Most Popular Chinese Search Engines in 2023
If you want to implement an effective marketing strategy in China, you must get acquainted with the largest search engines in China. You may have heard about Baidu, the biggest and most popular Chinese search engine, considered to be China’s answer to Google. However, due to China’s unique internet ecosystem, its search engine landscape is wildly different than in the West.
Are Search Engines Still Relevant in China for 2023?
Unlike in the West, Chinese internet users access the web mostly through mobile. A staggering 99.6% of Chinese internet users access the internet through mobile compared to only 33.3%-27.6% for accessing via computer, according to a 2022 study from China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC).
Due to the predominance of mobile internet usage, most Chinese internet users are used to app-based internet usage. Users resort to a multitude of platforms focused on specific needs.
The Chinese internet is also more fragmented than the western world, with tech companies keeping their content to within their own ecosystems. That means Baidu isn’t able to index content from platforms like WeChat or Xiaohongshu.
These two factors mean that Chinese internet users don’t completely rely on traditional search engines in the same way as their Western counterparts.
In America, while internet users might use Amazon for E-commerce needs, many still search for products from Amazon on Google. In China, users searching on Baidu will not be able to find Taobao products in their search, nor product reviews from Xiaohongshu, nor event information from WeChat Official Account articles.
However, despite this, most internet users in China still rely on traditional search engines for app-agnostic general information and to search for content from traditional websites. While search engines may not dominate internet usage like elsewhere in the world, Chinese search engines are still here to stay.
In consideration of these Chinese internet browsing habits, it is a good practice to target different search engines in China according to your target audience, business goals and budget.
To help you navigate through China’s unique digital landscape, we have put together some relevant information to help you understand how search engines in China work, which search engines are blocked in the country, and even a Chinese search engine list.
Which Search Engines are Blocked in China?
Due to the filters imposed by the Great Fire Wall of China, several popular search engines are not available in China, chief among them is Google.
Google decided to leave the country a few years ago to avoid compromising on the freedom they promise to their users.
Other popular search engines that are not available in China are Yahoo and DuckDuckGo.
With these popular search engines not available in China, it is critical to understand which ones are still available and to change your SEO strategy and marketing campaign based on their requirements.
China's Search Engine Market Share in 2023
It is interesting to have an overview of the search engine market share in China and what the Google alternatives are in the country.
The most used Chinese Search Engines in 2023:
By January 2023, Baidu is still the leading search engine in China, taking 60% market share. However, its dominance is being challenged by Sogou and Bing, both of which sit at around 13% market share. Haosou ranks 4th at 5% market share. Google, despite being blocked, still holds over 2%, with users accessing the search engine via VPN. Collectively, the remaining search engines have seen an increase in market share in the last year, rising from under 2% to over 6%.
Let’s now consider the different characteristics of the main search engines in China.
Baidu is the most popular search engine in China and can be compared to Google in the western world. It was one of the first search engines to appear on the scene in China and it has continued to gain popularity since then.
Baidu is by far the most used search engine in the country, making it the primary focus of most Chinese market SEO strategies.
Even though Baidu resembles Google, its ranking algorithm and indexing systems are completely different. Because of these differences, you will need to adopt different SEO techniques for Baidu compared to what you use for Google.
Baidu vs Google — What's the Difference
To start, it is very difficult for a non-Chinese website to rank on Baidu, as Baidu only indexes websites with simplified Chinese text. Therefore, to work within the Chinese market, your website must be translated into simplified Chinese and preferably be hosted inside the country.
Moreover, Baidu values new and fresh content, as opposed to length. Therefore, it is best to focus on creating new content constantly instead of updating existing content or creating very long articles.
Other notable differences are that Baidu, unlike Google, pays a lot of attention to the homepage instead of the internal pages, and schema.org markup is not supported.
Moreover, keep in mind that making it to the first page is not easy since it is often overcrowded with ads, leaving little space for organic results. If you want to go deep on how to do SEO in China, both with Google and Baidu, check our SEO guide.
Sogou was launched in 2004 and is Baidu’s biggest Chinese competitor in the Chinese market.
