Top 5 Chinese Search Engines You Need to Care About (2019)
by Tony DeGennaro
in China Marketing Strategies, Doing Business in China, Marketing in China
There are a few powerful Chinese search engines that you should know about when entering the market. The Chinese search engine market can be a daunting prospect for those who don’t know anything about it, so take the time to fully understand it before diving into advertising or search engine optimization.
In this blog, we’ll introduce you to the 5 most popular search engines in China. All of these search engines offer paid advertising options, but some are certainly more robust than others. We’ll go into all of this and more below!
Already feeling overwhelmed? Contact us and we’re happy to help!
Top 5 Chinese Search Engines: Table of Contents
The China Search Engine SituationRead Now
The Battle for Mobile Search Market Share Read Now
Top 5 Search Engines in China
- Baidu: The Largest Chinese Search Engine Read Now
- Sogou: The Tencent Backed Social Media Crawler Read Now
- Haosou: The OG Chinese Search Engine Read Now
- WeChat: More of An “Everything Engine” Than a Search Engine Read Now
- Shenma: The Mobile Only Chinese Search EngineRead Now
What Search Engine Does China Use?
Unlike most other countries, China’s Great Firewall means that engines like Google and Bing are rarely used. Instead, China has a few main companies that seem to dominate this market, and one key search engine, Baidu.
While there are plenty of search engines in China, Baidu leads the race for dominance by far. Google has been mulling a return to the market with a censored search engine created to the Chinese government’s standards. It seems like the project, codenamed Dragonfly, has been put on halt due to protests against the project from both in and outside the company.
Update 19/07/2019: Google executive Karan Bhatia told the US Senate Judiciary Committee stated that “Project Dragonfly has been terminated” So it looks like Baidu’s position as the leader in the Chinese search engine market is secure for the near future.
The China Search Engine Situation
Unlike the situation in the rest of the world where Google dominates the search engine market, The China search engine market is constantly shifting. New players enter the market and established players die off pretty frequently.
A lot of this can be attributed to delivering a poor user experience, but many also fail due to shifts in consumer behavior. Shenma, for example, has gained traction due to its mobile-only strategy, which aligns with the dominance of mobile internet usage in China.
It can also be attributed to the fragmented nature of the Chinese internet. There is a platform for nearly every type of need, meaning users often go directly to each individual platform based on their needs rather than to a general search engine. This user behavior means for certain services many users skip search engines entirely.
The Chinese Internet Network Information Center stated in one of its recent reports that there were 656.88 million search engine users in China as of June 2018. Compare this to WeChat, which alone now has over 1 billion users worldwide, showing a higher penetration of social media as compared to search.
However, with the total number of internet users in China only topping 800 million in August of 2018, this represents a sizable portion of the internet population.
Stats vary, but it looks likeBaidu has maintained its leading market position with around 70% of market shareaccording to various sources. It’s often been called ‘China’s Google’ due to its leading position.
This, however, is not the case, and there are several differences that you should know about, before entering the China search engine market.
When it comes to market dominance few companies can match Google, with its slightly over 90% market share.
Source: Visual Capitalist
This means that the China search engine market is much more fragmented, meaning it might make sense to target multiple search engines for marketing activities, depending on your audience, goals, and budget.
While this information can seem overwhelming for newcomers, it’s important to keep in mind that at one point, nearly all non-native Chinese businesses were new to Chinese search engines, if they can figure them out, you can too.
The Battle for Mobile Search Market Share
While it would follow that mobile search engine market would follow computer search engines, it seems that this market is a lot more competitive.
It is important to understand that the predominant platforms are either mobile or laptops, tablets don’t seem to be as popular as they are in other countries. So when designing your website you should keep in mind that it needs to be mobile friendly (this is true everywhere else too, so if you haven’t done this yet get on it).
This data was taken from iiMedia Research, a famous market research firm in China. I give this data a lot more weight than that provided by Statcounter due to its reputation.
This chart paints a VERY different picture of the search engine market when it comes to mobile search, with Baidu’s market share falling under 50% and other market players making significant gains. Mobile search engines seem to have more scope for taking Baidu’s market-leading position.
If your business is very friendly toward mobile users (businesses with apps, mobile games, and e-commerce companies), than this data should have a strong effect on which search engines you choose to market on. Given Baidu’s higher costs and it’s falling market share in this category it might make sense to go with a few of the smaller search engines to achieve a better ROI.
#1. Baidu – The Largest Chinese Search Engine.
“百度一下你就知道” is the slogan of China’s largest search engine and would be equivalent to the now-famous phrase, “Just Google it.” The translation for the slogan would be “Just Baidu a little and you’ll know.” If you want to impress your Chinese friends next time they ask you something you don’t feel like answering, it’s pronounced “Bǎi dù yī xià nǐ jiù zhī dào”.
