When it comes to search and search engine marketing there is one word that comes to the top of almost everybody’s mind: Google.
There’s good reason for this. In the United States and in Western Europe, in Australia, in South America, and almost everywhere else in the world, Google is the undisputed king of search. Major names in search like Microsoft and Yahoo, and even second tier players like Ask, can carve out a business with just a small slice of the market. A two percent share means staying in business, a five percent share means making real money, and any search engine that can take 15% from Google in their market is a major player on that scene.
In some countries like China Google is not a player thanks to government censorship. With less than 2% of the Chinese search market, Google is not a significant player on the Chinese search landscape.
But what if you could take nearly 40% of the market from Google in a completely free, open, Western democratic country?
There’s only one place in the world where that is a reality, and that’s the Czech Republic.
And the search engine that has managed this unique feat is called Seznam.
Seznam was born in 1996. The brainchild of Ivo Lukačovič, the site was originally a curated collection of links in the Czech language. The founder, still a student at the time, quickly built the curated links into a fully fledged search product for the Czech language market, and then into a portal for Czech internet users to find almost anything.
While a strong search product is at the core of Seznam, it is a far broader ecosystem than simply a search engine in a local language. In a sense, Seznam is a Google competitor with a Yahoo! style.
Seznam’s home page doesn’t present a clean, clear, Google-style interface but instead a Yahoo! like portal that allows Czech visitors to browse news, play games, access weather details, access maps and images, and search – and with plenty more, too. Seznam offers its own email service that can be accessed from the main site, and it has a product to counter most everything that Google offers, all off which can be found quickly from the home page.
So how has Seznam managed to take such a significant share of the market from American competitors in the Czech Republic?
There are a three main reasons.
First, and importantly, Seznam was the first large, local internet company to embrace search in the Czech Republic. While other competitors would emerge, Seznam was able to to take advantage of its first-to-market status to cement its place on the homepage of Czech language internet users.
More than this, though, as the internet spread through the Czech Republic Seznam was able to take advantage of the country’s then-low level of English speakers to provide the place for Czech users to start their internet journey. While today most young Czech citizens speak English, Seznam’s commitment to providing local language tools, search, and news early meant that there remains a large holdover of Czech internet users who remain confirmed Seznam customers. What’s more, while Google might have become the most popular search engine in the country, the company that continues to serve the most pages in the country is Seznam – and this is largely the result of Seznam moving first.
Understand the Local Customer
Second, there is its incredible focus on serving a specific, local audience. Seznam does not seek to be the world’s search engine or a global web portal attracting an audience from all corners of the Earth. Instead, Seznam focuses on the Czech market and, as a local company, it understands this market intuitively. Seznam understands how Czech internet users search, they understand the sorts of products that Czech internet users want, and they understand the advertising market that delivers the cash that Seznam relies on for growth.
A great example of this is Seznam’s Google Maps competitor, Mapy.cz, which continues to perform well against its larger, better funded competitor from Mountain View. One of the reasons why is that Seznam understands that Czech users like maps that help them enjoy one of their favorite hobbies: hiking. An effective hiking map has to be available offline (there is little internet service once you enter the woods and forests of the Czech Republic) and they need to show the trails that are so popular in the country. By focusing on the hiking trails as well as the streets of the country, Seznam was able to offer a superior product to Google Maps and carve out a place on the smartphones of users across the country.
Third, Seznam has never been content to rest on its laurels in the Czech Republic. While it might be possible for a company like Seznam to remain content with a large and consistent audience in a single country, Seznam has instead consistently searched for opportunities to expand though innovation. Tracking the innovations that Seznam has introduced over the course of the last 15 years demonstrates just how well the company has innovated, and just how many internet niches it has managed to identify, develop, then dominate in the country.
In 2001 Seznam launched Firmy, a service that allowed for searching of all of the registered businesses in the Czech Republic. In the same year the company launched Sreality, a housing/apartment search and rental site, and a similar portal for selling new and used vehicles opened the year after. Seznam launched a news portal that became a fully-supported, independent news service shortly afterwards, it’s own native PPC advertising service (Sklik), an email service, a streaming video service, and added images to its mapping service. These innovations allowed Seznam to state that, by 2010, the entire Czech internet population of more than 5 million users visited Seznam at least once a month – and many visited daily.
Seznam is one of the few search engines that has managed to establish itself as a real competitor to Google in a national market where the giant American firm competes. For businesses that want to advertise online in the Czech Republic it is clear that Google’s AdWords is not the only option. Indeed, with so many page views being served by Seznam businesses and the Seznam portal, there is a strong case to be made for Google being the online advertisers second choice in the country. Sklik, Seznam’s AdWords equivalent, is likely to put an advertisement in front of as many (or more) eyes than Google can.
But more than that, Seznam stands as a great example of a company that has taken advantage of a niche of users in a country they understand well and, through innovation, established themselves as a major force on the local search, email, mapping, and news markets. Other businesses, whether in the search game or not, can learn from Seznam as they try to carve out their own enterprise niche, too.
Have you tried Seznam for search and advertising in the Czech Republic? Let us know about your experience in comments below or on Twitter!
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