How Search Behaviours Impact Our Search Strategy

In the past few years, a growing number of global companies have started to advertise their products to consumers in Asia.  This has especially been the case in China, which we see continuous growth in purchasing power, and hence, tremendous business opportunity.  Search advertising is a good channel for global companies to leverage given the relative ease of set up.  It also typically has the highest return on advertising spend among all marketing channels.

Nonetheless, if marketers want to get the most out of search advertising, they first need to understand search behaviours of the Asian Internet community. If companies choose to simply replicate the strategies in place in the U.S. or Europe, it just does not work.

So what are the factors marketers need to consider when developing strategies for search advertising in Asia?

Let’s start by looking at the market share of different search engines in Asia. While Google is dominant in the U.S. and most European countries, search is evolving very differently in Asia. In China, Baidu has more than 60 percent of the market, followed by Google with 37.8 percent. Naver is the leading search engine in South Korea, with a 46.4 percent market share. What about Yahoo? It still has the highest market share in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Thus, marketers that invest in Asia must heed each country’s market share and allocate their search budgets accordingly. Marketers should also consider the demographic profile of search users. For instance, Baidu users are a fairly cohesive general market, whereas Google China users are typically an affluent crowd with higher disposable incomes. So the strategy is quite different depending on whether you are selling FMCG products or investment-related products.

Once a client has decided on the budget, we can select keywords for the campaign. Again, it’s crucial to understand that Asian search behaviours are very different from North America. Most users search in local languages, especially for countries like China, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan. I would say over 95 percent of the search terms are in Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Korean, or Japanese. For a city like Hong Kong, half of the time users search in English and the other half of the time they search in Traditional Chinese.

As an example of the differences between Asia and the West, consider an IT/technology client I work with. This client is currently running search campaigns through Google, targeting users in the U.S. When the client shared with us the English keywords they are using, we found that 95 percent of those terms have ‘0’ search volume.

There are two issues in this kind of situation. For one, most Asian users search in local languages. When they search in English, they use different terms. Secondly, many Asian users search in ‘general’ terms instead of ‘specific’ or ‘long-tail’ terms. For example, a user in the U.S. might enter the search term ‘travel to Bali’, while many users in Hong Kong will likely search using general terms like ‘travel’, even though they are interested in travelling to Bali. This situation poses challenges to marketers trying to maximise their search ROI, as general search terms normally cost more than long-tail search terms. We try to solve this problem by utilising sophisticated bid management tools that provide ‘path to conversion data’. We are able to review all the search terms that participated in the path and can automatically distribute conversion credit weights for all clicks leading to conversions.

Finally, in terms of creating ad texts, while some best practices still apply in Asian markets – such as including the keyword in your ad text, including prices and promotions, and using a strong call to action – the key is to create ad texts in local languages. Imagine when someone goes to Naver and searches ‘travel’ in Korean. If he or she sees an ad in English, do you think this user will likely click on the ad?

Therefore, if marketers are to succeed in selling their product or service to Asian consumers, they must take heed of the local culture and consumer behaviours. There’s no difference when it comes to search advertising!

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