SEO Matures in North Asia; Key Trends for 2012

SEO has grown up. This year saw the graduation of SEO from its version 1.0 focus on the “meta things” like optimized tags, site structure, and links (internal and external) to something much bigger and more influential. Some of this growth has been spurred by the search engines and their evolution to include new elements of influence like social signals to provide a better and more relevant user experience. Other growth in this field has been spurred by humans and our need for mobility with the ability to access content of all types while on-the-go, whenever and wherever we are.

When we look at North Asia, zooming in on Japan and Korea, I believe SEO in 2012 will be focused on three core trends and developments: 1) the influence of social and how this affects our search experience, 2) the development of mobile and its impact on SEO, and 3) the growth of local and the behavioral shift of how people are searching.

Social Influencing SEO

Taking the top five social media properties in Japan, the usage growth this year in these platforms has been an astounding 30 percent according to comScore. And in Korea it’s grown by 10 percent. Facebook alone in Japan has seen 150 percent growth since January. Yahoo Chiebukuro, Japan’s version of Yahoo Q&A currently has the highest global reach of all Yahoo Q&A markets with a 40 percent reach in Japan. And in Korea, Naver’s KnowledgeIn network is currently the second most popular feature on the portal and features right below the top listings on the search results page because of its prominence as a social platform. Google isn’t dominating in Korea (29 percent), but in Japan occupies a 58 percent share and growing. So the introduction of Google+ certainly had an impact on that market.

Advertisers who pay attention to the social developments in these markets and make concerted steps to integrate these social signals into their SEO program, site structure, and general marketing plan will do well next year.

Redefining With Mobile

The continuing rise and adoption of smartphone usage in both Japan and Korea will lead to an ever increased focus on mobile SEO. Currently the smartphone audience in Japan makes up around 14 million people or 11 percent of the population. In Korea this number is slightly higher at 20 million subscribers (40 percent of the population). The mobile app market is exploding in both markets, with “application usage” being the second most popular activity on mobile after search. In Japan, 2011 saw more mobile-focused startups open business than any other year ever. In Korea, smartphone users report an average of 42 apps downloaded on their phone, according to Google. This is the second highest number of any country they have results for.

2012 will see even more explosive growth in mobile, particularly in Japan as the subscriber base is smaller there. We will start to see the ramp up in development of both smartphone friendly and smartphone dedicated sites, particularly on the corporate side as they start to realize the power of a dedicated mobile site. As more mobile content gets produced there will be a need to optimize these pages for SEO. Especially in markets like Japan and Korea where the percentage of searches on mobile is higher than PC. Also, revenues from mobile commerce will increasingly take center stage, and with it, SEO will be recognized as a key figure, if not the key figure in achieving ROI.

Behavioral Shift to Local

The third key trend in SEO will be the increased focus on optimizing for local search. Today in the U.S., just about 40 percent of all queries have a local intent, meaning searches now include any combination of city, state, neighborhood, Zip code, or other “local qualifiers” in their query. In Japan, search queries on Google Places this year has more than doubled as people have increased their on-the-go search. With Naver in Korea, the search query volume of Naver Map, the premier map and local search platform has also doubled in the past 12 months, coinciding with the surge in mobile usage in that market.

Already local search results show users a different search results page depending upon their IP address location. With mobile phones it’s much easier for Google to know the exact location of the user and serve her very targeted local search results. This will be a huge opportunity next year for local businesses of all shapes and sizes to optimize their content for SEO and pull in this potential local audience.

SEO has grown up. It started this year, and will continue in 2012 to be much more influenced by the social, mobile, and local movements. Companies that successfully address, understand, and act on these movements will have a head start next year in the race for SEO excellence in Asia.

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