Today, we present this profound interview with Martin Calvert – Marketing Director of ICS-digital and a top specialist in affiliate marketing. Our big friends and partners from Traffic Cake, an affiliate network with exclusive offers for Sports, Casino, and e-Sports, chatted with Martin about Affiliate Marketing and more. They shared the full text exclusively with Affiliate Valley.
Note: The highly informative conversation is divided into 2 parts; The first, which is devoted to ICS-digital, working in iGaming, and prospects of independent affiliates has been covered in this publication. The second part will be published subsequently. Watch this space!
Q: Martin, please tell us about the scope of your company and your current role.
Martin: Yes, for sure. So, my name is Martin. I’m the Marketing Director at ICS-digital and ICS-translate. We are a marketing agency that specializes very much in gaming, casino, sports book, and so on. But we also work a lot outside of gaming, in very competitive industries like finance, travel, law, health – all that kind of stuff. My role mostly, is to market “us” and sometimes get involved in client strategies for SEO, content creation, and so on.
We are one of the largest agencies in the UK, but we also work in over 100 languages worldwide. We work in all markets, so there’s always a lot to do, but we have a very good team working in all these languages every day for SEO, content, translation, localization, and we definitely work very often with affiliates and operators to make life as easy as possible for them.
ICS-translate team. Source: LinkedIn.com
Q: How did you get into the iGaming industry?
Martin: It was a complete accident. So, I was in marketing but on the client side for a number of years, working with technological software – these types of sectors. And then I made the move into the marketing agency world. Marketing agencies often lean into where there is most demand, and one of the most demanding, competitive industries for SEO is definitely gambling. So, as soon as I started in that sector, it was inevitable that gambling, sports books, casinos and all of these areas would come along as well.
So that’s how it happened, and I’ve been working in the industry now for, probably, six or seven years. So you know, it flew by quickly. It’s not something I ever planned, but it’s an industry I really enjoy.
Although, as you know, it’s a very competitive industry where quality matters. So traffic, which is something you guys (Traffic Cake) focus on a lot, is vital for operators to thrive. From our side of things, it’s the quality of the SEO and content that will get traffic passed on to operators in the first place. So, everyone’s interested in traffic and how to engage relevant audiences.
But yeah, I agree, it’s amazing how life takes you on different turns.
Q: When it comes to choosing brands or partners that you plan to work with, what are the most important qualities you look for?
Martin: Well, for us, we’re an organization like any other. We choose partners based on our own requirements, so we look at case studies, how trustworthy they are, testimonials, and value of course.
But when we are advising partners on potential collaborators, we recommend that they look at what the footprint of the prospective partner is in the business landscape. In an industry like gambling, there are a lot of people who claim they can deliver certain things or pretend that they have experience, but really, it’s a very specific industry. It’s a place where you’ve got to understand what audiences want and be able to anticipate their requirements.
So, when it comes to picking a partner, it’s really making sure they really know what they’re talking about so you can have confidence in them. I think that’s the basis of a really good partnership.
Q: Yeah, absolutely. This information is crucial. Ok, so how would you describe the core pillars of a solid promotional strategy from a digital marketing perspective?
Martin: It’s a really good question and a big one too. I think lots of people would have different answers.
I think, if you are an operator, the main thing will be the affiliate channel –that’s always going to be there to give that predictability of traffic and control of cost. They’re paying out based on typically modest cost per lead or cost per acquisition, or some element of RevShare, where there’s no up-front risk to the operator. So, I think the affiliate channel is here to stay. It’s going to be growing in different markets; it’ll have to change depending on different legal jurisdictions and so on, but it’s always going to be one of the pillars.
I think also for operators, they’ve got to look at their own internal SEO. So rather than give everything over to affiliates, there are certain things that they might want to control themselves like ranking for brands, ranking for particularly big games, especially ones that they’ve made themselves. If they’re a sports-focused brand, it would be particularly big events where they have their own content experts or point of view. This is what we see with people like Paddy Power, for example, or in the States with very big brands like MGM or Caesars; they’re going to want to maintain their visibility as a powerhouse in the industry.
So, Affiliate Channel, SEO and I guess related to both of these is Content. It’s the quality of the content, how you express yourself and how you get people excited about your offers. Because when it comes to sports, the odds are going to be pretty similar. For example, casinos are increasingly offering very similar games, even the same games! So when players are looking at where they want to spend their money or spend their time, it’s better to have content that really shows enthusiasm, that makes the experience – the user experience, the customer experience – a really positive thing.
So that’s when the best companies will do that in multiple languages, for multiple audiences, to make everybody feel welcome.
