Why Yahoo! – not Google – rules Taiwan’s webspace

This is a guest post from James Hill from the Institute for Information Industry (III) in Taiwan.

A recent post on this blog highlighting the four Asian countries where Yahoo! remains the market leader got me thinking about the reasons behind this trend. Yahoo! is constantly bashed in the West as it loses out to Google and Microsoft, outsourcing its core competencies such as search (Bing), dating (Match) and careers (Monster). The articles covering the ‘sun setting’ on Del.ic.ious and other unfortunate startups swallowed up by the Sunny Vale giant are too numerous to list.

So why is it that Yahoo! in the West is regarded as a falling star while in many Asian markets it is still leading the pack?

As a resident of Taiwan, one of the countries where Yahoo! is still dominant, I have often wondered why Google, in particular, is not the king of search. Here Google languishes in fourth place, according to alexa.com, behind Yahoo!, Facebook and local blogging site Wretch (since 2006 a Yahoo! Taiwan property).

In order to get a local take on this, I reached out to my Taiwanese friends and asked them why they thought Yahoo! in Taiwan was still the leading web portal.


The first answer that came back was habit. Yahoo! in Taiwan was born out of the acquisition of Kimo, at the time Taiwan’s leading web portal. By buying up the country’s leading website Yahoo! effectively bought the majority of web users because Kimo provided email which was then integrated into Yahoo’s mail offering.

It seems that Taiwanese are just too used to Yahoo! and so continue to use the site as their homepage. Google, in contrast, had to start from scratch and was a late entrant to the market.

Online shopping

The second was online shopping. Taiwanese are enthusiastic shoppers and when Yahoo! began its ecommerce venture the service was widely adopted by the majority of society. Other ecommerce sites such as PCHome, Japan’s Rakuten and Air Camel have also had success in Taiwan, yet Yahoo! Stores still reigns supreme.

Localised design

Running throughout Chinese culture is the concept of ‘feng fu’ or abundance. Compare any Chinese temple to the simplistic and zen-inspired Japanese architecture and you can understand why Yahoo! is still number one. Like the heavily decorated shrines across Taiwan, Yahoo! sports animated banner ads, flashing links and more whistles and bells that give the impression of richer content.

Compare the tw.yahoo.com homepage and the generic yahoo.com homepage and you begin to see the difference. The starkness of Google’s homepage, even with its artistic doodles, does little for the Chinese user.

Taiwan is one of a number of Asian markets in which Yahoo dominates local webspace

Superior services

Yahoo! Taiwan’s secondary services are actually better than some of those on offer elsewhere. Because the service’s translation tools are managed by the local Yahoo! team, results are specific for the Mandarin spoken here, as often words are not the same as on the mainland.

Compare the terms for micro-blogging for example: on the mainland they call it ‘wei bo’ but here it’s known as ‘wei wang zhi’ or ‘micro internet magazine’. Google’s results usually return the mainland terms, thus alienating the locals. This point is also important for those learning Chinese in Taiwan.

Another popular service is Yahoo! Knowledge that often provides better quality answers than the often-trolled services of Yahoo! elsewhere. So, in summation, it’s the package of services that Yahoo! offers that wins them audience.

The Jerry Yang factor

The final reason is that Jerry Yang, the co-founder of Yahoo! is a Taiwanese American and understood the attraction of the Chinese market. While Google and others are inherently American companies, Yahoo! moved into Asian markets a lot earlier and adapted their services and design to suit local tastes.

Yahoo co-founder and former CEO Jerry Yang was born in Taiwan

I would be interested in hearing the experiences of users in Japan, Hong Kong and other markets where Yahoo! is still on top.

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This guest post was written by James Hill (@JamesHillTaiwan) of the Institute for Information Industry (III) in Taiwan.  III is a research organization that also acts as a startup incubator for web and mobile companies, working with investors and others to help growth the industry. The III’s largest event, IDEAS Show, will be held on July 27 in Taipei.

Learn more about the III by visiting its website.