Back in 1999, not even one year after Google incorporated in the United States, another search engine was emerging across the Pacific in South Korea. Founded by ex-Samsung employees and dubbed "Naver" (derived from the term "navigate"), the Korean web portal surfaced as a new communication tool for Koreans by Koreans.
Today, while Google holds the majority of search share in many countries across the globe, Naver dominates the South Korean market. Nielsen reported back in 2011 that Naver had a stronghold on more than 70 percent of share, while Google clung to a mere 3 percent.
Naver's success, like Google's in the U.S., is largely due to its understanding of what works in its own marketplace. Naver first filled the gap by creating a Korean-language portal for Web information – something that was lacking at the time – and continued to evolve its services to meet the needs of stakeholders.
While Google continues to perform outreach in South Korea in hopes of educating content publishers on the benefits and importance of Google as a way to discover information, many of those participating in Naver are comfortable doing so, intentionally blocking Googlebot due to privacy concerns.
Whether Google will climb up the ranks in South Korea is yet to be seen. ComScore data from 2011-2013 shows Naver's share of searches in a decline, while Google seems to be gaining traction.
It's possible Naver could lose ground as a result of criticism over what some call a monopoly. Opponents on both sides have scrutinized the engine; some want more regulation of the content, others are calling for more transparency in the results.
No matter what side you're on, if your global audience is on Naver, it's time to start thinking of the Korean search engine as a viable publisher for your brand. Understanding how to compete on Naver comes with a learning curve, however.
Unlike Google, Naver doesn't crawl the World Wide Web to discover and rank content; likened to a directory service, those who want a place within the Naver portal must first sign up with the engine and then create accounts for specific services within Naver.
The Naver experience is centered on user-generated content, social interaction and paid listings. While there is some element of search engine optimization in order to compete in the organic listings, the primary way to be discovered includes a multi-faceted approach to being visible in as many areas of the search results as possible.
Naver Leads by Example with Social and Content
Some say Naver was innovating search before even Google and Yahoo. Naver's "Comprehensive Search," which brought together multiple categories of results all on one search results page, launched in 2000 – seven years prior to Google's Universal Search results. Naver's "Knowledge iN" search, which is similar to Yahoo Answers, launched three years prior to the Yahoo service.
Today, Naver is a social content machine – a glimpse of a concept that could be a future look at SERPs across the globe. A primary focus of Naver's search results is content coming from user blogs and Naver's social community, named "Café." Naver refers to this movement as "creating the foundation of a new culture."
On its corporate website, Naver explains its philosophy:
Mutual understanding creates a new culture. Naver offers spaces where users can communicate to create and share information. User-generated content (UGC) includes information necessary for daily life, individual know-how, and expert knowledge. UGC is shared in Naver's community spaces, such as Blogs and Cafes, creating a new culture of documentation. New UGC is linked into Naver's search services to become valuable resources for other users, forming the basis of a rich online world.
The type of content Naver serves is one of the reasons for its popular adoption. Users are motivated to contribute to the search results through blogs and social channels. Much like Google's social network Google+, participation in Café and blogs is rewarded, but also seems to be the preferred way of interacting on the web for the general population of Naver users.
Dissecting the Naver Portal and Its Search Results
Naver is a portal and a search engine at the same time. Much like Yahoo's home page, Naver's portal offers several choices to access content upon arrival. The home page is similar to Yahoo in that it curates Naver content and services all in one place, including news, shopping, and so on.
Naver has catered the format to the way the majority of users like to receive and explore content. Unlike Google's streamlined, clean interface, Naver's information-packed home page portal gives multiple options from the start.
After performing a query, Naver search results are also driven by categories of information similar to universal search in Google, but includes sections highlighted below:
The organic search listings don't receive priority in Naver, and the listings are few. In order to compete in the Naver search results as a whole, brands must take a multi-category approach to visibility and optimization – attempting to be in as many places at once as possible. It's a big job, and brands may want to focus efforts on the categories in Naver that are providing the most return.
Naver and the Mobile Experience
South Korea mobile phone usage is outpacing other Asian-Pacific countries and even the world, while smartphone data usage in South Korea is more than three times that of the global average, according to research published by Webcertain.
Android-powered phones rule in the South Korean marketplace and Webcertain reported that the iPhone would be hard pressed to gain traction due to the lack of features supported in iOS such as near field communication (NFC).
Image Source: Webcertain Global Mobile Report
Naver offers mobile access to content in several areas. On its site, Naver highlights what's available within its mobile experience:
Mobile Naver offers 17 services, including search, Knowledge iN, Café, News, Communication Cast, Blogs and Me2DAY. Users can also use E-mail and Calendar service, as well as the online storage space Ndrive and Photo Album to store documents, images, videos and other various files. Users can enjoy a personalized web environment by checking their e-mail and schedule and use their own data anytime and anywhere.
Global SEO and Optimizing for Naver: 5 Best Practices
Enterprise SEO marketers see tremendous value in global SEO. For many, global SEO targeting higher rank in global engines is a top priority since it is a gateway to increase leads, conversions and revenue.
Global SEO also boosts marketing ROI by providing a greater return on marketing investments. In addition, it also allows marketers to maintain brand consistency online and globally while accommodating local differences.
Naver can teach marketers about the importance of diversifying efforts in web marketing, and marketers can take what they've learned from Google and tracking multi-channel efforts, and apply that wisdom to understand where the return is within Naver for their brands.
While Naver optimization is a complex venture, the following tips can help marketers claim and build presence in Naver.
1. Have a Korean Language Site
Naver was built around the Korean language. That means, having a site in Korean is important. Don't just settle for translators, make sure you have someone on staff leading the marketing charge that understands the culture and the way Koreans communicate.
2. Register, Sign up for Services, and Submit to Categories
Participating on Naver requires a registration process. Once registered, signing up for and submitting to various services within Naver (think maps, encyclopedia, social networks and so on) will help ensure a multi-faceted approach to visibility.
3. Focus on Content
One of the biggest opportunities for exposure is participation in Naver's user-generated content section, Knowledge iN. Building authority and enhancing visibility in this area includes being active and keeping in mind the keywords you're using when participating. Research at the university level explained why this service is popular amongst users and how more participation correlated to better performance.
Blog results are also important content in Naver, and having a blog that is up-to-date and regularly maintained can help with visibility.
4. Be Social
Naver's social network, "Café," is an important part of the Naver search engine experience. Brands can apply the same principles to social in Naver as they do for social media elsewhere – be present, be engaging, build authority – and make sure your settings are streamlined for maximum exposure in the search results.
5. Don't Forget SEO Basics
While Naver and Google may differ in the areas of technical optimization (Naver doesn't discriminate against what we in the U.S. would call "uncrawlable" sites – sites that aren't built for search engines) and the algorithm (some reports say the organic listings are manually updated), basic SEO techniques can help content be discovered across several categories. It is essential to ensure that you measure ‘blended rank' and universal search results due to the various levels and types of content in the Naver SERP.
This includes using your important keywords in all areas of optimization, be it text, image or video and across categories, whether you're targeting organic search or directory submissions in Naver. If you're concerned with visibility in other South Korean search engines as well, like Google, make sure your site is applying the same best practices you've applied for the U.S. Google search engine.
Search has evolved from a game of tactics to a game of content with every brand now a publisher. As you can see from this article a large part of Naver is driven by content – specifically registered blogs and user generated content with social integration.
If you look at recent changes to the search engines, algorithms, secure search and subsequent shift to focus on content reflected in the SERPs – in local and US markets – you can see that search engines across Global geographies can also learn from one another. It isn't always a one-way process.