And I don’t know what the fourth pillar would be. I guess, customer service.
You know, once you have these clients, these customers, it’s about how you make them happy. So good payouts, fast payouts, easy to engage, on mobile – all these things that make life easy. A frictionless experience where possible. And that will help the word-of-mouth reputation.
I’m sure other people will say brand is really important, but I think unless you are a really, really big player, like the Coca Cola of betting or whatever, I think these other things are probably more important. There are ways to stand out and represent yourself without investing in a huge brand strategy. Although, like we said, reputation is key.
So I would say Affiliation, SEO, Content and Customer service: these are probably the four pillars I would come up with.
Martin Calvert speaking at iGB Live in Amsterdam. Source: LinkedIn
Q: Those are excellent points. And customer service is a theme that makes everyone happy in every industry, I guess.
Martin: For sure. I think it’s one thing that’s easy to forget about, because people could be so focused when they launch a new brand. They think from an inside–out point of view. But the outside–in view is more important; that’s when things get real. And your reputation isn’t what you tell people; your reputation is what people say about you. So this is where, if you can deliver on customer service – that speed element, ease, accessibility – that will place you in a really good position for future growth because people can trust what you’re saying. Nobody likes a painful experience. And I think it’s fair to say new brands can compete on customer service. I think everybody knows that there are barriers, delays with some operators. I think even just the general user experience, how people interact with a website or an app on mobile is not always great. And the bigger companies are not always the quickest to make the best innovation, so smaller companies can definitely compete there and definitely compete for the most sophisticated SEO, content and localization strategies to get customers in the first place.
That’s the main thing I would emphasize.
Q: What countries, for gaining projects, are the most interesting for your company?
Martin: For us, because we work in 100 languages, we’re interested in everything.
But I guess, like everybody else, we pay very close attention to North America, so newly regulated American states; But also Canada – what’s happening in Ontario. I think it’s really interesting how the laws differ between different states and how that affects the type of marketing that you can do. It’s also shaping what is most effective. So right now there’s still a big push to educate potential customers about what is online betting. How safe is it? How do you deposit? How do you get money back? How do you interprete odds? How do you choose a table game? What are the rules for table games?
So lots of “how to” content going out there, and that’s a big push at the moment.
I think for us, that’s very interesting because it will set up the next stage where customers have uncovered all of that information, they’re now used to betting and now they’re picking the best offers, the best games, the brand that they like the most. That’s when things start to evolve. And that’s what we’ve seen in Europe over the past 15 years I guess, from that initial stage through to a very mature, competitive market where customers are very demanding. So I think that’s a challenge and an opportunity.
So we’re very excited about that.
I think, looking further, there are all these complexities with laws in Germany and Italy; the UK Gambling Review might come out at any time so the UK might change again. So, we have to be very focused on the impact of all these laws. And that shapes how interesting and profitable these markets are for our clients – operators and affiliates – but also for ourselves. So we try to tailor our services and adapt to what’s interesting.
But it’s important not to cut yourself off from opportunities as well, so that’s why one of our big initiatives at the moment is doing World Cup packages. That’s of interest to everybody, no matter what country. So World Cup content, SEO, backlinks, all this type of stuff – this is something where it’s quite a safe bet for us as a service because we know there’ll be interest worldwide.
Q: Great, so top on your country list is North America, Canada?
Martin: Yes, I’d say so. But what I always tell people is that the top countries for you, if you’re a new operator or affiliate, depend on what you can do. So if you have internal language skills that mean that you are better equipped to capitalize in Colombia or Brazil, that makes most sense. So it’s important not to just follow everybody else; there are huge opportunities across Latin America, Central America. It’s important to run your own race. So don’t follow everyone else but think, “where am I strongest?” – especially if you have a limited budget. That’s where it’s important to make the right decision for you. And for operators, having the right partners who can send them the right traffic will make life a little easier for them as well.
Q: What internet marketing or SEO skill is your company’s best-selling point?
Martin: I think that’s a really difficult question. I guess there are three main things that we offer that makes things interesting for our clients.
One is the scale at which we work. We work internationally on a very large scale, probably one to two million words of content per month; probably thousands of backlinks; dozens of PR campaigns. So it’s quite a big operation.
So, customers know that if they give us a large task we’re not going to fall over or panic or delay; we’re able to work at large scale.
I’d say the second thing, which is related to that, is our multilingual focus for SEO content, translation and so on. People often find they might have a great agency that’s great in the UK, but they have no skills for Germany, or Spain, or like I said Colombia, Brazil, Canadian French. This is where we’re able to give people options, and that also means that people have more possibilities. They know that they can give us international, multilingual work and they only have one agency – us – to deal with.
