We met Duncan Garvie, the Manager and ADR Official for ThePOGG Network, to ask him a couple of questions about the company and his thoughts about the industry.
Hello Duncan, how are you? Are you ready for the Tallinn Affiliate Grand Slam 2017?
I’m very well – thanks for asking.
Unfortunately I’m not going to make it out to the Grand Slam due to commitments with the UK Gambling Commission related to our status as an Alternative Dispute Resolution service, but it sounds like a fantastic event and I’m sure it’ll be a huge success for everyone attending!
Of course I will be delighted to attend future events including Sigma 2017. That Marius Filip involved in these events is a huge plus – he’s always been one of our favorite affiliate managers.
How did you come to enter the online gaming space and set up your company?
After qualifying from university in Mathematics I developed an interest in gambling. I subsequently spent several years playing both off and online in various verticals. Having collected and read close to a hundred of the best books on various forms of advantage gambling alongside having a wealth of experience playing I felt I had a strong grounding in the sector and decided to apply that knowledge in a way that would help players. As such I set up ThePOGG with the intention of only recommending the most reputable operator and assisting players with any complaints that do arise.
Can you tell us a little about how your company business is structured?
Not much to tell really. I founded and manage the day-to-day operation of the network including dealing with the complaint management. We have another team member in charge of the reviewing process for listing new operators. John Wright (Gaffg.com) takes care of our design work and SEO. Finally we’re starting to build a team of copy writers to help increase the content output in the less critical sectors of the site (outside of reviews and complaints).
With the recent wave of consolidation, mergers and acquisitions of affiliate sites, are you surprised at all of the changes happening in the industry?
Surprised and a little concerned. With the rapid consolidation that’s been occurring recently I do worry that the smaller affiliate is likely to come under growing pressure to compete in an increasingly tough market. The reduction in diversity can only be a negative for consumer as the market homogenizes and less creative and unique projects can gain space.
A number of your competitors have gone down the real money operator route, and tried their hand at white labels. Have you also done this?
Absolutely not. We have had several white label platforms try to encourage us to do so, but it would be a massive and inexcusable conflict of interests to be both reviewing operator and running our own operation. Any claims of impartiality would be absolutely undermined and I do feel that this sort of activity discredits the affiliate industry.
Developing unique content is a key pillar of your strategy. What will be your primary focus on this front over the next 6 months?
I’m currently putting together the content for an entirely new bonus rating system for ThePOGG. This will be unlike anything any other site has in place and will look to simulate every bonus based on the play of the average low, mid and high rolling play, providing a currency value after all terms and conditions have been taken into consideration. So far I’ve put together around 300 reports (close to 250k words of content) and the programming work is currently ongoing. I’d hope to have this in place before the end of March, but we all know how slippage occurs on this type of project.
Which markets do you focus on and do you see any potential in the emerging markets?
There’s a lot of potential in any market that is legal but given our English language base I look to focus our efforts in the legal English language markets, namely the UK and Canada. We’re always happy to help any player regardless of where they’re located, but it’s far easier to deal with complaints where both participants are speaking the same language.
How do you find UK markets and competition?
It’s extremely competitive, but I like to think that we’re offering a number of unique services and content that simply isn’t equaled anywhere else. By ensuring that our content is of a high quality we generate a large number of natural links and ensure return custom. Offering something that your competitors cannot is the best way to stand out in a competitive market.
How have Google’s algorithm updates affected the way you go about traffic generation, SEO and content at your company?
We’ve always had a pretty natural approach to SEO and this has been reflected in the algorithm updates we’ve seen so far. At every update we either see little change or a small improvement in traffic. I take that to mean that we’re largely getting things right.
Of course there are always things you can do to improve. For example we’re in the process of implementing the switch to https and last year’s relaunch saw us significantly improve the responsiveness of ThePOGG. Anytime you can do something that Google is pushing for it’s usually a good idea.
As far as content goes, I try to ensure we never create content specifically for SEO reasons. Today’s internet users are growing more and more savvy when it comes to picking out bs content that’s just been written for the purposes of ranking or selling. Of course we work hard to ensure our content will rank and will convert, but when writing any content for the site our team is well briefed to ensure that there is a purpose behind the content for the reader rather than us. If you can’t justify why a reader would find the content useful it’s unlikely to make it as far as publication.
Are there any exciting plans in the works that you can tell us about?
