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Bobby Lee -What’s Next for Blockchain in China

Prior to its meteoric rise in value in recent months, Bitcoin was a concept that few people recognized, outside of the niche tech space. As Bitcoin broke price ceiling after price ceiling, Bitcoin “experts” began crawling out of the woodwork to comment on mainstream media who were suddenly keen to discuss the hot topic. The problem was that most of these so-called ‘experts’ were new to the field  and did not have any sort of experience or adequate credential to support their claims. While popular loud-mouthed bitcoin experts might not be trustworthy, there do exist actual Bitcoin experts, though few and far between. Bobby Lee, a preeminent expert in the field, recently gave a talk at Stanford’s seminar series on Entrepreneurship in Asian High Tech Industries coordinated and facilitated by Professor Richard Dasher.

Bobby Lee was the CEO and co-founder of China’s first cryptocurrency exchange, BTCC, and he currently serves on the board of the Bitcoin foundation. Lee gave a wide ranging talk that discussed the reasons behind the founding of BTCC and went so far as to delve into the history of Bitcoin. His talk first addressed China, where he started his company and Bitcoin journey, but quickly expanded into Bitcoin’s global appeal.

Founded in 2013, (long before the hype of Bitcoin started) BTCC was created to address a specific Chinese problem: it was very difficult for Chinese investors to use the leading Japan-based Bitcoin exchange, named Mt Gox. Unlike the US and other countries where there are merchants and vendors willing to accept Bitcoin as a form of payment, that reality never existed in China. In Lee’s opinion, Chinese interest in Bitcoin is not about escaping capital controls, as is assumed by most China watchers, but rather, it is simply an investment vehicle.  

However when it comes to regulating Bitcoin, the Chinese government is aligned with most regulators around the world. The challenges of Bitcoin, namely that it can be a great way to shield financial activity from oversight, are a global issue. Therefore, China’s approach to Bitcoin is, as Lee sees it, similar to that of other countries: the government, by all apparent comments, ignores the existence of the currency while at the same time passing regulation to make it difficult to fund Bitcoin accounts and placing limits on Bitcoin transfers.  

Despite government antipathy, Lee believes Bitcoin is designed to survive and be resilient. Bitcoin’s value is not derived from the endorsement and regulation of a government. In his opinion, the value of Bitcoin will continue to rise as a result of the failures of the prevailing fiat money system. He declared “cash to be the ultimate controlled substance” as transfers of cash are onerous and restrictive and this problem is even worse when cross-border commerce is taken into account. Bitcoin easily resolves this as it has a value in every place in the world.

Lee finished his talk with some advice on how to invest in Bitcoin. He encouraged the attendees to be decisive in investing in the market and not wait for a dip in price. He recommended that people buy as much as they can afford and not to sell unless they have seen a 20x gain. Most importantly, he noted, Bitcoin investors should not panic sell in the repeated crashes that inevitably will occur in this unregulated market.

With some extra time remaining for his presentation, Lee introduced a new presentation which shed light on the draw and inherent value of Bitcoin. In the recent past, ownership of assets was demonstrated by the physical possession of an object of value. As an example, a person held physical gold in their possession. The advent of the modern, and later digital economies, transitioned the world into the concept of possession through identity. A piece of property belongs to an individual because a title says so, and a person has access to their bank account through the presentation of identification matching the name on an account.

The flaw with this system is that a third party can exercise control over an individual’s ownership. A bank can deny access to funds if they don’t feel the identification is adequate.

Bitcoin decentralizes ownership of assets, and a person owns their Bitcoin because the digital record says so. There’s no need to hold a physical good nor does a third party have any control over the asset.  Lee referred to this as ownership by information. He finished the seminar by declaring Bitcoin as the future, and expressed confidence that the value will continue to skyrocket: Freedom wins in his world.


Grab customer support

Customer Satisfaction in Asia is Not A KPI

One of the first things I learned living in Asia is that customer service is not at all like it is in the US. In the US you come to expect that if you are unhappy with a company it will always be made right.  There were always 800 numbers listed on products where you could reach out to the company for help, and these have transitioned to social media accounts where companies staff agents ready to help.

