Google Tailors Korean Home Page to Local Tastes
News and links to popular topics and blogs are added; effort seeks to gain market share by appealing more to locals
Source: The Wall Street Journal, 11 December 2009
By EVAN RAMSTAD AND JAEYEON WOO
SEOUL—Google Inc. this week changed the simple look of its home page in South Korea, adding blocks of links under the main search box about topics and news that are popular with Korean Internet users.
The move marks the first time that Google has significantly altered the iconic appearance of its home page to adapt to local market conditions, said Ted Cho, engineering site director for Google's Korea unit, although the company has made cosmetic tweaks to accommodate different languages. "I think the whole company is watching," Mr. Cho said.
The move represents Google's attempt to revamp its image in South Korea and there are no signs the company is contemplating similar changes to its U.S. homepage, which it keeps deliberately sparse.
Google declined to comment about whether it plans to roll out the new design elsewhere.
While Google is the leading search engine and Web service provider in the U.S. and much of the world, the company in South Korea significantly trails two domestic Web portals in usage.
The two Korean companies— NHN Corp. and Daum Communications Inc.—present users with home pages that look more like those of media outlets than a search engine. They include the latest news, photos, videos and updated lists of highly trafficked blogs and popular online chat sites.
Mr. Cho said that he has often heard from South Koreans that they don't know what to do with a search engine that just provides a blank page and search box. "They visit these portals to find information about what's going on and what everyone is talking about," he said. "Then they start a search."
In November, NHN's Naver site led the market with 66% of search queries, according to KoreanClick, an Internet-industry research firm in South Korea. Daum was next with 21%, followed by SK Telecom Inc.'s Nate portal at 6%, Yahoo Inc.'s Korea site at 3% and Google at 2%.
The success of Naver and Daum is rooted in the homogeneity and density of South Korea, which is the size of a midsize U.S. state such as Indiana but with roughly the same number of people as California and Texas, the two most populous U.S. states, combined. South Koreans tend to be interested in the same things, and it shows in Internet search requests.
Both Naver and Daum keep users captive for a longer period than Google or Yahoo by creating vast databases of popular content and linking to them first. For instance, a search for information about lung cancer on Naver or Daum will first yield results from articles the sites have acquired or commissioned from Korean doctors or hospitals.
By contrast, a Google search yields results from the broader Web ranked by Google's search algorithm. Mr. Cho said that wouldn't change in South Korea.
Google found that, on any given day in South Korea, the top 10,000 search items account for 40% to 50% of all requests, more than twice the rate of any other country and far more than in countries with diverse populations.