SEO for Korea’s Naver: the good, the bad and the ugly

This article is the third one in the International SEO series. Be sure to also check out our previous posts dedicated to Yandex SEO and PPC and Baidu Search Marketing.

If you go to South Korea, you’ll notice that the majority of people there don’t use Google to discover things online – they use Korea’s traditional search engine, Naver.

Launched in 1999, Naver is often said to control 70% of South Korea’s search market. However, newer independent reports indicate that Naver’s market share might actually be around 50% now, with Google (including YouTube) making up for slightly over 20% of the market. 

One way or the other, Naver is still Korea’s leading search engine – so, what could be the secret behind its lasting popularity?  

Naver, the good

When Naver was launched, there was not much Korean-language content on the Web. Naver emerged as the first national web portal with its own search engine. In addition, it was built specifically around the Korean language.

This gave Korean publishers incentive to put out their content on the web more actively. Besides, in year 2000 Naver launched Comprehensive Search (5 years ahead of Google’s Universal Search), which made it very clear what kind of content Naver was willing to index: websites, blogs, images, etc.

And, with the introduction of Knowledge Q&A aka Knowledge iN in 2002 (3 years before Yahoo! Answers was launched) Naver truly revolutionized the Korean segment of the web, spurred user-generated content creation, and cemented for itself leading positions on the market for years to come.

Naver, the bad

Naver is often criticized for using the upper hand it has on the market to force publishers to play by its rules. Most of the search results one sees on Naver are paid inclusions, and the prices for content inclusion and ads appearing on Naver can been infamously high.

Content producers have to feed their content into Naver for free (if it’s a Wikipedia-style website) or on a paid basis (if it’s a commercial project). Besides, often it needs to be done in a certain format, as it is now the case with Korean newspapers, for example.

Naver, the ugly

Naver’s search algorithm has been picked at a lot as well. If you look at how Naver discovers and arranges information on the Web, you’ll see that it doesn’t have to do that much finger-stirring for it: the information is often delivered to Naver on a silver platter, and all it has to do is accept it.

In a way, Naver is a directory more than a search engine. No wonder it has gotten a bit rusty in terms of indexing and arranging its search results.

Understanding Naver’s SERP

Naver’s search got segmented much earlier than Google’s, and nowadays Naver’s search result page consists of many blocks of information, each providing a certain type of content. It is way longer than Google’s traditional top 10 plus some images and videos here and there. Here are just some of the types of results one often sees on Naver (paid PPC listings are marked orange).

As you can see, Naver displays 20+ types of search results all on page 1, with “organic” Web search result occupying slot #11. If you compare that to Google’s results page for “Apple” with only 2 types of search results and one immediate answer, it becomes clear how much more diverse and different Naver search is.  

SEO for Naver

Naver’s organic search results are scarce in comparison with its paid ones, and are normally pushed down the search results page. However, should you consider optimizing for this type of Naver’s search results, here are some things to keep in mind.

Naver’s organic search is represented by the following three segments:

1. Knowledge iN

As I said earlier, this is Naver’s version of Yahoo! Answers which Naver launched back in 2002, much earlier than Yahoo! Answers was introduced. This portal is for people to ask questions and to search for answers. So, if you’re looking to connect with Korean online audiences, you may want to participate with Naver’s Knowledge iN to become an authority.  

2. Knowledge Encyclopedia

Naver’s Knowledge Encyclopedia mostly features results from Web publishers like Wikipedia and similar sites. They usually show up for generic-type search queries, or when one searches for a well-known real-world thing or phenomenon such as a famous person, a book, etc.

3. Web search

Naver’s Web search is similar to Google’s Web search in terms of the type of information it provides. On the other hand, there are some differences.

- Unlike Google, Naver admits to using click-through rates from the SERPs and time on site to determine the quality of a web page.

- It also looks at how much information a page has, and how relevant it is to the searcher’s keyword(s).

- Unlike Google, Naver is openly against “commercial pages” appearing in Web search, and wants its Web search results to carry more of informational value.

However, just like Google Naver it supports robots.txt and the canonical tag, and will look at your XML Sitemap.

Naver’s Paid Search

You can advertise on Naver in 3 major ways: with Click Choice ads, via Brand Search and with Mobile Banners.

Probably the most popular option among Naver advertisers is Click Choice advertising.  It is represented by 2 types of ads, (1) Power Links and (2) Biz Site listings. Both work on a pay-per-click basis and may appear within Naver’s mixed search results, in Blog search or in Knowledge iN search.

A box with Power Link ads on Naver:

A box with Biz Site links on Naver:

Brand Search ads show up for branded queries like “iPad Air”:

Naver’s Mobile Banners can be placed in Naver’s mobile search and across its mobile content network. These ads can be targeted by user location, time of the day, the user’s operating system and the keyword.

Naver’s advertising platform is mostly available in Korean, so, one would most likely need a Korean-language specialist or an International SEO company to start advertising on Naver.

In conclusion

Optimizing for Naver is tricky, and even if you manage to hit Naver’s organic search results, you aren’t likely to get much exposure. For instance, a search for “iPad Air” on Naver.com displays a free result for www.apple.com/ipad-air almost at the very bottom of the page (I’m not talking about paid links to this page that are all over Naver’s search results for the query).

However, if you go to Google.kr, www.apple.com/ipad-air is the #1 organic search result for his query. So, for what it’s worth, if you’re planning to take your brand to Naver, it’s probably worth buying paid advertising rather than investing enormous resources in pushing for organic – it may be just not worth it.

Alexandra Shkalikova heads WebMeUp’s marketing, PR and support teams which she calls Customer Happiness Team altogether. She started SEO and Internet Marketing back in 2007 and spends every day experimenting, learning and mentoring ever since. When not working to benefit the SEO community, Alexandra is a cooking freak, piano amateur and a snowboarder.