Korean SEO and Search Marketing 101

Despite its rather small size and population, South Korea is one of the most wired countries in the world and has a very big internet user population. Unlike many of the countries with big internet markets, the main Korean search engines are local platforms, Naver and Daum. Naver and Daum take up more than 90 percent share in the Korean search engine market.  The world’s biggest and most renowned search engine, Google, only takes up about 2 percent of the market share.

Korea, with the 12th largest pool of internet users was among the first countries to receive internet connections which makes it not surprising that a lot of foreign companies want to enter the Korean market and consider Korean SEO strategies. The search culture and the user patterns of the Koreans are very different from others.

Korean internet users, much like their western counterparts, tend to look at items towards the top of the results pages and are less likely to click on anything below the fold. Organic results on both Daum and Naver appear far down the page. In fact you need to scroll down the page to find them. This explains why Korean SEO has not really been that effective in the past  with the only solution in gaining visibility on Korean search engines being to do paid search.

Let’s take a closer look at the 3 search engines that make up the search market in South Korea.

With a market share of 81%, Naver is the undisputed and most dominating search engine in South Korea. Most well known for its Q & A platform, Naver offers results within a wide range of categories including blogs, cafés (foreign equivalent of forum), videos, dictionaries, images, and books. Different from foreign search engines like Google and Yahoo, Naver’s rankings are not influenced by classic link-building, but on-site optimization and building links from Naver properties such as blogs does work as a strategy for Naver SEO.

Daum

Daum is the second most-used search engine in South Korea and holds about 12% of the search engine market. It was one of the earliest portal sites before Naver to provide services like e-mail and social networking platforms called café. Although still visited by many users, more people prefer to perform their searches on Naver than Daum. Without a doubt, Daum’s biggest competitor, in terms of market share and presence, is Naver. Daum is not as quick as Naver or Google Korea to index new content and it does take some time to respond to SEO activities. Onsite optimization and building links from other Daum properties does work in getting higher rankings although Daum is hard to predict. Building Links from outside Korea has little or no impact from our experience.

Google Korea

Though Naver surely is a dominant search engine in the Korean market, the introduction of Google Instant may finally improve Google’s position in the market. However, it still is a long way or may even be impossible for Google to overcome the high walls built over so many years by Naver and Daum.

Google surely is the most trusted and influential search engine in the world. However, Google only takes up about 2% of the market in Korea. It does not discriminate the language that the keyword is in, whereas Naver and Daum do not show results if the keyword is in English. Compared to these local search engines Naver and Daum, Google Korea has far less paid ads on the results page and shows mostly organic results.

This approach has been criticized as not being suitable for Korean tastes.

Entry to the Korean market

For foreign companies who want to penetrate the Korean internet market, it is crucial that they study and fully understand these distinct differences in the market and Korea’s web system that remains unique from most of the countries in the world.