Of course, you can also return things to a store if you are unhappy. After the holidays, there are longer lines at the returns counters than there are for the cashiers.

When a company trips up and harms their customers there is usually a quick mea culpa and an action plan on how they are going to get back in to the public’s good graces.

In the US, the concept of the “customer is always right” is ingrained into everyone regardless of which side of the transaction they are on.

When I arrived in Asia I discovered that there is a whole no paradigm on customer centricity, basically it doesn’t exist.

Here’s the most egregious example I saw during my entire time in Asia. A online seller on Alibaba had an employee who stole from customers. There email somewhat apologizes for the theft, but also closes with a pivot for more sales!

Chinese email

Very few if any stores will ever take a return. Many products are sold without a warranty or they will charge extra for a warranty. I was confronted with this for the first time when I purchased a TV from an electronics store similar to Best Buy. Immediately after swiping my credit card, the clerk came around the corner with a razor blade and slit open the box. Shocked, I asked him what he was doing, and he responded that he wanted to ensure that the TV worked. I asked what would happen if it did not work once I was home, and he said that I would be on my own to deal with the company. If that TV had failed an hour after purchasing it, I would have had to open up a warranty claim with the manufacturer which is obviously not a great experience.

Response times to customer complaints could take weeks.

As a comparison, I made the same exact complaint to Grab (Uber’s Southeast Asia competitor) and Uber. Uber responded within 1 hour and Grab never responded at all. They closed the support ticket with a comment that they had too many support requests to help.

Grab customer support

One final discovery on customer support in Asia is that credit cards don’t offer $0 fraud liability like they do in the US, and disputing a charge is nearly impossible. Both of these factors combined depress the usage of credit cards – and its accompanying impulse buying because of fears of getting ripped off.

The key takeaway here is that if you are doing business in Asia, you do not need to invest in customer support like you might in the US, but if you do, you have a massive differentiation opportunity.


Baidu car

PSA: Baidu is Trying to Beat Uber and Waymo in the Autonomous Vehicle Race

While the courtroom drama between Waymo and Uber is owning the stage in the autonomous driving space, there is one very large tech company that is quietly benefiting from the distraction. And no, it is not Tesla. This company is Baidu, China’s largest search engine and one of the world’s biggest tech companies.

If you are wondering how Baidu could possibly benefit from the Waymo/Uber lawsuit, you might not be the only one with that question. Baidu has gone out of their way to avoid drawing attention to their autonomous driving efforts happening right in Google’s backyard in Sunnyvale, CA.

Baidu’s US subsidiary is called Baidu USA and according to its homepage it is an office dedicated to research with a number of different focus areas including autonomous driving. In general, the website is very thin on details. The page dedicated to autonomous driving almost looks like a template that has not been filled out.


There is also a page that lists events Baidu is participating in which has not been updated in two years. On the product side, Google images has a few pictures of Baidu’s autonomous vehicle, but all of the images are file pictures of the type handed out by PR people at an event. There are no pictures of Baidu cars caught in the wild.

However, website activity aside, Baidu USA is very active in their pursuit to build autonomous vehicles.

Their open jobs page gives a lot of detail about the kind of roles they would like to fill. A good portion of the open reqs are just for autonomous vehicles. Given the specialty and rarities of these people, every employee that can be snapped up by any company is an asset and a competitive advantage versus a competitor.

Unlike the myriad startups that are attempting to build autonomous cars, Baidu has deep pockets, just as deep as Google and possibly deeper than Uber. They have the ability to go head to head against their competitors and they have the freedom to recruit engineers without being embroiled in a lawsuit.

Despite the many hires Baidu is bringing on, they have not been slacking. There are 338 Baidu USA employees on LinkedIn compared to 726 for Waymo. However, these numbers don’t tell the full story. Baidu has a large autonomous driving division in Beijing, so they likely have more employees devoted to this effort than Waymo.

This does beg the question, why are they in the Bay Area? Could it be that Baidu geographically locating its operations near their competitors is able to benefit from the lack of enforceable non-compete clauses in California and  is able to slow down Waymo and Uber by drawing away their engineers?