In the immediate future we have the launch of the new bonus rating system. I’m really excited about this. All affiliates advertise the “best” bonuses, but this is all really subjective opinion. Our system will actually give players a $ value that a bonus is worth to them based on the approximate bet size they play and some other basic criteria. In short, opinion will no longer be part of the process and when we rate a casino’s bonus as ‘Best of High Rollers’ there will be figures and simulations to back this up.
Alongside the benefits to our users we’ve always avoided writing bonus related content specifically because I couldn’t find a way of doing this that didn’t just read like spam advertisements that you see everywhere else. This new system has allowed me to construct rich, detailed content that is both useful to users and should allow us to rank for a lot of high value terms that we’ve previously missed out on.
Immediately after this we’ll be looking to complete a full rebuild of POGGStrategies. While the content on that site is good I’ve never been completely happy with the construction of the site. This will be the next major job as I believe that site has huge potential to do far better than it is.
After that we’ve got another redesign of ThePOGG we want to complete. While I’m far happier with this site than the other sites in the network, we’d like to shift away from the WordPress platform and the last round of design work has taught us a lot in terms of CRO. I feel we could improve this site still further in terms of but usability and conversion.
Finally, at the same time as the redesign of ThePOGG we’ll look to rebuild POGGWebmasters. This site was a quick rip of the complaints system from ThePOGG and it’s not worked nearly as well as I hoped. It’s very buggy.
My hope would be to have all of the above done within the next 18 months, so there’s plenty going on!
What is the main thing that you’d like Sigma readers to know about your sites?
The main impressions that I’d like Sigma readers to walk away with are the same as the impressions that I’d want any user to walk away with. We’ve worked very hard to build and maintain a reputation for knowledge and credibility and if I was asked for one word I’d hope readers will associate with ThePOGG network I’d hope it would be “integrity”.
What challenges and opportunities has the move to mobile presented you with?
Mobile is a funny thing. The lack of space compared to a desktop presents challenges in terms of making what works on desktop viable. I would actually say that designing for mobile has been the most significant factor in improving our understanding of what good design is. The lack of space forces you to really think about what needs to be included and how your users use your site. For someone who doesn’t come from a design background working with John Wright on this has been a real eye opener. This has been especially apparent in our work for the upcoming bonus system. A lot of complex technical information has had to be condensed and made useable in a mobile context.
As to opportunities – these speak for themselves. If you’re not putting serious consideration into how your site functions for mobile users you’re throwing away significant revenue. The market is move more and more towards small devices.
What do you see as the biggest challenges ahead for your business and the wider affiliate sector in 2017?
The challenges really depend on who you are. For small affiliates the challenges are competing in an increasingly limited market against some large groups that have swallowed up significant portions of the diversity, homogenizing it and pumping in huge volumes of cash to ensure their properties dominate the market. They swallow up domains that have developed strength due to unique quality content but have not fully exploited that strength in marketing terms and pump out generic sales material they know will rank due to the strength of the domain. For the average small to mid-size affiliate competing against this is a real challenge.
For operators the challenges are different. With an increasingly regulated market it’s a big job to ensure you’re compliant in every market you are active in. If you fail you face sanctions or fines and perhaps more significantly damage to your reputation.
What two pieces of advice would you give to any new affiliate starting today?
The first thing I’d say is make sure that you actually have something unique to offer. If you don’t have something genuinely unique and useful you’re going to find it very difficult to compete against all the generic sites that are owned by the consolidated groups that have very deep pockets. Only by offering something that isn’t available anywhere else will you give yourself an advantage that they can’t simply out spend.
Secondly, if you don’t have a background in web design you need to get someone with experience in to help you. You can write the best content in the world or put together the most useful tools, but if you can’t package them right and make both Google and your readers appreciate them you still won’t make it. As much as I hate it, having a background in web design probably gives you a better launching platform in this industry than having a background in gambling.
Do you play slots and what would you do with 1 million Euro from jackpot winnings?
Unfortunately in the last few years my time has become so consumed in the operation of ThePOGG that I get no time to play these days. As we grow and expand the team, allowing me to delegate more, I would hope that would change and I’ll have a little more time for recreational activities.
With regard to €1 million jackpot, as big as it sounds it’s not that much in today’s world. Chances are I’d look to invest it in a new project. Had ThePOGG started with that kind of bankroll we’d be in a very different position today.
Duncan Garvie is the Manager and ADR Official for ThePOGG Network. ThePOGG is the only affiliate based UKGC accredited Alternative Dispute Resolution service. Duncan has managed ThePOGG for 6 years and prior to that has many years’ experience as a player and mathematician in both the on and offline gaming fields.