For years, Google has been the main focus of most websites’ search marketing efforts. In fact, when it comes to search engine optimization, most companies only think of Google.
It is also a known fact that in some countries, there are other search engines that you need to consider. I’m sure that many readers have heard about Baidu in China, Naver in South Korea, and Yahoo! in Japan as the popular search engines.
These websites are super focused on local audiences and not easy to work with unless you have the language capability and understanding of how the services are set up. For that reason, they have scared away many website owners outside their respective countries.
Even though the Asian market is by far the largest online market in the world, information about the market is not as visible as it is for the U.S. or European markets.
This makes the Asian market more mysterious than it should be.
Recently, there have been some significant changes in search engine market shares and user activities, which could provide opportunities to businesses that have been timid about targeting these countries.
First, let’s understand a little more about the locally unique search engines: Baidu, Naver, and Yahoo! Japan.
Since it was launched in 2000, Baidu has been the most widely used search engine in China.
In order to target Chinese audiences using Baidu, you need a Chinese-language website that complies with the Chinese government’s requirement to display the website’s registration number.
Having a “.cn” ccTLD and/or hosting websites in China are not requirements, but they definitely help with indexing and ranking.
Naver is a locally grown search engine in South Korea that started in 1999.
Unlike Google, Naver is more like a portal site with many non-search content and functions. The search results on Naver are quite unique.
It contains several blocks of different content types, including shopping, news, blog, videos, images, and web pages. The organic web page results are not prominent, and the ads are very visible. For these reasons, foreign companies often struggle to gain organic traffic from Naver.
Yahoo! Japan initially started as Yahoo’s Japanese site and became a Japanese-owned company in 2018. It is still one of the popular websites in Japan.
Like Naver, Yahoo! Japan is a portal site with plenty of non-search content and services, including auctions, travel bookings, FAQs, and emails.
While the company itself provides its ad services, Google has been powering its organic search results since 2010.
The Shifts In Search Engine Popularity
Although the above sites are still popular, the search activities have shifted recently, especially in the last 12 months, creating new opportunities for businesses to leverage other search engines for market access.
Latest Search Engine Market Shares
Baidu’s domination of the search landscape has been declining for the past few quarters, dropping from 76% in June 2022 to 49% in March 2023.
Baidu still holds strong with over 64.39% share in mobile search, primarily due to how well it is integrated into the handset infrastructure through its numerous apps and services.
Both Bing and Sogou have cannibalized Baidu’s desktop search market share. Bing’s desktop search share in China has been growing over the past few months, with a bump to 28% since deploying its new AI features.
My B2B clients have seen a measurable increase in searches and traffic from China via Bing in the past few months, increasing efforts to maximize the reach of Bing.
Western businesses should also jump on this opportunity to expand their reach in China using Bing. Unlike Baidu’s Webmaster Tools access challenges, you can easily submit sitemaps and monitor issues in Bing’s English Webmaster Tools interface.
Naver was early to the party in integrating AI into its platform. It did so in late 2021 to support a significant shift in South Korean search behaviors becoming more “exploratory,” with users going deeper into topics that aligned with their interests and search intent.
Naver saw a significant increase in these exploratory searches, accounting for nearly 65% of all queries.
This was followed up by the launch of Naver’s AiRSearch “Smart Block Innovation,” which leverages AI analysis of content, data, and deep user insights to generate blocks of highly relevant results eliminating the need for multiple search terms to present an optimal result.
Despite Naver’s innovations, the March 2023 Search Engine Market Share report indicates Google has gained significant ground in South Korea, garnering 59% share over Naver’s 35%. According to Statista, the share split is even greater, with Google capturing 71% to Naver’s 24%.
Google’s growth in the market creates an opportunity to directly connect with Korean searchers in a way not previously possible.
It is more important than ever to ensure your Japanese content is well-indexed and optimized for Google. With almost 80% market share, especially on mobile, from powering organic search in Yahoo! Japan, and its own growth as a search engine in Japan, Google is critical for connecting with Japanese consumers.
Google Japan has deployed all the shopping features to help businesses reach consumers, but often at a significantly lower average cost per click (CPC) than in the U.S. or Europe.
Bing’s Japan market share has been trending at 3% for the past years. However, new data from Statcounter seems to indicate its new AI features have gained some interest from Japanese users, increasing its market share to 7% and cannibalizing traffic from Yahoo!.
What This Means To The Website Owners (SEO/PPC)
These shifts in the growth of non-local search engines increase opportunities for businesses to reach these markets using assets and techniques they already have in place.
It is now more important to implement technical SEO fixes to increase indexing by both Google and Bing, as well as ensure your websites are mobile-friendly and load as fast as possible to engage users searching primarily on mobile devices in these markets.
Bing’s growth and recent AI and technological advances make it worthy of a fresh look to ensure that you have covered all bases and are well-indexed and optimized to benefit.
SEO Opportunities In Southeast Asia
Beyond China, Japan, and Korea, significant opportunities are emerging in Southeast Asia. The region consists of 11 countries with a total population of 600 million people at varied economic levels – but with growing disposable income.
Southeast Asian markets represented half of the top 10 retail ecommerce growth markets in 2022, and they are projected to generate over $100 billion in retail sales in 2023.
Covid lockdowns forced consumers to shop online, rapidly expanding ecommerce adoption and logistics infrastructures in the region.
National governments made significant investments in connectivity, digital payments, ecommerce platforms, and policy changes to foster ecommerce adoption and growth in the region.
Consumer behaviors have shifted as well, with over 40% of consumers trying at least one new brand since Covid, as compared to only 23% in the U.S.
In Vietnam, social ecommerce has grown significantly, with influencers driving product adoption in fashion and beauty – and price being a secondary consideration.
The region offers new opportunities for brands to reach interested consumers directly through their own ecommerce initiatives, as well as through several growing marketplaces like Shopee, Tokopedia, and Lazada that sell a wide range of products and handle transactions and logistics.
Shopee has quickly emerged as the fourth largest marketplace after Amazon, eBay, and Rakuten, despite its focus on Southeast Asia.
Digital ad spending in the region increased by 64%, further highlighting the digital platform’s ability and cost-effectiveness to connect and engage with consumers. The growth has been across CPG, fashion, and electronics categories.
Over the past few years, the digital disruption in Asia has been significant through rapid ecommerce adoption, technology shifts, and demands of consumers, creating new opportunities for those businesses that were previously challenged by language and resources to target these markets directly.
Now is the time to review your analytics and Google Search Console data to see if you have benefited from the search engine share realignment in the region and if it makes sense to put additional attention to localized content, ad budgets, or specific initiatives to target these markets.
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