New trend emerging in South Korea’s search engine market

Is Naver Still Dominant?

South Korea was an early adopter of high-speed Internet connections in the mid 1990′s. By 2010, broadband Internet in the country reached 95% household penetration, according to a report from Strategy Analytics. But while South Korea was quick to embrace the Web, there is something unique about the situation there when it comes to the use of search engines and online marketing opportunities.

Let’s take a closer look.

Search engine market share in 2012 – a new trend in South Korea?

Unlike most other regions around the globe where Google is the dominate search engine, South Korea is a different in this regard. There is a local search engine portal called Naver, which launched in June 1999 with its own proprietary search engine. Plus, there is Daum, which began its search service in January 2000.  Both are highly competitive in the region with Google, which has been gaining market share.

As shown below based on the latest comScore qSearch data from October 2011 to December 2012, local giant Naver is still the leading Korean search engine, but is currently falling in search volume share. The search volume share for Google, the global leader, is now rising and has surpassed that of the other local competitor Daum.  And since Yahoo Korea exited the market in December 2012, I’m expecting sharper competition between Naver, Google and Daum in the months ahead.

A new trend is emerging in South Korea, contradicting previous analyses of the market where Naver historically dominated followed by Daum, Nate, Yahoo, and Google trailing with minimal share.

South Korean Share of Search

Search engine results pages (SERP) – what is unique in South Korea?

Although most consumers and marketers are used to Google’s standard layout globally, South Korea is in different in this regard – even including Google, which may potentially impact your strategy.

As you can see in the Naver screenshot below, paid media, a variety of Naver-owned media, and organic data fill the search engine results page (SERP) real estate. Although paid search ads take up a prominent spot, organic Web search results – unlike those on Google globally – are towards the bottom of the SERP, minimizing their influence. Naver-owned media are filling up other spaces. Daum follows a similar pattern as Naver.

For Naver, beginning with Naver SEM (blue box) may be the simplest and fastest way to secure the highest exposure. Making registrations and/or optimizing pages for Naver-owned media (light blue box), such as Naver shopping, Naver directory, Naver map, Naver community, Naver opencast, Naver books and Naver video, is another way to gain search result exposure.  Note, however, that Naver knowledge dictionary, Naver word dictionary, Naver news library and Naver information are all fed directly by Naver (orange box). Lastly, optimizing for Naver image, news, blog and organic web search (light brown box) are other ways to gain SERP visibility, but the results seem to index non-Naver media  as well which may increase competition for a higher spot.

(click image to enlarge)

Naver page analysis

In contrast, Google Korea has a more consistent SERP with other regions globally, which provides more organic opportunity as well as SEM. However, the organic results layout overall still resembles Naver and Daum’s SERP to a certain degree, which shows that Google has strived to customize to meet the local needs. The following screenshot shows only the top part of the SERP for Google Korea with the organic web search results, but the layout may vary depending on the search term. For example, an organic web search result may return one or more results depending on a search term. In general, this is followed by images, blog posts, site information, news, and Q&A results.

Google results South Korea

What are the opportunities and actionable insights?

I recommend working with your search agencies in the following order to maximize your opportunities.

  1. Begin with SEM for Naver, Daum and Google, which is the fastest and simplest way to gain a prominent spot on the SERP. Initially, the majority of your efforts should be focused on this area.
  2. Then make registrations and/or optimize pages for Naver and Daum-owned media spaces, which will increase the likelihood of gaining prominent coverage on the SERP.
  3. Finally, optimize for an organic spot with Google, which has a comparatively similar SERP as it does other regions. This is an opportunity that may become increasingly important in the coming months and years as Google grows its South Korean market share.