Search engines shaped the way we use the Internet today. From the ancient Ask Jeeves to Google, we learned to depend on these platforms to conduct business as our portals to the world.
Baidu made news earlier in October when its shares (NASDAQ: BIDU) went up 11%. The information came after the report that Chinese regulators were looking into forcing rivals like Tencent to display their social media content in search results, meaning Baidu is about to get bigger. With Google blocked in China, Baidu has relatively small competition and owns about 83% of the market.
Forcing social media companies like WeChat to put their content on Baidu search results will make this search engine even more popular. A strategy like this will further solidify Baidu’s stranglehold on search. More importantly, this change will take away advertising dollars from social media platforms and redirect them to Baidu. Baidu is already China’s top destination for advertisers. In one year, their marketing revenue increased 22% and online advertising service increased 20%.
Having said that, what exactly is Baidu?
Baidu is mainly known as a search engine established in 2000, and it’s a product of Baidu, Inc. (百度), meaning “hundred times.” It is a Chinese multinational technology company specializing in Internet-related services and products and artificial intelligence (AI). Like Google, Baidu Inc. offers many products under its name, but the Baidu search engine remains the most popular.
Services and Features
Baidu offers many services to locate information; here’s a look at some of its most relevant ones for businesses.
Baidu Maps: this service is very similar to Google Maps, but it only covers the Greater China region.
Baidu Wangpan: this is a cloud storage service, requiring users to have a Baidu account to operate. It offers a generous 2 TB of free storage.
Baidu Tieba: this is a forum service similar to Reddit, with “Tiebas” which functions as Subreddits.
Baidu News: this service provides daily local news pertaining to both national and international news.
Baidu Knows: (百度知道) this is a searchable query-based service similar to Quora.
Baidu Legal Search: this service enables users to search a database that contains national and local laws and regulations, cases, legal decisions, and law dictionaries.
Baidu Patent Search: this service enables users to search for specific Chinese patents and provides basic patent information in the search results, including the patent’s name, application number, filing date, issue date, inventor information and brief description of the patent.
Baidu-Hexun Finance: a financial information website, the result of a collaboration with hexun.com, users can search or browse through economic and financial news, information relating to personal wealth management and related market statistics.
Baidu Statistics Search: this service enables users to search statistics that have been published by the Government of the People’s Republic of China.
Baidu Wallet: this service is a mobile wallet with over 100million Chinese users. Its recent partnership with PayPal enables users to make payment in PayPal’s 17million international e-commerce sites.
Baidu vs. Google
Google’s search engine giant maintains its stronghold in the global market.
However, Baidu is keeping the upper hand in China, with 83% of the nation’s market share as of 2021. Although Baidu isn’t used globally, it’s ranked 4th in most popular websites worldwide. While Google has a subsidiary in China (Google China), it only owns a 1.95% share of the market. With a share this low, Google is rendered as an irrelevant competitor.
Both Google and Baidu are listed on NASDAQ and offer similar comprehensive services to their users. Still, the companies are quite different. Baidu’s company and services remain focused on China, while Google strives to operate as internationally as possible.
Another difference between the two services is that Google operates in most languages, while Baidu only offers search results and services in Simplified Chinese. Currently, Baidu shows no desire to expand globally.
Unlike Google having to leave China due to censorship concerns, Baidu is looked upon positively by the Chinese government. Such attitudes are due to Baidu’s rigid compliance with regulations and restrictions enforced by relevant censorship and internet authorities.
When it comes to marketing, both search engines offer ads, but Baidu is perhaps the most attractive of the two. Baidu places a priority on advertising, whereas Google prefers organic search results. For instance, upon entering a query into Baidu, a maximum of 6 advertisements are displayed at the top of the page. On the other hand, Google limits them to fewer depending on the query.
Baidu offers more than just paid search advertising. With the ability to run in-feed ads and create brand zones, advertisers have a wider variety of methods to reach their target audience.
Compared to Google, Baidu has a more comprehensive understanding of the Chinese language and culture. This skill allows Baidu to better optimize its search technology to the needs of local users. For example, the Chinese language is very complex, with some words having multiple meanings. Baidu’s search algorithms place a lot of importance on the context in which words are used. Conversely, Google struggles on these fronts in China, confirming that local tech companies tend to perform better in China than international ones.
As previously stated, Baidu owns about 83% of the search engine market in China. Baidu also boasts a massive 580 million monthly active users, which is impressive as most users are in China.
Additionally, the company reaches a colossal 1.1 billion mobile users, which comprises most of China’s population.
Baidu reached 202 million daily users on its app at the end of 2020, making it one of the most widely used apps in China. Yet, given WeChat’s popularity in the region, it’s not a surprise that Baidu’s in-platform Mini Program reached 316 million monthly active users.
Is Baidu Still Relevant?
Not only is it important for individuals to know about Baidu’s impressive numbers, but it’s also crucial to understand Baidu’s relevance in today’s marketing practices.
