Law School Dropout to Affiliate Marketing Success with Nikola Žugić

Commission Magazine Issue 3 cover

Kako si? u pičku materinu

Hahah NSFW! I’m quite well, thanks for asking, brate!

The theme of this issue is opportunity so tell us about the opportunity you made for yourself and how you stumbled into the world of affiliate marketing?

Long story short, I quit Uni back in 2006 and soon discovered the world of bonus hunting. My initial intent was to learn about poker and see if I could make money off of it. I was doing research and by chance, I found this small blog post (don’t recall the name explaining blackjack bonus hunting strategy. Even though it sounded too good to be true, I decided to spend my last $100 and give it a go and if I lost it, that would be it. It worked like a charm and I made my first $10,000 that following year, purely doing bonus whoring.

Nik SlotsMillion casino virtual reality

During this period it is when I found this small, emerging website called LCB (just several months after it was founded by Joshua Chan in early Dec 2006, who is my business partner now) and the rest is history 🙂 Back then I had no idea what affiliate marketing was, didn’t even know the meaning of the word lol. Everything was new and exciting and I was like a sponge soaking in all this newly discovered knowledge. I was a true tabula rasa when I first started.

wizardofodds blackjack basic strategy chartFun fact: I learnt my BJ strategy from WizardOfOdds.com, so in a way part of my success I owe to Michael Shackleford’s awesome website. Fast forward 7-8 years later that site became part of LCB Network and Mike is now part of the team.

And I still have printed copy of my first strategy chart.

What did your parents think about your decision to drop out of law school and start bonus whoring?

They were not happy, my Mom thought I was actually gambling (and we know that bonus hunting is not that, given it is done properly, as you know too well yourself John). And Dad, being a lawyer, was hugely disappointed with my decision to drop out of school, and we had several fall-outs because of it. Back then I was still living with my parents so it was a bit of a PITA but they knew once I set my mind to something there is no going back.

Eventually they accepted my new calling, and I guess it did help that BJ bonuses got scarce and that I started learning/doing actual affiliate work.

What about friends?

Friends were curious about it, and I even introduced couple of them to the world of bonus hunting.

In the following years I actually hired a few of my best friends and my sister too. With over 110 employees now world wide, they are now part of what I like to call LCB core team.

In the last 3 to 6 months, I’ve seen a large number of casino sites come out of nowhere where they look ultra professional. Is the casino marketing space getting a little too crowded?

True, but this is not a recent trend and indeed the market is supersaturated. The fact that there are so many white label solutions it became quite easy to setup an online casino. This also means that you don’t need tons of cash to start one. And that is part of the problem as many of these White Label platforms are in it just for the money and couldn’t care less if these new casinos are well funded or not. And so often it happens they are not, and what happens next is that they go bust and then we are left with the screwed players and affiliates too. So, on one hand it does offer an abundance of choice, which is a good thing, and on the other hand it brings uncertainty and mistrust in this industry.

Being a bonus and casino directory, among other things, LCB.org is constantly reviewing new casinos and I’m sad to say we are too often catching new casinos with fake/pirated games. This also shows that weak licensors, like Curacao (not that there aren’t good casinos under this jurisdiction), in combination with greed and/or lack of funding, often leads to software piracy, which is greatly damaging this industry.

This is not only damaging software providers who don’t get their royalties, but players are hugely affected as these pirated games are not RNG and RTP tested. Not only these games are not controlled but are used to additionally increase the profit margins of said shady casinos. So it is not enough that the house always wins, (hello, a little thing called the house edge!) but they want to suck you dry. What is even worse, this is a public secret, everyone knows it’s happening, and no one is doing shit about it. Well, apart from regular LCB reports and maybe couple other sites that occasionally write about this. We made it part of our research/review process to always inspect whether new casino has legit games or not. And we also rely on our membership that often reports about “irregularities”, on which we act upon. I have to add that one of the reasons for acquiring AffiliateGuardDog, couple years ago, was to additionally bring awareness about issues like these.

Not to mention often “re-branding” of shady/rogue operations by launching “new casinos” under “new affiliate programme”. This is quite popular thing amongst some Curacao, Costa Rican and Tel Aviv companies that got bad reputation for a reason. Their MO is quite obvious.

I can go on about this topic for days…

It seems as though that whatever projects you touch or create, that you are always hitting home runs without failure. What are mistakes that you have made over the years where things haven’t been perfect and has that been a positive or a negative thing to happen?