Baidu is the most popular search engine in China. This is definitely the most useful Chinese search engine if you want to focus on SEO. Baidu has recently begun to focus more heavily on its search app, with user numbers growing to 188 million as of June 2019, a 27% increase year over year.
It acts as a sort of trendsetter for other Chinese search engines, but it functions very differently from Google.
Key Differences Between Baidu & Google
The main differences come down to how the sites operate. While on the surface they may look similar, different focuses and older systems mean that while Baidu’s technology is better at processing Chinese, but they are still quite behind Google in terms of weeding out scammers and black hat marketers.
For example, many Chinese agencies claim they can get you to the #1 result for a given search term for a fixed price using black hat techniques. Naturally, the results of methods like this won’t last very long, but it shows that Baidu has some work to do in preventing these types of methods from being used.
In 2019, Baidu has begun to beef up its security and defense against black hat techniques due to a range of scandals occurring on the platform.
Difference #1. Only a Few Non-Chinese Websites will Rank on Baidu
One key difference that should be noted is that Baidu is a completely Chinese search engine, and there are very few non-Chinese language sites that come up. While this is difficult for those who are trying to break into the market, it is one of the reasons why it has such a large Chinese user base.
This naturally provides a better user experience for Chinese users, as users who don’t speak English wouldn’t find English results very useful, would they? How would you like it if the next time you searched on Google most of the results were suddenly in Spanish?
Difference #2. Ranking on the first page can be very difficult
Baidu has made a lot of changes in recent years to ensure that it’s the first page isn’t as heavily dominated by ads as it used to be.
Some of our employees said that they had previously skipped the first page of Baidu results and gone directly to the 2nd page due to how many ads would be present on the first page.
Here we tried a sample search, Tourism (旅游). For this search, you have 4 ads (marked by the blue 广告 symbol) at the top and another 3 at the bottom only leaving space for 5 organic results.
The first page still tends to be heavily focused on ad content, but more space for organic results has been added in the last couple of years.
One other issue that makes ranking so difficult is that you will also be in direct competition with Baidu’s own products (Baike, Zhidao, Tieba, etc.).
Difference #3. Baidu Doesn’t Support Schema.org
Baidu does not use schema.org to markup for Rich Snippets, but they have their own platform called Baidu Open. This is a crucial factor in understanding how Baidu works.
Only a small number of platforms can actually be applied to BaiduOpen, so it is important to know whether your company qualifies. This is a more advanced technique and you’ll likely need an expert to help you with this.
Extra Ways to Boost Your Organic Search Traffic on China’s Largest Search Engine
There is, however, a range of different ways that you can optimize your SEO’s using different Baidu products. BaiduWebmaster Tools allow you to alter the crawl rate through your site, and answering questions about your company on Teiba or Baidu Zhidao allows you to become more trusted.
However, ranking well on Baidu is not easy unless you have an experienced agency to optimize your website and create Chinese content that can boost your rankings.
Some of Baidu’s services that can be useful for SEO
If you want to appear at a higher positionon Baidu, one of the best ways to get started is to utilize Baidu’s other products. Read below for some more information. Or for a full guide on Baidu SEO check out our other blog below.
Baidu SEO Guide 2019: How to Boost Your Digital Presence in China
Create Your Company Profile on Baike (百科)
Baike is similar to Wikipedia, but companies do have the option to purchase the right to have control over what goes on their page.
It is meant to be unbiased in theory, but in practice, many companies have a degree of control over what gets put on their pages through this paid service option.
This is the Nike Baike profile for an example.
Engage on Baidu’s Q&A Platform Zhidao (知道）
Zhidao is another essential part of Baidu’s infrastructure. This is a Q&A website which allows people to answer questions about their business.
Since research is an essential part of the buyer’s journey as well as a massive part of Chinese buying culture, this is an excellent way to increase your reviews and create an organic search presence.
Zhidao is most comparable to Quora, making it compete with China’s other popular Q&A platform Zhihu. Zhihu also ranks incredibly well on Baidu, so get started answering questions on both these platforms to get some great organic results! For more on Zhihu check out the link below.
Leverage the File Sharing Platform Wenku (文库)
Another website that Baidu runs is called Wenku(文库 ) which is essentially a file-sharing service that supports a wide range of different documents. It’s mostly known for the controversies surrounding it due to users uploading pirated content, however, it can be very useful for SEO.
Baidu’s Wenku is an outstanding tool for knowledge seekers. It gets a bit of bad reputation for hosting pirated content though.
