Interviewing entrepreneurs in China: Everything you need to know about paid search in China

China Paradigm interviewed Alvin Foo, the managing director of Reprise Digital, a New York-based digital agency specialized in SEO in China, to learn the current state of paid search in China and the U.S. and how businesses from the Chinese E-commerce market should allocate their ad cost in China.

Alvin Foo, an expert in paid search in China and a serial entrepreneur

Alvin Foo finished his Bachelor’s Degree of Laws at Brunel University London in 1993. With a childhood dream of becoming an entrepreneur, Alvin founded his own technology startup in Malaysia, 1997.

Since moving to Shanghai in 2006, Alvin had been working in the digital landscape in China for 13 years by taking various senior leadership roles at big technology companies in China, including Nokia, Google, Velti, etc.

After witnessing the rapid development of E-commerce in China, Alvin Foo puts more career priorities on paid search in China and began working at Omnicom Media Group as the Head of Mobility & Innovation in 2013. He is now the managing director of Reprise China, a boutique digital agency specialized in SEO.

Alvin Foo is also an active angel investor in the digital landscape in China and providing advisory for many tech start-ups.

ad cost in China
[Alvin Foo, Managing Director of Reprise China, specialized in paid search in China]

Reprise Digital: Succeed in the digital landscape in China with effective ad cost

Founded in New York, 2003, Reprise Digital is a global digital agency specialized in paid search in China and the world. Acquired by Interpublic Group in 2007, Reprise Digital now serves for all the clients under the IPG Mediabrands umbrella from the digital landscape in China.

SEO in China
[Reprise Digital, a digital agency specialized in SEO in China]

Unlike other digital agencies focusing on silo marketing, Reprise Digital integrates paid search in China organically with other digital channels.

“Within Reprise Digital, we put everything together, not only SEO in China, and look at it holistically”.

According to him, one of the biggest reasons that Reprise Digital goes beyond paid search in China is that the audience of E-commerce in China is now distributed all across different channels.

“We are providing more and more solutions for E-commerce in China […] it’s not about how we want to position them. It is about where their audience is.”

After locating where the audience of their clients is, Alvin and his team will then dedicate in helping allocate their ad cost in China effectively on different channels based on the trends of the digital landscape. In the case of a Japanese client, the agency used to allocate all of the ad cost on traditional media like TV and prints, but now 70% of it is spent on E-commerce in China.

“The most important that we look at while deciding ad cost in China is what the objectives are”

“Objectives first, then channels.”

The dilemma of Baidu: Is paid search in China dead?

As Google’s former Header of Mobile in Greater China, Alvin Foo is quite familiar with the current state of paid search in China. When being asked whether a paid search is walking towards an end, Alvin Foo answered,

“Paid search in China is definitely not dead. In fact, it has grown much bigger, but only vertically.”

According to Alvin, since people are still searching in general, the major revenues of Reprise Digital are still coming from doing SEO in China within Baidu. However, the biggest challenge that Baidu and paid search in China are facing is that the number of websites in China is dropping, which greatly affected the relevance and quality of their SEO strategy.

“People are searching on WeChat, CTrip, Dianping. One thing that Baidu hasn’t done well enough is that it has not been effective in capturing those traffic from paid search that has gone vertical.”

In comparison, Alvin believes that because of its ability to crawl every website in the world, Google is far much better than Baidu on the quality of SEO, even in the Chinese search results.

“When people search for travel or food on Google, it has the ability to pull any kind of content on the Earth quickly and direct them there. However, in China, competitors of Baidu like Meituan or CTrip block Baidu, so it has no access to them,” Alvin explained.

Despite the vast difference between Google and Baidu, Alvin Foo still predicts that, with greater pressure coming from rising E-commerce like Amazon, Google is going to face the same challenge as Baidu does in the near future.

From his perspective, paid search in China is not as unique as a lot of people think.

“Because once you get into a situation where the competition is so fierce, I am very certain that Amazon will not allow Google to crawl, just as the same in China.”


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