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Email Open Rates of 20%? You Bet! Sharon Engel Discusses

Did you know that e-mail marketing is the most cost-effective monetization method for high volumes? No, really. If used effectively, e-mail marketing allows you to reach out to a very targeted set audience in relatively low cost manner and monetize them.
In this video interview, successful email marketer Sharon Engel discusses concrete, real-life tips you can use to reach people who signed up on your site, but didn’t play or didn’t deposit. She discusses the ins and outs, including avoiding spam filters, how to boost your click-through rates and how to collect emails.

About Sharon Engel, Wilma Online, Co-Founder & CEO
Mrs. Engel is the CEO of Wilma Online. In her last position, Sharon was the CEO of a large online marketing company on-line 365 Ltd., doing e-Commerce in highly competitive verticals. Prior to that Sharon was with an Israeli biotechnology company Compugen (NASDAQ:CGEN) for nine years, leading multidisciplinary teams of Biologists and programmers in pursuit of new drug leads. Sharonhas M.Sc. in Microbiology from the Tel Aviv University Medical School and a strong technical background as graduate or the IDF’s school of Computer (MAMRAM). Sharon brings with her consistent record of success in setting and reaching business targets and effective execution of business agendas through measurable work plans, alongside with thorough understanding of online-based business models worldwide.
Raw Transcript

Announcement: Backed with over 25 years of combined affiliate marketing knowledge and produced by CAP, will be the strongest iGaming-focused affiliate network. With an aim to give affiliates the offers they need to be successful and with reliable robust reporting, seeks to make it easy for affiliates to get the data they need and to get paid on time.
Warren: Hey everyone. It’s Warren Jolly with and I want to welcome you to today’s interview with Sharon Engel, the CEO of Wilma Online. Sharon’s background is actually the biotech industry where she worked as a scientist and biologist for many, many years. But her husband’s career in affiliate marketing is what got her started in this business. Wilma Online generates high traffic through targeted e-mail marketing based on their extensive database of millions of gambling-related leads from all over the world. Sharon, welcome and thanks for joining us today.
Sharon: Hi.
Warren: So can you take just a quick moment and tell our audience a little bit about yourself and what brought you into the e-mail marketing industry inside online gaming.
Sharon: Actually, I’ve been in the industry for 8 years or so. I started in an e-commerce company where I grew up and learned everything. We managed an affiliate program in a relatively competitive vertical. That’s where I learned everything there was to know about marketing and managing the operations side of an online marketing operation. That’s also where I was exposed to the vast world of monetization due to the huge amount of efforts in money and resources invested in lead generation and traffic generation and the huge efforts later invested in saving the sunk cost of non-converted leads. So that’s where I learned about monetization. And when I joined the online gambling vertical I learned more about email marketing and the magic of it and the monetization of high volumes of leads.
Warren: Understand. So obviously in coming from a competitive vertical, why did you choose e-mail? Why did you just think e-mail was the best strategy to focus on versus again, in any competitive vertical there’s PPC, SEO, many different ways to monetize and drive customers? Why was e-mail the choice?
Sharon: I think e-mail marketing is the most cost-effective monetization method for high volumes. It allows you to reach out to many people and if done properly, it is very, very precise. You can do very targeted marketing to a very targeted set audience in a relatively low cost and you can really reach out and reactivate and monetize many people.
Warren: Great. So are you just doing e-mail marketing inside of gaming or other verticals as well at the moment.
Sharon: Actually we’re focusing on online gambling and adjacent verticals like a little bit of binary options, forex, things that are relatively sharing the same audience.
Warren: Okay. In the iGaming industry why is e-mail marketing so important for both affiliates and operators?
Sharon: E-mail marketing is the way to reach people who signed up and didn’t play or didn’t come and deposit. The thing is that you can only engage with a person when he is in the site if you’re doing retention as it happens. When you do engagement in the site and the person is not coming to your site, you have to reach him. You can’t call him in the middle of the day and say, “Hey, do you want to come gamble?” You can but it’s less effective. E-mail marketing is the way to catch the person when he’s open to your suggestions.
The fact somebody sees an e-mail, which means the e-mail got to him, and got engaged with the offer, he opens it, he decides to play now, he has the option to choose. E-mail marketing I think is the most convenient way also for the clients, for the leads themselves to choose when and what to respond to in the online gambling sphere.