Search engines like Google and Baidu use crawlers. Crawlers are “trackers” that scour the internet for search results when you enter a query. Some websites don’t allow crawlers, which means that their pages do not show up in search engine results. Examples of these websites are social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
With 1.2 billion monthly active users, most Chinese internet usage happens on WeChat. Still, WeChat pages and content currently don’t show up in Baidu search results. This brings us to our question: Is Baidu still relevant for marketing purposes if it does not track our marketing efforts (e.g. WeChat promotional articles) in its search results? What is the use of Baidu if companies have that limitation to contend with?
Though search ads are limited, it’s advantageous to use Baidu’s priority on advertisements. To achieve this, you need to place search ads for your company’s website or blog articles in Chinese. A priority like this may send a good amount of traffic your way.
Even so, all this might change. Baidu’s relevance may no longer be threatened as Chinese authorities are thinking of forcing social media platforms such as WeChat to allow the Baidu search engine to track its pages. This change already caused Baidu shares to rise by 11% this past week. With this in mind, investing in Baidu marketing activities may soon be more attractive.
Baidu Search vs. WeChat Search
Aforementioned, most of China’s mobile internet usage is on WeChat. Every month, WeChat brings in 1.2 billion active users. It’s thus relevant to consider WeChat search to be an on-the-rise competitor for Baidu.
Baidu is considered a traditional search engine. Characteristics of traditional search engines are the main search page and following services like news, maps, images, etc. Crawlers on Baidu track the entirety of the internet (open API sites), with only specific sites not appearing in results. Specific sites have been social media platforms like WeChat.
WeChat search, however, does not operate like Baidu. Firstly, this functionality is only available within the WeChat app.
Secondly, all the information that is searched on the WeChat search engine is content that is already present on the WeChat platform. This consists of moments, articles, and official accounts. While this may seem like a wildly limited scope, its functionality is on the rise. Most information needed in China is posted or written about on WeChat at some point. Such actions beg the question, “Is Baidu search still relevant if I can find information on WeChat without leaving the app?”
The order in which search results appear on the two engines is also different. When a query is entered into Baidu, advertisements are the first few items to show up at the top of the page. Following this are first relevant news, then popular pages.
Oppositely, on a WeChat search, the first items to appear on the results page are the most recent news related to your query. Mentions of your query made by your WeChat friends follow after. Further down you will find articles on the subject.
In terms of marketing, search advertisements might be better to do on Baidu than WeChat. Since advertisements on WeChat will only appear on Moments, Channels, and at the bottom of articles, WeChat can be seen as the weaker advertising platform. Baidu places a priority on search advertisements compared to other search engines, so it’s a feature best-taken advantage of by marketers.
Baidu’s Search Engine Competitors in China
Although Baidu maintains dominance in the Chinese search engine market, there’s a few competitors to look out for, both established and on-the-rise.
- WeChat Search: this is a relatively new service on the Everything App. While this functionality doesn’t search the entire internet, it searches everything that’s ever been uploaded on its app – being moments, articles, or official accounts.
- Sogou: this search engine currently holds a market share of around 15% and is used by around 695 million users each month. This makes it the second-biggest Chinese search engine behind Baidu. And although it’s unlikely to surpass Baidu, Sogou shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, in the growing voice-activated search market in China, Sogou is leading the way. Its mobile app, Sogou Pinyin, processes up to 802 million voice requests a day from its 454 million strong user base. It is the 9th biggest app in China.
- Shenma: Owned by Alibaba, this is a mobile-only search engine that combines a search engine with an app store and e-commerce site. It functions as a cross-platform app that presents users with a wide range of products available from Alibaba and other e-commerce sites, as well as apps and novels. It also displays product reviews from customers. Think of it as a search engine to find and verify products you want to order or download.
- Haosou (360): Haosou, also known as 360 Search, holds around 2.52% of the Chinese search engine market. It’s predominantly for professional users who are tech-savvy and conscious about web security. Haosou is owned by Qihoo 360, which also owns 360 Secure Browser, one of China’s top web browsers. It offers a wide range of services, including news, images, maps, and music, just like Baidu.
- Youdao: this is a hybrid search engine and translation tool that lets its 700 million users translate Mandarin into over 20 different languages, including English, by searching for specific words and phrases. However, Youdao functions more as an online educational platform than as a standard Chinese search engine (like Baidu). Think of it as a Chinese search engine with an educational twist. Youdao offers a great opportunity for international businesses looking to target Chinese internet users who are interested in foreign products.
Baidu Marketing Services
As most of Baidu’s revenue comes from advertising activities, they place a lot of importance on their marketing services. Because of this, the platform offers a variety of advertising options to businesses who wish to market their products in China.
Here’s a list of useful services:
- Baidu Tuigang: this is a pay-per-click advertising platform similar to Google Adwords. It allows advertisers to have their ads displayed on the search results pages of Baidu and on websites which are in the Baidu Union. Its admin interface is in Chinese, but an English language version has been developed. The service can only be used by companies who have a registered address for their business in China.
2. Pay For Placement: This service enables businesses to reach customers following relevant searches. It allows businesses to bid on keywords in order to have their website link displayed prominently on the results page. Essentially, it allows you to buy priority placement of your business’ site within search results, a practice shunned by Google, but completely possible in China.
