SEO or SEM? Pro-Tips for Indonesian Consumer Brands

Indonesia’s eCommerce market had a bumper harvest in 2020 with revenue growing 61% to US$33 billion, vaulting it to the 11th largest in the world. But even as consumer brands jump on the bandwagon, they are facing the familiar challenges of standing out in an increasingly crowded and fragmented online marketplace. For instance, around three-quarters of internet users never go beyond the first page of search engine results. Yet 68% of online activities still involve search engines, so it’s more important than ever for marketers to make their brands “searchable”.

Although search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques drive superior conversion and high-quality traffic, climbing the ranks of organic search can take months or even years. As a growth hack, search engine marketing (SEM) remains essential. Instead of choosing between SEO and SEM, marketers should activate both these tools and make them work in tandem to get the maximum value from search.

Offsite vs Onsite SEM

One trend gaining prominence in the Indonesian marketing landscape is the shift in paid search budgets from offsite platforms, meaning regular search engines, to onsite venues such as Shopee and Lazada, mirroring the way consumers search for products online. Instead of search engines, Indonesian shoppers typically go straight to eCommerce platforms as a one-stop shop. Marketers are also finding that offsite SEM has a more indirect impact on sales, making it harder to track the return on advertising spend.

In 2020, the five largest eCommerce marketplaces in Indonesia by visitors were Shopee, Tokopedia, Bukalapak, Lazada, and Blibli. The combined search traffic of these marketplaces was nearly 90 million a month. Shopee is leveraging on the shift in search habits to onsite platforms via the creation of ShopeeAds. Its paid search business helped new baby care and toy sellers boost brand awareness by 57% and revenue, 42%.

Consumer brands in Indonesia can ride the wave by being aware of consumer search patterns for their products and re-balancing their SEM efforts between offsite and onsite.

6Ps of Onsite SEO

The offsite-onsite dichotomy extends to SEO as well. Unlike in offsite SEO, where the parameters of success are well-defined, the onsite platforms are a new game in organic search. As eyeballs and consumer search habits become entrenched on onsite venues, marketers need to ensure their eCommerce shopfront is functioning at an optimal level. The following six prongs provide a framework for continuous improvement across product, place, price, promotion, people, and process.

1. Product

Brands should maintain a wide array of product listings to leverage on the high purchase intent of eCommerce customers. Stockouts also need to be kept to a minimum as they not only result in lost sales, but also derail the shopper experience. Metrics: % purchasability, % shipped on time, % order cancellations.

2. Placement 

Like offsite search, products that appear higher up on search results pages of eCommerce platforms tend to enjoy much better conversion rates. Marketers can improve visibility by optimising their SEO and buying paid search placements. Metrics: gross merchandise value, page views.

3. Price 

As eCommerce consumers are known to be price and value-sensitive, marketers need to set up a system for monitoring price trends among their competitors. Brands should also have a plan for responding to price changes that do not sacrifice their margins over the long term. Metrics: average discounts.

4. Promotion 

Discounts and other eCommerce tactics such as gift-with-purchase and free shipping can have an outsized impact on sales. A holistic promotion strategy should fold in new ideas as well as keep up with competitors in price and value. Promotions are a good opportunity to do A/B tests to find out what customers like. Metrics: # flash sale items sold, vouchers collected, bundle take-up rate.

5. Perfect Page 

A good user experience will not only keep customers coming back, but it also help brands improve conversion rates across the funnel. On eCommerce platforms, the perfect page should be designed around relevant keywords and high-quality hero images. Metrics: # followers.

6. Performance

By measuring each “P” above according to their relevant metrics, marketers can identify gaps in their eCommerce storefronts and continue to improve. Metrics: # reviews, % positive seller ratings, search rank and relevance, share of search.

Cracking the Code

Brands can give themselves the best chance to appear at the top of product searches by harmonising their efforts with the search algorithms used on eCommerce marketplaces. Although those algorithms are proprietary, marketers can generally weight their efforts according to seven variables, namely product variables including name, display, and description, and other variables such as sales, promotion level, availability-to-purchase, and search traffic.

To start, brands should split their efforts almost equally between product and other variables. The bulk of marketers’ efforts should go towards optimising the copy of the product headline and description, since product searches are keyword-based. That means hero images and visuals can come second. Gross merchandise value is typically the single most important factor in the other variables category, so top-selling brands tend to enjoy better search rankings overall. If building sales momentum takes time, then marketers can re-double their efforts on promotion and visitor traffic, followed by availability to purchase.


For brands, SEO and SEM are two sides of the same coin in the quest for online visibility and brand equity. A few things should be top-of-mind for marketers when it comes to search. First, know the trends: what keywords are being sought after, which platforms are consumers using to search, and how the costs of pay-per-click advertising are evolving. And play the long game: if SEO is the destination, then SEM is the bridge.


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Simon Paterson

Chief of eCommerce Enablement

Simon Paterson

Simon is a visionary and skilled at cultivating leadership.

As the Chief of eCommerce Enablement, Simon’s foray into eCommerce started over a decade ago in SEA. One of his stints include a role as a Senior Vice President and Group Head on On-site Traffic Strategy, along with other C-level positions in Lazada.

Prior to eCommerce, Simon gained more than 10 years of sales and marketing experience in the FMCG industry with Colgate Palmolive and Reckitt Benckiser across Australia, Europe and Southeast Asia. His extensive experience living and working in multiple cities have brought about multiple perspectives and varying ways of thinking.

Before the merger with ADA, Simon was the CEO of Awake Asia and he was able to spearhead the geographical expansion of the company into multiple countries, including Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. Now with ADA, he is dedicated to bring forth the same energy and commitment to provide brands with data-driven, AI-enabled eCommerce solutions today and into the future.

Over the weekends, Simon can be seen cycling or running around Singapore. His longest ride pre-covid involved a 200km round trip to Malaysia for a Laksa.