Warren: Great. So how does your business model apply? Tell us a little bit about it, and also in terms of how you’re monetizing the e-mail data that you both have access to yourself and from affiliates, as well as the technology platform that you’ve built at Wilma Online to actually manage and deliver the e-mails.
Sharon: We have data from partners. Partners would be affiliates who collected leads through their e-mail, through their SEO efforts, PPC campaigns, lead generation, co-registration, whatever they did, collected gambling-related leads. And they’re now either monetizing them or not monetizing them at all or partially monetizing them.
Another source would be forums and tools related. Tools like blackjack calculator, poker calculator, all the types of sites and tools where people walk and talk about online gambling. Can be forums, can be eBooks related to the subject and other sources.
We take all this data into our database where we enhance the data, we clean it, we annotate it based on the initial information we got from the leads owner and additional information we collect as we move along and engage with these customers. What they like, what they prefer. If they prefer to get a message on Sunday evening, if they prefer it on Thursday morning, if they like text or graphic, if they like free offers or high welcome bonus offers.
The last thing we do is we convey to them messages from our media clients mainly. From casinos that have promotions and we deliver these promotions to these leads. Whatever commission or fee we get for this delivery, we share 50-50 with our leads clients. The person who gives us the leads gets half of the payment that we get for anything that’s related to this lead.
Warren: Great and in terms of the technology, is it something you’ve built or something that is publicly available?
Sharon: The technology is vastly ours. Monetization is basically based on three main pillars. It’s about getting the right message to the right person in the right time. Having a targeted database as we have discussed before is the right person. And by using only targeted databases we largely ensure that you will actually get things done good.
Getting the message has to do with the mailing itself. We’re using our own infrastructure, on our own machines, our own technology of database, of delivery, of campaign management. Everything that we do we have control to the level of actually monitoring the mailing itself, which allows us to be very much hands-on on what’s going on and how good we’re delivering and also to deliver things at the right time. We have maximum results. It’s based on having the very right statistics on what we’re doing.
And the last thing is having annotation meaning, as long as you know what the person likes and when he likes to get it and you keep track of people’s engagements and response to what you’re doing. That’s probably the simple of monetization as we’re doing now.
Warren: I see. So the obvious question is if I’m an affiliate and I have a 100,000 leads lets say and whether I’m monetizing them myself or not. What would be the benefit of me bringing those 100,000 leads to you versus keeping them myself and just e-mailing them through some ESP that I license and do it that way. What’s the lift or what’s the advantage that you offer versus me doing it myself?
Sharon: You doing it yourself may be very good. It’s not something that one cannot do. A person or affiliate can turn into a very good mailing affiliate. This is something that has to be said. Having said that, if you’re going to use an ESP for example. With ESPs available today, there are several that allow online gambling data. I think that they were detailed in your site quite recently, but allowing it doesn’t mean that they give you high priority. They have other clients of lesser risk or higher reputation and they are designed to help these clients so you might find yourself in a lower priority with your ESP, hence getting the lesser results.
Another solution to use is fellow affiliates who became service providers and they’re actually quite good at what they do. The secret is basically that you will have full control and that you would monitor whatever you do very carefully. You might find that doing it yourself, that is, doing the process end to end. Starting with the acquisition of machines and IPs to the end of getting exclusive offers to really engage and treat your customers, might be too much of work to do.
And this is where we come in, we actually have the full funnel set up. We’ve been working on it for a long time and we have a lot of money invested in it. And we now can safely say that we have a very strong and stable gambling orientated mailing system. Our technology is mainly for gambling, which means all our tests, all our spam tests, all our spam lab, which is the whole operation where we check the quality of whatever we’re sending. All our infrastructure and IPs are all built for gambling messages. We have the knowhow and the experience of the partners in the operation and the people that work here to actually do things. We believe we’re doing it better. It’s not like me to say.
Warren: I agree with that. I think it’s costly and very time intensive but thank you for explaining that, definitely helpful for the affiliates to hear. In terms of markets and just general results you’re seeing, can you share any insight with our audience in terms of what’s working best and what type of results you’re seeing?
