SiGMA Affiliate Grand Slam: Roman Matusevich

Roman Matusevich, Co-Founder of eGamingLeads, joins the latest series of affiliate interviews on Affiliate Grand Slam.

Roman Matusevich and the team of eGamingLeads play fair, they learn from their competitors, do their best to avoid mistakes, and run fast. Competition motivates them. Moreover, they are very proactive – follow his story below.

How did eGamingLeads take off? Were you always focused on Gaming?

That’s a good question. We have always focused on SEO as the traffic source, and online gaming has been one of our top verticals (with credit cards/loans and financial services). I remember, in 2008 we discovered online poker, which was growing and getting more and more popular. Online poker was the first niche in online gaming for us. Our primary market was CIS/Russia, and poker was considered as a sport, not gambling. There were a few popular affiliate programs, so we joined and launched several websites in that niche, just to test it. And we succeeded.

Later we added other verticals and GEOs, and e-gaming has become one of our top verticals. We don’t have any poker sites anymore. Unfortunately, online poker has become less attractive for players, and for us as affiliates as well. But there are other niches & GEOs. At the moment we are looking forward to launching new sites in sports betting niche targeting Africa, Brazil, and some Asian countries.

Tell us a bit more about your company’s structure, business model, concept, and culture. What is your strategy for the future?

We position eGamingLeads as our affiliate business in online gaming. For other verticals we use different names/companies for better positioning. In fact, we are going to transfer all our assets in online gaming niche to eGamingLeads, but the process hasn’t finished yet. Our idea is to build a business, which would be able to compete with ‘the bigger guys’ in the industry.

The term ‘virtual agency’ can be applied to our current business model. We are a small team, who work in three different countries. This team is responsible for management, finance, and strategy. We outsource a lot.

We focus on SEO, and we try to target markets with either moderate competition or high potential for growth. We focus on positive ROI and keep costs under control. We avoid ‘overheated’ markets to save resources and increase our chances to stay profitable & grow. We are kind of SEO Wall-Mart at their early stage. You know, when they started, they focused on small towns. Step by step, they grew big. This is what we are doing with our affiliate business.

Tell us a bit more about your different products and sites.

At the moment we operate 50+ of websites. Some of them are big enough and worth to be mentioned here, like BedsteOnlineCasinoer in Denmark, but there are so many relatively small websites in 20+ GEOs, which are not big enough to be mentioned, but all together they generate nice figures both in traffic and revenue. All our projects are review sites.

Which markets do you focus on and are you targeting any new markets? Do you see any potential in the emerging markets?

We own sites in GEOs like Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands, Portugal, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Brazil, etc. Emerging markets are looking very attractive. Testing new markets is a part of our strategy. Usually, we start with a few mini websites to test potential of a particular GEO / keyword cluster (niche). If we are happy with the results, we invest more to grow bigger in that particular GEO/niche.

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?

Competition is fierce, and M&A is a very reasonable way to grow… or to sell your business if you have a decent offer. But, I suppose, we are not ready for M&A at the moment. We still have some potential to grow, and we prefer partnerships instead of attracting an investor. This is how we reduce costs even more and get better deals instead of selling a stake. When we grow bigger, I think M&A can be an option.

What sets you apart from other affiliates?
What helps make your performance successful?
What makes your traffic unique?

We are a relatively small business, to be honest. And to be able to swim with sharks, we should be smart. By smart I mean strategy, and by strategy, I mean being different from the crowd. We are proactive. We need to be a step forward our bigger competitors, so we can enter some unpopular markets earlier or target some keyword clusters before they become popular. I remember my first website was about iPhone, and I launched it as soon as Apple announced their plan to enter the smartphone market. It was more than 14 years ago… In iGaming we use the same tactics. We keep our costs under control to achieve a positive ROI.

In SEO it is a common practice to copy your competitor’s strategies, link profiles, etc. But often it doesn’t work as expected. Understanding of what really works and what doesn’t work can be a valuable competitive advantage. After all, being different can help you to outrank you competitors faster and/or at a less cost. We play fair, learn from our competitors, do our best to avoid mistakes, and run fast. Competition is a good motivator for us. SEO is like sports. We work hard, keep costs under control, and perform better. Turning to the last question, probably, our traffic isn’t unique, but we have always focused on high-value traffic; i.e., we don’t like ‘free’ stuff, but ‘real money’ and similar are our favorite keyword groups. So, our traffic isn’t unique, but our partners are happy to work with such traffic.

Do you create all the marketing material you need to promote in-house, or do you out-source it?

We have built great relationships with many talented freelancers and agencies. My teammates live and work in 3 different countries, and we work with freelancers/agencies from all over the world.

How important is social media activity for your affiliate business? How difficult is it with Google’s constant updates?

At the moment social media activity isn’t that important for us. We are specialized in SEO, and not so good at social media. I think it is a different business totally. To be able to succeed and make money, we’ll need to set up processes, find people and invest. Instead, we prefer to keep our focus on SEO. It is rumored that social media activity can positively affect SEO. In some niches it can. But in iGaming niche it is not that important. Anyway, we keep an eye on it, and do some testing.

Regarding Google updates, it is not a big problem, actually. If you have a good portfolio of sites, use different approaches to promoting them, and launch new projects on a regular basis, some of your websites may suffer with Google updates, but others may gain boost. Often it looks random, so diversification helps.