This can function like Linkedin’s Slideshare. Companies can upload documents, whitepapers, and other useful resources for users to find. These will often appear in search results for the right keywords and can create meaningful impressions on users who come across them.
Tap into Tieba and Baidu News
I have already mentioned Tieba, but Baidu also runs other websites that you should know about. Baidu News is a very trusted source and has a high number of visitors. If your content qualifies to be on this site, then you should really go for it as it will massively increase your chances of being recognized organically.
If you want to know more optimization tricks, please check out our Baidu SEO Guide 2019. We’ve just recently updated it for 2019!
Baidu’s Potential Risk: Inadequate Regulation of Ad Content
While Baidu is the most popular search engine, this may be changing. Since theWei Zexi scandal, the search engine came under investigation in 2016, and many users have lost faith in the company. The scandal involved a 21-year-old dying after receiving misleading cancer treatment information online.
Picture Source: What’s On Weibo (They did an excellent write up on the scandal)
There was a huge outcry from the public for Baidu to make advertisements more obvious. Baidu has responded to the scandals by making their advertisements easier to spot, with blue boxes marking which posts are paid for. We covered this incident in more detail in the blog below:
Just recently Baidu faced backlash again due to one of its editor’s posing as the father of a murdered 9-year old girl. The case of the girl’s disappearance had captivated the country with news networks nation-wide closely following the case. Upon finding the young girl’s body a post appeared on Baidu claiming to be the girl’s father.
The post went viral, but after an interview on Beijing News, the father admitted that the post was not created by him. Outrage at Baidu was the next viral trend after the interview with many claiming they had taken advantage of the situation to generate additional traffic. The editor who was found to have created the post was fired, but the damage to its reputation had been done.
CEO of Baidu, Robin Li, was given a surprise shower at a tech conference on AI (Source: SupChina)
Baidu has quite a negative reputation in China, but it is still widely used by businesses and users alike. Baidu remains the number one search engine in China, and although it might not be so forever, businesses that rely on search should definitely consider marketing on Baidu.
#2. Sogou – The Tencent Backed Social Media Crawler
While Baidu seems to dominate the market, there are other search engines which you should also know about, and Sogou is one of them. While this Chinese search engine has a relatively small market share, with only 4.6%, it is still an important part of the China search engine market.
Sogou is owned by Sohu, an internet company that offers a range of internet services including news, games, search, and advertising.
Established in 2004, it has its own unique algorithm meaning that strategies designed for Baidu won’t be as effective on Sogou.
Investment from China’s Tech Giant Tencent
In September 2013, it was acquired by Tencent, one of the largest tech companies in China.
This partnership gave Sogou its greatest differentiating feature, the ability to trawl through public messages, articles, and posts on Tencent’s WeChat platform. No other search engine in China is capable of searching on WeChat. With over 1 billion users on WeChat this gives Sogou a serious leg up over its competitors (even though it isn’t reflected in its market share).
Here’s an example of the Technode WeChat Official Account showing up in Sogou search results.
Sogou also began to cooperate with Microsoft’s Bing in 2016 to assist with providing English search results in China. It’s common practice for Academics in China to search in English for research articles.
Recognizing this opportunity Sogou sought to capture this educated and typically more well-off audience by cooperating with Bing to launch Sogou English Search and Sogou Scholar Search.
Haosou – The OG Chinese Search Engine
Previously known as so.com, Haosou is backed by one of China’s largest internet companies, Qihoo 360. They provide a range of internet services but are most well known for their web browser and cybersecurity products. So.com changed to Haosou.com in late 2016, greatly simplifying the interface and providing a better experience on mobile.
This is another very important search engine in the Chinese market. In 2016 they had around 29% (according to SEOagencychina.com) of market share, however, in 2017 they were down to around 10% of the market.In 2018 the drop was even more dramatic with it falling to 3.8% overall. Performance on desktop alone was better though, with Haosou taking second place with 10.33%.
That logo on the top left looks strangely familiar eh?
One advantage that Haosou has is that the QiHoo 360 browser comes preinstalled on most computers in China. Many businesses in China also recommend that their employees use the browser for its security features, making it an ideal channel for B2B marketing.
Haosou offers a wide range of services including news, websites, images, Q&A, videos, images, and music, as well as other services. As you can tell it runs a very similar service to Baidu.
#4. WeChat – More of an…”Everything Engine” than a Search Engine
WeChat is one of the most important parts of online marketing in China. As you likely know it gives users access to a range of different features including messaging, WeChat payments, ride-hailing, bookings/reservations, news, and more! In 2017 it added search to that list!
