The Chinese search engine landscape is surprisingly diverse given the ultra-competitive nature of apps and platforms in China. Each of these options has its strengths and weaknesses and you should consider the pro and cons of each before moving forward with a marketing strategy in China.
2019 brought actual change to the diversification of the Chinese search engine market, and still there is even less dominance of big players compared to Google's ownership of the market share in the West (accounting for 92.71% of all searches). Baidu was on top again with a 70.3% market share in 2019, which has been a slight decline from the 75%+ Baidu had in the previous year. Baidu’s dominance might be waning which would be excellent for the market as Baidu has, comparatively speaking, not pushed hard for innovation due to the position it has held for so long.
In second place, Sogou (搜狗 which translates to “searching dog”) has been rapidly gaining market share in 2019 and even reached up to 26% of the total market share in Jan 2020. Sogou’s rise should not be ignored and given their trajectory should be a strong contender for Baidu in future.
The in third and fourth place we have Shenma (神马) and Haosou (好锁) respectively which have only lost popularity in the last year. Google does also appear on this chart but it is blocked in mainland China and is not a reliable search option unless you have a very good VPN. Bing is also estimated to hold around 2% of searches in China at the moment and is not blocked, but user adoption does not appear to be increasing that much.
Source: StatCounter Global Stats - Search Engine Market Share
As the biggest search engine in China, it’s going to be hard to find a better opportunity to target Chinese customers directly by search intent. Other platforms like WeChat, Weibo and Jinritoutiao profess to have good targeting options but at the end of the day they are unreliable and you will end up getting very low-quality results. However, if you have a niche product or are B2B, Baidu is a great opportunity to target people specifically looking for your product or service. Also, Baidu is relatively cheaper than Google when it comes to CPC! Read more about Baidu vs Google here.
Sogou pinyin was originally a mobile keyboard app that became extremely popular as the default app for typing in Chinese using roman characters. Sogou was able to leverage that massive audience to create search functions within their app and other third-party apps. Sogou has also pushed hard on innovation and AI for improving search results, something which Baidu has been slow to move on likely stymied by regulations (being the biggest company of their kind) and a different attitude to embracing change.
Like Baidu, Sogou requires all advertisers to have an assigned Sogou agent who will assist you through the process, red-tape, account creation, and advertising process. Sogou might be a good option for those looking to target hyper-competitive keywords on Baidu or those industries to be deemed too ‘sensitive’ to advertise on Baidu (Sogou seem to have less regulations in this area).
Getting started with search engines in China
The key thing to remember when doing anything in China related to advertising is that it’s going to take longer and a lot more red-tape than almost anything in the rest of the world. In most cases, you’re going to need to show evidence of your legal presence in China. If you don’t have a legal presence in China it’s possible to register through Hong Kong as an international company.
Is your company right for Baidu and SEM in China? Speak with one of marketing experts to find out.