Sogou has developed its own ranking algorithm unique from Baidu. Therefore, do not expect Baidu SEO techniques to work on this search engine. Sogou has been very useful for companies who target an audience in low tier locations due to more affordable pay-per-click campaigns.
Sogou’s Merger with Tencent
An important milestone for Sogou was in 2013 when the tech giant, Tencent, acquired the search engine. In 2021, the merger was finally completed. Sogou can now search content from the WeChat platform. Plugged into an ecosystem that no other search engine can access, Sogou has gained significant market share.
Moreover, Sogou is the default search engine for the QQ browser developed by Tencent.
360 Search (so.com)
360 Search is an important search engine in China for its given niche – B2B.
360 Search is operated by QiHoo 360, one of China’s smaller tech giants known for its antivirus software. The QiHoo 360 browser is pre-installed on many desktop computers in China, giving Haosou an advantage.
The search engine has a reputation of being safer than Baidu and it focuses on several services like news, websites, videos, images, music, and many more services. It is the recommended browser for employees in many Chinese companies, giving it an edge for B2B businesses.
WeChat is one of the most popular social apps in the world and the most widely used in China.
The WeChat search engine feature has been implemented in 2007. You can use WeChat search to find content only within the WeChat platform. However, with WeChat having over 1.3 billion MAU and a massive media ecosystem, that is already access to plenty of content.
Users appreciate the fact that they can use WeChat search to look for services, check information on companies before buying products and find event details.
Weibo Search Engine
Launched back in 2009, Sina Weibo is a popular micro blogging platform in China and one of the biggest social media networks in the country. It has often been considered the equivalent of Twitter in China.
Weibo features a real time search engine tool that allows users to search through different categories like posts, events, users, apps, groups, and more.
Xiaohongshu Search Engine
As one of the most popular apps for middle-class and above young Chinese in first and second tier cities, Xiaohongshu has rapidly grown in popularity since its launch in 2013. As a lifestyle app, its closest Western equivalent would be Instagram. Content consists of short videos and images with text.
Xiaohongshu boasts E-commerce integration and an algorithm promoting in depth content. Many younger urban Chinese use this app to search for advice and instructional videos instead of turning to traditional search engines like Baidu.
Like other apps in China, Xiaohongshu’s content is only searchable within the app’s search engine.
Non-Chinese Search Engines Operating in China
Even though many non-Chinese search engines are banned in China, they shouldn’t be overlooked altogether. Several western search engines can still operate in China and can be used to target specific audiences.
Google is a perfect example of a non-Chinese search engine that can still operate in China. Of course, users need to activate a VPN to access the otherwise blocked search engine. However, there are still quite a large number of Chinese users that prefer to use Google instead of Baidu.
Unlike Google, Bing is not blocked in China. Most likely, this is due to Microsoft’s willingness to comply with local regulations. Bing can be considered a Google alternative even though it is not as influential. Despite its foreign origins, Bing has strong market penetration within China’s search engine. It holds close to 13% market share and is tied with Sougou as the second most used search engine in China.
Bing.cn — The Way to Search Without a VPN
Bing in China is appreciated because you can have access to a western search engine without using a VPN. However, it must be noted that Bing can still operate in the country because of its cooperation with the government. Therefore, the search results you will find on Bing are filtered by local censorship.
Even though Baidu is the most used search engine in China, the market is increasingly shifting away from Baidu being the dominant search engine.
In addition, with China’s rapidly changing internet landscape and fragmented digital ecosystems, the traditional search engine model may no longer be as relevant as it is in the West. Depending on your business, it may no longer be feasible to only optimize your content for solely Baidu; be prepared to create content for multiple platforms and their respective search engines.
Therefore, while planning a strategy for the Chinese market, it is important to understand how Chinese users interact with the web when choosing which search engines resonate with your audience and to use them to achieve maximum exposure.
If you are planning to target the Chinese market, it is a good move to look for the support of a local SEO agency with a strong grip on the local culture and the internet environment. A specialized support will enhance your chance of success in China and help your business to grow.