China’s 110 million Internet users and 350 million mobile users are quickly outpacing the U.S. as the largest internet market in the world. Win market dominance in China and America, and you’ve won the world.
Google’s share of market search in China has fallen from 33% in 2005, to 25% in 2006. As data at ReadWriteWeb and the 2006 CNNIC Search Survey shows, Baidu is clearly dominating the Chinese search market.
Maxthon Browser Switches to Google
In addition to its usual strategy of gobbling up all the talented developers, TechCrunch reported last month Google’s purchase of a $1 million stake in the Chinese Maxthon internet browser. Maxthon is like a Chinese Netscape, with over 40 million downloads in China.
As Michael Arrington predicted, Maxthon now appears to have changed its default search bar from Baidu to Google.
Google’s official Chinese name is “Gu Ge” (Harvest Song), which apparently the majority of Chinese users do not seem like. As I’ve noted in my own travels to China, choosing an American brand name will almost always be the more popular choice. Google’s “Gu Ge” brand awareness in China now lags Baidu by some 23%.
Most importantly, China presents formidable problems to Google’s search algorithm. Aside from the difficulty of parsing Chinese characters, Google must deal with the voluminous amounts of blackhat SEO pumping out of China. 73.58% of worldwide spam contains links to Chinese URLs. For an interesting insight into the depth of Chinese SEO and Spam issues, Google Engineer Matt Cutts gave a fascinating interview with a Chinese SEO and a member of Google’s China team.
Finally, Google has the added issue of dealing with Chinese censorship. As I learned in my Interview with a Chinese Wikipedian last month, Chinese internet users must mask their IP’s using proxies and Tor, just to access Wikipedia. Aside from political sites, consider that ReadWriteWeb reports that a search for “sex” on Baidu returns just 3 results. Google’s Chinese search product must be nearly custom made. Furthermore, Google co-founder Sergey Brin has expressed doubts about Google’s policy of allowing a censored Chinese Google.
All in all, I think it’s healthy if Google doesn’t yet rule the entire world. A little competition and a few challenges will help the internet giant stay progressive and innovative. And as I have noted, the better search gets in China, the more the restrictions of the communism will melt away.