HOW AI is Changing the Face of Digital Marketing

Artificial Intelligence and digital marketing are beginning to go hand in hand. With the ability to collect data, analyze it, apply it and then learn from it- AI is transforming digital strategy. As it continues to advance, so will the capabilities to use it to improve digital marketing strategies and valuable customer insights for companies.

Here are 3 ways AI is changing digital marketing for the better.

Better User Experience

The most important aspect of a successful digital marketing strategy is great customer experience. When the content is relevant to the user, they are more likely to convert and become recurring customers and have brand loyalty. Artificial intelligence can significantly help with that in its ability to collect data and decide which content is the most applicable based on things like location, historical data and past behavior. When doing so, it gives the user the impression that the brand was built specifically for them.

Predictive Customer Behavior

Not only can AI personalize a customer experience on past behavior, but it can also predict behavior for new and existing users. With the help of data management platforms (DMP) collecting second and third-party data now, AI can collect information about your users across the internet and not just in a session on your site. This can help personalize to their needs automatically through journeys and profiles enabling you to target your potential leads and eliminating those unlikely to convert enabling you to concentrate on formulating and executing effective marketing strategies.

While it is far from perfect, AI is constantly collecting, analyzing and interpreting data to get smarter at utilizing it. With new algorithms, all the time, accuracy of customer journeys will get more efficient and help determine sales forecasting and ROI so that your business can provide the best experience for customers and right tools to help your business succeed.

Real-time customer support

One of the biggest things customers look for in a good digital experience is quick resolutions and response. With the introduction of AI chatbots, an automated tool that gives the impression of talking to an actual customer service person in real time, AI can deliver that experience in real time.

Chatbots can use terms to seem more “human-like” and can answer basic questions, track and fulfill orders and help solve simple issues. Facebook messenger has integrated the chatbot feature for company Facebook pages to help improve customer service for businesses. These bots can be available 24/7 and can reduce call wait time for customers having issues which can increase customer satisfaction overall.

Artificial intelligence continues to grow and improve and won’t slow down for a while. Implementing AI into your digital marketing strategy will help customers have a better experience and give your business the insights it needs to succeed.

Artificial intelligence continues to grow and improve and won’t slow down for a while. Implementing AI into your digital marketing strategy will help customers have a better experience and give your business the insights it needs to succeed.

Credits: Nicole Martin, Forbes COntributor

How Can SEM & SEO Work Together in 2018

SEO and SEM are really two sides of the same coin, but they consist of very different actions and relate to different aspects of marketing. Sometimes the two terms are used together to reference a similar set of activities, which can be confusing for those of us who aren’t as familiar with this world.

So, what’s the difference between Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM)? How do the two relate and work together?

Any digital marketing professional should have a solid grasp on these two terms and understand their importance in the marketing arena.

SEO Overview
SEO is a key part of your digital marketing strategy and some knowledge is essential no matter what area of digital marketing you specialize in.

NetMarketShare claims that as of 2017 Google grabbed more than 79% of search traffic globally, with the other main search engines lagging behind at 7% or less each. Thus, the main focus when we talk about search engines in the context of SEO is Google, but we still need to remember that others Bing, Baidu and Yahoo are still in the running (but barely)

Internet Live Stats claims that there are over 66,000 searches per second on Google each day. (Note that this is figure was taken at the time of writing – if you click on the link you’ll likely find a different number, as data from this source is collected in real time.) That’s a lot of activity for any given business to compete with and is why SEO is such an important (but tricky) area of digital marketing to know.

How SEO Works

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) refers to the process by which search engines “crawl” content to see how effective it will be to attract traffic. Search engines will assess a number of things in a website (such as keywords, tags, and link titles) and rank it for its capacity to attract organic traffic based on a variety of factors.