Sharon: I’ll tell you the truth. There’s nothing like working best, working the best is the right offer delivered to the targeted person in a manner that actually reaches him and engages with him. So you can deliver very few messages to a very small database in a very far-fetched land and not a common language and actually make a lot of money out of it. So I can’t just tell you this market is better than another. Whatever works best in the industry is good for e-mail marketing.
But then you’re asking about our own experience. We usually concentrate on North America and non-US markets. We work a lot in Western Europe and Australia and if we have a good database and we do our work properly, we can get anywhere between 5-20% open rate which is the numbers that we begin to hear. Our click rate would be click through rate from open anywhere between 5-15%. If it’s less than 5%, we recommend to our clients that we improve, they improve, we improve the creative or the offer. If it’s higher than 15%, nobody has complained yet.
This should be a thumb rule but you have to understand that you’re using a less specific database and you’re offering, lets say, bingo to casino lists. You would have less response, you should expect anywhere between even, I don’t know, 5% open rate, 3% open rate, because the offer is bingo. If your subject line, always depends on the subject line. The click through from open depends on the creative and the attractiveness of the offer.
So if you say in the subject line that it’s a bingo offer and you’re addressing a casino audience, you will have a smaller open rate. If you don’t say it’s a bingo offer and you just say that you give money for free, they will open, they will not click. You have to understand the full metrics of what causes what. What makes the open rate improve and what makes the click through better. And make sure that you’re addressing the right people because blasting everything to everybody just doesn’t make sense. Not financially and not professionally.
So if really want to have the really good metrics, you have to segment your data, you have to manage your data. Remaining is only one complement. In the whole funnel of good e-mail marketing you have to have very good IPs, you have to have very good IP reputation, you have to have very good mailing system and mailing monitoring to monitor your system and its reputation, its health, its fitness. And then you have to have a very good database, targeted database, that you actually control and monitor and enhance all the time and you clean. And you have to know who’s doing what, so you would be segmented and address the people with the very right offer. And then you have metrics.
Warren: Okay. That makes sense. I think that you explained the funnel in terms of how to get performance out of the database very well. I think a lot of affiliates watching this interview, in particular are wondering, how do they build a database with their traffic? Because traditionally in the gaming space, SEO and PPC affiliates for example, they typically do a very weak job in terms of focusing on e-mail because it’s unfocused for them.
So I think there are huge opportunities as we know. How does an affiliate go about building a list efficiently such that they can work with a partner such as yourself or even have a database large enough to make it worthwhile for themselves to monetize?
Sharon: Let’s even go one step back, where you don’t even collect the e-mails. The first suggestion would be guys take an e-mail. Give any reason that you can for a visitor that came to your site following your very, very tedious work and hard work and costly work to sign up and give you any form of contact information. E-mail would be the simplest, but you can also get the visitor’s phone number if you can. But people just don’t have it in their minds to actually take the lead. So the first advice would be take the lead.
The second advice would be, give an incentive, offer something. Use good, fresh, high quality content to make people want to engage with you and when they want to engage with you, if you’re writing a very good eBook and you’re marketing it properly. If you’re offering music, if you’re offering any kind incentive, people will sign up and they will sign up with an e-mail that they will actually open and use. So make sure that they want to do it, give them a good incentive.
Make sure you collect and document the leads properly. Good documentation of the leads would be the time stamp of signup, that’s the date and time, the URL and the IP. Don’t forget these things can count as opt-in information in a CAN-SPAM environment that we’re living in. So make sure that you actually take all this information and then you document what they responded to. This week you gave a very nice bingo offer on your site and that’s what they responded to and they said we want these such offers every week. So mark to yourself that it’s a bingo player.
So if you offer them an eBook on how to beat the roulette then know, it’s this kind of player. If you’re offering a book on poker jokes, fine, it’s a poker player. Don’t forget to mention to yourself when you later want to engage with him.
You have to stick to your promises. If you say you’re going to send them a newsletter every week, send them a newsletter every week. If you said that you’re going to get an eBook when they sign up, make sure they get an eBook, and do the whole spiel around it. “Thank you for signing up, if you want to change your opt in information or opt in habits,” do the whole thing around it so people will feel that they are respected and that they got what they gave the info for.
Warren: So you believe segmentation is important in any type of e-mail marketing?