Singapore Leads the World in Fintech

As a tiny country with limited natural resources, Singapore built its outsized influence on the world as a hub of global finance. With the advent of progressive financial technologies eponymously named “Fintech”, Singapore is well ahead of the curve and is reinventing itself into a center of fintech innovation. Singapore has a solid head start and significant advantages over other countries, and  it wouldn’t be a farfetched prediction to assume that in due time Singapore will take on the mantle as world’s fintech capital.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), Singapore’s central bank, has a dedicated department called the FinTech and Innovation Group and their directive is to facilitate the use of technology in the financial sector. In opening up this new department, the managing director of MAS declared “The formation of FTIG  is a serious commitment by MAS towards our vision of a Smart Financial Centre, where technology is applied pervasively to create new opportunities and improve people’s lives.”

The government support of fintech doesn’t just stop at the formation of a special agency, but there is a very clear regulatory environment and legislative support for financial innovation. There is a helpful guide on the MAS home page on how to set up a fintech business in Singapore The MAS has a “sandbox” which allows for time-boxed fintech experiments to test an idea or specific use cases without the need for satisfying licensing requirements. This sort of governmental flexibility is unparalleled in the rest of the world where a government can accomplish the fine art of cliff balancing between protecting consumers and promoting innovation.

Most importantly for startups and corporate risk takers, the government puts significant funds in the form of grants and rebates for fintech initiatives. Through MAS, the government has committed $225 million SGD (~$150 USD) to be distributed over five years into fintech projects. One of these grants allows for companies to receive a 50% rebate on their costs (capped at $140,00) USD)  refunded for a proof of concept trials. In addition to these grants, there are also numerous VC and angel investor funds which have arisen in Singapore, with the backing of the government through tax incentives, to fund fintech innovations.

The government isn’t just maintaining its focus on existing fintech players, but is even working with students in junior colleges to improve their skills and exposure to fintech. They schools have beefed up their curricula in areas that pertain to fintech innovation such as software and app development and are opening up internships and joint projects in the fintech sector. Fintech industry leaders are also being actively courted to share their knowledge in schools and mentor students.

These efforts in schools are already paying off per Samson Leo, co-founder of Xfers, an online payment gateway that enables merchants to collect payments easily and securely from their customers using internet bank transfers and credit/debit cards. “Singapore has always been pushing for information technology – we used to have ‘computer classes’ back in the 1990s, and fast forward to today, Primary & Secondary school students today are actively using laptops in school to receive, complete and submit their assignments. Couple this InfoTech push with Singapore’s traditional status as a major financial hub of the region, we see a synergistical confluence of the financial industry and the technology sector.”

On top of the resources and funds, Singapore also has a unique environment for incubating fintech ideas. There are nearly 200 global banks with regional or operational headquarters in Singapore and a highly educated skilled labor force. Singapore also is known to adopt technology innovation quickly since it has one of the highest internet and 4G smartphone penetrated populations in the world.

Varun Mittal, Head of Operations of Hello Pay,  the payment gateway of Alibaba’s Lazada ecommerce portal, cites the density of financial and technical talent in Singapore as a key component of Singapore’s success in this category. He says “there is no other banking capital in the entire world that can boast of having both healthy banking environments coupled with easy access to a growing pool of computer science geniuses from around the region.”

Foreign fintech companies looking to relocate to Singapore to capitalize on this unique environment find it incredibly easy to setup a company with corporate governance similar to American and European corporate vehicles. English as an official language also gives Singapore a leg up over competitors where language could be more of a challenge.

While Singapore has faced stiff competition from New York, Hong Kong and London to become the world’s banking hub, Fintech is an area where it can leave the pack behind and become the leader. Silicon Valley may dwarf Singapore when it comes innovation, but the flexibility and unprecedented government support gives Singapore an edge that simply cannot be matched anywhere else in the world.


TPP is Dead and This is Good for the Internet

In keeping with a pledge he made on the campaign trail, Donald Trump signed an executive order effectively canceling the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal. While the Internet is currently in hysterics over Donald Trump’s activities over the last few days, the cancellation of TPP is one move that should delight all fans of the Internet worldwide.

What is TPP?

