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More than 20% of our clients come from Vietnam since our workshop is headquartered in Ho Chi Minh City, the Economic Capital of Vietnam. In Vietnam, we have a favorite saying "same same but different", everything in Vietnam is the same but different from the world. The same thing applies to doing Digital Marketing in general and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in specific in Vietnam. In this article, I will cover several important points to keep in mind when doing SEO in Vietnam, especially if you target the Vietnamese language.
The major search engine in Vietnam is Google. The 2nd most used search engine is the Russian-backed CocCoc search engine which claims to be optimized for the Vietnamese language. SimilarWeb's list of top websites in Vietnam shows Google taking both 2nd and 3rd place (google.com.vn and google.com) and coccoc taking the 16th place. Bing and other services are nowhere to be found in the top 50 list. Since Google is heavily used in Vietnam, data from Google Trends is also a trustworthy indicator for Search Trends in Vietnam.
It's important to note that Facebook is taking the number 1 position, and with more and more people search for things on Facebook you may want to consider another search engine to optimize for as well. However, in this article, we will focus only on search engine optimization for websites, we will ignore the Facebook search for now.
When doing SEO in Vietnam, it's safe to optimize only for Google as the other search engines do not have a significant share of the market. Obviously, the usual tasks of SEO including building backlinks, writing content, optimizing website internal structure, etc. still apply to the SEO business in Vietnam.
Doing SEO in Vietnam can be challenging as certain things you are used to may not work very well here.
In Vietnam, it's harder than usual to do backlinks properly, at least not the way you are used to when doing backlinks in other countries. Most website owners in Vietnam do not want to put backlinks to websites other than their own (unless paid to do so). Due to the very strict government's control over multimedia content, there is no equivalent of medium.com or similar community-based article websites in Vietnam.
Traditional methods such as blog post comments, badges, or free offerings (such as icons, etc) may not work very well. Most backlinks in Vietnam are done by spamming forums with links in comments or signature text. This usually results in low-quality backlinks which are discouraged by Google and can actually harm your website ranking in the long term. You can probably pay to get banners and ads links back to your website, but this can get rather costly in the long term especially if you need to do the monthly payment (also, this is against Google's policy and so you can be penalized). Another trick that was used rather often in the past was to build microsites then link back to your website, but you will have to do backlinks for your microsites as well which leads to a vicious circle.
Many SEO service providers in Vietnam resort to tricks such as buying domains that are near to the expiration date or buying old websites to set up "bait" content with backlinks to their targeted sites. While these methods have been proven successful in some cases, please do note that these tricks are against Google's policy and you can be removed from their search index for violating their terms.
If you are lucky enough to do SEO for English websites in Vietnam then you are in luck, you can still have access to all the backlink resources. However, since most of these backlinks will not be from Vietnam-based websites, the regional/locality factor may be affected.
For the reason above, Content is King when doing SEO in Vietnam. Carefully written content that focuses on the users will help you attract more visitors to your website (and people do have a habit of sharing interesting links via Facebook in Vietnam). Instead of focusing on short, generic keywords, you should also pay attention to the long, specific keywords which are usually less competitive and can yield higher conversion rates.
If your website content is in Vietnamese, you should be aware that the Vietnamese language has nine accent marks (diacritics). While all your website content should be written with these diacritics, your average users will search without these diacritics. Google will return different results for keywords without and without diacritics so you should make sure that you optimize for both versions (prioritize the non-diacritic version). To ensure your website can outperform the competitors, you should check this awesome article on diacritics SEO technique.
If your website has a built-in search engine, you should also consider this user behavior as well. While your website contents (in Vietnamese) should always have diacritics, the users usually tend to search without diacritics. Ensure that your built-in search engine can still return relevant search results for both cases.
Vietnamese consumers are mostly young and love to follow the latest trends and news. By keeping your content always fresh and up-to-date with the latest trends, you can capture a huge influx of visitors.
For example, during the first months of the year 2017, there was one murder case of a Vietnamese young girl named "Nhật Linh" in Japan which made huge news. There have been many websites that we're able to capture this trend by offering related content such as:
How to prevent child sexual abuse
Is Japan a safe country to study abroad
Facebook is probably the only significant social media network in Vietnam. Twitter and Linkedin are almost never used. Instagram is used by a limited number of young people. If you ever want to know the latest trend in Vietnam's internet sphere, you can rely on Facebook. In 2018, the number of Vietnam's Facebook users is expected to reach 40mil, which is almost 50% of the population. Most small eCommerce businesses in Vietnam rely solely on Facebook as their main sales channel.
There are also other smaller, local social networks but most cannot compare with Facebook. One noteworthy "social" network is Zalo, which is actually more comparable to Viber and Snapchat but it's quickly gaining fame and users and is becoming the most used Instant Message app in Vietnam.
Vietnam has a population of around 90 million people. Approximately 40% of this population own at least one smartphone. As you can guess, most of these users will access online content via their smartphones and this trend will keep on going as smartphones are becoming cheaper and 3G/4G connections becoming faster and more affordable. Since Google returns different search results on mobile (usually more localized results which prioritize businesses that are closer to the user's location), it's extremely to take mobile search engine optimization into consideration.
While eCommerce is growing exponentially in Vietnam, the consumers still prefer buying at nearby brick-and-mortar shops when possible as they can see and touch the products physically. If your business sells locally, make sure you optimize your content for local keywords (i.e., best pho in Ho Chi Minh City). Also, take note that Vietnamese languages have regional words for the same item, ensure you optimize your content for the targeted audience (i.e., the blanket is called "mền" in the South and "chăn" in the North. Rather different right?) With the growth of smartphone users, we suspect that location-based results will become more and more relevant in Vietnam in the future.
Vu Nguyen is an entrepreneur, developer, and founder of Nilead. He loves backend website development and has experience in eCommerce (owning an online store as well as being a developer), Search Engine Optimization, UX Design, and Content Strategy.
Since 2005, Vu has headed and overseen UX design teams for projects in corporations, start-ups, individuals, etc., regardless of their size. He has been involved in both the creative and technical aspects of each project - from ideation to concept and vision, prototype building to detailed design, and build-up to deployment.