What Is Naver, a.k.a. “Korean Google”? – MUO – MakeUseOf

It’s hard to imagine a world without Google. The search engine, as well as its other cloud services such as Google Drive, is so prevalent in our daily lives that many would find it difficult to function productively if Google ever encounters a long-term shutdown.

Google takes up over 80 percent of the search engine market in more than 200 countries and territories. But for the past decade or so, one search engine from Asia has fended off Google’s quest for world domination. The search engine in question is Naver from South Korea.

What Is Naver? A History

Popularly dubbed as “Korean Google”, Naver was launched in 1999 by Naver Corporation, a South Korea media and technology conglomerate that also owns LINE. Naver Corporation also owns a 50% stake in Yahoo Japan, alongside Japanese tech and telecommunications giant SoftBank.

The Naver logo in green text.

The team behind Naver is a group of ex-employees from Samsung, which we all recognize as South Korea’s most famous tech export. Naver was one of the first search engines in the world that introduced the “comprehensive search” service, collecting information from various sources across the web and presenting the results in a single page.

This means that when one searches the news about climate change, for example, Naver will compile and display the latest and most relevant news articles from major domestic and international newspapers.

Screen capture of Naver's homepage

Perhaps Naver’s strongest feature that separates it from Google is its well-categorized, web portal-like interface. Compared to Google, Naver’s homepage provides easy one-point access to a range of online services. The search engine also aggregates for its users the country’s trending topics of the day and other relevant real-time information. It’s more like Yahoo than Google.

Naver’s mobile app presents an interface similar to its desktop version.

As you probably picked up from the screenshots, Naver also offers integrated services such as digital payments, dictionaries, translators, and a music streaming platform.

Hovering over to the “View More” button will also direct you to more online services, including online flight bookings, hotel bookings, and vehicle purchases, web-based audio editing and even academic journal and citation databases for students.

Speaking of students, Naver also runs Junior Naver, a mini-me version of the search engine designed for children. Beating out its competitors Yahoo Kids and Daum Kids, Junior Naver is currently the only children-targeted online portal in South Korea.

In short, Naver is not just a search engine, it is basically Reddit, Quora, Apple Pay, and YouTube, and all of Google’s suite of services combined into one single platform.

Why Do South Koreans Prefer Naver?

Screen capture of Naver website homepage with articles sorted by featured topics

Naver’s interface that acts as a single access point to everything that a user possibly needs gives the search engine a strong competitive advantage in South Korea. The fact Naver is only available in Korean is also an unsurprising factor explaining why South Koreans naturally prefer using Naver.

Not only are search results on Naver tailored based on the user’s age, gender, and location, but a significant chunk of Naver also runs on user-generated content.

When Naver went live, there was a lack of Korean-registered domains on the internet. This prompted the search engine to launch “Knowledge iN” in 2002, an online Q&A platform similar to Yahoo Answers.

Screen capture of Naver's Knowledge iN homepage

With Knowledge iN, anyone could ask questions about anything, and the most helpful answers will be upvoted or rewarded with points. Knowledge iN helped Naver dramatically expand its Korean language content that would eventually curb Google’s market expansion. Today, the platform has over 459 million cumulative replies and over 15,000 questions asked daily.

According to research by domestic marketing firm ASK Marketing, as of May 2021, Naver takes up 62 percent of the search engine market share in South Korea. Google only takes up 33 percent.

Google has been actively fine-tuning its services for the past couple of years to go head-to-head with Naver. Examples of this include entering the market via the Google Play Store, and improving its SEO to provide better search results. However, according to market research by Statista, an overwhelming 93.5 percent of respondents in South Korea say that they still prefer using Naver when searching for information online.

To take on Google, Naver has also been upgrading its products and services both domestically and overseas. In 2004, Naver launched WEBTOON, an online platform that publishes webtoons and comics by professional artists to rival YouTube.

Screen capture of WEBTOON website homepage

Since its launch, many webtoons on the site have gone on to be adapted into Netflix originals and TV series that would be aired in Korea. After over a decade of WEBTOON, the platform currently has 35 million monthly active users serving its audience in ten languages.

Naver is still growing strong as well. A recent acquisition of the storytelling platform Wattpad for $600 million, a potential IPO in the US, and a new AI to enhance search results show that Naver is clearly not resting on its laurels.

South Korea’s Answer to Google

Despite efforts by Google to increase its presence in South Korea, it seems that as of now Naver still owns the country’s search engine market. Naver’s success can be attributed to the very fact that it is built by Koreans, for Koreans.

Curious about Naver now? Simply look up “Naver” on your search bar, or download the Naver app to start exploring.


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About The Author

Jie Yee Ong (53 Articles Published)

Currently based in Melbourne, Australia, Jie Yee has experience in writing about the Australian real estate market and the Southeast Asian tech scene, as well as conducting business intelligence research in the wider Asia-Pacific region.

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