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  1. #1
    vinism's Avatar
    vinism is offline Private Member
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    Default Affiliate Interview Series - Robert Medl (robertmedl)

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    He’s a longtime computer whiz – and a pinball wizard, too!

    Age: 39
    Hometown: Cincinnati, OH
    City currently residing in: Covington, KY
    Favorite food: Steak, sushi, apple pie
    One book everyone must read: The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand

    The URL is somewhat self-explanatory, but tell us anyway – what distinguishes from other gaming sites?

    I feel that The Online Casino Gambling Directory is different from other gaming sites in its simplicity. From the beginning, I have tried to make The Online Casino Gambling Directory as easy-to-use as possible, using a clean interface design as well as a search and search results paradigm with which users are familiar.

    You’ve been operating your site for almost five years now. How long did it take until you started making money? Is maintaining the site a full-time pursuit, or do you also work at something else?

    I didn't make a cent in 2004, and only made enough to pay for hosting fees and maybe a nice dinner each month for 2005. Things started picking up in 2006, and then the best thing that ever happened for me in this industry came along – the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006. The UIGEA resulted in an incredible churn in the market, and I was fortunate enough to pick up many new players as they were forced to find new online gambling sites; all the hard work of the past years had paid off.

    I saw that my revenue was steady for a few months after the UIGEA, and I began to toy with the idea of quitting my full-time job as a usability engineer for Microsoft in Redmond, Washington. In April 2007, I decided to go for it – I quit my job and now work only for myself operating and maintaining The Online Casino Gambling Directory.

    In your GPWA profile, you describe yourself as a “jack-of-all-online-trades.” Tell us a little about how you got into the online gaming business.
    I got into the online gaming business by accident. I started as a player, and was simply trying to keep track of all the online gaming sites where I had accounts. Then, sometime in early 2004, I read that online search engines were no longer accepting ads for online gaming. Looking back, I guess this was an “ah-ha” moment for me – I reasoned that potential players would have a more difficult time finding places to play since the major search engines were no longer going to take ads, and that creating a single directory of all online gaming sites could somehow make money. I didn't know how it was going to make money until I stumbled upon an affiliate link on one of the online gaming sites that I was cataloging for the directory. Once I read what an affiliate program was all about, it was clear to me how to monetize the directory that I was creating.

    I've picked up my SEO knowledge along the way by reading various Web sites, newsletters, and forums. I can't really say that there has been any one resource on which I relied heavily for SEO knowledge. I do know that I have a lot more to learn in order to take my Web site to the next level.

    There is no question that my full-time jobs as a usability engineer helped prepare me for this career.
    -While at IBM in San Jose, CA from 1994-2000, I learned about user-centered design and how critical it is for a product to be easy-to-use in order for it to be successful in the marketplace. I also learned all about databases, SQL, HTML, and some programming.
    -While at eGain in Sunnyvale, CA from 2000-2005, I learned about programming Web pages, how to access and render information contained in databases and other sources, and how to write a basic search algorithm.

    I would not be successful today had I not worked in the computer industry for so many years.

    What traits do you look for in affiliate programs when choosing which ones to work with?

    As some of my mea-culpa posts on the GPWA site will attest, I originally had no criteria at all. I signed up for all of them, since my goal was to create a comprehensive directory of all online gaming sites. Over time, I read about and saw for myself that some affiliate programs and the sites that they represent are simply scammers. I've learned from my mistakes, and now look for recommendations and feedback from my peers at GPWA before I decide to add an affiliate program's gaming sites to The Online Casino Gambling Directory. As part of my self-imposed penance for my sin of adding rogue affiliate programs to my site in its early years, I now regularly make an effort to provide feedback about affiliate programs on the GPWA site. Hopefully, this will reduce the probability that new affiliates will make the same mistakes that I did.

    What advice would you give to someone just starting out in the industry?

    Be patient. Keep meticulous records. Set revenue goals and measure against those goals. Work only with reputable affiliate programs. Learn from those who have gone before you by reading forums.

    What’s your favorite vacation destination or getaway spot?

    For urban adventure, London, England is my favorite. For a more relaxed getaway, South Lake Tahoe on the California/Nevada border is fantastic. Of course, Vegas rocks, too..

