Yandex. Seznam. Naver. Baidu. Yahoo Japan. Like the Justice League of search engines, these five sites are the only things standing between Google and world domination, according to the Financial Times.
These five search engines dominate the markets in their respective countries (numbers from FT):
- Seznam, the Czech Republic, 63%
- Baidu, China, “about 60%”
- Naver, South Korea, “about 60%”
- Yahoo Japan, ten guesses, “slightly more than half”
- Yandex, Russia, 46%
The Financial Times says that these five are the only local countries besting Google in the market share game (which, by extension, must mean that Google has the largest single slice of the pie in every other country in the whole world).
These engines have several things in common: 4 of them have non-Roman alphabets, 4 of them are in Asia and 2 in Eastern Europe (lucky Russia, counting twice). But these have little to do with their dominance, which stems from quality, strategy and home-field advantage, as the Financial Times asserts.
In several of these countries, Google’s results are simply inferior—or they were. In many cases, Google has improved the quality of results, but the early leader maintains the “first-mover advantage.” The brand recognition the Google competitors built when they did have a quality edge probably carries over into a perception of superior result quality now.
Aside from being the “first mover,” these five have adopted strategies that have come to shape their users’ expectations of search. One popular strategy among these five is combining the search franchise with a portal (just look at the start pages for Seznam, Yahoo Japan and Naver).
Along with this is using strategies and formats best suited to their respective cultures. For example, the Korean structure for logical arguments is very different from the Western structure. An argument that might persuade a Westerner would come off as blunt, overbearing, inelegant and even rude in Korean, while a well-constructed Korean argument would leave a Westerner feeling unconvinced, as though the arguer had beaten around the bush. The logic structure isn’t limited to essays—it appears in everything down to newspaper articles and face-to-face interactions.
This cultural understanding of logic, of how information should be transmitted and received, must also greatly inform how users interact with a search engine—and it’s just one advantage to being local.
Other advantages to being the hometown team include a sense of pride or even nationalism in using an engine made right here in the fill-in-the-country—especially when said hometown team is beating the world champion.
And the home-field advantage is especially important in the much-coveted Chinese market. The Chinese government has a number of laws designed to make it difficult for foreign companies to compete. To a large extent, these laws are successful. Eric Schmidt told FT:
Because Baidu had such a head start largely because of the various bizarre laws that China has with respect to foreign media. It will take a while, but we will eventually do well there.
All of us should tell the Chinese that their local markets need to be open to foreign investment, they need not favour their local competitors.
Well, much as I don’t care for the Chinese government, it sounds like Schmidt needs the WAAAAAmbulance. It’s hard to sympathize with a company whose true feelings are probably better reflected by Mohammad Gawdat, Google’s head of the emerging markets in Europe, the Middle East and Africa:
It may take more time, but who cares? The rest of the world is doing really well.
What do you think? Will these five holdouts eventually succumb—and does it matter?