While it is without question that Google reigns supreme over 83% of the Internet real estate when it comes to searches, there are some areas where it still ranks a far second. One of these very small regions is South Korea. Topping the search engine list in the country is a search engine called Naver.
“Naver” is a derivative of the verb “to navigate”. This is the country’s top search engine and has a 70% captured market of the searches conducted online in South Korea. The search engine was the brainchild of several former Samsung employees in 1999 and has dominated the online search market since that time.
Unlike Google’s minimalist approach to its main search page and the plain listing of the search results, Naver provides more personality as well as more color. Naver resembles Yahoo’s search engine page, with many images, banners, sections and other organic parts. This is but the surface difference between these two search engines, but there lies much more underneath it.
Matt Cutts, an Internet expert who visited South Korea to highlight to its government and press how the Internet has become a major force in society, finds Naver lacking in the proper exposure it should provide to Korean websites. The problem is that many Korean webmasters block global search engines like Google, citing security reasons. Cutts warned them against this practice, saying, “If a country turns away from the open Web, it risks turning into an island.”
This is a myopic view of what is considered an “open” Web. Many think that by not becoming part of the Google “open” web, Korean websites are not fostering free exchange of ideas and information. On the contrary, Naver’s actions have arguably become the blueprint for Google and other search engine’s successes. The following are examples of areas where Naver has been ahead of the curve:
- Naver had unveiled on the site a functionality called “Knowledge In” back in 2002. This was eventually the inspiration for Yahoo! Answers, where online users can provide information to questions posted on the site by users
- Naver, upon its introduction, provided options for many kinds of search results when on the site. Google had picked this up much later, introducing its Universal Search functionality onsite
- Naver has always maintained itself to be a socially oriented search engine, a move currently being undertaken by Google from its standard web searches to Google Plus and other options
- Some features of the current Google were taken straight out of Naver, such as Google’s highly touted “Search Plus My World”, which is very similar to Naver’s me.naver.com, implemented years ago.
To all this, Naver has issued an official statement through its Chief Executive Officer Mr. Chae. Mr. Chae said, “Naver’s forte is in aggregating useful information for popular topics, often created by the users themselves (blogs and Q&A searches), and presenting such information in a very human-friendly way. Unlike Google, Naver doesn’t rely almost entirely on the brute force performance of its search algorithm.”
In essence, Naver is the amalgamation of Yahoo!Answers, YouTube, Blogger and Google’s paid search functionality. With many options for specific search results, one can find their requirements in either the Q&A database, blog search, news search and the like.
The major difference between these two search giants is the basis of the searches. Google depends its search parameters on the English language while Naver uses the Korean language. Because of the difference in syntax between the two languages, with the Korean syntax much more specific, helps the Naver search algorithm provides more search results to the user.
The justification for the difference of results between Google and Naver for Korean sites, according to Google, is Google’s inability to crawl and index Korean websites. This is where the Korean privacy issues start to limit Google’s webcrawler indexer. On the other hand, Naver understands the Korean mindset regarding the searches, limiting the indexing on its own.
This difference is very much seen in the search results themselves. Naver, with a smaller market, clearly would provide search results of lower quantity but higher quality. On the other hand, Google, with its vaunted search algorithm, just lists out results without regard to quantity. Furthermore, Naver, with its lower indexing results, provides listings for paid advertisements, directory submissions, user generated content, Web 2.0 content among others.
Because of the staggering differences between Naver and Google and because of the status of Korea as one of the few completely connected communities online, Google seems determined to dominate this market. Their first move is to index as much Korean content as they can, and beyond that, they are pressuring the Korean online community to optimize Google’s way, with the “don’t be an island” routine.
Unfortunately, even the market they are targeting is pretty much set on Naver as its main search engine. The Korean Internet community is dominated by Naver, much to the chagrin of Google. This has a self-limiting effect, though, especially to those paid advertisers on Naver. Because Naver is designed for a market that is for Koreans by Koreans, it is limited to the South Korean market. Trying to break into the Top ten in Google involves much time and effort, with little chance of success, something that Koreans are not too inclined to do.
There is also a discipline required to become one of the top search results even in a specific target market search engine such as Naver. In Google, there is a system called Search Engine Optimization. This does not hold true for Naver, as the site has its own specific algorithm for specific search functionalities. Naver utilizes a mixture of pay per click and pay per time advertising in search functionality for its search functions such as Knowledge In and its other multi-media blogs, news sites, image and video searches.
Ultimately, only time will tell if Google can break into the most connected geographical area in the world. But as long as the Korean netizens remain happy with Naver, it’s going to be a tough sell.