    Word has it that when you’re not working on your site you like (among many other things) to root for the Cincinnati Reds, play video games, cook, play pinball, and hang out at the local pub. Is that where the pinball machines are?
    I wish there were pinball machines at my local sports bar! Unfortunately, pinball machines are going the way of the pager and are becoming harder and harder to find. There is only one manufacturer left in the United States (Stern), and they put out maybe five new titles a year. There are a handful of pinball machines in the area, however; among them are Pirates of the Caribbean and Batman. I like scouting around and trying to find pinballs to play.

    When I lived in San Jose, one of my hobbies was the repair and restoration of pinball machines. At the height of my collection (addiction?), I had a dozen machines set up in the garage. My housemates and I would host parties regularly, and the pinball collection (and the competitive beer pong) was very popular.

    My favorite machine to play is Tommy, a machine based on the Broadway version of The Who's rock opera and movie of the same name. The wizard mode on Tommy features a six-ball multiball where blinders come out to cover your view of the flippers; you are playing as if you were Tommy, that “deaf, dumb, and blind kid – that sure plays a mean pinball.”

    As for beer, my favorites are Guinness and some of the Samuel Adams brews. For convenience, though, I regularly drink the Silver Bullet ... with an occasional shot of Mr. Daniel’s when the team I bet on covers the spread.

    What prompted you to join the GPWA, and has being a member helped make work easier for you?
    I wanted something to differentiate my site from the hundreds of others out there in terms of trust. I applied for and was approved as an eCOGRA Reputable Gaming Portal in October 2006. I viewed the GPWA Seal of Approval as another way that I could demonstrate the trustworthiness of The Online Casino Gambling Directory. I've had the GPWA Seal of Approval since March 2007.

    Being a GPWA member has certainly been a part of my success. I recently attended G2E 2008 where the GPWA brought in an SEO expert and a lawyer to talk about recent events in online gaming legislation. The SEO expert provided a checklist of things to improve Web site rankings, most of which I tried – and they worked. The lawyer provided peace-of-mind by explaining that affiliate marketing of online gaming is simply not a priority for most states.

    What’s your all-time favorite TV show and your favorite movie?

    “NYPD Blue” is my all-time favorite TV show. The story lines were compelling, the characters rich and human. Recent police dramas focus too much on the case rather than the characters. Other TV favorites include “South Park,” “24,” and “60 Minutes.” I despise the inaccurately-labeled “Reality TV” genre, as well as the various amateur talent competitions like “American Idol.”

    I can't name an all-time favorite movie. Some favorites that come to mind off the top of my head include “The Last Temptation of Christ,” “The Exorcist,” “The Omen,” “Raging Bull,” and “Caddyshack.” If you consider concerts on DVD as movies, then anything by Dave Matthews Band, Foo Fighters, or Eric Clapton is tops in my book.

    What’s the most difficult thing about operating your site?
    There is no question that the hardest thing about running my site is tracking an individual player to a specific marketing effort. What I mean is that there is no way that I have found to easily track a real, depositing player back through all the things that the player did before arriving at that point. Sure, affiliate links that support unique campaign IDs are helpful, but not all affiliate programs support these, and who wants to create a unique affiliate link for each and every page or blog entry on their site?

    And what about the player's behavior before that? What search engine and what search terms did the player use that caused your content to appear in the search results list? While Google Analytics and even some pay-to-use programs that I have tried provide aggregate statistics about your visitors' behavior, none that I have found provides the complete, 360-degree view of the depositing player's behavior.

    This is a real frustration for me, because if you don't know exactly what you did that was successful, you can't replicate it.

    What’s the best thing about running your own site?
    My three-hour workday from bed each morning in my pajamas tops the list, followed a close second by the fact that I can tell off my boss any time that I want.

    Seriously though, the advantages of working for myself are too numerous to list – setting your own schedule, deciding the priorities for the business, the feeling of accomplishment when your efforts are successful, even the risk of failure. But at least it would be my own failure, and no one else's.