WeChat implemented a search function in 2017 that users could opt into to gain access to. It was formally added later. It allows users to search WeChat Moments, Mini-Programs, Articles, Stickers, Official Accounts, Videos (on Tencent Video), QQ Music, Books, Q&A (on Zhihu), and Encyclopedia Articles (provided by Sogou Baike).
As you can see much of what it provides relates to its partnership with Sogou. This makes the search engine all the more important for the over 1 billion WeChat users.
How a WeChat Search Looks. You can specify exactly what you’re looking for. If you don’t WeChat provides some results for each category. If you scroll down you’ll eventually find web results provided by Sogou!
As this is still a relatively new feature most marketers are still toying with how to best take advantage of this and how important it really is. Given the state of the Chinese search engine market, Tencent could certainly make a play in this area if it decided it was in its best interests.
When it comes to Chinese search engines you likely won’t think of WeChat, but given its ubiquity in China, it’s a factor in nearly every part of the internet & digital marketing space.
WeChat plays a clear role in affecting the purchasing decisions of consumers throughout China. While you might not need to take action regarding the search engine on WeChat, it’s an important factor for building trust and should always be factored into any China marketing plan. For more on WeChat check out the blog below.
The Ultimate Beginners Guide to WeChat for Business (2019)
Shenma – The Mobile Only Chinese Search Engine
One of the lesser globally known popular search engines in China. Shenma comes with the popular mobile browser UC Browser, one of the world’s most popular internet browsers. Its name translates roughly to “God Horse,” which I find particularly funny, so this one would win my loyalty if I had to choose.
This Chinese search engine is a joint venture between UC Web, the company behind UC Browser, and Alibaba. As the 2nd letter in the popular acronym BAT, which stands for China’s tech giants (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent), Alibaba couldn’t be the only one without a product in the search engine category. With the help of UC Web’s UC browser and China’s preference toward mobile over desktop, Shenma has been gaining market share in recent years and is only expected to grow.
The UC browser is one of the world’s most popular browsers. Although Chrome dominates the market with around 60% of market share, UC browser is placed 4th in terms of popularity worldwide. According to StatCounter, it’s only 1 percentage point behind popular browser Firefox in terms of popularity. When it comes to China UC Browser is the 2nd most popular mobile browser, which explains how Shenma got to its current market position.
Shenma is different from other search engines in that it is ONLY for use on mobile. Desktop users can’t even use the search engine if they wanted to (unless you emulate a mobile operating system on your PC).
So Shenma is Mobile Only? Is that it’s only unique feature?
Shenma is also different in how it delivers search results. Shenma has positioned itself as the Chinese search engine for shopping, apps, and books.
A search for women’s bags, of course, starts with some ads as indicated by the orange 广告 symbol followed by links directly to product pages
Shenma is unique in that it acts as both an app-store and a gateway onto other platforms. It can even link back to Baidu if it feels that Baidu provides the best result to a given query.
Since it’s received investment from Alibaba, search results on Shenma can even include direct links to product pages on Taobao/T-mall! It also allows users to search for apps and provides links to the relevant app stores.
Searches for things like games (游戏) and WeChat (微信) will provide direct links to download (下载) apps.
Like other Chinese search engines, it also has ads for various products and companies. It seems that the majority of ads on the platform are geared towards products & apps rather than things like B2B services. Considering how it is only available on mobile this does make sense.
We’re interested to see how Shenma continues to develop as a marketing tool, as it seems to be developing and adding new features quicker than its competitors. With its market share consistently growing it might grow to be a major force in the Chinese search engine market.
Update 08/2019: Newcomer to Search, Bytedance Enters the Fray!
Bytedance, the company behind Jinri Toutiao and TikTok/Douyin recently announced that it will be launching its own search engine! Toutiao Search as it’s being called pulls in results from the web and other properties owned by Bytedance including Toutiao, TikTok, and others. The Search Engine is currently available within the Jinri Toutiao app.
Bytedance has made a range of new hires to help them enter this market with executives from companies like Bing, Google, and Baidu joining the team. Given the current weakness of Baidu and its continuous decline over the last few years, it’s possible that the Chinese search engine market is due for a shake-up!
However, Baidu apparently isn’t worried about it as demonstrated by Ping Xiaoli, General Manager of Baidu quoted as saying “We have estimated that there are about two new players emerging in the search engine market each year. We have been dominating the market over the past two decades.”
While Baidu might be confident, with Bytedances string of recent successes it’s likely they’ll definitely make an impact in the Chinese search engine market.
Conclusion on The Top Chinese Search Engines
While the market is still dominated by Baidu, there is room for a shakeup in the China search engine market. Lack of trust and recent scandals mean that customers may be turning to other search engines. There is also more growth in mobile phone searches, suggesting that it would be unwise to ignore the different search engines when marketing in China
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