Google: Battle with China’s Search Market

Sep 22, 2019 | Biz, China, Gov, News

How does Google plan to retake China’s search market?

Alphabet Inc.’s Google has recently appointed Stanley Chen to oversee the operations of the search engine in the Greater China region, in a bid to improve the company’s ties with the embattled country.

Amidst the furor brought about by the ongoing US-China trade war, Google wants to rebuild its position in the region even after its former Great China head, Scot Beaumont, resigned in March of this year. The new executive will be operating out of Shanghai, and had been managing his own business for eight years before he was brought on board by Google.

Treasonous Links with China?

The equally embattled company is now facing possible raps after being accused by Pres. Donald Trump of having “treasonous links” with the country. This comes after the news of Huawei being banned in the United States after the company was accused of helping the Chinese military by providing a backdoor through its devices.

This has placed Huawei in a tenuous position with the rest of the world, as US businesses will no longer be purchasing and using Huawei products. The company has remained steadfast in continuing their manufacture of hardware and headsets for the rest of the globe, with reports stating that Huawei is currently developing its own Harmony OS to replace the Android operating system.

Google Stanley Chen ©Gene Wanggs.

Google China

Google’s search engine on the other hand, has been blocked for years in China, but continues to operate its other services there. Billionaire investor Peter Thiel was first to decry Google’s “links” with the Chinese military, and he also believes that the U.S. government should take a closer look at Google China’s activities.

Currently, Google is planning to re-launch a censored version of its search engine in the country again, and the initiative has been acknowledged publicly by the company.  However, Vice President for Government Affairs and Public Policy, Karan Bhatia, said that Google shelved the plans for “Project Dragonfly,” and will no longer develop the revamped search product for the country.

Baidu, the “Chinese Google”

The dominant search engine in China has always been Baidu, and it is unlikely in the next few years that any foreign search product will suddenly overtake such an entrenched and well-known local brand. Baidu rose to further prominence in the Greater China region after Google’s search engine activities ended in the country in 2010.

In the absence of any significant competition, the dominant search engine grew as expected, and continues to dominate the market to this day. But the tides may be changing for this erstwhile search giant, as an unlikely challenger, ByteDance, is planning to launch a search product of its own. ByteDance is the parent company responsible for the hit app and video sharing platform TikTok, and analysts believe that if ByteDance does things right, they can take a huge chunk from Baidu’s market from the get-go.

According to reports, ByteDance is unlikely to create a stand-alone search engine, but instead will integrate the search product to its existing products, which have massive reach in China alone. Currently, search ad revenue has been eroding steadily in the country, so any formidable competition is likely to hurt Baidu in the long term.

TikTok, which is called Douyin in China, has 500 million actively users monthly, and this monthly user base is going to be the basis of ByteDance’s ‘takeover’ of the search market. The Baidu app on the other hand, has 174 million installs as of press time, but the total search volume per month has already ballooned to a staggering 1.1 billion.

But still, ByteDance faces many challenges before it can dethrone the current King of Search in China. For one, there has to be a behavioral shift toward using whatever app or functionality that ByteDance will be introducing to the market, rather than just going about search the old way – which is to log on to Baidu.