Eli Schwartz

The Ultimate Guide to SEO and SEM in Asia – đź“ŚEli Schwartz

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.