The trade deal between the Pacific Rim countries was meant to block China’s rising trade influence and bring developing economies in the Pacific Rim under US influence. At face value, major trade compacts like the TPP seemed like a good deal for the American economy, but in reality it became a 5,000 plus page document full of corporate giveaways and ambiguous legalese that was likely going to be renegotiated by whomever took office as president. (Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders stated their opposition to the deal)

One of those bullet points in the TPP that was especially irritating for those that seek to promote an open and free Internet was a portion that imposed US copyright law onto citizens in the other signatory countries and would mandate punishments including jail time for infringement of copyrights.

According to the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) the imposition of these copyright terms would have lead to:

  • Excessive copyright terms which would deprive the public domain of the use of works for many years longer than is fair especially when the author of a work is unknown
  • Loss of autonomy over digital purchases since tinkering with electronic devices is a crime
  • The possible of criminal liability for use of a copyrighted work that is included in a video that goes viral
  • Hamper the introduction of new user protections within copyright laws since interest groups could dispute new laws as an infringement onto their rights
  • The possibility of frivolous law suits as copyright holders could use these laws to bankrupt competition without deep pockets

(If you really want to see how impactful this rule could have been, read more at the link above)

Why is this bad?

Imposing US copyright laws onto other countries wouldn’t be such a bad thing if the whole world was like the US. It is important to remember that not all the signatories to TPP have their own versions of First Amendment rights or even a rule of law. In the US, a defendant in a copyright law case can argue that their use of a work was protected under fair use. The case would be heard by a court that has experience in this area of law and has the knowledge to make educated decisions.

The same cannot be said for citizens of a country where not only might there be corruption and restrictions on speech, the penalties that TPP recommended to be imposed upon violators were beyond what anyone in the US would ever face for a similar violation. Long jail terms, asset forfeiture and excessive fines were all listed as potential penalties for copyright infringement.

This portion on copyrights was likely placed by lobbyists for Hollywood which struggle to restrict piracy outside of the US. Minimizing piracy and protecting the rights of artists is something many people can stand behind, but enforcing it in this way would have had collateral damage which would have reached far beyond simply piracy.

The TPP is now officially dead on arrival and creativity in developing economies can continue to thrive without the fear of excessive penalties waiting in the wings. For that the Internet should cheer.


Strategies for Marketing in Asia

This post originally appeared on the Y Combinator Blog here: http://blog.ycombinator.com/strategies-for-marketing-in-asia/

After a year and a half leading SurveyMonkey’s marketing efforts in Asia, I have gleaned insights about the Asian market that would’ve taken me much longer to learn from a distance in the US. SurveyMonkey is the world’s leading survey platform and before I arrived we already had a sizable user base across Asia. Nonetheless, the on the ground learning that individualized our marketing approach to this region has been able to accelerate growth by double digit percentages.

Typically, International SEO, SEM and social media can always be conducted without the need to be embedded in a local market; however, the ramp up time for a successful campaign is significantly shortened with hands-on exposure. If marketing in Asia is anywhere in your eventual roadmap, hopefully I can smooth your learning curve with what were, to me, eye-opening discoveries.

Dialects Matter
There are actually several Chinese languages that a Western audience simply defines as “Chinese”. Even within these multiple Chinese languages, there are distinct dialects that can even confuse speakers of the same language. Mandarin is the official Chinese language of China as well as Taiwan, Singapore (which also has three other official languages of Malay, English and Tamil), and Malaysia (in addition to Malay, Tamil and English). The manufacturing hub Guangzhou, the province of Guandong, as well the special regions of Hong Kong and Macau all speak Cantonese.

When marketing to a “Chinese” audience, it is critical to be mindful of your target market and contract native speakers to write for that market. A Beijinger should write for a Beijing audience, and a Taiwanese person should write for Taiwan.

There is No Catch-All Alphabet
Even within the Chinese language, there are two distinct different alphabets. China and Singapore (for the occasions that Chinese is used) officially use a simplified set of characters that have less strokes and are considered easier to write. Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan use traditional characters. While traditional Chinese readers can easily understand simplified characters, simplified readers might have a hard time understanding traditional characters. As a result, there is no catch-all alphabet that can be used when creating content for Chinese speakers.

