Affiliate Interviews: Luke Eales, Founder of Seven Star Digital
Seven Star Digital (SSD) was founded by Luke Eales in 2016 with the aim to provide better gambling comparison services to consumers in the UK and beyond. Since then, SSD’s first website TopRatedCasinos.co.uk has consolidated a very strong position in both PPC and SEO channels within the UK Casino industry, delivering thousands of FTDs to licensed casino operators every month. With a vision for creating a truly comprehensive global online gambling comparison site across all verticals, the company launched Compare.bet in October 2017. Seven Star Digital currently employs a dozen talented marketers and technologists in its London HQ.
Name: Luke Eales
Living in: London
Favorite Food: Italian
Must Read Book: The Pig That Wants To Be Eaten by Julian Baggini
Job title: Founder & CEO
GAV: Hi Luke, tell us and our readers as well, a little bit about yourself, we want to know who Luke really is. How did your career start in the industry? What was your first job?
Luke: This is my first real activity in the gambling industry. But if we’re talking digital marketing, I got started back in 2003. Personal SEO projects made for a nice side earner while studying – at the time I had no inkling that it’d become a career.
GAV: Do you still remember when you first heard about gambling or online casinos?
Luke: It was probably about fifteen years ago – I set up a very small and unsuccessful affiliate site with my brother called Bonkers Betting! It’s hard to avoid the industry when working in digital. Partly because it’s an incubator for bleeding edge acquisition tactics.
GAV: Since there are thousands of websites and portals in this niche out there, where do you think your websites stand at this moment and what is that plus that the other comparison portals don’t have?
Luke: One of our strengths is we’ve come from outside the industry with a fresh perspective. Our inspiration also comes from outside the industry – the big travel and insurance comparison sites for starters. They’re a long way ahead of gambling comparison, but we’re aiming to catch up fast – in terms of content, user experience and brand.
GAV: Tell us about your team a bit!
Luke: We’re based in Shoreditch – hipster central in London. The area has a great buzz, full of startups, as well as vibrant bars, restaurants and galleries. There are currently around a dozen of us at the company, spanning marketing, commercial and tech. We’ve got a great bunch of people all striving to take gambling comparison to the next level. Also, we’re hiring!
GAV: What kind of SEO, digital marketing or affiliate techniques do you follow this year, and how about any new upcoming trends?
Luke: For us, the definition of good digital marketing doesn’t necessarily change monthly or even yearly. Paid search, paid social, organic search – the platforms and behaviours evolve, of course. We’re less focused on the next new thing, tactical marketing trick or short-term win. For us the differentiation is in execution, organisational agility and deep understanding of our lines of business. This allows us to adapt to the evolving landscape, including from a regulatory perspective. Of course, the big change happening right now for data/permission marketers is GDPR. We’re hopeful that this will succeed in ensuring users’ interests and personal data is protected.
GAV: What are the challenges that you and your team face in regards to affiliate marketing in 2018.
Luke: Put simply, the ever-increasing ferocity of competition in the sector. Everyone wants a piece of the pie – we are acutely aware that in order to maintain and grow ours, we have to earn it. This keeps us at the top of our game. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
GAV: How do you manage to keep the websites fresh and relevant, when a lot of fluffy and nonsense appear on the Internet non-stop?
Luke: The crusade for ‘fresh content’ has created a cottage industry of content churners who prioritise volume over quality. We take a different approach – while we do aim to create vast and comprehensive sites, we’re not fans of expansion for expansion’s sake. We find that writing for people rather than search engines acts as an automatic fluff filter.
GAV: We are pretty convinced that you receive messages from Affiliate Managers on a daily basis showcasing their best products. You, of course select them by the brands they work with. What are your thoughts on how a real Affiliate Manager-Affiliate relationship should be built, and how not?!
Luke: Trust, transparency and sharing of insights. When you’re providing a quality service and valuable traffic, there is no need for smoke and mirrors in the partner relationship. This honest and open approach makes everything easier and is best for all in the long run.
GAV: Next to the UK market, which are the other ones that you already target or want to expand into?
Luke: We have our eye on several regulated/soon-to-regulate markets in Europe. We’re also growing Compare.bet with a global scope – the recent US news creates great potential, but we expect to pick up traffic from a real long tail of geographies.
GAV: How do you see the Nordic market?
Luke: Having been a fairly stable and attractive region for some years, things are starting to change – with regulation in Sweden and moves to restrict in Norway via payment blocking etc.
Our first step into Scandinavia is with our Swedish comparison site ToppOnlineCasinon.se – we already work with most of the top operators in the region but are being very careful not to make assumptions about user behaviour and what will work over there. Our eyes and ears are open to the requirements of Swedish players and operators alike, and we expect the user experience to diverge from our UK sites based on what we learn about specific local needs over time.
GAV: Tell us one change that you want to see in the online gambling industry?!
Luke: We want running a ‘gambling affiliate site’ to be as well respected as running a ‘finance comparison business’. This will only happen with the industry taking more of a user focus and thinking bigger. There are certainly signs that this is starting to happen.
GAV: Do you have any advice for newbies who are looking to venture into this majestic industry!?
Luke: Get into the data. Not only will it allow you to improve your own metrics, but it will create transparency with partners and the opportunity to work together to grow based on real insights.
GAV: How about iGaming/online casino/gambling conferences, do you attend any of them? If so, which one is your favourite and what is your most fun experience?
Luke: We try to attend as many as possible. It’s rare to leave without a killer insight or two, at least. Face time with partners is also invaluable We’re looking forward to Lisbon this autumn – the weather should in theory be better than Berlin, which is a plus!
GAV: Where would you like to travel in Eastern Europe, any favourite country or region?
Luke: I haven’t seen much of it, so I’d have quite a long to-do list! In particular, I’ve heard great things about Slovenia.
GAV: Where you wouldn’t want to travel in Eastern Europe?
Luke: I wouldn’t rule anywhere out!
GAV: How about a favourite celebrity or a mentor, do you have one?
Luke: I’m not a big follower of celebrity. I have however been fortunate enough to have worked with a range of experienced and knowledgeable senior colleagues throughout my career, all of whom have had a great influence.