Korea is one of the handful nations where Google doesn’t dominate the search engine market. Naver, which was launched in 1999 by ex-Samsung employees, is Korea’s leading search portal with over 75% share of the market (PC).

How Naver Came to Dominate Search in South Korea

Naver started growing its presence in early 2000, with its ‘Knowledge search’ service, where users can ask any kind of questions and get the answers from other users. Naver knowledge service quickly gained popularity and grossed up to 1000 questions uploaded a day, making Naver THE site to visit when having very specific questions.

However, the Knowledge search service alone cannot explain why Naver was able to rule over Google, which currently has 3.5% PC search share or Yahoo, which closed down its Korean operation two years ago.


There are many features that make Naver a well-tailored service for the Korean market. Below I list what I consider as the four main reasons for Naver's dominance.

First, Naver gives up-to-date trends in the homepage, similar to what a typical portal can provide. Unlike Google which only has a simple search box, Naver displays the most frequently searched keywords or topics in the past hour. Just looking at the Naver homepage lets you know what people are talking about at a specific moment.  It goes up to the point where users visit Naver to know what they should know and search for.

Second, Naver offers a quick way to determine the public opinion for a certain topic. For Naver’s news section, users can see the responses to a news article. For hot topics like political or celebrity scandals, thousands of responses from Naver uers follow. What makes browsing those responses even more interesting is seeing which responses got the most votes(likes or dislikes). Some responses could have over 10K votes and go viral. The influence that those responses have on the public is so huge that they make even the biggest companies worry about their online reputations.

Third, Naver provides a platform where users can consume contents- comics (webtoon) and novels (webnovel).  Every day, more than 20 webtoons get updated on Naver. Famous webtoons regularly gather close to 30,000 ratings and more than 10,000 reviews from readers in less than 12 hours. Naver hires promising webtoonists through various sources including their own open webtoon platform (Challenge webtoon), where amateur webtoonists can upload their work and get evaluated by Naver's 40 million portal users. Naver also recently launched a Webnovel service. Popular webnovelists from Naver make over 10,000USD a month for the preview service, where users can access the new chapter a week before. Naver is planning to introduce its content business to the international market this year.

Fourth, Naver gives a comprehensive and interactive search experience. Naver generates search results from each service category in one page, which include ads, news articles, report blogs, knowledge search, cafe(online community), Naver e-commerce comparator etc. The most interesting aspect of Naver’s search results is that it presents the most frequently used related keywords. For example, if you search for Samsung Galaxy, you will see related search words on the top, such as Galaxy S 5, Galaxy S note etc. This service makes users curious about other relevant topics and at the end of the day, increase users’ browsing time on Naver.

As stated above, Naver has been providing relevant services suited for the Korean users, who are very keen on trend monitoring and public opinion. However, there are also some factors that cannot be overlooked which are significantly threatening Naver’s current position. Since Naver does not limit the number of keyword search ads nor prioritize authorized search results, users often get messy results littered with massive amount of ads and unreliable information. This harms Naver’s user experience greatly and also harms its reputation as Korea’s primary search engine.

Recent research shows that Google visitors tripled in the span of three years (5 million in 2010  to 17.2 million in 2013). Moreover, with the dominance of Android phones in the Korean market, Google has already taken up a double digit share (12.6%) for the mobile search market in Korea.

Naver has been at the forefront of providing relevant services to Korean consumers. However, the focus to take to keep their crown for the coming years would be to improve their primary search service.

By Mandy Shin
Analyst Consultant