I’d say the third thing, probably, is the comprehensiveness of our SEO service in particular. It’s not unusual for SEO specialists to specialize in one area. So, there are lots of very good technical SEO people who know about websites, page speed, performance, indexation, how Java script is rendered to Google – all this type of stuff. But they might not be very good at off-site SEO, at getting links to the site. Likewise, there might be people who are great at doing outreach and getting links, but they don’t have the content skills to produce content in a sustainable way that will rank and respond to user queries, and be shown in Google search results.
So we do all of these things: Technical SEO, the backlinks, digital PR to earn links, and also content creation to make sure there’s good content worthy of being ranked. This is something that we’re very proud of; it’s something that makes it a lot easier for us to give a sensible proposal to an operator or an affiliate based upon what they need, not just what we have to sell, so we can be very honest about what works. Because we don’t mind if we’re doing off-site or on-site SEO.
That’s probably the third biggest thing. So, scale, multilingual elements and then the comprehensiveness of the service: that’s what makes my life easier. And it also gives our clients a lot of reassurance.
Martin and ICS-digital team. Source: LinkedIn
Q: It sounds impressive. I guess it will be interesting for people who read this interview.
Martin: I’m certainly happy to answer any of their questions as well. And also just happy to advise anybody in any of these areas because there are always a lot of questions around picking the right market, adopting the correct strategy, and also just not wasting money. That’s one of the biggest things because in the gambling industry, it’s very easy to waste money because there are so many competitors who have lots and lots of money, and they can afford to waste money.
If they’re a billion-dollar gambling organization, they can spend crazy money in the wrong areas and still be fine, whereas if you are influenced by that as a smaller company, it’s a really big way to damage your company or slow down your progress. So getting the right strategy is important: not just working hard but working hard in the right way. That’s what we try and emphasize.
Q: Yes, I guess to gain some success, everybody should know how not to waste money.
Martin: Absolutely. I’m a cynical Scottish person, so I’m happy to focus on the negatives sometimes. Sometimes that’s really important to avoid mistakes and then you can go and do the right stuff. That’s a good way to make things effective.
Q: Sure. You are a big agency. Do you still see space in the market for smaller independent affiliates in the future? What advice would you give to such businesses?
Martin: Yeah, absolutely. Like we said before, I don’t think the affiliate channel is going anywhere. I think operators will always love it, especially in newer markets where they’re so desperate to get signups, to get FTDs. So if you look at the United States as one example, so many operators there want to get people signed up. Affiliates will always be a big part of that because they can provide that fast traffic. And like we said earlier as well, a lot of the larger companies in the industry don’t necessarily move very quickly, or they’ve got lots of managers and lots of signoff procedures before they can take advantage of an opportunity.
So smaller affiliates don’t need to wait around; they can just act and if they have the right approach, they can get quicker results and quicker money, basically. That’s a really important part of it for those smaller affiliates.
But it kind of depends on their goals. So there’s still some affiliates who are just one person in a bedroom running a few sites and they might just want it as a side hustle. If you want to really grow a business of scale, then I think there probably is more pressure to professionalize compared to, for example, 12 years ago, or 10 years ago, when I think it was easier just to do black hat SEO tactics and not very good content and rank really well.
I think these days it’s more challenging, so quality is more important. If you want to really get to the next level, you have to hire amazing people and/or work with an agency that can help you work on whatever it is that you need help with. And for some it will be technical SEO; for some it will be content; for some it will be strategy – what market do I go into?
But yeah, to answer the question, there’s definitely a space for smaller affiliates who are clever and ambitious, but they need to match their plan with what they want to happen. If they just want to make a little bit of money every month, then you don’t need to worry too much about going crazy with working in 20 languages or whatever, or having an editorial team. But if you want to really compete and become a business that makes six, seven figures, then yeah, I think now it’s more difficult and more competitive so that’s where you have to hire, build a team, take learnings from podcasts, from events and so on. But it’s still very possible to build a business of scale.
Q: That’s a really good point for newcomers who are just going into the industry at the beginning of their career.
Martin: Yeah, it’s just really exciting because at that point everything is possible. But to make something happen, you’ve got to commit to a few things. And committing to the right strategies, in the right market, with the right partners will be the way not to lose money or to feel like you’re wasting time. Because the possibility, the opportunity, is still there!
This is the end of the first part of the interview. We’ll publish the second part of this highly insightful conversation with Martin Calvert in a week to shed light on the role of SEO in affiliate marketing, analyzing competitors in iGaming, websites and a lot of other things. Don’t miss it!
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