SearchTHIS: Blame Canada!

Oh you smug Canadians with your national health care, quiet rugged good looks and low handgun murder rate. I bet you think you are so cool. Life might be just a little better in the great white north, but we Americans are still kicking your butts in search, right? Uh, not exactly.

A new study from comScore Networks  tells the story of a smaller overall audience with big search habits. For as long as I can remember, Canadian culture has been of interest to me, or maybe I just have a thing for women that say “aboot” instead of “about.” As comScore reports tend to do, this one got me thinking a bit beyond Canada.

As the most ethno- and geo-centric country on the planet, we Americans have our Google’s, Yahoo!’s, and MSN’s but what about the rest of the world? The number of search marketing plans that cross my desk lacking international consideration never ceases to amaze me. Big plans from big search shops and agencies with no worldwide or search world perspective. Let’s take a look at that search world, starting with what our neighbors to the north have to tell us. 

What’s up with your search, eh?

The Canuck audience is much smaller, according to comScore’s report. Our 3.6 billion searches are compared to only 575 million searches in Canada in April, 2004. The humdinger portion of the report exists with data points indicating that Canadians searched 40 times compared to our 35 times in the same time period. Why do they search so much? Who knows, maybe life is easier when one doesn’t have to worry about being covered for one’s next catastrophic health incident. Subsequently, one would have more time for searching.

Internet advertising is far less developed in Canada though, according to data presented in the report. On average, online advertising represents a paltry 1.3 percent of overall ad spending up north, whereas we have a whopping 3.3 percent of ad budgets according to Interactive Advertising Bureau data sourced in the report.

Another big “is that so?” in comScore’s report is the disparity in audience ownership. Though Yahoo! and Google run neck and neck  in the United States at 30 and 36 percent “share of searches” respectively, in Canada, Google dominates over Yahoo! with a 62 percent share compared with Yahoo!’s 15 percent.

OK, Canadians use search more frequently and they prefer different search sites. Is this a roadmap for the rest of the world? Let's take a look at how the rest of the world is adopting.

Markets of opportunity

According to information compiled by Internet World Stats,  Internet penetration rates are disproportionate to the population in other countries. For example, China has more than 1.3 billion people residing there while only 79 million use the Web. Likewise, Brazil has more than 180 million people with a little more than 20.5 million Internet users. The two countries represent 11 percent and 6 percent penetration rates respectively, and while both percentages are significantly lower than U.S. penetration, they still exist within the top 10 Internet audiences.

Internet World Stats says the UK’s 35-plus million users represent nearly a 60 percent Internet penetration rate. Japan has about 63 million users with about a 10 percent penetration rate. Other top 10 Internet audiences are Germany (45 million users), France (22 million users), South Korea (29 million users), and Italy (19 million users) with penetration rates ranging from 35 to 60 percent.

The comScore study teaches us that we can not assume a U.S.-centric search penetration/adoption rate for these top 10 countries; we must also consider the possibility that searchers will apply completely different habits in using search sites.

Global golden search

A spokesperson for comScore Networks said the next geography to receive a study similar to Canada will be the European marketplace. In lieu of that, let’s take a look at data compiled in the famous March, 2003, US Bancorp Piper Jaffrey report. Golden Search predicted Europe and Japan would be of critical importance in the coming decade while India and China might grow significantly in search. If China’s penetration rate increased to only 25 percent of its population, the audience would dwarf the U.S. audience at more than 260 million users.

More insights from Golden Search indicate unique search audience ownership throughout key growth areas in Europe and Japan. In the United Kingdom, no one search site dominates the Internet audience. As of the report, MSN had just more than 12 million searchers while Yahoo! and Google saw more than 9 million searches. France and Germany showed similar trends with heavy competition in search areas. The odd man out seemed to be Japan with Yahoo! owning about 20 million users while Nifty and MSN trail with user counts in the 13 million range.

Golden Search points out that while growth in markets beyond red, white and blue borders will be fast, relatively speaking, several factors affect the rate development. Japan has an economy 40 percent the size of the United States, the study says, yet ecommerce and online ad revenue are only 10 to 15 percent of ours.

Of course, things have changed a bit since US Bancorp Piper Jaffrey released Golden Search. Yahoo! and Google have gone their separate ways. Many of you might remember the United Kingdom’s eSpotting nearly being acquired by FindWhat last June (the acquisition is actually expected to take place later this year).  The lesson reports like this teach us is clear. While U.S. firms play an important role in search, audience ownership and reaction to search is unique to all of these countries and multiple factors will affect audience ownership and search adoption.

He can be taught!

So the famous Comedy Central cartoon, South Park song goes, Blame Canada! For what, you might ask. Why, waking search marketers up to differences in search habits, of course. If searchers in other countries represent a smaller audience yet they search at a higher frequency, unique strategies and tactics will be in order to effectively market to them with search. No doubt differing economic structures affect search habits as much as they do overall Internet penetration, ecommerce infrastructure, or broadband penetration. At the moment, systems for segregating searchers are lackluster or non-existent, but we’ll leave that discussion for next week.

About the Author: iMedia search columnist Kevin Ryan’s current and former client roster reads like a “who’s who” in big brands; Rolex Watch, USA, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Minolta Corporation, Samsung Electronics America, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Panasonic Services, and the Hilton Hotels brands, to name a few. Kevin believes in sound guidance, creative thought, accountable actions and collaborative execution as applied to search, or any form of marketing. His principled approach and staunch commitment to the industry have made him one of the most sought after personalities in online marketing. Kevin volunteers his time with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization and several regional non-profit organizations.

Meet Kevin Ryan at Ad:Tech May 24-26th, 2004.