China is one of only three major markets where Google is not a dominant search engine. The other two markets are Russia where Yandex holds the commanding market and Korea with Naver being the most popular choice. Currently, Baidu is the most popular among Chinese search engines with market share somewhere between 75% and 85% according to various estimates.
Moreover, Baidu is also the leading choice for searches on mobile devices, the increasingly important Chinese search engines market. In June 2016, it was reported that Baidu had 667 million monthly active users (MAU) just for that month alone.
Baidu is still the leader of Chinese search engines market
The entire Chinese search engines market has been growing at fairly steady rate since 2010, adding each year somewhere between 50 and 70 million new users. This year, it is estimated to have reached about 600 million regular users, about 3 quarters of which go to Baidu as their service of choice.
In many ways, Baidu has been following, if not copying, Google’s business strategy. It has diversified its business into areas that are identical to Google’s: from navigation and self-driving cars to AI (artificial intelligence) and VR (virtual reality).
Although, it did hit a few bumps on the road, such as recent scandals with its medical ads and illegal promotions of gambling sites, it is hard to imagine Baidu being knocked off its primary position among Chinese search engines any time soon.
The other Chinese search engines that are worth mentioning are Qihoo (aka Search360) and Sogou. Qihoo in particular has been growing relatively fast in recent years and was the only one that was ever in a position to somewhat threaten Baidu’s dominance in Chinese search engines market, although it is no longer the case.
When it comes to advertising, Baidu should always be considered as the first choice, mainly because of its largest reach. On average, Baidu CPC (cost per click) tends to be higher than Google across almost all industries. Most likely, it will continue to increase as Baidu has been experiencing fall in profits and will probably increase prices as time goes by.
Another reason to focus on Baidu is the fact that its technology is the most advanced. This ultimately affects advertisement CTR (click through rate) through higher relevancy with the search terms.
Baidu has also been active in the video market and currently owns one of the largest online video hosting platforms called iQiYi. As videos are quickly becoming one of the most popular types of content consumed online, Baidu is in a good position to take advantage of that market as well.
In addition, Baidu, like Google, is very good at remarketing which is built into its display network with over 600,000 partner websites in China. Managing both search ads and display ads is done within the same Baidu advertising account where user can simply split the budget between the two channels.
One of the biggest hustles associated with Baidu PPC is opening the advertising account. Unless your company has Chinese business registration, applying for Baidu account involves quite a bit of paperwork and a long verification process. Baidu would typically request translated version of your foreign business license and may require additional proof of incorporation. Companies in financial and medical fields would most certainly be scrutinized more carefully and multiple requests for additional licenses are quite common.
Verification of a website (which must be in Chinese) often leads to more requests to change certain sections (most commonly “about us” part). All this is aimed at making sure that the advertiser is not misrepresenting its business nature and is a legitimate company which will not become involved in promoting anything illegal.
This process is in sharp contrast with Google’s where anyone with a Gmail and a credit card can open an account and start running campaigns almost immediately.
The situation is not that much different with the other Chinese search engines such as Qihoo and Sogou. They also require business registration and licenses from foreign applicants and must follow similar verification process. Once approved, running PPC campaign with those engines is quite similar to Baidu. On the positive side, for businesses that are not in very competitive niches, CPC on Qihoo and Sogou can be substantially lower compared to Baidu. Therefore, it is a good idea to try those engines as well in parallel, although not instead of, Baidu.