Payments Methods Differ Vastly From The US
Unlike in the US or the Eurozone, there are myriad issues in Asia related to foreign currency and transacting cross-border business. In addition, there are vast amounts of wealthy potential customers that just do not have credit or debit cards which makes any kind of online transaction infinitely more challenging. To accommodate this reality, many companies create options to accept cash on delivery or utilize local convenience stores as locations where customers can pay in cash. Even for those that have credit cards, their cards may not even be approved for overseas use, so essentially, credit card adoption rates don’t even tell the full story of a potential customer base.

Don’t spend time only thinking about how to reach new customers across Asia, also consider how these customers will eventually pay for a product. Payment gateway solutions like Alipay or Paypal should be considered as these companies shoulder the burden of receiving the customer’s funds, but they are not a perfect fit for everyone.

Internet Access Methods Change as Income Increases
Economic standing has the greatest impact on the size of any product’s addressable market. While many in the media might tout smartphone ownership in Asia as evidence of the growth of the middle class, there are still many people that don’t earn enough in a month to buy even the cheapest smartphone. Furthermore, smartphone ownership in Asia is not a guarantee that there is actually a data plan attached to the phone due to affordability or cell reception. Some people never purchase data plans and just rely on WiFi while others only have limited data packages. Understanding the income levels of a target market must be an important part of building a potential buyer persona. Lower income people cannot necessarily be reached online, but may be able to utilize an online service if they discover it through other means.

Build Apps For Android and Make Them Small
As most people are aware, Asia is mobile-first and Android is the dominant operating system. When building campaigns and assets for Asia, always consider a mobile-first experience and, when you need to choose, build apps for Android. Given the limited data plans and sometimes even small memory space on lower end phones, developers should ensure that apps use as minimal data as possible (see above point) and don’t take up a lot of memory on the phone.

In the US and other more developed Internet economies, Google will demote less mobile-friendly websites; however, this does not seem to be the case in much of Asia, yet. Even so, it is worthwhile to optimize products and websites for a mobile user simply to have an enhanced experience for the majority of your potential user base.

Asia is a fascinating mishmash of cultures, history, and rapid growth. While it is far more challenging to figure out how to grow an audience base in Asia than it might be in Europe or the USA, it is well worth the effort. Beneath the unpredictability and business complexities, lies a tremendous amount of opportunity and potential. With the tips above as a head start, just leap in.


Smartphone Messaging in Asia: Who’s Winning?

This post was originally published on the Y Combinator blog here: http://blog.ycombinator.com/smartphone-messaging-outside-the-us-whos-winning/

Person-to-person communication on a mobile phone has always been the most basic of all mobile phone features, but the proliferation of fast and abundant internet access has fostered a well-funded competition to be the go-to mobile messaging platform. Like almost everything in technology, there are two distinct approaches to the goal of ultimate messaging domination: grow fast or monetize. While Western Hemisphere companies like Facebook and Google are utilizing accelerated growth strategies, Asian competitors seem to have figured out how to monetize and yet still grow fast. Here is a breakdown how these two strategies actually play out in the messaging world.

Facebook and Google
From the viewpoint of a smartphone user in the United States it might seem like for the most part mobile messaging is dominated by Facebook with both its Messenger app and Whatsapp and Google with Hangouts and its recently launched app, Allo.

To put numbers behind this assertion, Facebook and Whatsapp each have a billion monthly active users, and while Google doesn’t share its user numbers specifically for Hangouts, it did reveal that Gmail has a billion MAU’S. (Hangouts is a part of Gmail) For the sake of comparison, Skype arguably one of the first peer to peer desktop and now mobile communication tools only has 300 million users.

Expansion and Growth
Both Facebook and Google have a similar approach towards rapidly expanding their user base. Earlier this year, Facebook opened up their Messenger app for developers to build in-app bots that could do anything from ordering pizza to sending an invoice. Google followed shortly by announcing Allo a brand new messaging app that has similar bot capabilities.

In encouraging developers to build apps for their platforms, Facebook and Google are widening their pool of potential users with new use cases for their products. Increased usage of the message apps will in theory lead to top line revenue growth for their advertising driven business models. While at least the adoption part has already proven to be somewhat successful for Facebook with tens of thousands of bots available on, it’s worth noting that this strategy is really only scratching the surface of the revenue / business potential from messenger apps.

