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Search Engine Marketing Korea

The average Korean has more bandwidth, is online longer, and is quite efficient at extracting information out of the web. You would assume that their tool of choice would be Google. You would be wrong! Quick overview of US Search Engine Market: To Search Engine Marketers operating in North America and UK, the process of finding information is relatively straightforward. Go to Google or Yahoo, type in a query, look at the results. There is a choice between “organic” and “sponsored” listings( yahoo paid inclusion not withstanding), and most people pick one of the top few. Eons ago, web designers in US wanted to show off their skills and had graphic heavy sites.

Unfortunately for them, their bosses who were more interested in using the website as a sales tool, soon found that the fancy graphic sites took so long to load up on Jane’s dialup connection that she just went to the competitor to buy that widget. The content sites, who wanted to maximize their CPM revenues also wanted fast loading pages. Fast load, more page views, more money. “Substance” reigned supreme over “style”. “Minimalism” was the order of the day, and given the deep emotional scars people carry from the dial up days, to a large extent it still is an issue.

It worked off to Google’s advantage—it is vastly easier for Google to evaluate the text and tags of a page for relevance to a query than to see if that cute flash is providing value to the user. Korea is different: You just have to see the Korean mobile games to see what I am talking about—Craigslist is “out”, Hello Kitty is “in”. The average Korean user is a little like a power gamer in the US. Bring on the bandwidth! Net Café is a booming business, and well, we all heard the story of a Korean gamer who dropped dead after playing 50 straight hours of online games (http://news.bbc.uk/1/hi/technology/4137782.stm ). Heart failure, stemming from exhaustion, was the official cause for this 28 year old. Here in the US, we tend to think of glitz, flash and overdose of pictorial icons on a website as a glorified neon billboard.

Superficial, been there, done that, not worth the bandwidth. We also use an alphabet to form words and to communicate and get information—the pictures and the “rich interface” is distracting for us. The Asian culture, on the other hand has traditionally used “characters” or pictorial representation of whole words to communicate. As a result, a text only representation seems inadequate and therefore a sign of lack of technological prowess. I had a hard time convincing some of my Korean counterparts that Google is actually very popular despite it’s simplistic look. The one fact that helped my case was the stock price of Google and it’s market capitalization—120 Billion dollars is well, 120 Trillion Korean “Won”. Unarguable! The Korean Search Engine Marketing is dominated by naver.com. Much more so, than even Google dominates the US. To understand why naver is so successful, let’s go into the details of how things work in Korea and how things differ from the US market.

When we are looking up something that interests us, we “google” it. “Googling” , a recently coined verb, basically means feeding some keywords in a omniscient benevolent search engine to get some results. Higher ranking usually means relevance to the query and therefore exposure. In Korea, things work in the way Ask Jeeves wanted to work, but never managed to hack it. And they work well. Why is Korea a “winner take most” search engine market: The best way to describe Korean Search Engine users is “trolling FAQ’s”. The portals have a knowledge base, organized by questions. Wikipedia, DMOZ, Usenet and Google Answers, while great projects, pale in comparison to the “knowledge iN” of Naver. The system revolves around asking the portal a question, and there is a high likelihood of a lot of answers to that questions by people who cared to write on the subject. The user gets a ranked list of answers and can either choose to read the answers, or a list of similar questions.

She navigates through the questions and answers allowing her to refine her search efficiently. Naver has the most extensive database of questions, and therefore, it is logical for people to use it to get their answers. To get the most exposure, people tend to contribute there the most. Network Effect--giving naver a 75% share of the “question answer” market. Downtown Seoul is a small place: One would think that people who want to promote their products, thoughts would swamp the system with SPAM answers. Fortunately, they have some in built safeguards. All users must be registered to provide answers and their answers are rated by the community. The best answers rise to the top, and for widely asked questions it’s a more reliable way to rank than the “back rub” Google algorithm. Furthermore, the person who is rated high on a few answers gets a higher “rap rating”.


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