3. ProTheme: This service is only available to Baidu Union members and allows the display of promotional links on specific web pages. It is much more targeted than Baidu Tuigang.
4. Baidu TV: this service gives advertisers access to Baidu Union members’ websites. Advertisers can choose themselves which sites they wish to use to display their ads.
Baidu is an excellent platform for marketing activities. Its 83% share of the search engine market makes it Google-like. Seeing as its presence is so large, why not take advantage of it?
Research has shown that Chinese consumers don’t typically mind online ads. They also believe that a company willing to pay to promote their products must be trust-worthy. For our readers, this is your chance to definitely market away! This attitude perhaps differs from consumers in the West, who typically find ads bothersome. Nevertheless, the potential marketplace for new business on Baidu through advertising is colossal.
Other Useful Marketing Tools
Choosing advertising options is easy, but you’ll need some help setting them up. There are mainly three tools that are helpful:
- Baidu Zhishu: this is a relatively easy to use index that analyzes behavioural data for you and gives insight into the volume of searches for specific keywords. It will show you historical data, data by region, search trends and a host of other very useful factors which will help you in how to approach your marketing practices with Baidu.
2. Baidu Keywords Planner: this is a tool that will show you the volume of searches for a particular keyword in a specific period of time. This will help you if you’re looking to use P4P ads in determining how much you should bid on a specific word.
3. Baidu Analytics: you can add the Baidu Analytics system to your website so you can see how many people are visiting your site, when they visited and how they got there. This data will be helpful when targeting potential leads with ads. This service also lets you know which advertisements of yours drive the most traffic to your website.
Setting Up a Baidu Advertiser Account
Compared to Google Ads, setting up a Baidu advertising account is much more complicated. You can choose to either set up your account directly with one of the Baidu Branches. Examples include Beijing or Shanghai, or through a Baidu listed partner.
Either way, you will be required to provide a list of documents. They are as follows:
- Business license
- Latest bank statement
- Authorization letter
- Website screenshot
- Pictures of your office building
Due to the complex nature of the process, most businesses opt to use a Chinese marketing agency such as Gab China. This way, we can handle the process and streamline any difficulties.
The Baidu advertising landscape, like most other Internet-related things in China, is heavily regulated and censored. As a result, marketers must be aware of restricted words and phrases to keep out of their advertising activities. Such words include Chinese phrases that translate to:
- No. 1, Best, Top, Top Class
- Trustworthy, Reputable
- Guarantee, Assurance
- Exclusive, Privileged
Our advice is for you to rely on your marketing team or outsourced marketing agency to find ways to create catchy advertisements. Complying to censorship regulation should be kept in mind during the process.
Protecting Your Brand on Baidu
Chinese consumers place much value on brand recognition, so it’s important to protect your brand online.
On Baidu, competitors can bid on your brand keywords. Competitors can then use your brand’s keywords in their ad copy, going as far as potentially using the same copy as you. In extreme cases, competitors may even attempt to obtain false clicks on your ads to quickly exhaust your budget.
Though this may look bleak, Baidu luckily offers various levels of brand protection, mostly at a price. If adopted at their highest level, competitors won’t even be able to bid on your brand keywords. If you think your brand already has some recognition in China, you should look towards owning the search engine result pages for your brand and trademarks term. This can be done using Baidu’s brand search products.
Baidu Tieba, Baidu’s Key Product
Baidu Tieba is the largest communication platform in China. This product is a keyword-based discussion forum where users can search for topics and information through a search bar. This service can be easily compared to Reddit, where every topic imaginable is discussed and posted about. On both Reddit and Baidu Tieba there is an emphasis on conversation and discussion.Baidu Tieba is a great platform to produce organic marketing such as posting content about your company that would interest people and garner traction.Users on this forum create “Tiebas” (the equivalent of Subreddits) for each topic, with each Tieba having a moderator. Yet, when we say “organic” marketing we truly mean organic. On forums such as Tieba, it’s possible that if your posts and discussions come off as too promotion-like, users may attempt to have you banned from their Tiebas for advertising and not keeping the spirit of the platform.
Can Baidu Tieba Be Important to Your Business?
If your marketing team can make time for this service, Baidu Tieba could be a great cost-effective marketing solution for your business in China. By engaging in marketing activities on this platform, you could truly engage your target audience with the specialized content of your brand. Examples include articles about your field of specialization or posts that encourage discussion about the type of products/services you provide. These are subtle, more organic means to market your company in a way that won’t stand out as too promotion-like and devoid of deep meaning.
Baidu is a search engine that’s been around for a while but has garnered a colossal 83% market share in China.
It offers a wide variety of services and products, similar to Google. However, its focus on Greater China means all its search results are in Mandarin Chinese.
When it comes to marketing your products in China, Baidu can be a great marketing solution to fit into your advertising budget. With four main advertising channels, this platform could help you perfect your advertising strategy in China. We suggest you urge your marketing team or agency to take a look.