    One benefit of working for myself has been that I have been able to move home to be near my parents – they're not getting any younger. My best friend lives here as well. Another benefit: After 15-plus years on the West Coast away from my beloved Reds, not only can I now see their stadium from my living room window, I am able to go to as many games as I can stomach. Last year, I think I went to about 50. A final benefit that comes to mind is the Skyline Chili – a real hometown specialty.

    How do you keep your site current? How much time do you spend updating content, compared to the time you put in on other efforts such as marketing, bookkeeping, and so on?

    Keeping my site current with accurate information about online gaming sites' promotional offers is my primary goal. Each morning, I review the affiliate program newsletters that I receive via email, and update my database with their newest offers. These offers are immediately available on my site since my site is comprised mostly of dynamically-generated PHP pages that talk to a MySQL database on the backend.

    I also review all the new threads at GPWA to see if there are updated offers or new affiliate programs to add to the database. In addition I look for sites that are having problems with paying their players or affiliates, and temporarily remove them from the database until such time as those problems are resolved. Finally, I review the daily batch of news stories from Google Alerts for online poker, Internet gambling, gambling laws, etc., and make updates as appropriate.

    My blog is the main way that I publish new content. I usually blog every other day or so, with blog entries becoming full-blown articles that are published on the site itself, maybe once or twice a month.

    Marketing continues to be a challenge for me. My online marketing efforts are comprised mainly of quarterly link-building campaigns – trying to get new inbound links, making sure that existing reciprocal links are still in place. As for offline marketing, I regularly go to the local racetrack and place business cards on cars in the parking lot. I recently had some and baseball caps made at Lids and give them to friends and to other people who come into contact with many people on a daily basis, like my local bartender at the nearby sports bar. My car and those of my family and some friends are peppered with static-cling window decals that advertise my site. I am toying with the idea of having my site advertised on a billboard on the road leading to the riverboat casinos in the area.

    As for bookkeeping, I spend 15 minutes each day checking stats at the 20 or so sites where I have the most active players. Each month, I spend several hours checking the stats at all of the affiliate programs of which I am a member. Also once a month, I review my credit card statements for business-related expenses and record those in a spreadsheet – this saves a lot of time come tax season.

    In the forums recently, you asked GPWA members to send in their gambling jokes. Are you hoping to publish an anthology of gambling humor?
    I love a good joke. When a friend forwarded to me a gambling-related joke, I started that thread at the GPWA. I thought that the GPWA community might enjoy reading it, and that others might want to add some of their favorites as well. I'm not looking to leverage the jokes – I just need some new material!

    How do your family and friends feel about the way you make your living?
    I'm still not 100% certain that they believe me when I tell them how I make a living! I sometimes wonder if they think that I am just a lazy bum with a computer who plays around all day on “the internets” when he's not napping, going to the ball game, or traveling.

    Here's how I know that they don't quite get it: When I say that my whale just dropped another chunk of change on the progressive slots, they feel bad for the whale!

    If you could change one thing about the online gaming industry, what would it be, and why?
    I'd like to see online gaming legalized and regulated in the United States. The reasons are obvious: player protection from disreputable operators, elimination of the stigma and fear of prosecution that is currently associated with online gaming, and – from my perspective – the opening up of an enormous market from which to draw new customers.

    One last question, Do the Reds open in town or on the road this year? And will you be there?
    The Cincinnati Reds have their season-opener at home on Monday, April 6. Opening Day in Cincinnati is a holiday. There's a parade in the morning, the ball game in the afternoon, and then the various after-parties at local bars and restaurants. Last year was the first year that I was able to attend, and it was a blast -- even though rain delayed the game for two hours, my seat was terrible, I was soaked all day, and they lost. I will certainly be there again this year.

  2. #2
    Topboss is offline Private Member
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    An excellent interview. Thanks! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

  3. #3
    raphnix's Avatar
    raphnix is offline Private Member
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    What I totally admire about this guys is his skill in web development and programming to actually make a search engine like website for gambling game searches.

  4. #4
    ironman2000's Avatar
    ironman2000 is offline Non-sponsor Affiliate Program
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    Very interesting reading indeed and outlines most Pro's & Con's of being in our industry............I would like to meet up with him one day and have a really good chat

    SKYPE= ironman20001

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