Some things that crawlers look for include:

Quality Content: Having great quality content sends a message to search engines that your website and business is delivering a legitimate good or service. Part of the way they assess you is via link building and keywords.
User Experience: Is your website designed for users to have a frictionless experience? Is it fast and easy to navigate? Can users meet their end goals (e.g.: making a purchase) with ease?
Link Patterns: Are you backlinking to authority sites? Where are your inbound links coming from?
Anyone can learn the basics of SEO and incorporate it into their digital sales, marketing and content strategy. And when you learn how to do it well, it’s bound to bring in more traffic. But learning the ins and outs takes some time and technical knowledge – for the most part, it’s a good idea to consider hiring an SEO expert if you’re looking to really make your website bring in conversions.

You should also note that it takes a bit of time for Google to recognize and reward your site – if your site is brand new, it probably won’t get “noticed” by Google for quite a while.

What is SEM?
Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is a descriptor that incorporates various types of paid search advertising. This is the type of thing that you’ll see as Google ad and usually ends up on the top of a page list. Usually, this has a to do with keyword placement and usage and that’s one way why doing it well can require some extra knowledge and strategy.

Here are some examples of SEM-based advertising activities:

Targeted (paid) ad campaigns
Writing copy using very selective keywords
Ensuring that advertising activities fall within an allotted budget
Applying key performance indicators like click-through-rates (CTR) and cost-per-click (CPC) towards future advertising activities
There’s such a thing as poorly done SEM, but when it’s done well, it will get you to the top of the rankings. This involves spending some time designing your ads so that they are targeted well.

SEM is great for brand recognition as it means that you’ll be at the top of the list every time someone searches. It’s also a great way to bring in targeted traffic to your website. And because it has to do with paid ads, it’s easy to understand your ROI in a direct way – you are using paid ads and will be able to monitor the traffic on those and then create campaigns based on this information.

Drawbacks of SEM are that it does require some extra special knowledge and tools (like Google AdSense). If you’re not well versed in the area, you’ll probably want to hire someone with a significant amount of expertise in web marketing and ad campaigns to handle this end of things and make it worth your while.

How does SEM differ from SEO?

When we talk about SEO and SEM differences, we’re really just talking about different approaches to advertising.

SEO is sometimes used as an umbrella term that includes SEM, but because SEM refers strictly to paid advertising, they are actually separate. SEM is about getting traffic via paid ads, and SEO is more about acquiring, monitoring and analyzing organic (unpaid) traffic patterns.

How are SEO and SEM Complementary?
SEO and SEM both heavily rely on keywords to drive traffic to business websites and web pages. Though the marketing techniques used for each are different, they are both focused on traffic flows and how these relate to marketing activities. People will use search engines to search for something that they’re looking for, and they’ll be able to find it by the organic results (SEO) or by the paid results (SEM).

Most people search online before buying anything so having a strong presence in search is crucial and using a strategic combination of both can boost your visibility in the long term.

SEO is for organic traffic – so that’s unpaid or free listings, and SEM is for targeted ads that you pay for. They can be complementary but only if the website itself is SEO-friendly first, then SEM has a greater chance of being successful.

SEO is the foundation for good SEM and when you have each set up properly, you have a better chance of getting high-quality traffic and improving conversion rates. Once you have an SEO-friendly site and sponsored ads that are targeted properly using the right keywords, you have more chance of showing up at the top of paid searches. But you have to have your SEO in place in order for Google to see you as a credible website

If your website is on the newer side, you can prioritize your PPC campaign first as it can take a while for SEO rankings to become established, but don’t ignore your SEO during this process.

SEO and SEM will continue to shift as major search engines are continually changing their parameters for rankings. For this reason, it’s difficult to predict what’s going to happen but here are some likely directions.

UX (user experience) will continue to become more important to SEO. This is a current trend and one that makes sense given that Google wants to reward the most user-friendly sites.
Google’s Accelerated Mobile Project (AMP) will gain even more popularity. AMP is a collaboration between developers and other industry professionals to create a massive open source library that offers users more opportunity to create quick and smooth mobile-friendly web pages. This is one area where we’ll be seeing the death of slow-loading pages that rank low. The use of AMP has resulted in huge increases in mobile searches and traffic from major publications such as the Washington Post and Slate.
AI will become more and more involved in SEO and other search activities, especially as the Internet of Things becomes more and more prominent. This will change the nature of searches but allow us to create more targeted ads for SEM.
Everything will become more data-focused and therefore it will be easier to create targeted, personalized campaigns. But because of this, users will also be increasingly concerned about privacy.
Anyone looking towards a career in digital marketing should have a good grasp not only on how SEO and SEM function in today’s current digital atmosphere, but they should be looking to how both will change as we become more and more reliant on technology. Having a solid grasp of how each of these are involved in digital marketing campaigns will be especially crucial in the digital marketplace in the coming years.

