Despite trailing Chinese traffic leader Baidu, Google is rated the best search engine in China, according to new research from Keynote Systems.
The study focused on the user experience of the four leading search engines in China: Alibaba/Yahoo, Baidu, Google China and Sohu/Sogou. The study observed the searching habits of more than 1,200 adult users, with 70% residing in major mainland China cities and 30% located in diverse locations within the country.
In a moderately surprising finding, Google was ranked #1 over market share leader Baidu.
Keynote Customer Experience Rankings
Users were asked to complete a set of searches in their normal environment (home, office, internet cafe, etc.). In addition to monitoring the searches users completed for their own needs, each participant was asked to search for specific products, news, images and MP3s.
Keynote used its proprietary technology to track users' ability to complete these searches, capturing responses on more than 250 different metrics measured across each site. Data about the searches was captured, as well as thoughts, feelings and direct answers as users searched. The combination of behavioral, qualitative and quantitative data collected from the panelists gave Keynote the information to rank the engines according to how well they accomplish business goals.
These goals included activities such as acquiring new customers, retaining customers, building brand affinity, motivating customers to adopt online services, providing a positive customer experience, advertising metrics and several others.
Google outperformed its competitors in 11 of 13 factors measured. The finding "was quite a surprise given Baidu has such a strong market share," said Dr. Bonny Brown, Keynote Systems director of research.
The most important "impact drivers" for Chinese searchers were home page design and appeal, general search quality and image search quality.
Google got high marks with users, with 68% calling Google a "high quality" search engine. Baidu and Alibaba/Yahoo (rebranded as Yahoo Search China last November) also got relatively high marks, with 61% ranking them as high quality search engines.
Nonetheless, the study also found that Chinese searchers weren't as satisfied as North American users that Keynote has surveyed for the past four years.
"We saw a lot higher levels of frustration," said Brown, with between 35% and 50% reporting that they were frustrated with the search experience in China. This compares with dissatisfaction percentages of less than 20% observed in equivalent studies in North America. "There's a lot more room for improvement across the board," said Brown.
It's not clear whether perceived search quality or other factors caused this frustration, said Brown. Users did complain about duplication of results, search results not being ranked well and results being out of date.
The study also found that Google gets better ratings from people who don't consider it to be their primary search engine. In other words, when they tried Google during the period of the study, users were generally impressed with the experience. "Google looks like it's going to have an easier time getting people to switch than any of the other engines," said Brown.
According to a report (PDF file) by the China Internet Network Information Center last August, Baidu is China's clear traffic leader, at least in Beijing. The report offered these market share numbers:
- Baidu: 51.5%
- Google: 32.9%
- Sohu: 4.6%
- Sina: 4.0%
- Yahoo: 3.7%
- Others: 3.3%
That Google received higher ratings than Baidu is a good portent for Google's growth in China, according to Brown. "We think that's going to translate into increased market share."
One reason for Baidu's popularity is its music search function, which allows users to find downloadable music. Google's recently announced music search feature works on Google.cn, but it links to music stores rather than music files on the open web.
Baidu, by contrast, offers links to downloadable music files, many of which are presumably illegal copies—and this may pose a problem for Baidu if authorities in China continue to crack down on illegal music sites.
The Keynote study also looked at technical factors such as site availability, performance and other issues. "Baidu is technically the most responsive site," said Brown, but that doesn't translate into it being perceived as the most responsive site by users.
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