Assaf Dor, Cellxpert: Rewriting standards for iGaming affiliation

The need to present clearer, more transparent player data for affiliates and provide a stronger management layer for operators to mitigate new regulatory requirements is behind the vision that Cellxpert has for the ‘industry standard’ of affiliate marketing in the iGaming sector. 

SBC News caught up with CEO and Founder Assaf Dor (pictured above), who took us through some of the key changes to compliance, before explaining why legacy affiliate programmes will lose affiliates if they don’t react to the blocking of third party cookies by Google Chrome browsers.

We concluded by discussing how Cellxpert has navigated the disruption of 2020 before Dor dusted off his crystal ball to predict where the company might be in five years time.

SBC: Can you tell our readers a little bit about Cellxpert?

AD: So Cellxpert is a 12 year old company. Essentially, what we do is we create the digital marketing partnership stack. We allow operators on any scale to run their affiliate programmes and other marketing partnership channels, thereby facilitating all of the steps of the ecosystem. 

So from the media distribution side, this includes ad serving, click routing, onboarding of affiliates and other types of partners as well as compensation, payouts, accounting, various API’s and other technical aspects such as postback and pixel management. In short, we offer an entire 360 degree solution for operators.

SBC: So what is it that makes Cellxpert stand out from the competition?

AD: First of all, we offer a very technologically advanced product. Our infrastructure is built over a serverless stack, meaning that it is very reliable for our customers. 

We also place a significant focus on being very much in tune with what the market needs. With that in mind, we release a new version of our product every month to ensure that it is meeting the demands of our customers.  

In addition, we provide real-time tracking – something which none of our competitors do. We handle postbacks at a level which is unparalleled to any of the other companies in our industry. 

We are very much a service oriented company in the sense that we are very motivated towards supporting our customers and making sure that they start off on the right foot. To do this, we put a substantial amount of effort into making sure that everything within our operation radiates trust and transparency between us and our clients, and between our clients and their affiliates. That’s something that they all recognise very well and are happy to speak about.

While we’re not a young company anymore, we’ve managed to gain the trust of our clients, global companies and publicly listed enterprises from various different sectors. We work with major financial services companies and online services which are using our products.

We bring a lot of knowhow, both in the technology and operational aspects of the industry, but also in the space of regulatory compliance, which has become a key area for focus in the gaming space – especially in terms of marketing practices. For our clients, we handle a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of enforcing regulatory requirements and customising profiles based on each individual jurisdiction. 

SBC: In your 12 years of operation, what would you say have been the biggest changes from an iGaming affiliate perspective? Is it more of a focus on compliance?

AD: I definitely think that compliance is a crucial component. It’s been a big deal in the last few years, especially because operators have started to suffer liability aspects from the actions of affiliates – and this has basically shifted the paradigm.

To sum it up, I think that there has been more consolidation in the market because people that deal with this type of regulation can usually afford to handle all of the requirements. Usually, these companies – and their affiliates – are also much more structured. 

For the more reputable organisations, it’s become essential to have some kind of management layer which audits their affiliate channel. We’ve seen companies make some sudden moves – such as shutting down their affiliate programmes. 

So from our perspective, this all plays well to our strengths because we’ve been mitigating the effects of regulatory requirements from dozens of jurisdictions for years. 

We are confident in the sense that we can deliver on that for the iGaming markets. So I’d have to say that these are definitely some of the biggest changes that have taken place.

Secondly, from a consolidated perspective, we’re seeing a lot of bigger affiliates, and much more sophisticated affiliates which require more transparency. They want to know more about the company, and to know that they’re essentially partnering up with the business. They also require more visibility into the activity of the players. We address these requirements as top priority and are fundamentally rewriting the standards for affiliation in terms of transparency. 

Thirdly, there have been changes from the deprecation of third party cookies. In the coming year, there are going to be a number of changes which will affect online marketing channels, especially affiliates, in terms of pixel tracking. 

HTML pixel tracking was not very reliable to start off with. But within a few months, it’ll be dismantled and disabled by the browser. In order to actively and accurately support existing campaigns, operators are going to have to implement robust postback layers so that they can report back to all of their associated partners. 

