Baidu.com, China’s leading search engine, has always been more commercial than Google was. It’s common knowledge that its results are often not as good as those from Google’s algorithms. But because its entertainment results were ‘different’ (=easier to find illegal material) and most Chinese searches are related to entertainment, it still managed to keep a big lead over Google.
One big difference between Baidu and Google is how the paid results are mixed with organic search results. Both sites insert paid results, but Google gives them a yellow background so that it’s clear that they are different from the normal search results. Baidu does not do that, they look exactly the same as normal results, except for the characters ???tui guang) after the ad. Normal results have ???? (Baidu kuai zhao). Of course the average Chinese netizen probably does not know this.
This is nothing new, they have done this for a long time already. But what changed over the past few weeks, is that they now don’t sell 2 or 3 paid positions, but for some keywords up to 10 positions! For example, if you do a search for the Chinese word for game (??), the first 10 results are all paid results. If you look at the screen shot for the search I did, you only see paid results, both on the left and right side. Not one organic result pops up on the main page. I was looking at the search engine results for some of game.com.cn’s key words, and for many of them we are totally wiped away from one of the top positions to one below the fold (=you don’t see us on your screen without scrolling down). Of course this has quite some impact on traffic, but it’s the same for the competition and I assume it will be temporary because I don’t think Baidu can do this for a long time.
I think that Baidu is able to do this only because it’s a quasi-monopolist now. With Google gone to Hong Kong they suddenly have the whole search engine market for themselves. If you are annoyed by their search results you don’t have a good alternative. If you go to the redirected google.cn now, you only get Hong Kong results, meaning that most of the results are irrelevant for mainland Chinese users. I don’t understand that Google did not think about this and would instead give results based on IP address (mainland China users get Chinese results, Hong Kong users get Hong Kong results). Now they will lose even more traffic from China.
I assume that soon Google’s position will be taken over by one of the local players (Sohu’s search engine Sogou is working hard on this) or by another foreign company (Bing could have a good chance, if the government is still willing to support a foreign player). I look forward to a bit more competition in this space, the quicker the better.