In one of the biggest news this month, WeChat search function had undergone significant overhaul allowing WeChat to expand into new territory and challenge existing market leaders in China’s search engine space.
Up until the release of new search function, searching on WeChat was, perhaps, the most frustrating experience of the otherwise awesome app.
For example, unless you knew a specific official account’s registered ID and could input it precisely into the search prompt, finding it would be almost impossible. If you were searching for a specific topic or news, only the main keywords would return any meaningful results despite the fact that there could millions conversations on the same topic taking place on WeChat.
With the integration of the new enhanced WeChat search function things have changed dramatically. It is now, in almost every respect, a proper search tool, not unlike Baidu or Qihoo.
First, if you haven’t enabled WeChat search function with your app, here is how to do it: go to Settings -> WeChat Labs. Then tap on “Top stories” and set it to “enable”, then do the same for “Search” from the same WeChat Labs screen.
The new WeChat search function is still quite different compared to Baidu mainly because it only shows content that was published on WeChat rather than elsewhere on the internet. Therefore, for now, it can’t completely replace Baidu or other search engines with wider reach.
On the other hand, it is safe to assume that WeChat search function will continue evolving to become more of a traditional search platform competing head to head with Baidu and other search heavyweights.
Here is what we should expect from future versions of WeChat search:
Sponsored search and advertisement
Paid ads is the main moneymaker for search engines and social media platforms, so there is little doubt that WeChat is going in the same direction. Most likely it will be a gradual process for several reasons: WeChat has been cautious in introducing advertising in the past and is likely to roll out more advertising options slowly and carefully.
Expanding search results
Tencent is a major shareholder in Sogou, the third largest search engine in China. It means that, technically, they should be able to integrate traditional search results from wider internet with those that only cover content published on WeChat. Perhaps, this would allow them to become a real competitor with Baidu on the quality and reach of internet search.
Integration with ecommerce
WeChat search has an incredible potential to drive ecommerce traffic to thousands of WeChat stores and compete with the industry giants like Taobao, Tmall and JD.com. All the ingredients for a successful integration of a shopping experience into WeChat are already in place: ecommerce option for WeChat accounts and WeChat Pay system. What was missing is the tool for users to search for products – exactly what new WeChat search function should be able to address.
Highly customized search experience
Unlike other search engines, WeChat has unique capability to connect searches with real users which is much bigger feat for Baidu or other traditional search engines. Someone who is using Baidu doesn’t have to be logged in or even have an account. In those cases, for the purpose of tracking search history and behavior, Baidu primarily relies on cookies placed in users’ browser cache. This means that tracking users and connecting them to real people is much harder for traditional search engines.
WeChat on the other hand knows much more about their users including their real names and phone numbers (all accounts have to be verified with user ID in order to have access to most useful functions), real time location, shopping history, their spending habits and even their account balance. In addition, the type of content those users have been consuming and other accounts they are following completes the picture of their interests and habits. This wealth of data gives WeChat unmatched potential to tailor results to specific users that would be most relevant to them in place and time.
In conclusion, the introduction of the latest WeChat search function is going to be the beginning of the new era in WeChat dominance and, perhaps, marks a decline of some of the traditional search tools and platforms.