Google is undoubtedly the dominant search engine globally, but in a few countries such as Korea (Naver), Russia (Yandex) or Japan, local competitors are winning. Especially Japan, the country with the world’s third biggest Internet population (about 100 million people are online), still seems to be a tough nut to crack for Google.
Nielsen Japan reports that in October 2008, Yahoo Search saw a total of over 3.5 billion page views, while No. 2 Google trailed with 2.6 billion page views. According to a Comscore Japan ranking released in September 2008, Yahoo ruled the Japanese search engine market with a share of 51.2% (Google reached 39.0% in that month).
It’s not that Google isn’t trying. In recent months, the company rolled out a number of online ads, offline promotion campaigns and several Japan-only services (Picasa recently started offering QR codes for easy mobile access, for example). And today it came to light they are now paying bloggers to write nice things about Google – a marketing tool TechCrunch never really was a big fan of.
Here is the background:
On Thursday last week, Google Japan revamped the top page and included a new, Japan-only “Hot Keywords” section displaying the top 5 search terms currently googled in Japan (see screenshot below).
Users have been able to add a gadget containing the top 10 hot keywords to iGoogle for months and now can also integrate the list into their blogs as widgets. In its current form, Google Japan looks more like a portal site than any other version worldwide, a product strategy obviously aimed at disputing Yahoo’s standing.
But that didn’t seem to be enough, as the Japanese blogosphere today is filled with reports about Google hiring Cyberbuzz, a Tokyo-based Internet marketing company to promote the keyword feature (its widget version) with a pay-per-post campaign. And in fact, the search string “Google Hot Keywords Ranking+Blog Widget+CyberBuzz” in Japanese in Google’s own Blog Search leads to a few dozen results, indicating the reports aren’t made up of thin air. This blogger, for example, integrated the keyword widget and praises the list as being very useful to be kept up-to-date on what is going on in the world. This one says the keywords change every 20 minutes and that the new Google feature once quickly helped in obtaining information on a Japanese TV star. All postings end with a disclosure that says: “I am taking part in the Cyberbuzz campaign”.
It’s interesting to see that Google, a company that not too long ago radically took action against PayPerPost bloggers in the US, today thinks the concept is suitable as long as it helps them advance in Japan (even though in Japan, pay-per-post isn’t regarded nearly as obnoxious as in the US).
Google Japan’s new president Koichiro Tsujino last month suggested the company will, as Yahoo brilliantly did in the past, try to establish itself as a homegrown brand by putting a stronger emphasis on localized marketing and product strategies. But whatever Google has up its sleeves, pay-per-post campaigns surely are not enough to take over Japan from Yahoo.