Recently there’s been a couple blog posts wondering about the effects of culture and language on search behavior:
- Does language and culture affect search techniques? – Search Engine Journal
- Chinese eye tracking study: Baidu vs. Google – Search Engine Land
These questions are certainly fascinating, and there should definitely be more formal studies on them. However, so far it has been content, rather than search behavior, where regional, cultural, and linguistic differences have had the bigger impact. I’ll give a couple examples.
When Google first commercialized a link-based ranking system (PageRank), it took advantage of non-textual information and was thus language independent. Link-based ranking improved English search quite a bit, but the difference in search for other European languages was much more dramatic. Search engines at that time was so focused on the U.S. market that they didn’t bother to optimize their text-based ranking system for other languages, or they only made the simple, small changes (e.g. different list of stop words). And since their portal strategy ended up competing with local players, they were also much less effective using their portals as distribution channel for search. By using language-independent link-based ranking and partnering with local portals, Google took Europe by storm and continued their dominance to this date.
Yahoo was successful in Korea for a long time, until it was dethroned by a local newcomer called Naver. Did Naver come up with a better search engine? No. What Naver realized was that search really didn’t matter much in Korea. Korea has a relatively small population for a country and its language is not spoken anywhere else. There simply isn’t much Korean web content to search. Instead, Naver created a forum where people can answer questions posted by other people. This solved people’s problem of finding information (rather than just search) and propelled Naver to the number one spot. Yahoo learned its lesson and rolled out its own Yahoo Answers in other countries, including the U.S. Yahoo Answers hasn’t solved all of Yahoo’s problems, but it is considered one of the more successful Yahoo products in recent memory.
Do you know of other examples? Share them in the comments area!