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Google is a late comer to the market and they are not as visible to the public. Sure there is some word of mouth notoriety, but nothing compared to the public awareness of Yahoo. One of the biggest ISPs is the YahooBB [google.com] brand. All of this market awareness works very well in Japan.
I think it can be said that there is often more brand loyalty in Japan than other markets. There is a big advantage to being the first to market here. If you can build up a loyal base there is a real brand adhesiveness in this market. That's good for the front-runners, but can be bad for latecomers in many cases.
i often get the impression that people use yahoo to be entertained or to "browse"; they hang around, click a few links, check out some news/entertainment/do a search or two, while people use google to search for hard information/facts/services. they are not "browsing" in the grammatical sense of the word on google.
a portal serves up information "in your face", so you can in fact "be entertained", while a search engine forces you to take the lead, you have to ask it a question. what if you don't have a specific question at the time? the portal is where you are going to go. Goo was a native japan engine that started out like Google, as a search engine rather than a portal, but it never really took off.
are the Japanese more browsers than searchers? as a gross cultural generalisation, i would say maybe. a portal is much like a magazine, you can flick throught the pages, skim read and look at the pictures until you find something of interest. pop into a bookshop in japan; the magazines are always on the first floor by the front door, the books upstairs somewhere!
For instance, Google Japan got a lot of its initial market exposure in Japan by powering the search engines of portal sites, including Yahoo Japan. A healthy percentage of my Google Japan traffic still comes from Google powered portals like Goo, BIGLOBE, Infoseek, OCN, Excite, Dion, Cybozu, AOL and the like.
Also it could be argued that Google is becoming more portal-like itself. Not all of the features available in the West are available in Japan yet, but they're coming. Google's recent calls for more Japanese engineers also signals that they will be adding more and more portal-type services to the site. It's getting harder to say that Google is just a search engine.
The all encompassing portal site has always played a big role in the Japanese market. Consumers prefer knowing that all their services are being handled under one roof. Google didn't really buck that trend, but rather they used their best strength to complement the portals. By offering superior search services they were able to make a big entry into this market that would not have been as successful without the portals. However, their position now is much different than it was 5-6 years ago.
i would love to source some accurate information on user profiles and user actions comparing yahoo and google in japan (e.g. % of searches that result in a purchase). i still have a feeling that people who want to access hard info or purchase are more likely to use google.
as an example here in new zealand MSN is teamed up with the biggest ISP (xtra); it is meant to be on of the most visited sites in new zealand. yet MSN traffic to our sites is next to nothing, even with excellent (top 3 in most target keywords) rankings. i guess it is a case again of people using different sites for different purposes, people catch up on the news and gossip etc. on msn but still reverting to google for searching for things they actually want.
Do you think Asian users favor portal and internet community?
That does seem to be the lasting trend I've seen in Japan. The bigger companies have a tendency to offer as many services as they can to retain the visitor. From the customer side they get the feeling that this is a large secure system in which I can trust, and where I can take care of all my online needs. The portal site gets stickiness for its visitors and more use of their system, which should mean more revenue for them.
That model is common in Japan, not just on the net but with household goods, electronics, insurance, etc.
one wonders if softbank/vodafone will adopt the same strategy and develop their own one stop shop for all internet/communication needs, as it has worked so well for yahoo.
It's interesting that they went with the SoftBank name rather than Yahoo. A lot of people were almost certain that the Vodaphone company would become Yahoo. It's already been announced that the new mobile phone company will provide Yahoo content (big surprise). But given the public drubbing that Vodaphone service has been receiving of late it may not have been a bad idea to keep these brands separate. It's very possible that Vodaphone purchase will be a real thorn in the side of SoftBank for years to come. Their stockholders already think it was a bad idea. Time will tell.
Yahoo mobile already has a good deal of the portal's functions available for the Japanese mobile phone. You can already do just about everything you can think of on the portal via your mobile phone. Yahoo is way ahead of Google in this area.
as you mentioned, the provision of an all in one service is so important in japan. every company i worked for there put just as much (if not more) energy into extracting every last yen out of existing clients than recruiting new clients. a good lesson learned.
On the other hand, a lot of specialty houses were able to offer focused services that were clearly superior to the portals. Surprisingly even some of these services lost out to the portals. The portals' ability to offer all the additional services was enough to retain customers in a lot of cases.
Additionally, competitors were very poor at marketing. AOL Japan was never as effective at marketing here, I was never once carpet bombed by their sign up CD. Compare this to Yahoo. Someone at Yahoo had the brilliant idea to sign people up and give the broadband router to customers on the street, even before the service in the area was sometimes available! It took months, maybe even a year, for competitors to copy this technique. Yahoo was able to get millions of people to use their portal, many 1st time internet users by offering this cheap ADSL service. Because they went right to broadband, they haven't had the churn of other providers.
Getting off topic but "manner mode" on trains in Japan: I sometimes see train ticket checkers telling people to turn off their phones if they are chatting on them. So I think it was more enforcement than signage that caused the change.
Email is accepted and ignored by the conductors, despite signs saying it will disrupt pacemakers....
[edited by: David_M at 12:38 am (utc) on Sep. 14, 2006]
But I can't see Google Japan is that different from Google in other places
Google Japan has its own Research Center where products and services specifically for the Japanese market are developed.