Credits: Digital Marketing Institute

Future of Online Marketplaces – European Perspective

European households spend $9 trillion a year on housing, food, transportation (together two-thirds of household spending), holidays, healthcare, education and various services. The delivery of these products and services is evolving rapidly through technology-driven innovation and shifts in consumer expectations.

European consumer spending

Key industry themes are explored, from the emergence of $100 billion+ global marketplace giants like and Uber, to the unbundling of horizontal marketplaces into niche players, full-stack marketplaces, ibuying models and more.

The initial wave of marketplaces from the 2000s such as Leboncoin, Marktplaats, Rightmove tended to be supply-driven (e.g. aggregating an existing supply of second-hand goods to increase transparency), asset-light and with a classifieds listing fee business model. Annual spending on classifieds ads in Europe is a $8 billion market and still growing at about 5% per year, according to IAB.

The second wave of marketplaces enabled the transaction to take place on the platform and also facilitated payments. An example is the transition from yellow pages (listing fees) to Just Eat (commission).

The third wave of marketplaces also added logistical processes to form a full-stackmarketplace. A good example is the evolution from Just Eat (processing orders, but restaurants have to do delivery themselves) to Deliveroo or Glovo (own riders do delivery). Each step involved greater ownership of the transaction, needed to unlock new markets.

This trend continues as the next generation marketplaces are often even taking inventory supply from the seller (so called iBuying).

What is iBuying?

The prime iBuying example is Auto1 Group which buys used cars directly from consumers, using its own balance sheet, and sells the car at a small mark-up, usually to a dealer network. For the consumer this creates some assurances that the price is sold both fast and at a fair price, without having to negotiate. This creates an entirely new experience for consumers. The model is of course complex, and requires scale, capital, years of market experience (some others have failed).

In real estate, this same model is gaining traction: Opendoor (U.S.) buys homes directly from consumers, refurbishes them and puts them on the market. Variations of the model have since emerged. Kodit (Finland) also buys real estate directly from consumers, but uses a pool of investors, and so keeps its own balance sheet light. A big difference between real estate and cars is that almost every home is unique, whereas cars are somewhat standardized (miles, make, model, etc).

Going full-stack?

Investment and M&A

Investment and M&A activity in marketplaces has been abundant across all verticals but been especially spectacular in mobility and food. The market potential there is huge and customer-life-time values are high. But upfront investment requirements are high too, hence requiring billions in investment.

Housing, cars, and jobs may soon be next, as new models (iBuying) and tech (Artificial Intelligence) are enabling formerly asset-light marketplaces to take greater ownership of transactions even for products that are traditionally difficult to transact online, thus pushing the boundaries as to which markets can be ran as full-stack service.

Investment in marketplaces

Corporates betting on fundamental changes in consumer behavior, investing billions in mobility and food, with a focus on new innovative models: frictionless marketplaces, unbundling, full-stack.

Corporate innovation

Private equity firms meanwhile are more focused on traditional models (online classifieds) in second-hand goods, real estate, cars (less in jobs) as this market still provides solid growth (5% in Europe) and high profit margins (30-60% typically).

Which marketplaces will thrive?

What will the next generation of startups look like? Benchmark’s Bill Gurley wrote a famous article called All Markets Are Not Created Equal which provides a robust framework for evaluation of marketplaces. A key factor is #1: startups creating a totally new user experience. More than just a better interface, this means an overall experience that is “10x better” than of the product it seeks to challenge.

Marketplaces scorecard

One lesson from recent years is that the overall market size is not a key driver per se. Successful marketplaces have shown that being very efficient in matching supply and demand in a smaller niche can lead to much more value (e.g. Just Eat: online delivery, Airbnb: apartment rentals). In addition, it’s become industry best-practice to start with an even smaller initial market in order to break into a larger eventual markets.