The State of the Market in Asia
However impressive Facebook and Google’s numbers might be, they are not without some very substantial global competition. In Asia where there’s a fragmented messaging market. The major Asian messaging apps of WeChat, QQ, Line, Kakao Talk, Viber and BBM are not just growing their user base by leaps and bounds but they are even able to generate in-app revenue in tandem with that growth. Rather than simply encouraging developers to build onto their platform, these Asian companies build engaging and profitable add-ons by themselves. Let’s have a look at Asia’s top messaging apps and how they monetize.

WeChat, owned by the Chinese Internet conglomerate Tencent is one of the largest messaging apps in the world with 700 million monthly active users. Within WeChat users can message with videos, voice and text. Users can also send each other money or even pay utility bills. WeChat recently started charging users of its payment service (the ability to send funds to other users) which opened up a new revenue stream for them. WeChat’s global average revenue per user is $7. WeChat is incredibly popular in China, but as one of the most feature rich messenger apps it is quite popular in many other places around the world too.

Tencent also owns another messaging app called QQ which was originally a desktop app, but has now migrated to mobile and is available in English. QQ has 829 million monthly active users and monetizes by selling games. The most interesting feature of QQ is that it has a live translation option to allow people who don’t speak the same language to converse. The majority of QQ’s user base is in China.

Line is owned by the Korean company NHN which also owns the most used search engine in Korea, Naver. Line was created after the Tohoku tsunami in Japan as a way for people to communicate without straining the calling networks, but it struck a nerve and people loved it. Line has 218 million monthly active users and monetizes by selling stickers and games to its users. Line is most popular in Korea and Thailand.

KakaoTalk owned by Daum, the operator of the other major search engine in Korea, currently has 93% of the Korean messenger market and has 100 million monthly active users. While KakaoTalk began as a simple messaging app it has grown into a platform for games and apps. KakakoTalk monetizes by selling its users stickers and even consumer goods like Starbucks gift cards.

Founded in Israel and now owned by the Japanese eCommerce giant, Rakuten, Viber boasts 100 million active users around the world. In Asia, Viber is the go-to messaging app in the Philippines and Myanmar. Viber monetizes by selling stickers and charging users to make calls to non-Viber users.

Blackberry Messenger or BBM as it is known, likely was the first mobile messaging platform. BBM was one of Blackberry’s most popular features and it was opened to cross-platform users on iOS and Android in 2013. While Blackberry and in parallel BBM declined in popularity globally with the rise of other messaging options, BBM is still the most popular messaging platform in Indonesia. BBM monetizes with stickers and mobile payments.

The Potential of Mobile Messaging
While in many respects the Asian mobile markets lag the United States (details to come in a future article), the monetization strategies of popular messaging apps in Asia demonstrate one area where there might be untapped potential for Facebook and Google to explore. Messaging apps have the ability to be everything that happens between multiple parties on smartphones even to the extent of becoming their own operating system. With the current state of the fragmented messenger market there is clearly a large revenue opportunity for whichever app can unify the world onto a single platform.

In the next few years we will learn which approach will lead to ultimate domination: the Facebook and Google strategy of partnerships with developers or the Asian model of build and monetize internally. What do you think? Will Wechat or any of the other Asian apps saturate the Western markets or will Facebook and Google eventually push aside the local apps on Asian devices?


The Ultimate Guide to SEO and SEM in Asia

Note: this guide will be a work in progress, and if you have any suggestions, please get in touch!

In the 1980’s when global commerce kicked into high gear, corporate marketing departments thought it would be a good idea to carve up the world into regions that mostly aligned with continents. The largest of these regions is called APAC or AsiaPac which typically includes all of Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Companies looking to expand into this region place an office somewhere in the area and try to focus on all of it at once.

The fallacy in trying to target this area as one is that it is the largest region by population with one-third of all the world’s people. In physical area it is also massive with a North/South flying time of nearly 12 hours from Tokyo, Japan to Auckland, New Zealand and and East/West of nearly 16 hours from Auckland, New Zealand to Mumbai, India. More importantly, this zone is the most heterogeneous in the entire world without a single common language, culture or currency.