A couple of questions about SEO: (i) How did SEO change in the last few years and what should one expect in the next year or two? (ii) How can SEO experts innovate and remain ahead of the curve in such a fast-paced vertical?

Thank you! I like to answer questions about SEO! SEO hasn’t changed that much in the iGaming niche, but the iGaming niche has changed a lot. Market changes affect competition; i.e., problems with the local Russian online gambling market force experienced affiliates with good SEO skills and even big teams look for diversification. This factor affects demand for services, and prices go up. The number of websites launched has also increased, so chances to rank higher decrease, if you don’t work hard and invest in your projects to make them better. Another trend is regulation. On regulated markets more operators can benefit from media buying, and we see a lot of Google AdWords in SERPs, which decrease the amount of traffic SEO affiliates can get from there.

As to your second question, my answer is: be proactive. It may sound too simplified, but as I have previously explained, it is important to understand your market, trends, and your own strengths and weaknesses.

And here are a few things, that are important for today’s SEO:

  1. Intent is still the king, and the structure of your content is important. Probably even more important, than ‘quality’.
  2. CTR is important, so we work a lot with our snippets and experiment with Schema markup.
  3. Link velocity is very important.
  4. Links with anchor texts / non-anchor link ratio. Unnatural link profiles win more often, than excepted (not in every GEO). (Almost) no-anchor links profiles have shown also good results lately.
  5. Fast site = more money, so your site’s speed is important. We also test how fast our redirects for affiliate links, especially for multilingual sites. It should be fast enough for any visitor from any GEO.
How has the fragmentation of regulated markets affected your business?

In general, regulation is a good idea, but it is difficult to balance all interests to make everyone happy. Gaming regulators, players, operators – there will be someone who isn’t happy about the changes. And affiliates are not taken into consideration, I am afraid. For our business, working on regulated markets means more costs to keep our sites compliant with local regulations. So, the good point we can continue working there. But it is not that profitable as it used to be in the past. The trend for regulation will speed up M&A in iGaming, especially in affiliation. On the other hand, new opportunities will arise.

How does technology play a part in your day-to-day?

We all work online, using lots of different services to make our work more effective, reduce our costs and increase our profits. We use all popular SEO services, and sometime create custom solutions to make our life easier; i.e., at the moment we are working on a new bot for Telegram, which would help us to find, examine, and register good domain names automatically on a regular basis.

Which emerging technologies like AI and big data will impact the affiliate industry in 2021 and beyond?

I am afraid I am not very confident in this field. I suppose bigger affiliates who collect a lot of data can benefit from it. However, I don’t think that many SEO-focused affiliates do it at the moment on a regular basis. But your question is good, actually. I’ll talk to my colleagues and AI specialists I know to learn more about it. Maybe we’ll find out how to benefit from it in the future.

Which qualities and skills are essential in an affiliate team/business?

A win-win approach is important. Our business is about creating value for our partners. When you are able to deliver high quality traffic which makes your partners happy, they will be interested in doing business with you. Your payments will be smooth, and you’ll be happy with the stats. You’ll learn more about your partner’s business, and you can negotiate better deal and/or reduce admin fees. It can give you competitive advantage. It can be a good basis for long term cooperation. Trust is essential in our business. There are affiliate managers, I’ve been working with for more than 10 years. A rare case nowadays.

I would like to highlight another important point for a team/business – ability to ‘scale success’. In SEO-focused affiliation it means ability to launch successful projects on a regular basis with a positive ROI, so the business can keep growing.

How can affiliates be more unique in their approach?

There are many ways to be different. On the one hand, we all do similar business. On the other hand, there are different ways to achieve the same or even better results. In SEO-focused business model, probably, content and links – the tip of the iceberg. But there can be different processes standing behind content production, link building and website creation. So, the difference is probably hidden ‘under water’ (research; testing; automatization; finding, hiring, onboarding and motivating talents; incorporation and finance; partnerships; corporate culture, etc.). The difference in the processes lead to different costs to achieve the same results, giving competitive advantage to the better performers.

How do you manage relationships with multiple operators? What can operators and affiliates increase support between themselves?

I’ve been an affiliate for years, so I know in person all my important partners. Maybe except a couple of new ones, which I wasn’t able to meet in person because of travel restrictions during pandemics.

Previously I wrote about a win-win approach. It goes both ways. If you are interested in a partnership, you need to offer something to become interesting as well.

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?

Yes, I’ve been to SIGMA Europe two or three times. Unfortunately, after all major conferences were cancelled in 2020, and there is no certainty about 2021 (I hope for the best for all of us, but with lots of cancelled flights and bookings I gave up and make no plans until summer). In any case, I hope to visit SIGMA Africa, Asia, and Americas in 2022-2023.

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 am a hard-working family man, a dad of 2 kids. In 2020-2021 with being unable to travel as much as I like, I’ve focused on work too much, so my personal plan is finding an exit from this work-work-work pace. A few years ago, I achieved a sailing license, but I still need to master this new skill. This is what I am going to do as soon as possible.

I do not gamble much. I used to play online poker years ago, just to have fun and learn more about the game. A couple of years ago I participated in an offline poker tournament. Sometimes I play slots online, but not often.