your day-to-day?
I always had a big interest in technology. Already as a kid I read technology magazines. It continued in my studies in Applied Computer Sciences and Application Development.
Technology is a big part of my business now and I also keep up with technology news every day.
Which emerging technologies like AI and big data will impact the affiliate industry in 2020 and beyond?
At this moment technologies like AI and big data might be used for betting odds. But there are not many affiliates that do useful things with these technologies. Probably in the future as technologies like AI get more advanced it might be more useful.
Is the grass greener on the other side – have you considered going down the operator route?
I am a one-man business. Becoming an operator is a big operation if you want to do it good. For now, I am happy as an affiliate.
Which markets are you eyeing up as a priority in 2020, and why?
2020 is a difficult year with the Covid-19 pandemic. My priority stays in Belgium this year. Especially with the removal of bonusses it is getting difficult, so I must do some extra effort.
How has the fragmentation of regulated markets affected your business? UKGC, Swedish regulator and now also the German regulator is mulling regulating this space.
Since the start of my business in 2012 I have only been in the regulated Belgian market.
How is the Asian market shaping-up for affiliates?
Other affiliates and providers say that it is a good market with a lot of potential. I do not have experience with it. I find it difficult to create websites that have content in very different languages with different characters. That is why I prefer the LATAM market.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when starting out?
Do not be scared to try, just go for it.
What are your predictions for the future of the sector?
What’s been your biggest nightmare to date?
A complete ban of online gambling in Belgium is what I fear the most.
More legislation, which can be good if proportional. But it can also destroy the market.
The legislators should keep in mind to give operators some freedom, otherwise players will end up in the black market which is worse for them.
How do you manage relationships with multiple operators?
I prefer meeting in person, it is a big difference with online contact. Usually we do this at the conferences. During the rest of the year we mainly keep contact over email and skype. Sometimes we meet for dinner or other events.
What are the benefits of attending large iGaming events, and what can they do better?
For me this is related to the previous question, the main benefit is meeting with my existing partners. Also meeting with other affiliates is nice. Not only for fun but also to exchange ideas.
Another benefit is that it is easier to find new partners and learn.
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 wanted to go to SiGMA Malta for some years already, but it is always close to an SEO conference that I attend every year. In 2020, I did attend the SiGMA online conferences.
As I always visited many conferences and travelled a lot, I really missed it in 2020. Hopefully, we will be able to attend conferences again in 2021. It will depend on the effectiveness and availability of vaccines. I really hope I will be able to travel again in 2021 and if my schedule allows it I plan to visit all 4 conferences.
Tell us a bit about yourself – after all, business is done with people, not just companies!
5 years ago, I moved to Barcelona. A great city with a nice atmosphere, food, and people. I love traveling and usually I combine this with attending a conference. Next to iGaming and affiliate conferences I mainly go to SEO conferences. At these SEO conferences I learn and network a lot which is a big advantage in my work as affiliate.
Which quote do you live your life by? Very short: “Enjoy life”.