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Google vs Naver: Exploring the World of Korean SEO

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9 min read

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Argos Multilingual

Published on

19 Jun 2023

If someone mentions Korea, catchy K-Pop tunes and thrilling K-Dramas are probably what first spring to mind. But what about online marketing? And actually selling your products or services to such a sought-after market? As part of our iSEO video series, we sat down with HoGeon Kim to learn more about the world of Korean SEO and digital marketing.

About the Korean market

Let’s start off by looking at the Korean market, which will help you understand why this country of 51 million people is competing with powerhouses like China and Japan. Korea is:

  • 10th biggest market in the world (GDP)
  • Home to a nation of tech-lovers
  • Urban, with 92% of the population living in cities of which 50% live in the Greater Seoul area

Looking at being tech-savvy in a little more detail:

  • Korea has a very well-developed IT infrastructure
  • In 2018, 96% of Koreans used the internet
  • 95% of Koreans own a smart phone, ranking number one in the world in terms of smart phone ownership rate

And as you can see from the picture below, age isn’t a barrier to technology either!

A new content powerhouse & an opportunity for Korean SEO

Korea has undoubtedly become a content powerhouse over the last number of years, with K-Pop bands like BTS, Blackpink, etc. exploding into the international music scene. You also have the film “Parasite” which was the first foreign-language film to ever win an Oscar. In 2021, Squid Game became Netflix’s most popular TV series of all time, which is why earlier in 2023, Netflix announced they were investing 2.5 billion USD into Korean TV shows and movies.

When expanding into Korea, a lot of foreign brands use Korean celebrities to help market their products. So it’s definitely worth thinking about implementing influencer marketing techniques into your Korean SEO and content efforts.

Korea’s e-commerce boom

E-commerce is thriving in Korea, with the market worth a whopping 530 billion USD. Looking at that from a ranking perspective, Korea has the 5th largest e-commerce market in the world, and is expected to jump into third place in the very near future. So what’s causing this massive boom?

  • There’s a single person household rate of 30%, and this number is growing
  • As we’ve already mentioned, the IT infrastructure in Korea is very well developed meaning easy mobile-first payments
  • Korea has a well-structured logistics system, and being a small country makes it much easier to deliver goods

So if you have an e-commerce store, Korea could be the perfect marketplace to expand into. Especially if you’re willing to invest in Korean SEO.

Naver and the role it plays in Korean SEO

You’ve probably heard by now that Korea has its own search engine called Naver, which has been the country’s main search engine since the early 2000s. Plus, Koreans use their own messaging platform called Kakao.

When it comes to Korean SEO, Google is actually beginning to catch up with Naver. Back in 2017, Google only had a market share of 0.95%, whereas that has now grown to 34.33%. This has led to Naver’s market share falling to 58.47%, with some industries such as IT choosing Google over Naver.

Why is Google beating Naver?

There are a couple of reasons why Google is now catching up with Naver.

Korea is a (relatively) free market. Unlike in say China, there is no need to use a particular search engine over Google, so Koreans can make their own informed decisions on where they search.

Naver’s closedness. It’s always been tricky to rank on Naver because they’ve preferred to show their own content across the whole Naver ecosystem, which has decreased the SERP quality.

Creators moving away. In the past, creators only had the option to use Naver as there were no alternatives. However, Google has now become much more popular because Google share ad profits with creators, meaning they can earn more through Google than they ever could have done with Naver.

So for SEO in Korea, do you need to optimize for Naver or Google?

From reading the last couple of paragraphs, it’s clear why many companies are choosing to move away from Naver and focus on Google. However, you shouldn’t move away from Naver SEO just yet. Naver is changing and getting a lot of its inspiration from Google’s business models, meaning better content in the SERPs. Plus, Naver is spending a lot of money on earning back the trust of Naver users.

This also means that there is a massive opportunity in Google SEO for Korea. Not many companies in Korea take Google very seriously, which leaves the door wide open to foreign companies.

The difference in ranking factors between Google and Naver

Unfortunately, Naver isn’t as transparent as Google. Plus, considering the fact that it used to be very hard to rank on Naver as it preferred its own content, Naver ranking factors aren’t really something that many SEOs get to deep dive into.

Luckily, with the untapped potential of Google coming into the equation, plus the fact that Naver is opening up, following ethical white-hat SEO best practices can not only help you with Korean SEO for Google, but they could see you grow on Naver as well.

In Korea, lots of companies tend to invest solely in PPC, with SEO not so popular. By taking some of your PPC budget and investing in SEO, you could really have a competitive advantage in Korea.

More insights into the Korean market

To finish off, we thought we’d finish off with a couple more insights into the Korean market that could benefit your Korean SEO strategies.

The paid advertising industry has doubled in the last three years according to the Korean Online Advertising Association.

YouTube is the most popular content marketing channel in Korea, matching many other countries around the world. Plus as of 2021, YouTube because the most popular app in Korea, surpassing Naver and Kakao.

Luxury brands. Koreans love foreign luxury brands, and was the only world market that actually saw luxury brand sales grow during COVID.

Final thoughts

As you can see, it’s an exciting time to start working on your Korean SEO efforts, especially when you can couple them with the latest trends like influencer marketing and e-commerce. If you need help expanding into Korea, get in touch.

About HoGeon

HoGeon started his professional career working with the U.S. Army as a Cryptologic Linguist. After leaving the army, he moved into SEO and SEA roles, and has been working as a freelance SEO consultant since 2020. It’s his love of languages which inspired him to get into international SEO, mainly helping international clients expand into Korea.

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