Overall speaking this is true, but we had faced many challenges and sure made many mistakes. We had some smaller projects that were struggling, some got abandoned, but the main focus was always on LCB as the flagship and few other big sites in our portfolio (whether we started from the scratch or perfecting the acquired assets, take WoO as an example). Being in SEO business we made mistakes but we learnt from those. For us, especially in the early days, trial and error was the way to figure things out as we had no one to tell us how to do SEO. Let’s put it this way, getting a google penalty hurts, but it does help you figure things out and ultimately improve your overall SEO.

LCB.org website

I would also say one of the biggest challenges for us was to get the right people that can take upon a challenge of say building a website, or choosing the right tech to build one. We had some hiccups there, sometimes we had no choice but to go down some path. Plus tripling in size since 3 years ago brought many challenges on its own. One of the challenges is also to prioritize tasks, and sometimes some assets get neglected because of it. Learning how to properly use our resources to the fullest and not wasting any potential. We are getting there and constantly improving our internal procedures. We had to learn how to better optimize newly created teams, but also it required a lot of patience from our end, as everyone we hired here in Belgrade HQ had no past experience in this niche. These days every new employee has to pass the trial period (around 3 months) as there is so much to teach them, not just about our entire network but about business model too. There is almost 13 years of experience in this field, so teaching/learning process never ceases.

You and your team are well known for being good at the SEO game. Do you find it tough hiring SEOs or finding good people to add to your team?

Yes hiring SEOs that know what they are doing was always struggle, especially here in Belgrade. This is why our SEO is still being done internally, mostly by Josh and I to a small extent. Not that we did not seek advice from different SEO companies in the past, which IMHO was usually a waste of time and money. But even from those misses you learn about ‘what not to do’.

Obviously our tech guys and content editors must know at least the basics (when speaking of ‘on page SEO’) and we actually have training procedures in this respect. These procedures constantly get updated/upgraded and are based on our experience and on google updates and guidelines that we try to stay on top of. And obviously we use different tools, like Ahrefs, SEOMoz mostly to monitor the network.

lcb.org ahrefs backlinks seo profile

Right now, I think, we have only one external guy who keeps an eye on our backlink portfolio and helps us weed out crappy links and prevent potential spam links bombs. Unfortunately we work in an industry that often has no scruples and where disloyal competition and even some online casinos (you know who you are, and so do we) will do shady stuff against you (like dropping link bombs) in order to get you in trouble with google. So staying on top of things is a must.

Bottom line is we are focusing more on expanding our own SEO knowledge and figuring things out on our own, than trying to find an outside help that may or may not be good for our business. Too many so called “SEO experts” that can’t even help their own websites.

If you had to start everything all over again, what is your strategy to getting back to the top and being successful?

Nikola not giving a fuckAhh this is a tough one. If I had to start right now and on a low budget, I would definitely opt for using WordPress instead of building our own proprietary software which takes a lot of time and funding. Obviously this way you’ll save money on expensive developers, you can buy cheap WP theme/design. But I would definitely have to think hard as to what angle or approach to take, given that affiliate niche is, like online casinos, supersaturated as well. A lot of copy/paste as you know already.

It would have to be something totally unique, as trying to compete with everyone else who got there before you or to replicate your previous business model, would be a difficult task. Unless, I repeat, you offer something new(ish). I still think it would have to be something player focused, as being a player myself, I believe I know how to cater to them.

But if I really had to start all over again, it probably would be in a different niche, trying something new.

What other industries outside of online gambling interest you the most?

Most of my interest is still closely tied to affiliation. But I’m closely involved in crypto (some hodling and day trading). I find it to be as exciting as gambling, and in reality trading is gambling if you don’t know what you are doing. As of lately I’m also interested in local real-estate market.

There are a lot of people that give up shortly after they get started in trying to work for themselves in affiliate marketing. What advice do you have for anyone that wants to give it a go?

There is no magic formula. Speaking from personal experience, find something you like, commit to it. Trial and error, research is a must. You got to follow your competition but instead of trying to copy their model, try to find your own angle or at least think of ways to improve those existing models. Work, work and more work. Understand your target audience, if you never gambled in your life then IMO you are at a disadvantage. How can you cater to a player when you are not one, right? This is not an invite to become a gambler of course, as you can be a smart advantage player, but you need to understand the mindset of the average recreational gambler as well as the mindset of those advantage ones. Put yourself in their shoes and you’ll know how they think and what they want.