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Google's China Situation Better Than You Might Think -- And Other China Search News

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The China Internet Network Information Center has released a new China Online Search Market Survey Report  (PDF file) outlining the search market in China that's well worth a read. And despite headlines you may have seen from this report that painted a gloomy picture for Google, actually reading the report makes me think Google's much better off than you might think.

Let's do some headlines first:

The conventional wisdom from limited research released previously on search in China has put home grown search engine Baidu as the category leader. However, when you drill down into this recent report, you find that in specific types of searches, Google probably has the healthier outlook. IE, Baidu may lead with those interested in downloading music, but for those seeking things like shopping and business information, Google is very strong.

Let's dive in with the report's breakdown of the Beijing market share:

  • Baidu: 51.5%
  • Google: 32.9%
  • Sohu: 4.6%
  • Sina: 4.0%
  • Yahoo: 3.7%
  • Others: 3.3%

Market shares for Shanghai and Guangzhou are also listed, but the figures aren't super radically different, so I didn't make a chart up showing all of them side-by-side. Mainly, Baidu slips below the 50 percent mark for these other cities but is still the leader. Google always holds at a healthy second. Yahoo (which can mean 3721, Yisou, Yahoo China or Yahoo anywhere) comes up into third place.

Some important caveats on the figures, however. The report says:

  • A search engine's market share is determined by the number of users who use that particular search engine as their only or primary one, divided by the number of total users.
  • "Baidu users" refers to those who use Baidu as their only or primary search engine, and so on.

In other words (as I read it), if someone said that "Baidu" was their primary search engine, then that person counts entirely toward Baidu regardless of whether they also use Google, Sohu or another service. That produces a skew to the data. You obviously want to be the first choice of users, but it could be that for particular types of searches, another search engine might rank better than for the overall totals.

To me, a better way of looking at search market share is to look at actual volume of searches. Our pages for stats from NetRatingsHitwise and comScore all have figures using this type of basis along with explanations of why it is important.

In fact, the report notes later that Baidu/Google or Google/Baidu are the most popular combinations for searchers, making up 55 percent of those who use two or more search engines.

The report also has a chart showing popularity of search engine by those brand new to searching in the last 6 months. Baidu leads at 48.2 percent, followed by Sohu at 19.6 percent and then Google at 12.5 percent.

There's also a breakdown of what people search for, which is incredibly revealing. More people at Google search for web sites, shopping and business information and reference material than corresponding searchers at Baidu. What's big -- what's powering searches at Baidu? Apparently downloadable music.

In other words, perhaps Baidu is so popular in China because it has served as a type of Napster for the nation. If so, then Google has far less to worry about in the "race" for China, since if these are illegal downloads, it's not a business it wants or can be in. Indeed, just before Baidu went public, it had to act to remove links to pirated music to help sooth copyright concerns.

A chart showing those who use Baidu as their "primary" search engine and Google as "secondary" search engine is fascinating. Baidu "primary" users turn massively to Google for if they can't find their search need (outside of music search) or for undefined "alternative" uses. In contrast, what do those who use Google as their primary search engine depend on at Baidu for their secondary needs? Music search.

A later chart breaks down market share in across a particular vertical segments. In other words, what percentage of all music searchers go to Baidu? A big 74.6 percent. Baidu keeps the majority of searchers also for images and photos (67.8%) and online games (61.0%). After that, it still has more searchers in all but two categories, but the margin over Google is less.

Google wins in the share of those seeking maps, city guides and travel info -- 41.8 percent of searchers to Baidu's 38.8 percent. Google also ties with Baidu for those seeking shopping and business information, 42.5 percent.

There are other Google wins I think are significant. The more money you have, the more likely you are to search with Google. At the highest income level surveyed, those with 5,000 yuan per month (about US $600) or higher, Google has 58.1 percent of the searchers to Baidu's 25.7 percent.

The report summary says that Google's lost market share to Baidu and suggest the worry for Google is that a rising generation might not consider it "cool." But if that's "cool" in terms of downloading free music, Napster's coolness didn't help it thrive. It's not the type a cool that a business may want to be.

My other problem with this is the report showed no historic trends that I can see. Outside of the survey of those brand new to the web, there's no tracking of Google's "lost" share, though I have no reason to doubt Baidu growth in popularity. However, the aforementioned AP article does have some market share increases for Beijing (Baidu up 10 percent) and says Gogole was the largest in all three cities just six months ago, although it too says the report doesn't share figures on this.

Elsewhere in the report are nice overview demographics of searchers in China:

  • 86 percent of Beijing's internet users have used online search
  • On any day, 38 percent are using search engines, along with frequency of searching
  • 40 percent of searchers are students, nearly half of which are in secondary school
  • Non student searchers are mostly (62 percent) aged 25-40
  • 66 percent of searchers use two or more brand name search engines
  • Male/female breakdown of searchers
  • Breakdown by education (Google has a whopping 75 percent of users with a doctorate and 50 percent of those with postgraduate degrees. Baidu is the industry leader in all other education categories starting from middle school and including those with 4 year degrees)

For more, the LA Times had an excellent article three weeks ago, "Baidu.com Went From Unknown to No. 1 Search Engine in China" from the LA Times. It was here and is still listed on Google News as if it is there, but now you have to buy here.

The article looked at how the Chinese governments blocking of Google has helped boost Baidu presence in China, suggesting even that Baidu employees might report things the Chinese government might want to block -- an accusation Baidu's CFO said he wasn't aware of. I'd been wondering if blocking like this, however it happened, could have helped with Baidu's rise. Apparently so.

Internet Search Giants Hurry Into Chinese Market from Dow Jones is another nice recent read looking at the growth of the Chinese search marketing and interest in it. A nice refresher, for those wanting to catch up on recent moves.

Meanwhile, Autonomy readies for content wars looks at how enterprise search company Autonomy has partnered with one of China's biggest internet companies to create a news and video search service for the country.

Finally, I mentioned last week the new Chinawhite blog where Shakil Khan -- known as Shak on to those of various search forums -- will be covering news of search out of China. Check it out. And if you want to learn more about Shak, China White from Matt Marshall over at SiliconBeat out today has a great profile of him.

Postscript: You'll find that LA Times article now available free to registered members at the San Jose Mecury News here.


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