From betting shops to betting affiliate

archerDavid Archer established the affiliate business Biggerbet in 2010 and has developed a portfolio of leading affiliate websites including www.horseracingresults.co.uk, www.cheltenhamfestivalnews.com and one of the largest in the UK, www.freebets.com.

He was the joint-owner and managing director of North East bookmaking chain Reuben Page for almost two decades, before selling most of the business to Gala Coral. He then founded Pagebet, building up and managing a chain of over 50 betting shops, as well as a telephone betting service and online site.

SBC:  Hi David, great meeting you. Freebets.com is a reasonably new betting affiliate, why did you choose to tackle the saturated UK sports betting market?

With my long background in sports betting, and experience via retail, telephone and internet, it was a natural progression to create sports betting focused affiliate sites.

Gambling, and particularly online gambling, is growing at a furious pace with literally hundreds of bookmakers across the world scrambling for punters’ pounds. This has led to a hugely competitive industry with bookies trying to outdo each other with the best offers and promotions to attract new customers and, just as importantly, retain existing ones.

You only have to look at the growth of money-back offers which are effectively allowing gamblers to wager with less risk. Some of the football offers we see at the moment offer punters unbelievable value, something that never existed just a few years ago.

It made sense for me to set up Freebets.com as a site that would house all these offers, promotions and sign-up bonuses all in one place, so people wanting to have a bet could quickly and easily find out who was offering the best deals.

It’s true there are a large number of dedicated affiliate sites and nearly all sports websites and news portals have their own affiliate deals with bookmakers, but Freebets.com has set out to differentiate ourselves from just a typical affiliate site listing offers and that is a major factor behind our success.

SBC: Freebets.com has a strong focus on branding and driving traffic through other channels other than SEO, why have you chosen this strategy to drive traffic and can affiliates compete on SEO gaming terms?

We have worked really hard over the last year to position Freebets.com as more than just an affiliate site. Customers come across lots of different affiliates when browsing the internet but we want them to have a reason to return to our site.

So Freebets.com has a very strong inherent call to action as part of the branding and this gives us the scope to utilise many marketing channels other than SEO.

We have ex-footballer and current Sky Sports pundit Matt Le Tissier as an ambassador alongside Hampshire cricketer Will Smith and a host of other accomplished sports writers. They write informative, interesting preview and tipping pieces which appeal to readers looking to have a bet and then there’s a tip with a link to the bookmakers offering the best price and/or sign-up deal.

These are pushed via social media, both our own and the writer’s, and this helps build SEO. Affiliates are very strong on SEO and often have a better product for many popular search terms than operators. For example, a Google search for ‘free bets’ has Freebets.com as one of the first results.

Offline we also provide Freebets.com branded betting copy for a large number of regional newspapers across the country and it’s a great way to connect with casual punters.

SBC: By having a strong emphasis on branding and enhancing your coverage through other verticals such as sponsorship and PR, do you think it is fair to define your business as an affiliate?

I mentioned earlier the competition between bookmakers but it’s just as strong between affiliates. Many bookmakers are well-established with a loyal following. It’s much harder, though, for customers to become loyal to an affiliate site and that is why there is this move in the space to become more than ‘just’ an affiliate site. To succeed in the long-term you need to differentiate and stand out.

One of my key goals with Freebets.com is to provide strong, relevant, engaging content that can help punters every day of the week across a wide range of sports.

As for sponsorship, it’s an integral part of any business in any sector to widen their profile – even more so in this aggressive industry.

SBC: How have you had to change your operational set-up in order to tackle traffic coming from social and mobile channels?

We are constantly changing our operational set-up to handle increased volumes of traffic but also to deal with the increasing complexity of the business as the number and type of platforms keeps developing.

Mobile is key and we’ve recently upgraded our site to a responsive design one which maximises the viewing experience of our site on wide range of mobile devices and smartphones. This has had a really positive impact on our page views and we are now dealing with huge numbers of individual users every month.

SBC: Freebets.com aims to showcase the best value and reward for its customers. Are sports betting enthusiasts still attracted to bonus offers and sports betting value incentives. Should operators be using other incentive mediums to attract customers and create better lock-in?

The fierce competition among UK-focused bookmakers helps to generate great value for sports betting customers in the UK.  Sports betting enthusiasts take advantage of bonus offers and enhanced odds, and bookmakers have chosen these types of promotions to develop customer loyalty.

At this spring’s Cheltenham Festival, the biggest horseracing betting event in the UK calendar, the range and strength of offers was incredible. Like supermarkets offer discount loss-leaders, many of the promotions available essentially amounted to the same thing.

These are quick wins for operators. Headline offers that are too good to be true will attract new customers. I can’t really see operators moving away from these type of attention grabbing offers as, if it works, which it does, why change it?

SBC: Can operators and portals such as Freebets.com expect customer loyalty when sports betting customers have so much choice when choosing where to place their bets?

It’s becoming harder for bookmakers to retain customer loyalty, especially those land-based bookmakers who, despite having online operations too, are faced with online-only competition that has none of the overheads associated with those with physical shops.

As I mentioned previously, there will always be those loyal to a brand, usually because they have always used them or maybe they’ve had big wins from them in the past. But that’s changing. We offer an odds-comparison service on our site and when punters see they can get 9/1 with another bookie rather than 7/1 with the one they’ve always used it’s a no-brainer to open a new account.

The challenge for many operators and affiliates is to differentiate their product in such a competitive marketplace and create a unique identity. Freebets.com offers bet calculators and hedging tools, has a free live streaming area, and is constantly updated with relevant news and tips.

And it comes down to the simple fact that those that do offer the best product and value for their target customers will always retain their custom.

SBC: Finally, you have 20 years’ experience in the gambling industry. How do you see affiliates evolving and fitting within the gaming value chain?

David: Bookmakers and affiliates naturally need each other. We play a powerful role in the success and growth of operators and this relationship will only become stronger as the gaming market grows, especially in emerging markets.

I foresee affiliate sites becoming more popular and indeed credible in the eyes of punters. By credible I mean viewing affiliates, not just as referrers, but as experts well-positioned to point out where the best value lies.

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David Archer – Founder of Biggerbet & Freebets.com

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