Understanding the Global Search Marketplace – Part 1

The search world is expanding. Global players like Google, Yahoo, Baidu and Microsoft are competing to be the single resource for accessing information. Internet usage is also on the rise and the types of information people access (and desire to access) are consistently raising standards for search efficiency.

New technologies in the search and Internet advertising category have always been the driving factors for new and better search results. It’s somehow odd that technocrats have always had an unsettling relationship with advercrats, a notion that I had plenty of time to think about on my 16 hour flight back from O’Reilly’s first China Foo event last week in Beijing.

Like it or not, technology and advertising are sleeping in the same bed. All over the world, search activity is up and audiences are arriving on the search scene in droves. While I was in China, comScore released its latest round European Internet usage stats, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to dig into search activity around the world.

The World Perspective

Total search activity is up across the board. From January to July 2007, search activity increased 16.9 percent in North America, but the bigger gains occurred elsewhere on the big blue marble. The Asia Pacific region saw a 21.4 percent increase in search activity while Latin America and the Middle East increased 32.3 percent and 22.2 percent respectively.

Europe’s fast growing Internet audience only increased its search volume by 12 percent. The United Kingdom and Germany represent 5 percent and 6 percent of the top five search markets by volume in the world. The United States represents 22 percent of the overall search world share, followed by China at 10 percent. Rounding out the top five is the Japanese audience at 9 percent of search volume.

Specific search activity and the commerce or advertising models vary greatly from country to country. Each culture has its own way of adopting search ads along with online commerce. Other contributing factors to growth diversity include commercial laws and inclusion of advanced social or community sites integrated in the search world.

Remember: the social connection is relatively new to the search world and U.S. search audiences had already embraced search prior to the inclusion of social components. In emerging markets, social media is growing up alongside search.

Chinese Secrets

The early days of western companies entering China only to end up with soup dumplings on their faces is starting to slow a bit. Each time I visit China, I see better integration, along with a smarter approach to reaching out this highly unique culture. Johnny Walker is everywhere (thank heavens) while Starbucks, KFC and all kinds of packaged goods are thriving.

The battle for search dominance is burning white hot in China. In comScore’s measurement of worldwide searchers age 15 or older, China ranks second in total search volume (behind the U.S.) and overall search volume increased 49 percent from January to July 2007. comScore placed total searches at 62 billion in July 2007.

China is a good example of the biggest mistake analysts make when projecting search ad revenue growth in emerging markets; they assume an apples to apples comparison with the United States. While search ad revenue growth often parallels audience or search activity growth, there are exceptions.

Great Big Search Volume = Great Big Money?

The directive search advertising revenue explosion occurred largely as an accidental side effect of a failing Internet advertising model. The early and continued success of search advertising was — and is — highly contingent upon the online transaction as a means of proving its value.

The Chinese online community, for example, has not yet decided to spend a lot of money online, so growth will have to come elsewhere. Experts contend that until foreign banks (an increasing phenomenon) enter the marketplace, online commerce in China will not expand, if ever.

If there is one thing I have learned from my time in China doing business and attending events like Foo, the Chinese community is strong. The big growth opportunity in China lies in capitalizing on the ever-growing community or social site development. Like the uneasy relationship between technology and advertising, the relationship between social and community considerations will have to continue its expansion.

Next week: which sites own what and where.

Meet Kevin at SES Chicago from December 3-6.

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