China’s Leading Search Engine Eyeing Japan

Baidu— the Chinese search engine that bears a striking resemblance to Google — is planning to enter the Japanese search market. Says this Reuters article Baidu “said its decision, which followed a six-month study into Japanese-language search technology, was based on a high level of Internet use in Japan and some similarities between the Chinese and Japanese languages.

I checked a moment ago — there is nothing hosted at, at least not yet.

Despite the risks of tackling Japan, where Yahoo! and Google rule, any search engine that wants to dominate Asia really needs Japan. So while analysts think that Baidu should keep its focus on its home market, I think a little regional expansion is a good thing.

And Baidu isn’t just looking only at Japan. According to this Web site, the company is also eyeing Vietnam and Korea.

I think it’s just a matter of time before we see a portal. If Baidu can continue to lead in China it could position itself as an authoritative “eye into China” portal for American companies that want to learn more about this market. Add some high-quality statistical machine translation and you could provide the search results in English, in real time. Quality will vary and will be mostly below average, but I have a feeling that such a portal would gather a crowd. At a minimum, it would be an interesting “shot across the bow” at Google.

But can Baidu continue to beat Google at its own game? According to this in-depth Chicago Tribune story, the answer would appear to be yes, for now.

Says the article, Baidu “plays to nationalist advantage by attacking Google as a foreign invader. It promotes itself in such splashy ways as a huge neon sign on the banks of the Pearl River in Shanghai. And it has flourished by aggressively marketing itself in ways verboten at Google: Baidu lets advertisers pay for placement in its search results.”

Apparently, consumers in China want paid search results. They figure that a company that will pay to have its site listed at the top of the search results page — not off to the side like Google does it — then they are a credible company.

Culture sure has a funny way of spoiling the best-laid business plans.

But cultures also change — and sometimes quickly. Which is why Google is still very much in the running. And why Baidu is smart to tackle Japan. These are early days.

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