This is the layer that we’ve been perfecting now for over 10 years. It covers all the esoteric use cases, and all of the necessary functions which allow operators to use it without actually requiring assistance from technical stakeholders in their organisation.

SBC: Given these changes to the landscape, are we moving towards a situation where operators just want to work with bigger affiliates? Or is that not the case? 

AD: I think the changes in landscape stem from the regulatory aspect, at least that’s what I’m seeing. So for a lot of the smaller affiliates, having to disclose information about their activity wasn’t received very well. But for a more structured corporation, working as an affiliate, it’s much more straightforward to provide legal documents and disclose their activity. 

There was also a consolidation wave stemming from acquisitions. So a lot of the more popular sites, and their affiliates, have been acquired by other significant players in the market. That, in turn, consolidates the power for them.

As a whole, though, even though there was significant consolidation of the market, there is still room for the smaller affiliates in the regulated environments. As time passes, we are seeing both operators and affiliates have found a middle ground to work alongside one another. As a result, we’re seeing more customised commission models and much more careful work.

SBC: You mention the wave of consolidation; does this influence what you do?

AD: It influences our operations in regards to stronger affiliates requiring more information. They are essentially educating the operators about working with them more closely. Because they have more power, they require greater transparency. This is a win-win situation because it means that the more transparent operators are, the higher the chances of them generating more traffic from the right sources.

SBC: Coming back to the changes for third party cookies, do you think this is one of the key challenges looking into 2021?

AD: Absolutely. I think that everyone operating with a legacy affiliate programme is going to come under fire and lose at least some of their affiliates unless they act. We’ve been migrating clients from these kind of legacy platforms for exactly that reason, and due to a lack of support.

SBC: Do you want to just explain exactly what the changes are?

AD: In short, Google Chrome will block third party cookies. This means that if a user clicks on an affiliate link and then converts, even if your website triggers a bit of HTML code which would have reported back to the affiliate tracking software, this software will now not have access to the cookie that was planted during the journey.

This will mean that the conversion will not be properly tracked on the affiliate’s systems, making it very difficult for affiliates to attribute conversions to specific traffic sources. They will solely have to rely on the reporting done by the operator. As you can imagine, this is going to be very problematic.

So making sure that you have a strong postback layer that’s reliable and correlates well with your business KPIs is key. This can allow you to provide information to the relevant stakeholders – and will become fundamental for affiliation practices.

SBC: So this affects the smaller affiliates more because they will be relying on the operator to be more transparent? 

AD: That’s exactly right, and this is what we’re trying to facilitate. We also want to be the most user-friendly affiliate programme. In that sense, our reporting and our interface is helping affiliates to optimise on their work. We’re trying to give the affiliates better reports – even if they don’t use post back – to allow them to optimise on their own affiliate campaigns.

We know that the larger affiliates will use their own tracking platforms. We will allow the operators to deliver accurate data to those affiliates via an API or via post back. But for the smaller affiliates, we want to give them access to the reporting tools which will give them as much information as possible to optimise their work.

SBC: 2020 has obviously been a difficult year for everyone. How has it all panned out for Cellxpert? 

AD: It’s been a rollercoaster ride. We’ve had to change a lot throughout the year. There have been some substantial plans which have had to change abruptly, like setting up offices in multiple locations in Europe. Then obviously, all of the conferences that have been cancelled throughout the year. But in spite of that, we are closing a very strong year, where we have seen substantial growth across all of our sectors. 

SBC: Have the conferences traditionally been a key place for you to create new business?

AD: Traditionally, yes they have been. We – like everyone – have had to adapt to those events being cancelled. Adapting to changes has been a challenge for us, but I think that’s a challenge we’re meeting very well in order to structure an environment for new businesses without these traditional industry conferences which were previously considered to be quite instrumental. 

SBC: And finally, where do you see Cellxpert in five years time?

AD: I think you’re going to see Cellxpert as the new iGaming industry standard for affiliate marketing. You will see us expand, and grow stronger, as we look to gain a greater foothold in more jurisdictions. 

Like the rest of the industry, we’re looking at the US as a strong new market, which has tremendous potential for our business.

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