Search marketers have deemed South Korea one of the toughest markets to figure out -- so tough that many have given up on it. The difficulties start with a small and complicated population, three search engines that are far ahead of Google, and one of the highest CPC prices in the world.
The key to understanding this market isn't so much in the technical understanding as it is the cultural understanding.
Take a cumulative approach. The key to success here is a combination of social media, organic, and paid search. For Koreans, when it comes to search marketing, they will tell you "Shijaki banida," which means "starting is only half the task."
To start, we'll check out the existing search engines and see how they operate. Then, we'll look at popular types of information, and how Koreans consume that information. Finally, we'll look at some basic best practices for the market.
Getting to Know the Koreans
Yahoo Korea provides the paid search results for Naver and Nate while Daum has a partnership with Google providing their paid search results.
As you evaluate the home pages of Naver, Daum, Yahoo Korea, and Google Korea, you'll notice that they all share a portal feel. This "portalized" search engine experience is what sets the Koreans apart from the other users.
Korean Search Engines
Google Home Page
Google Results (keyword: "tablet computers")
Naver Home Page
Naver Results (keyword: "tablet computers")
Daum Home Page
Daum Results (keyword: "tablet computers")
Recently, a new search engine has rapidly leveraged Korea's appetite for social media and search: Nate.com. It was developed by SK Communications, which also developed Cyworld (the most popular social media outlet in Korean history).
Within one year, Nate.com gained more market share than Google and Yahoo combined, forcing both search engines to change their user interface. While it's impressive that they beat the almighty Google and Yahoo so quickly, it also goes to show you how valuable unique, proprietary content is to the Koreans.
What Do Koreans Search For?
User-generated content (UGC) is more valuable to South Koreans than a standard search or directories. According to a June 2008 analysis by Rankey.com of Naver, here's how people search on Naver:
- Image search: 25 percent
- UGC/blog search: 24 percent
- Naver Answers (Q&A): 22 percent
- News/Video/Web Search/Dictionary search: 29 percent
Koreans trust information from user-generated content far more than information from web search results. A typical search pattern would start with images, then UGC and blogs, knowledge base, and finally search (paid is given some weight over organic because of its positioning on the page).
What Payment Methods do Koreans Use?
Typically, Koreans use credit cards or their mobile phones to make purchases online. Since the beginning of 2010, some businesses have implemented smartphone e-payment systems and applications. This method is being adopted fast and its popularity is expected to grow over the next few years.
Unlike China, South Korea is a small country. There is little difference in localized dialect and geographic targeting between regions and towns.
Korean Search Marketing Best Practices
Leveraging user-generated content should be at the top of your list. Blogs, forums, images, and video are all highly important -- and often ranked on freshness.
Non-commercial, educational, and government websites related to the search keyword often show on top of the organic search results. Yet Naver and Daum promote their internal ads first on the top of the search results page before showing Overture or Google supplied ads. This often puts search ads beneath the fold.
Naver's organic search engine algorithm is similar to Google's. It is proprietary and not supplied by Yahoo.
Keyword relevance is a major factor to ranking. Additionally, Naver's search algorithm focuses on real-time search, sequence search, and mobile search, where Daum's engine focuses on real-time search, local search (such as maps), and mobile search. Real time results are more important then quality results.
When designing a landing pages, the ability to create sophistication and trust is deeply related to purchase conversion. What we in the West may find busy and unappealing may be intuitive in the East. Floating animations and site guides are common.
One difference Korea has over its Asian partners is that mobile search advertising has been slow to adopt. SMS advertising still has big portion of mobile advertising market share in Korea, but as the population embraces smartphones, it should be one of the fastest growing sectors in coming years.
Both Naver and Daum have achieved strong brand loyalty in Korea. Naver has been known as the best portal website among the Korean population since Naver "Knowledge In" (Naver "Answers") was introduced and turned out to be an incredible success. Daum obtained their reputation as one of the first web portals in Korea thanks to its free e-mail service, Hanmail (more than a quarter of Korean people registered with this e-mail service in the past).
In the West, the search engine portal models of AOL, MSN, and Yahoo simply died out as users became more aware of better vertical content from sites that the portals often shared content with. In Korea, as well as the rest of Asia, the portal models never phased out, they only grew as users embraced them as their ultimate online community. Localized content is king, but user-generated content is the emperor.
Special thanks to my friend Sean Lee of www.ec21.com for helping with this article.
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