Search in Asia: Insights for International SEMs

Mobile search has become a mainstream behavior in Asia with China, Thailand, India, and South Korea leading the region, according to a recent report by search marketing firm iProspect.

The study aimed to ascertain search behavior in 11 markets: China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, Australia, and New Zealand.

Close to 80 percent of all consumers surveyed said they used mobile search in 2009, with China leading the region with 93 percent of consumers searching via mobile handsets.

Smartphone conversion is a significant driver in mobile search behavior in China and is estimated to reach 150 million handsets by the end of 2011.

India trails closely behind China as 90 percent of consumers use mobile search and is expected to surpass PC based search in the country over the medium term.

Peter Hunter, CEO for iProspect Asia Pacific, said mobile search in the region is driven by two key factors:

  1. The adoption of smartphone handsets.
  2. The cost of accessing mobile data services.

He advised marketers to consider an effective local directories strategy. That includes understanding how mobile fits in the purchase process and providing location-based services (e.g., opening hours, store location, and map integration on the mobile Web).

The Role of Search During the Purchase Cycle

Of those surveyed, more than 50 percent of users said they turn to search during the purchase process. The top categories:

  • Computers and electronics (66 percent)
  • Entertainment (60 percent)
  • Food and drink (53 percent)
  • Banking and finance (50 percent)

In China, search is used to gather information and compare pricing and features with a large proportion of consumers willing to transact online from websites they have searched.

About 30 percent of consumers surveyed said they will buy computers and electronics from a searched site compared to an estimated 28 percent who research online to purchase offline.

Most Indian consumers search to compare pricing and features (80 percent) and gather information (60 percent) across a wide range of categories with a large number willing to transact online from a searched website on a wide range of products and services.

Korea leads the region for consumers that buy directly online from searched sites across a wide range of categories including education, entertainment, household, health and beauty, computer and electronics, gaming, and health care.

For these markets, iProspect recommends that marketers tailor and optimize content within search to ensure targeting consumers at different stages of the purchase process.

Search Engine Market Share in Asia Pacific

Marketers should adopt several search engines in their search campaigns across individual markets, particularly in North Asia, according to iProspect.

In China, Baidu leads the market with close to 68 percent of consumers using the search engine most frequently, followed by Google at 28 percent.

The survey pointed out that PPC advertising inventory and SEO performance differs significantly for Baidu and Google and that marketers should use both search engines to reach consumers in the country.

Due to the high-profile censorship conflict between Google and the Chinese government early this year, the study recommends marketers to monitor up-and-coming search players such as SOSO and Sogou that are eyeing Google’s traffic and diminishing market share.

In Korea, Naver dominates at 70 percent of search share, followed by Daum at close to 16 percent. Google, Yahoo, and Bing have failed to gain significant market share in the country.

In Hong Kong, Yahoo owns about 73 percent of the market compared to almost 25 percent for Google. Close to 1.5 percent of Hong Kong consumers also search using Baidu, the highest number of users for the Chinese search engine outside Mainland China.

Google is a clear winner in India with almost 90 percent saying it’s their preferred search engine, followed by Yahoo at close to 8 percent share and Bing at more than 2 percent.

While it is unlikely that Yahoo or Bing will secure significant share, the study advises marketers to consider its search strategies across the three search engines given India’s size and ongoing growth in search demand.

The study showed for Google owns 51 percent of the search market in Asia Pacific, followed by Baidu at 23 percent and Yahoo at 18 percent, indicating that Microsoft’s Bing has struggled to build significant share in the region.

Search Engine Share

The survey was conducted amongst 15,000 consumers ages 18 to 64 in 11 Asia Pacific markets in June and July 2010; respondents were consumers who had used any search engine in the previous six months.

This column originally ran on Search Engine Watch is glad to welcome Adaline Lau as a regular contributor for 2011.

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