2009 is a special year for me because I spent the first half of the year in Singapore and the second half in my home country, Vietnam. It's given me the opportunity to understand how big changes regionally affect the online landscape in both countries.
Let's start with what Google has done in this region first:
The change of leadership at Google Southeast Asia in Oct 2009
Lori Sobel moved back to New York to be head of global search. Julian Persaud is her replacement. While I am not in the best position to comment much about this change, I am sure it will have material impact soon on how different Google teams operate in the region. One thing for sure since Google set up their office in Singapore in 2007 is its rapid gain of search market share versus Yahoo!.
Google Agency Blog for Asia Pacific started in July 2009
I personally find this blog very useful. It was started by the agency training team in Australia and covers a wide range of topics from tips to manage Google Adwords to general product updates, account planner, etc. It's my must-read blog everyday to learn the latest updates for the region.
Google Ad Planner covers more ground in 2009
It's an absolutely wonderful tool for media planning. The concept behind this tool is brilliant but in 2008, it didn't have much coverage or accurate data for Southeast Asia. The reach, depth and accuracy of data for 2009 are another matter all together -- from Singapore, Malaysia to Vietnam. I find it especially useful when trying to do comparisons between sites.
Google WAP mobile text and image ads
So far it's only available in Singapore and advertisers can use both text/image formats. Advertisers in Singapore can choose to display their ads for the SingTel, StarHub or M1 networks only. The actual volume is still very small though and it's mostly about entertainment.
Google AdSense Vietnamese language version fails to launch
Through the grapevine I was told that Google would launch AdSense in Vietnamese in early 2009, but it's the end of 2009 and nothing has happened yet. Right now, AdSense only supports English in Vietnam which leaves a huge hole because most Vietnamese web content is in the local language. Until AdSense supports Vietnamese, I don't see the Google Content Network's volume expanding rapidly in Vietnam.
Other Google global initiatives include:
New AdWords and My Client Center interfaces; YouTube-promoted video being tested out of the US and now available in Australia; Google Ad Sitelinks, etc.
While these initiatives are rolling out from the US, it once again shows us the power of innovation and how a single Google platform can give advertisers the ability to promote their messages across mediums around the globe.
In the meantime, Yahoo Search Marketing (YSM) made some progress in 2009 as well. It finally launched its advanced match feature in October -- the equivalent of Google's broad match option. Previously it was a real pain trying to add all kinds of keyword variations into YSM, knowing that people type in different keywords all the time. Obviously, this change will help to boost its revenue and make it justifiable for agencies to continue running paid search on Yahoo platforms in Southeast Asia.
Another piece of good news coming from Yahoo is its local language soft launch. From the Yahoo marketing team: "In 2009, Yahoo! Southeast Asia invited their top agencies and clients to pilot advertising in languages other than English. This initiative covers Bahasa Indonesia (ID only), Bahasa Melayu (MY only), Vietnamese (VN only), Thai (TH only), Tagalog (PH only) and simplified Chinese (SG only). We expect to have active support in each of these languages and expand the invitation to include all of our advertisers as the market grows throughout 2010."
While I am a big believer in "better late than never", I personally feel that the ship has sailed. Consumers have voiced out their search engine preference strongly even in market where Yahoo traditionally had a good grasp, Singapore is one example. By the end of 2010, Google will probably consolidate its lead in the region with more than 80 percent of market share across the region. When that happens, there will not be any need to run paid search on multiple search engines any more, especially if the Yahoo platform continues to make it difficult to manage ads compared to Google AdWords.
Global initiatives like demographic targeting or ad scheduling are not effective in this region simply because of the lack of volume.
In addition, Yahoo mobile marketing is now available in SG, MY, ID, TH and VN. It offers not only search advertising but display media, rich media and mobile ad tools. From this front, I feel that Yahoo is slightly ahead of Google. In Vietnam, Yahoo partnered with ANZ to run quite a successful mobile ad campaign to drive awareness of ANZ's banking offerings in Vietnam. Yahoo actually created a WAP site for ANZ and the bank received nearly one hundred thousand clicks after a month.
Finally, 2009 records another piece of good news with the establishment of the IAB Singapore. It is however unclear whether we will have separate IAB entities in each of the countries in the region or if they will all belong to the main "HQ" in Singapore. I heard from the grapevine again that IAB Vietnam is more likely to be a separate entity due to the uniqueness of the local market.
In any cases, I do hope that the IAB Singapore will start promoting guidelines and standards (display/rich media standards for markets like Vietnam are much needed), and more importantly providing education and training for not only agencies but marketing managers from the client side as well.