Sharon: I think segmentation is critical for a very simple reason. Eventually it comes down to money. Eventually e-mail marketing is about volumes but you can’t just blast around as much as you want. Your sizes will go down, your effectiveness will go down and your costs will go up. So the more information you have, the more targeted your campaigns will be, the better metrics you have and the better effect you’ll have. So you can do it with less mailing, you could bring more money.
Warren: So I think one question a lot of affiliates have and what’s scared them from getting into e-mail marketing themselves is, obviously the ISPs are smart and the big mail providers such as Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo etcetera are smart as well. Gambling/casino is an industry that gets easily bulk mailed or gets easily blocked completely, so I think the secret sauce here that no one’s talking about is ultimately deliverability and getting the message in-boxed.
When I’ve talked to affiliates I know they’ve always said e-mail’s scary because when we send an e-mail that has casino in it we know that it’s going to go to spam. Obviously that’s not the case, you’re finding success. How can an affiliate maximize deliverability for doing e-mail themselves and maybe can you share some your insight and whatever secrets you’re willing to share about getting e-mails in-boxed in this industry?
Sharon: It is true. The spam filters are smart and they are targeting gambling related messages and are doing a good job but that’s a fact. And yes, ISPs are committed to reduce the rate of spam to their clients and doing a very, maybe an over good job in some cases but you have to know what you’re doing.
We in Wilma established a spam lab, where we check the opinion of spam filters on our creative continuously, meaning not only as we produce them but also as we send them because some spam filters work on a content basis. It means they check the e-mail as it looks, top to bottom. The header, the title, whatever you’re using and the content itself. The images, the words, the character of what you’re saying, the exclamation marks, where they are and what they mean, everything. Then they send a score. This score relates to the e-mail itself. There is also a dynamic score that relates to the amount of this e-mail in the network, putting it very figuratively.
I’ll give you an example. If you have a birthday and you send out a message to your 100 best friends, “Hey I have a birthday, I have a party, come to my house tomorrow.” No link, no image, nothing that looks like a promotion, nothing that says, “Click here” or get or claim your bonus or £10, whatever. If you send it to your 100 best friends that’s fine. If you send it to your 100,000 best friends, it might be caught as spam.
Because 100,000 e-mails of the same structure is fishy. And the spam filters might recognize it. And you have to monitor and you have to know at any given time what spam filters think of your work. It has to do with maintaining the infrastructure and reputation. It’s a tedious job, it is intimidating, it is a lot of work. It’s doable but it is a lot of work and you have to know what you’re doing.
How we solved it? We did it. We went step by step, we built the funnel, stone by stone. We make sure that we have access and full control about everything. So no one can have any influence on what we’re doing or maybe I wouldn’t say damage it but just neglect it. As ESPs for example, that you mentioned, might neglect our unit because they don’t think it’s highest priority for them. So we make sure that we have full control. We learn the subject and we follow the rules very, very carefully and we do this day in day out. It’s not easy, it’s not easy.
Warren: Trust me I know. So what do you think is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned Sharon being an e-mail marketer in gaming? What is the one single thing you can share with our audience in terms of just getting the biggest insight?
Sharon: I think it’s all about execution. It’s all about actually doing things properly. Many people, especially in our industry, talk a lot. They know what has to be done, they talk about what has to be done but when it comes down to actually doing it A to Z, they don’t do it or they don’t do it properly. It’s about being able to execute every play in the book. You need great ideas and you need great technology and being innovative is excellent but at the end of the day you have to be able to do what you talk about.
Warren: And I think you need to be data driven as well, especially if you’re trying to get into something like e-mail marketing.
Sharon: Definitely. And you have to be trusted, you can’t cheat. That’s something that is very, very critical. You can’t cheat, you can’t cheat your partners, you can’t cheat your clients, you can’t cheat your affiliates exactly as you can’t cheat the spam filters. You will be caught. So as long as you’re honest, you can keep all items up on the right place.
Warren: Great. Well, Sharon, I’d like to wrap up the interview. Thank you so much for all your insight into the e-mail marketing in this space. Not many people are doing it effectively so I think this interview has been very helpful. If anyone would like to get in touch with Sharon either if you’re an affiliate who has a database, you might want some monetization help or an advertiser, feel free to e-mail us at and we’ll be happy to put you in touch. Stay tuned for future interviews with iGaming industry leaders. Thanks everyone.
Sharon: Thank you Warren, bye, bye.