The search engine market in China is growing rapidly, with individual search engines scrambling to gain a foothold in the world’s second largest Internet market. According to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), there were 137 million Internet users in China at the end of 2006. Current estimates range as high as 150 million or about 10.5% of the total population. China will soon replace the US as the world’s leader in the number of Internet users.
When it comes to search engines in China, Baidu holds a commanding lead with 62% of the market share, followed by Google with 20%, and the remaining 18% spread between MSN, Yahoo, SINA, and others (iResearch). China’s total search engine market revenue reached $64 million US in the first quarter of 2007, according to Analysys International. Piper Jaffray expects annual revenues from advertising on search sites in China to reach $1 billion US by 2010.
In 2005, the number of daily searches in China was approximately 360 million. That number is expected to jump to 816 million in 2007, according to investment bank Piper Jaffray.
Who is searching online in China? Men search more than women. Younger people search more than those who are older. People with higher incomes and more education and those who have been online longer search more. Actual percentages are:
- 61% of men vs. 56% of women;
- 60% of 16-34 year olds, 50% of 35-44 year olds, 48% of 45-54 year olds, 27% of those 55 and older;
- 69% with an income over 2,000RMB/month vs. 44% with an income under 800RMB/month;
- 72% of those online 6 years or longer vs. 44% of those online 2 years or less;
- 76% with a BA or higher, 67% with 2 years college, and. 44% with middle school or lower.
Specific Search Engines in China
Baidu continues to grab market share and widen their lead over other search engines in China. Just two years ago when Baidu went public, their market share was only about 46% – now it’s closer to 62%. Gordon Hotchkiss, CEO of Enquiro, has stated, “Baidu is the primary vehicle to locate and download free MP3 files. This generates a huge amount of traffic, as this is one of China’s most popular online activities.”
Baidu founder Robin Li worked as a staff engineer for Infoseek, and as a senior consultant for IDD Information Services before launching the Chinese search engine. Mr. Li received a Master of Science Degree in Computer Science from the State University of New York at Buffalo and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Information Management from Peking University.
Google has lost market share recently in China. Industry analysts speculate the failure to aggressively promote online music and offer its Gmail or blogging service on Google.cn may have contributed to the decline. Google has refrained from offering its email solution in China following controversy concerning Yahoo! providing information that led to a reporter’s imprisonment in that country.
Google has launched a research and development center in China led by Dr. Lee Kai Fu. Dr. Lee joined Google from Microsoft, where he most recently held the position of corporate vice president, after founding Microsoft Research China in the late 1990s. Dr. Lee was a former assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University and has also worked for Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI) and Apple.
In August 2005, Yahoo! China was acquired by Alibaba (the largest e-commerce entity in China) in a deal with Yahoo! Inc., which also included an agreement by Yahoo! to purchase 40% of Alibaba for $1 billion. Other Alibaba properties are Alibaba China (the country’s largest online B2B marketplace), TaoBao (a C2C trading site), and AliPay (online payment services). Yahoo! China was recently re-launched with more focus on search and less on the portal aspects.
In 1995, Alibaba’s CEO Jack Ma founded China Pages, generally considered to be China’s first Internet company. He then headed the information department of the China International Electronic Commerce Center (CIECC) for the Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation (MOFTEC). In early 1999 he left to MOFTEC to launch Alibaba.com.
SINA, the operator of China’s most-visited web portal, runs a knowledge and community-based search engine called iAsk.com. This works with both Chinese and English queries. In June 2007, SINA added Google’s web page search service to its site. Other SINA properties include SINA.com (online news and content), SINA Mobile (mobile value-added services), SINA Community (blogs, podcasts, email, photo sharing, BBS, classified ads), SINA.net (search and enterprise services) and SINA Mall (online shopping and auctions). SINA’s current President and CEO is Charles Chao.
Sohu.com became China’s first online search company in 1997. The seven Sohu properties include sohu.com (portal), sogou.com (search engine), go2map.com (mapping services), chinaren.com (an alumni club), 17173.com (games information portal), focus.cn (real estate and home furnishings) and goodfeel.com.cn (wireless value-added services). The search engine Sogou , which means “Search Dog,” debuted in 2004. Sohu itself was founded by Dr. Charles Zhang.
In May 2005, MSN entered into a joint venture with Shanghai Alliance Investment Ltd. (SAIL) to deliver MSN products and services, including managing the portal, MSN.com.cn. The portal offers far more information and content than available through MSN services such as Hotmail and Messenger, which already had a presence in China. In June 2007, Microsoft announced they had contracted with KongZhong Corp. to provide news, instant messaging, and advertising to MSN China.
Use of the Internet in China is growing rapidly and the number of people using search engines to locate information is also destined to expand at an incredible pace. As this happens, all search engines in China will have to find new and innovative ways to compete with the current market leader Baidu. With so many changes upcoming in China’s search landscape, look for search engines to pull out all the stops as they struggle to take the lead and stand out in the increasingly competitive Chinese search market.