Our report concludes with a review of hundreds of selected companies to watch by industry segment, from category leaders to new entrants and rising stars. Download the report now for free, courtesy of sponsors & supporters Schibsted, Point Nine and Speedinvest!


What not to do for Online Marketplaces

I am writing this post to share my observations on  how my team won the market in Vietnam when we launched the challenger site, in early 2012.

Back then, in Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi which are the main cities in Vietnam when it came to online/internet penetration, we saw a number of incumbent sites in Vietnam like 5giay , Vatgia and Muaban who are the forerunners.

However, this was what they forgot:

  1. Always watermark the images that is inserted into the ads. There was no watermarking, thus allowing Chotot to get the advantage of spidering ads in the early days to build a competitive database size in a short period of time just by spidering.
  2. Some classifieds site started monetizing too early for ad postings for cars and properties etc without building a sizable user base. The rule of thumb is to be at least 2 to 3 times larger than the closest competitor before monetization takes place as charging for ad insertions generally leads to a fall in seller activity and hence impacting buyer activity. This caused the users to switch out easily to a new challenger site like

These were 2 key observations that I have remembered as learning points in the online/mobile classifieds business to closely watch out for.


Francis Goh

SEM Head Coach


User Acquisition tracking tools and User retention tools for a Mobile First Business

This article is to outline the recommended user acquisition tracking and user retention tools that a Mobile First Business like OneKyat in Myanmar , Carousell in SE Asia, Shpock in Europe  needs to use to better track its organic and inorganic growth activities. Tools like this allows the marketing strategist to closely track the performance of each of its marketing channels and ensure bang for the buck.

User Acquisition

First, to track the efficiency of our marketing channels and marketing spend, we need a tool like Appsflyer. It helps to track the app installs conversions and allow us to know how our various marketing channels, like Facebook , Google and Zapya.


User retention

Second, a tool like Braze (former Appboy) or Kahuna is necessary to help send app notification reminders to remind users  to come back to re-visit the app to buy/sell  as a means of user retention in the mobile classifieds space.  If the start-up is short on funds to use a proper tool like Kahuna/Braze , the other tool to use as a stop-gap would be Firebase Analytics for Apps from Google. However, it provides a very basic notification feature but will suit the needs for now as the start-up seizes market share and secures more VC funding.


That’s all for this short article. I will share more on more tools for consideration in my next article.

Francis Goh

Start-up SEM Coach

How SEM is handled by Corporates

This first blog post is to share my experiences managing the growth and scaling online classifieds sites and apps  in the Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam (, China ( , , Philippines ( and in Myanmar ( into pre-eminent sites in these countries.

First question is to share how SEM is managed within a corporate such as 701Search Pte Ltd (which is a JV between Schibsted Media Group and Singapore Press Holdings).

SEM is primarily managed in-house by an in-house team of digital marketers who are Google Adwords certified and also Facebook Blueprint Certification trained. In that way, we can actively do the analysis of the business results and match it to our digital campaign spend and weed out the poorer non-performing campaigns in double quick time. This is backed by weekly data analysis of conversion which in this business is the ads inserted into our classifieds site as well as items reported to be sold.

The Digital marketing budgets are huge ranging from a spend of SGD$100k per month to  SGD$400K per month if the competition gets aggresive and we need to wrest control of the market share from incumbent competitors such as OLX (backed by Naspers).

Those were exciting times as my teams will work directly with Google & Facebooj Industry Managers and Adwords Specialists to optimize our campaigns. Having a direct line of credit payment with Google and Facebook also helps to ensure that our campaigns are running 24/7 and 7 days a week.

This is the first post just to share that digital corporates actively manage their SEM campaigns in-house to get a better bang for our buck rather than to outsource it to digital agencies who are often slow to get back on the campaign updates when they manage multiple clients with the same team and more often than not the analysts from the agency side have trouble understanding the essence of our business and the conversions that we need.

That’s all for today. Look out for my next post.

Francis Goh

Start-up SEM Coach