Digital marketing in APAC

After spending the last year living in Asia building out on-and -offline marketing strategies for SurveyMonkey, it became painfully obvious how challenging the heterogeneity can be especially for digital marketing. If you are a search marketer that wishes to dip their toes into APAC marketing you will quickly learn that it is virtually impossible to look at this whole expanse through anything but granular eyes.

To give you a bit of a running start on search marketing in Asia, here is a high level primer on everything you need to know for the region’s largest markets.

Click the links below to learn about SEO and SEM for specific countries within APAC











Hong Kong


New Zealand

Other countries:

In addition to the places highlighted above, there are some other countries included in the APAC region, but are a bit too early for the global marketer to start thinking about.

Pakistan is a very populous country with 182 million, but a very low Internet penetration of 19%.

Kazahkstan has a nascent startup scene and a growing technology market that would surprise anyone that has only heard of the country from disparaging Hollywood films.

Cambodia which is rapidly rebuilding after it’s decades long civil war is replete with TukTuk drivers  (like a horsedrawn carriage but replace the horse with a motorbike) using smart phones to run TripAdvisor promotional campaigns.

Myanmar had its first democratic election in 25 years, and access to technology is off to a booming start.

Sri Lanka shed its civil war past and is in the process of transforming into a vacation hub which brings the need for English literacy and reliable wireless networks.

Laos is still strictly controlled by its government, but Internet cafes are gaining in popularity.  

North Korea now has a 3G data network, but it is strictly controlled and only available for the limited tourists that come over from China.


Here are a few tips when starting to work in APAC markets:

  • Google Keyword planner is very weak when it comes to predicting search volume even on some pretty basic keywords. Unfortunately, you are going to just have to wing it without data when choosing which keywords to target for SEM
  • The same goes for Google Trends when trying to create content for organic traffic. There’s an added challenge of country-specific trends not even being available for many of the Asian countries with smaller online populations. You might be better off using Twitter trends to get a sense of what might be popular during particular time periods.
  • To understand how search both paid and organic look to locals in these markets, you can use any good VPN with in-market IP’s or just use the Google Adwords Preview tool set to whatever market you are looking at.
  • If you truly want to go all-in on any market, it would be very advantageous to find a local Internet user in that country to help guide you. You don’t actually need to hire a digital agency, you can use your social network to find a friend of a friend to help with translations and basic questions.

Dipping your toes into APAC search marketing will open up a whole new world of experiences that has no parallel anywhere else in the world.  It is estimated that in 2030, 64% of the world’s middle class will be in Asia and the pendulum of global power will have to shift to this vast continent. 2030 might seem like a long way off, but we are just 14 short years away.

Taking the time to learn how to be successful in this new paradigm of Eastern economic domination will a valuable skillset to have when, not if, the world determines that Asian customers are at least as valuable as Europeans, North Americans and South Americans.


Vietnam SEO and SEM Guide

As a communist country that was closed to the world for many years, Vietnam has been growing by leaps and bounds since their government initiated economic reforms in the late 1980’s. Since 2000, Vietnam has had one of the highest economic growth rates in the world and has a burgeoning middle class.


  • Population size: 94 Million
  • Internet penetration 50%
  • Most popular search engines
  • Currency VND
  • Language: Vietnamese
  • Time zones: GMT +7
  • Major cities: Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi
  • Most popular Internet TLD .VN


What you need to know to run successful campaigns: English is not widely used and understood, so translating and localizing into Vietnamese is required. The Vietnamese alphabet is a mixture of Latin and uniquely Vietnamese characters. As a developing economy, it is mobile first and efforts need to be extended to ensure that websites are optimized for the mobile web.


New Zealand SEO and SEM Guide

Usually lumped in with Australia as a single market, New Zealand is actually 900 miles off the Australia coast in the Southwest Pacific. It is an export driven economy with a relatively small population and actually does have more sheep than humans.


  • Population size: 5 million
  • Internet penetration: 86 %
  • Most popular search engines Google
  • Currency: NZD
  • Language: English
  • Time zones: GMT +12
  • Major cities: Auckland
  • Most popular Internet TLD: .CO.NZ


What you need to know to run successful campaigns: There is nothing special that needs to be done for New Zealand and Australian campaigns can be run in New Zealand without any significant modifications.

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