We met Simon Jones, Commercial Director of WhichBingo, who is participating in Affiliate Grand Slam in Tallinn this April.
Are you ready for the Tallinn Affiliate Grand Slam 2017?
Yes I am very much looking forward to meeting new people and doing business in Estonia. Attending SIGMA in 2016 was a great experience and we’ve managed to make new business contacts and friends. You included Marius, so thank you for giving me this opportunity to answer a few of your questions.
How did you come to enter the online gaming space and set up your company?
Well the business was set up by Phil Fraser and I joined him in 2012 to run WhichBingo. Phil continues to run white labels and a slots business, but pretty much he let’s me get on with it.
Can you tell us a little about how your company business is structured?
The company structure is very interesting. With my background in running digital and SEO businesses, I wasn’t expecting WhichBingo to be a similar set up. The business is really part media owner and a marketing business specialising in SEO. The affiliate side of the business is what’s new to me but it’s part of my role to grow the revenues from affiliate marketing, so that’s the main structure really.
With the recent wave of consolidation, mergers and acquisitions of affiliate sites, are you surprised at all of the changes happening in the industry?
No, not at all. Consolidation within the affiliate industry is a natural progression and I expect to see a lot more mergers and acquisitions in 2017.
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?
Yes, the business owner has done this on several occasions. I managed to convince him in 2016 to separate this side of the business to let me and the team concentrate on building a single brand vision for WhichBingo. So far, it’s going very well. As for the white labels, I believe that’s going well too. But you’ll have to ask him that!
Developing unique content is a key pillar of your strategy. What will be your primary focus on this front over the next 6 months?
Our primary focus is to continue with our core products as well as our continuing SEO strategy. In Q1 this year we published our WhichBingo Online Bingo Annual Report which you can find here https://www.whichbingo.co.uk/reports. The report gets a lot coverage in the industry and is often quoted at affiliate and B2B events. I hope it’s mentioned in Tallinn.
In Q2 we will be focusing on supporting the Online Bingo & Slots Summit, as well as our legendary WhichBingo Awards, which was a superb event. You can see the video report Calvin Ayre produced for us here https://www.whichbingo.co.uk/awards/
Which markets do you focus on and do you see any potential in the emerging markets?
We’re purely bingo and somewhat slots by association in the UK, but we’re looking closely at the Scandinavian and European marketing, hence me attending the show in Tallinn.
How do you find UK markets and competition?
The UK markets are definitely saturated in terms of bingo and slots, but we’re managing to find our way with our niche product and service. We’re always mindful of the competition too. We’ve met a lot of friends in the bingo affiliate market and we’re always collaborating to help try and improve our industry. I feel regulation for affiliates in igaming is only a matter of when, not if, and I’d like to think we can play a major role in whatever that might mean.
How have Google’s algorithm updates affected the way you go about traffic generation, SEO and content at your company?
We’re holding up very well. The latest Google algorithm updates have seen our rankings improve quite dramatically, so we’re happy with that. It’s business as usual for us where Google is concerned. We continue to service the needs of the bingo and slots player in SERPS by providing them with relevant content that matches their initial search intent. There’s a tip for you!
Are there any exciting plans in the works that you can tell us about?
We’ve got a new release of our Operator Accounts service which is currently in beta test at the moment, and it should go live in April 2017. That’s quite exciting for us as it allows bingo operators to respond to player reviews and improve customer relations. This is a first for any UK online bingo portal, so we’re very proud of this service. We’ve got more plans for later in the year, but I can’t tell you just yet!
What is the main thing that you’d like Sigma readers to know about your sites?
Well it’s just WhichBingo.co.uk for now, as we sold FreeBingo.co.uk in 2016. We’ve got plans to open up regional variations of our content so if there’s any bingo or slots operators that want to get onboard with us, let me know if you want to be one of the first.
What challenges and opportunities has the move to mobile presented you with?
That’s a good question. The only reasonable response is to say that we’ve moved from a web and mobile strategy to a mobile first strategy. We’ve seen mobile usage go from 10% in 2012 to over 50% now in 2017. So we made WhichBingo fully mobile responsive in 2015 and we’re constantly looking to improve the customer experience. So much so that we recruited a specialist Head of UX this year to lead the development of the next generation of the site in a mobile first environment.
What do you see as the biggest challenges ahead for your business and the wider affiliate sector in 2017?
2017 is going to be an interesting year for the online bingo industry, and one that will test the will and strength of many brands and operators. With taxation on bonus money due to take effect in the latter half of the year, operators will be faced with the big questions like how much is it likely to cost? Some estimates are already suggesting a heady seven figure tax bill is likely for those that keep bonus offers running. The real test will be how to change the perceptions of players away from taxable bonus money over to free tickets. However, survival of the fittest could be the bigger brands might just keep bonus money and foot the tax bill, leaving the smaller operators to adapt to rapid change and effectively let them test the market, or just price them out of the game altogether.
Advertising changes and restrictions in 2017 are inevitable with the government keen on banning all gambling ads before 9pm. This will no doubt increase the cost of advertising with with more brands fighting for the airtime post 9pm. I guess we’ll have to wait and see, but other brands are already looking at attribution modelling to ascertain how they manage this and move budgets into digital channels and social media.
On mobile, where players will play shorter sessions for more money, or even buy tickets but not see the game through to the end, suggests there’s an opportunity for the game play experience on mobile to change. Bingo may need to go down the casino games route, but at the expense of the community-based element, I’m not sure. I do know that mobile usage continues to increase and this figure will only increase, so now is the time for the industry to have a rethink and challenge the bingo norm.
What two pieces of advice would you give to any new affiliate starting today?
Number one, concentrate on one niche and don’t try to be all things to all people. And two, be prepared to put the effort in and be different from the competition. If you want to know the inside track on setting up a bingo white label however, our business owner has written a good piece here https://www.whichbingo.co.uk/lobby/launch-online-bingo-business/
Do you play slots and what would you do with 1 million Euro from jackpot winnings?
Ha, no I don’t play slots! But if I did, and if I won 1 million Euros, I would probably sneak off and buy a chalet ski lodge in the French or Austrian Alps, grow a beard and go snowboarding for as long as I could. I’ve started with the beard, so I just need to start playing slots now!
Simon Jones is the Commercial Director at WhichBingo and has over 4 years’ experience in the igaming industry. Previously he has created and sold his own digital agencies, working with clients in financial services and sports marketing.
Simon’s main role is to develop key strategies and identify growth opportunities for the business in the online bingo marketplace. He also manages the teams that make up SEO, sales, marketing, design and development at WhichBingo which was originally created by the business owner Phil Fraser.