SiGMA Affiliate Grand Slam: Taras Khomenko

Taras Khomenko, Project Manager of Poker. ua, joins the latest series of affiliate interviews on Affiliate Grand Slam.

At Poker. ua, Taras Khomenko and the rest of the team mainly focus on newcomers as they want to present online poker to as many people as possible. Their professional and easy-to-use content written by poker players is what sets them apart from the others – follow his story below.

How did you get in the affiliate business? What is your experience?

It was actually by chance. In 2015, an old friend of mine was putting a team together for his new job and offered me to try something new. I had no experience in SEO and in gambling in general. He showed me the potential of this job and this niche, so I decided to give it a go. I started as a junior SEO and link-builder and we started several websites for the most popular and challenging European markets. I eventually became an SEO Team Lead.

Having spent almost 5 years in that company, I needed a breath of fresh air. That’s when I was offered a position of Project Manager at Poker.ua. It was an old project that needed improvements and attention. This was a very timely offer, since the legalisation of gambling in Ukraine was almost certain, and that opened some truly amazing opportunities for the market. Working in the new GEO, running a website where I understand the language, trying my hand on a regulated market – that was the fresh air I needed!

Tell us a bit more about your business model, concept, and culture.

At Poker.ua, we mainly focus on newcomers – the people who are just starting their path in online poker. We want to present online poker to as many people as possible. We show our visitors different sides of online poker. On one hand, online poker is a sport, it is a form of entertainment.

On the other hand, it isn’t about pure luck, like in the casino – it’s a skill, that you have to train. Should you want to find out about some rules of a specific poker type or read more about certain card combinations, we will give you the theory with some suitable examples. Should you want to play by yourself or with your friends, we will provide thorough reviews of the best poker rooms for you to decide where to apply your knowledge.

We also provide a huge list of free-rolls (including exclusive ones for our visitors), where the players can try their hand without putting any money into it. And if players want to make some money on online poker, they have to take it seriously, learn, study the strategies, read specific books, as well as use some software to become a pro. We cover all of that information in an easy-to-understand, yet very professional language.

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

Content is king! It always was and it always will be. We have a professional team of writers and editors. What sets us apart and what I think is key here is that all of the editorial office members are poker players. From an SEO point of view, you always struggle to find suitable writers who really understand what they are writing about. Your technical requirements for the article may be perfect, but if you give it to a regular writer who isn’t familiar with the niche, the content will be just a watery text with some keywords in it. The visitors feel that and Google feels it too. In my opinion, professional and easy-to-use content sets us apart from the others.

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

As the domain may suggest, we focus on Ukraine. The website is in Russian, so we do have quite a lot of traffic from Russian-speaking countries. However, our main target market is Ukraine. The competition is not as tough as in Russian and European markets, it is a regulated market now, and that puts us in great position. We are currently looking for media partners (sports, news, etc.) to cooperate with, so we could show online poker to as many potential players as possible. Our main goal is to become the №1 online poker website in Ukraine.

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?

In my opinion, the main change in the SEO world is that it became more difficult for newbies to get onboard. I don’t think that you can start a small website now without the knowledge of the subject, a clear SEO strategy, a substantial team, and a competitive budget, to pass through the leaders of the niche. Most of the successful companies are constantly trying new GEOs, new niches, new approaches, because they have time and funds for that. In the next year or two Google will keep trying to keep as much traffic as possible to themselves. In order to innovate, you should use modern technology like AI and big data, if you want to be at least one step ahead.

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

Social media is a must nowadays, I think. Especially when the market is regulated, you can legally show and advertise your content to huge amounts of potential visitors. At Poker.ua we have recently started to grow our Instagram community, and we also have an ambassador (a great poker player Svetarik), who is promoting us on Twitch, Instagram, Telegram, and YouTube.

SEO is a constant fight with Google, but the less risky routes you take, the less you feel the updates.

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

Well, it’s great now, isn’t it? You just need a laptop and good Wi-Fi. Our company doesn’t have an office, everybody is working remotely from several countries, and it’s very easy and comfortable to work from home.

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

Oh, we are at the very beginning of a huge revolution. AI and big data will completely change the industry, and the ones who master these technologies first, will gain huge profits. I’ve heard of some cases in betting where you can create content on the fly using AI, so you don’t need time and writers to create it and post it on the websites. Using big data, you can produce personalised creatives through AI, to make sure the creatives work best for specific groups of your audience. Just think about the cost it takes to maintain a group of designers who constantly produce pictures and GIFs for your Ads for all the football matches, for example. Very soon you will be able to have the creatives immediately and for a fraction of the price! Can you imagine how quickly we will be able to change and adapt?

How can affiliates be more unique in their approach?

Well, they have to find their USP (Unique Selling Point).

The affiliate business is a constant search for these unique selling points, new features, additional value you can come up with.

There is no secret pill that works for all.

How do you manage relationships with multiple operators? What can operators do to increase support with affiliates?

I am a relatively new in the company; I’ve only been here for 12 months. However, the company has long term relationships with all the major operators on the market, which helps with mutual trust and understanding. We are always honest with our partners, we always play the long game, so we have no problems working with multiple operators. In terms of support, we are lucky as we’ve got great partners. However,  in the past years I’ve been in situations where the affiliate manager fails to reply to you in weeks.

That is very disappointing, and I’m pretty sure that great operators understand the value of the traffic that is brought by affiliates.

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 in 2018. It’s been a great experience, fun wise and business wise. I’ll definitely visit it again this year, if the situation permits!

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 don’t have a lot to say here, I’m just a regular guy. I spend most of time at home with my wife and my kid. Occasionally, I go out with my friends for a beer or a football game. And I do enjoy having friends and family at home for a barbecue.