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  • Claudio Iobbi

Chinese VS Western Search Engine Marketing

Updated: Feb 7, 2019

Chinese vs Western: Search Engine Market Share

How many searches did you do on Google yesterday?

Ten, twenty, more?

Now ask a person in China this same question and you probably get a blank stare instead of an answer.

Every day, Google answers some 3.5 billion search queries and thus boasts the world’s largest market share. But Google’s search engine is not available in China, and therefore we see Baidu, China’s domestic search champion, commanding most of the Chinese market.

According to Net Market Share, Google leads the global market in 2018 with 78% of the search market share, while Baidu comes in with 14%. After that we have other players like Bing (around 8%), Yahoo (4%) and Yandex (1%).

Global Search Engines: Market Share (Net Market Share, 2018)

These stats are completely different when we change our focus from global to just mainland China.

According to Stat Counter, Google drops down to 1.7% and Baidu now commands 73%.

Other search engines in China are Shenma (12%), Haosou (6,9%) and Sogou (4%)

Search Engines in China: Market Share (Statcounter, 2018)

Based on this information, when one seeks to target Chinese consumers they must be sure they are being indexed in those search engines which are popular in China and try to rank properly in order to get the right visibility.

As with Chinese social media, the Chinese search engine landscape is completely different and complicated: platforms, competitors and targets are different compared with western media and to open an account one must provide large amounts of official documentation.

When a company decides to launch a communication plan in China, they should work closely with a Chinese marketing agency that can help with an initial analysis of the Chinese market, competitors and target audience. This step will be crucial in order to plan the right communication strategy, and ensure fewer mistakes and missteps.

In this post we’d like to show you the biggest difference between Chinese and Western scenarios. Let’s dive right in.

Chinese SEM Platforms

According to the Chinese government, 802 million people are now actively using the internet, 57.7 percent of the population.

This data was published by the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) which is a branch of the country's Ministry of Industry and Information. Just to compare, in all of Europe there are just 433 million internet users.

With Google’s lack of presence in the country, there was ample space for the development of China’s own search engine platforms like Baidu.

Let’s review each SEM platform:

1- Baidu

Baidu is the first search engine in China with more than a 650 million monthly active users.

Baidu is the Chinese version of Google and it is the leading search engine in China.

It provides a large range of services like web search, news search, image search, music search, video search, Zhidao (question and answer), Baike (Wiki), etc.

When you consider investing in this platform it’s really important to contact a Chinese agency because it’s impossible to satisfactorily prepare and provide all the documentation and steps if you don’t have experience with it.

Some parts are similar between Baidu and Google: for example the importance of the landing page or website (you need a fast website with a clear objective), but at the same time there are a lot of differences between the 2 platforms. The most important are:

  • Mobile is nearly almost all of how things are searched. More than 95 percent of internet users in China use mobile devices to go online. This tells us that when we create a Chinese website we need to ensure a mobile-first strategy and budget that puts a mobile version or APP first, and then the remainder for desktop. With Google, mobile is also important. Eric Schmidt, the former Executive Chairman of Google, exhorted businesses to take a 'Mobile First' view a long time ago but it’s not nearly as important as doing this in China when such almost all internet users are already mobile first.

  • Chinese culture is completely different to western cultures. A big difference can be also the way in which Chinese consumers react to online advertising. As stated by Mobile Advertising Watch, 47% of Chinese consumers don’t mind being targeted daily for online advertising. This percentage is much lower in western countries. Westerners tend to be suspicious of paid ads, while Chinese believe that if brands are willing to pay, they must have something worth checking out. This difference can be important and can often see higher results in terms of a better click-through-rate and conversion rate for ads on Baidu compared with Google

  • Baidu knows the potential of their service and that’s why it’s more difficult to open a new account on their platform. It’s also more expensive if you want to rank high immediately with paid traffic. With Baidu you need to provide a lot of documents and at the same time you need to pay in order to start running ads; businesses need to make a minimum down payment as ¥6,000 (around $900USD) if located in China. This is counter to the ease of which Google works, where you can open an account and have ads running in less than 5 minutes!

  • If you want to get indexed and have a good position on Baidu you need .CN domain, a China-based web host and also you will also need an Internet Content Publishing License (ICP). If you only have a .COM domain it’s really difficult to be visible on this platform.

2- Shenma

Another important player with almost 12% of the market share is Shenma.

Shenma is a search engine which belongs to Alibaba Group and UCWe and this platform became increasingly popular especially for mobile users.

it is more suitable for the following situations:

  1. Big brands: the search volumes may be lower, but it’s important to show the company in all search engines.

  2. Mobile-enabled online retail brands: Shenma is a good channel when you sell online, and the experience is smooth on mobile devices.

  3. APP Install Objective: A lot of mobile users are using Shenma.

As with for Baidu, to promote on this platform it’s not so simple, and companies need to contact a Chinese agency in order to setup an account and provide the business license and domain.

3- Haosou

The 3rd player is Haosou, owned by Qihoo 360, a search engine which lost a lot of market share since 2014: from 35% to almost 7% by the end of 2018.

This important drop is due to Baidu’s massive increase which took place in the last few years and because the two search engines are extremely similar.

Haosou, also called QiHoo 360, offers a wide range of services including websites, news, images, Q&A, videos, images, etc.

4- Sogou

The last player is Sogou which is a Chinese search engine that was launched in 2004 and by the end of 2018 their market share was around 4%.

Even if it has only the 4% of the market this search engine can be a good way in order to get traffic on your website because with 802 million internet users any search engine which can capture a significant portion of that market wields some serious clout.

Conclusions: Chinese vs Western Search Engine Marketing

The state of search marketing in China is more complex than in the western world.

Baidu, like Google in Europe or USA, is the first player but unlike Google they haven’t obtained 90% market share.

Other search engines have good market share and quantity of users’ searches, making them suitable to test them based on business objectives, products or services and budget.

Another important thing is that it's impossible to get high in those search engines through paid campaigns, or even through organic means, without a Chinese team because all webmaster tools, analytics, ad consoles are in Chinese.

Moreover, there are regional language dialects that can completely change the way a Chinese user searches for things (i.e. the keywords of Shanghainese are completely different to people from Beijing).

Working with an SEM or SEO agency or organizing a group of Chinese that can help you with these parts crucial issues is essential should you wish to work in this market in an efficient way.