Google? What’s That? Chinese Search Engines Explained
As of 2014, 46.03% of the Chinese population was online. That’s a total of 641 million Internet users, the largest in the world according to Internet Live Stats. It’s an incredible number of people and is undoubtedly responsible for changing the shape of the web. It also means that global companies and advertisers look to China when trying to reach customers.
While other countries might think they’re the center of the world, their population comes nowhere close to China. Many things that are ubiquitous with the U.S., Australia, and Europe are foreign in China, which is why it’s so important for companies to understand the unique Chinese marketplace. While reaching Australian customers on Google is logical, in China it would be the exact wrong move.
Though much of world uses Google day-in and day-out—it has more than 65% of the search engine market share worldwide—that’s not the case in China where it only holds just over 1% of the search engine marketplace. In fact, recently Google Gmail services were even blocked for use by the Chinese government.
The Chinese Search Engine Marketplace
Overall, the Chinese search engine market has maintained stable growth, according to Marketing to China. In the last quarter of 2012, search engines made approximately $8 billion (RMB). In the third quarter of 2014, that revenue jumped to over $16 billion (RMB)—an over 50% increase in just two years.
As for where and how Chinese netizens are using the Internet and search, mobile devices are leading the way. They were the main source of searches and, therefore, the main source of revenue for Chinese search engine marketing in the third quarter of 2014. The revenue from mobile search grew $0.9 billion or 59.9% of total growth compared to the same time in 2013.
Popular Chinese Search Engines
- baidu.com (百度)
If you’re interested in SEO for the Chinese population, you need to be looking at Baidu.
Baidu is by far the most popular search engine in China. It had a whopping 58.3% of the market in 2014. As such, it’s the basis of comparison for all other search engines in China. Just as Google in much of the rest of the world is the place where advertisers want to be seen, for Chinese companies, it’s all about Baidu. In fact, Baidu’s presence in China is so great, that it now also ranks as the third most popular search engine in the world with 9.61% of the global search engine market.
Baidu offers a range of marketing solutions, such as performance-based online marketing services and display advertisements through their site and affiliated websites. Baidu also shines in its ability to quickly interpret Chinese text, which leads to higher-quality results. However, this does mean that Baidu is more expensive for pay-per-click than other search engines, which accounts for its $1.53 billion (USD) revenue in the first quarter of 2013.
The big difference between Google and Baidu is that the Chinese search engine does not punish copy & pasting. Therefore, when advertising in China, you can add a lot of content to your website, even if it has been published already. Also, Baidu embraces mixing PPC and organic rankings, unlike Google.
- 360 Search (奇虎360搜索)
Qihoo’s 360 Search, also known as so.com, is easily the second most-used search engine in China. In 2014, it owned a coveted 24.9% of the market. 360 Search is attractive for many advertisers because it is more affordable than Baidu, with a significantly lower cost-per-click, but an active share of the search engine marketplace. In 2014, they reported a revenue of $376.4 million (USD).
Created by an antivirus company, Quihoo 360 is known for its unmatched security. It claims to block Trojan horses and identify a phishing website better than any other search engine. They also have a unique niche, the gaming industry.
Gaming accounted for 46% of Quihoo 360’s total revenue in the last quarter of 2014, according to Marketing to China. In fact, Quihoo has successfully used its security software to create the most popular app store in China, with 30% of its revenue during the second quarter of 2014, coming from mobile games.
- Sogou (搜狗)
In 2004, Sohu created Songou. Though its not a serious rival for Baidu, it’s still a leader in Chinese search engines. It’s known for having a unique algorithm, SERP layout, and “SogouRank” index. It’s a useful option if your company is looking to reach people from lower tier cities because it is far more affordable for pay-per-click advertising.
In 2014, based on information provided by Marketing to China, Songou improved its position on the search engine marketing in china, growing its traffic 20% quarter-over-quarter. Revenues for Songou in the third quarter reached $98 million (USD).
Keys to Successful SEO in China
While understanding the different search engines in China is important, it’s just as important to understand the Golden Shield Project. It’s the most sophisticated firewall in the world that continually monitors all Internet activity—controlling what content is available to the public. China uses four methods to filter content according to an article by Clickz.
- DNS Block: Every time a URL is entered into the browser, the DNS verifies that the IP address is not on the blocked list. If it is, no address is delivered.
- Connection Phasing: If China has blocked a URL, the servers will interrupt the request and the user receives a “connection has been reset” message.
- URL Keyword Blocking: A simple form of content filtering, keyword blocking resets the connection if a URL contains any forbidden words.
- Page Content Scanning: Each page of a site is scanned by China’s extensive surveillance system. If any forbidden content is detected, there’s a break in connection for that page and, potentially, the entire site.
In order to succeed with SEO in China, you will need to treat your Chinese website differently than you do other company websites. A few things to keep in mind:
- Keywords: Just as elsewhere, keywords in China are key. Make sure your company uses the right keywords to get the exposure you want. If you do not read Chinese, make sure you hire a trusted translation partner.
- Censure: In China, you can never criticize the Chinese government. If it ever happens, your website can receive a bad reference and be blacklisted. In fact, there’s a list of censured words your company must avoid. The International Business Times offers a list of the strangest censured words with the reasons why they’re not allowed.
- Hosting: You cannot host your website on a shared server where one IP address hosts many different websites. Also, when it comes to Chinese SEO, it’s a huge advantage to host the website directly in China. Baidu gives better viewing to websites hosted in China.