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. However, most Chinese users will never stick to a single search engine.
The Chinese internet is more fragmented than the western world. Users can resort to a multitude of platforms focused on specific needs. Therefore, a user may skip Baidu, or any other generic search tool altogether, and refer to a different search engine that better addresses his specific need.
In consideration of that, and then depending on your audience, business goals and even budget, it is a good practice to target several search engines in China.
To help you navigate through the diverse internet habits in China, 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. The most popular 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. If you try to access Google from inland China, you will be redirected to google.hk. However, depending on your query, results will be filtered or not available at all.
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 2020
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 2020:
By March 2020 (updated), Baidu, the biggest search engine in China, is retaining about 72% of the market. Sogou follows with an interesting 14.8%. Then, follows Shenma with a 4.45% market share and Haosou (3.7%), Bing and Google that reach almost 2% each of them. The remaining shares of the market are held by several search engines that, although not very large, may be absolutely relevant for your audience.
Let’s now consider the different characteristics of the largest 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 preferred search engine in the country. Therefore, your SEO strategy must primarily focus on ranking high on Baidu.
Even though Baidu feels similar to Google, the logic behind this search engine is different in many ways. Because of these differences, the SEO techniques for Baidu are not equal to the ones you use for Google.
Baidu vs Google — What's the Difference
First of all, it is very difficult for a non-Chinese website to rank on Baidu. Therefore, to work within the Chinese market, your website must be translated into Chinese and possibly be hosted inside the country.
Moreover, Baidu values new and fresh content, as opposed to its 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 has been established since 2004 and is the second player in China. They were able to reach 24.54% of the market share in December 2020, being the chinese search engine with the highest growth in the last year.
One thing you must know is that Sogou has developed its own algorithm. 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.
Tencent Bets on Search Engines
An important milestone for Sogou was in 2013 when the tech giant, Tencent, acquired the search engine. Thanks to this move, Sogou can now search on the WeChat platform, a unique feature that no other search engine in China can boast about.
Moreover, Sogou is the default search engine for the QQ’s browser which has been developed by Tencent.
Shenma is not well known among western users, but its market share is growing and, therefore, needs your attention.
Shenma is the result of a joint venture between Alibaba and UC Web. In fact, Shenma comes with UC browser, a world-famous internet browser. It is expected that Shenma’s user base will keep on growing during the coming years.
Shenma — The Mobile First Search Engine for Shopping and Apps
An important feature of Shenma is that this Chinese search engine can be used only on mobile devices. Given the tremendous usage of mobile devices in China, this is a very important factor. In fact, Shenma is widely used for shopping, books and apps. Therefore, if you are operating in one of these market niches, Shenma is a must-have.
Haosou (360 OU)
Haosou is an important search engine in China even though it has recently lost most of its market share.
However, behind the scenes of Haosou operates QiHoo 360 a very large internet company in China. The QiHoo 360 browser is pre-installed on most computers in China, which gives 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.
Haosou Goes Beyond China and Arrives in Hong Kong
Haosou offers nice opportunities for foreign advertisers. A few years ago, QiHoo 360 partnered with an agent in Hong Kong to offer new marketing opportunities in China. The new unit in Hong Kong makes it easier for foreign companies to advertise on Haosou.
WeChat is one of the most popular social apps in the world and the most widely used in China.
In 2007, Tencent implemented WeChat with a search engine feature. You can use WeChat search to find content only within the WeChat platform. However, this search engine has proved very useful in many ways.
Users appreciate the fact that they can use WeChat search to look for services or check information on companies before buying products.
Youdao is a Chinese search engine released in 2007 by NetEase. You can use Youdao to search websites, images, news, music, blogs, and Chinese to English entries.
In 2012 Youdao was implemented with Hui Hui Assistant, a shopping assistant tool that allow users to compare products and prices online.
Best Option for Mandarin learners
Youdao is highly appreciated by Mandarin learners thanks to the free online dictionary that comes with it. What makes Youdao Chinese dictionary valuable is the fact that it is easy to use, and features example sentences and indications of how to use a word.
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.
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.
There are persisting rumors that Google is still working on the Dragonfly project. After Google announced the coming release of a censored search engine called Dragonfly, many of its employees engaged in a heated protest. They perceived the release of a search engine that works according to the filters imposed by the Chinese government as an open violation of Google’s ethical principles.
However, the release of a search engine specifically designed for the Chinese market would give Google the possibility of re-entering China and getting its share of this huge market.
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.
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 not dominated by it. As we have discussed in this article, there are several other resources that users can employ.
Therefore, while planning a strategy for the Chinese market, it is important to become familiar with the different search engines available to understand which ones 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.