As the undisputed world leader in online services, California-based Google is invariably the first company that comes to mind when people think about online search. Even other major global search engines, such as Bing and Yahoo, do not even come close to the king of search when it comes to market share. In fact, with a global market share of 72.48% in 2016, according to netmarketshare.com, Google dominates in all but a handful of countries around the world.
One of the countries where Google has long been playing second fiddle is the Central European nation of Czech Republic. With a population of 10.5 million, this little country remains the last country in Europe, aside from Russia, that Google has failed to conquer entirely. Seznam.cz, founded by entrepreneur Ivo Lukačovič in 1996, remains by far the most visited website in Czech Republic.
What Is Seznam?
Originally started as a Web portal and content curation website in the Czech language, Seznam, meaning ‘list’ in English, quickly grew to become by far the most important website for Czech Internet users. For millions of Czechs, Seznam.cz practically is the Internet to such an extent that it’s often the first port of call when they get online, whether it’s for checking emails, looking at maps or searching the Web.
At a first glance, Seznam.cz looks similar to Yahoo in that it’s an online portal featuring everything from the latest news to weather updates to maps and, of course, its core search function. In addition, Seznam.cz operates numerous more specific services, such as sbazar.cz for buying and selling, sreality.com for real estate ads and sauto.cz for cars, among others. It’s also home to Czech Republic’s most popular email service provider, and it even owns mapy.cz, which serves as the country’s go-to online and mobile mapping app. Move along Google Maps! Although not as popular as it used to be, Seznam.cz also operates lide.cz, once the dominant social network in the country.
So Why Is It Beating Google?
Although Google recently overtook Seznam.cz for global search queries, the Czech technology fi rm still remains firmly positioned in the market, and it continues to dominate when it comes to handling local search queries. As the only search engine in Europe, aside from Russia’s Yandex.ru, to stand its own against Google, the continued existence of Seznam.cz might seem like a bit of a mystery.
In fact, there’s a very simple reason why Seznam.cz is so successful. It gives people what they want. Only available in Czech and maintained by more than a thousand full-time employees, the Prague based company is an exclusively local company catering to a local audience. By contrast, Google’s goal is to dominate the Internet in every part of the globe, and it has succeeded pretty well so far. In the late nineties, when the Internet use was rapidly starting to spread across the globe, the vast majority of websites were in English, making it largely inaccessible to most of the world’s population. Similar to Yandex in Russia, Seznam.cz made the first move way back in 1996 (two years before Google was even thought of), making the Internet accessible to a Czech audience. At the time, relatively few Czechs understood English, and even fewer found the big international and predominantly US-based search engines and other online resources relevant to them.
But the nineties ended a long time ago. Since then, previous Internet giants have been and gone and left without a trace. Many national online portals and social networks, such as Hyves in the Netherlands, have found themselves among these casualties as the US dominated Internet conquers all in its path. However, instead of giving up in the face of global domination, Seznam.cz can contribute its continuing survival to a number of factors.
Since it’s operated purely by locals, Seznam.cz knows exactly what the local audience wants, and no amount of fancy, high-tech Google algorithm updates written on the other side of the world can come close to what Seznam.cz manages to achieve with its exclusively Prague-based team.
For example, one of the favourite pastimes among Czechs of all ages is hiking, and the country has a highly developed, colour-coded hiking trail system that also happens to be a major component of Mapy.cz. If you’re relying on Google Maps when out hiking in the Czech forest, you’re not likely to get very far but, with Mapy.cz and its mobile app, you’ll be able to see all of the hiking trails in the country. Mapy.cz is also the favourite place for Czech businesses to list their locations. In other words, Seznam.cz’s mapping service offers a far superior product in that country than Google Maps.
There are also some more technical reasons for the continued popularity of Seznam.cz. For a start, a global search engine like Google or Bing is not likely to be as effective at identifying the various nuances in languages to such an extent it can offer truly valuable results in foreign languages. Although Google is constantly trying to become a more local player in each and every country, its relative lack of focus makes it inherently inferior. For example, with Czech being a richly infl ecting language with a very complex grammar, it’s hard for a search engine algorithm to determine what constitutes duplicate content, unless it’s actually been thoroughly tested and written by people who understand the language.
Leading Innovation and Inspiring Other Startups
While Seznam.cz was undoubtedly in the right place at the right time when it was first established in 1996, it remains at the forefront of innovation when it comes to the Czech domestic Internet. Unlike many companies that were previously hit by overwhelming competition from the likes of Google, Seznam.cz has never given up on its products and services to the extent that it’s actually created quite a healthy competitive atmosphere. For a start, it’s ultimately forced Google to offer vastly improved localised online services in Czech Republic, which are generally better than they are in neighbouring countries.
Ultimately, Seznam remains one of the very few search engines that stands on its own as a real competitor to Google and other global companies. It’s the number-one place for Czech businesses to advertise and for Czech people to get online. Nonetheless, Google is now squarely placed as the second most visited website in the country, and its market share is steadily overtaking. Whether Seznam.cz will continue to flourish or even whether or not startups might follow suit with similar business models of their own in other countries remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, however, and that’s that Seznam.cz is quite exceptional when it comes to the US dominated European Internet.
By Charles Owen-Jackson