Google is blocked in China, and there are several locally-grown search engines that took its place.
Baidu (百度) is the clear market leader with over 78% of the overall market.
Yet Qihoo’s 360 Search (360搜索) is a strong challenger. Although it only has 9% of the overall market, it holds 24% of the desktop market.
When it comes to mobile, Shenma (神马) holds second place, with 12% of the market.
Sogou (搜狗) lags behind with 4% of the market. It is still worth watching though, because of its powerful potential in social search.
Google is only available in China for VPN (Virtual Private Network) users. But does that mean that it’s useless for marketing to Chinese people? Not exactly. You can still use Google to target Chinese people living outside of the Mainland China: exchange students, expats, tourists, etc.
There’s also one foreign search engine accessible in China: Microsoft’s Bing (必应). However, despite being a default browser on many devices, it’s not commonly used by Chinese people and therefore we do not normally recommend advertising on it.
Most companies will choose Baidu first, because of the larger userbase. It’s the basis of comparison for all other search engines in China.
For major brands that want full exposure, we recommend that they have a presence on all four of the main search engines. There’s no reason not to.
For companies with limited budgets, we recommend comparing options first. Even though Baidu has the largest userbase, that doesn’t make much difference if you don’t have the budget to utilize it.
Plus, Baidu is usually the most expensive search engine for advertisers on a cost-per-click basis.
360 Search is a strong contender and worth looking into for desktop search campaigns. 360’s audience is much younger and well-educated, predominantly used by students and young white-collar workers. Compared to Baidu’s audience, they’re also higher-spending consumers. (data collected by 360 Search)
We find that 360 Search is usually cheaper than Baidu on a cost-per-click basis.
When it comes to mobile search, Shenma is the search engine to check out. As of the end of 2017, the number of mobile search engine users reached 624 million compared to 640 million overall search engine users.
Shenma has a strong presence in mobile search because it comes with the UC Browser - the default browser for most Android devices in China. Shenma is also specifically designed for mobile search, hence it’s easy to use.
Sogou is the built-in search engine for Tencent’s apps: WeChat, QQ and the browser. Many users still use the in-app engine the old-fashioned way to search for official accounts, for example. If the result page shows any website, they jump to the preferred search engine. However, the trend has been changing. Mobile search users often perform vertical searches through popular apps and browsers to look for news, microblogs, mobile maps, videos, mobile music, and more (source in Chinese).
Also, despite Sogou’s low market share, we still use it for some campaigns, but only for topics with a high enough search volume to make it worthwhile.
Baidu offers a strong local search feature via Baidu Maps. Another app that works almost the same way is Amap (高德地图). As you can guess, they’re both quite similar to Google Maps.
Users search for specific addresses, but also use the apps to discover local restaurants, hotels, shops and services. Both of the apps provide basic info about the place, reviews, prices etc. as they’re connected to platforms like Diangping (点评) and Ctrip.
Amap is also a default map used by iPhone’s map app.
Many Chinese users will skip search engines completely when they are searching for a product to purchase. Instead, they’ll head directly to Taobao, TMall, Jingdong or another shopping app.
They also commonly switch between search engines and e-commerce platforms. They research products and brands on search engines, but make their purchase on a platform. This makes it more challenging to get a positive ROI on SEM campaigns for standalone e-commerce sites.