There are tons of articles about Google vs. Baidu, but few of these articles take an in-depth look at how Google compares to Baidu from a Chinese user’s perspective.
In this article, I do just that, and I render a verdict as to which Web site is better.
The best way to compare search engine quality is to compare searches.
I recently input three Chinese keywords for my experiment:
- 许霆 (Xu Ting: A Chinese citizen who was recently involved in a controversial criminal case)
- 次级房贷 (Subprime mortgage)
- 看羹吃饭 (Kan-Geng-Chi-fan: A phrase used and recognized by a relatively small number of Chinese, meaning that you have to think carefully before taking action)
These keywords represent three different categories of information people search for online. Xu Ting is a hot keyword in China at the moment but it has received little international media coverage. Subprime mortgage, on the other hand, is a foreign concept and the term has been transliterated into Chinese characters from the English equivalent. Kan-Geng-Chi-fan is used within a specific dialect that is not used by the majority of Chinese citizens.
Okay, here are the results as of April 18, 2008:
It would seem that Baidu knows much more about Xu Ting than Google, although I did not verify that every result referred to this particular individual.
Interestingly, in the first results page of both google.com and google.cn, one of the search results directed users to Baidu Post — Baidu’s popular user forum.
Overall, I would rate both sites equally because the top 20 results from each search engine were highly qualified and I could easily find information I wanted from there. Verdict: A tie.
This time google.cn appears to do much better than Baidu. But if we look closely at the top 20 search results, we’ll find there are 7 results at google.com and 5 results at google.cn that direct us to Web sites that use traditional Chinese characters, which are used in Taiwan, Hong Kong and by the overseas Chinese community.
It can be rather challenging for the mainland Chinese to read traditional Chinese, though they can understand most of the message. Nonetheless, this mix of simplified and traditional Characters is not the most user-friendly approach. Verdict: Baidu wins.
“Kan Geng Chi Fan”
At first glance, Google produced overwhelmingly more information than Baidu. However, if we examine the details, Google did not perform so well. Neither Google.com nor Google.cn produce an accurate search result within the first 10 pages respectively, while all the 207 search results from Baidu are accurate. Verdict: Baidu wins again.
Based on these three searches, Google comes across as a bit complicated and “foreign” to Chinese users. Baidu is the superior Chinese search engine.
Both Google and Baidu are trying to leverage their network effects to promote other products. Google has many excellent products, but not every product has performed well in China. For example, Google Maps is widely used by American users. Unfortunately, Google Maps in China is unable to provide the same features due to unavailability of mapping data in China. Google’s satellite map currently only covers the major Chinese cities. Should Google acquire better maps, it would have a clear advantage over Baidu, which doesn’t offer the same degree of functionality and usability in its map tool.
Although music copyright is a controversial issue within China, the market reality is that millions of Chinese Internet users download free music online. Baidu understands this reality and its music search product — which presents a list of links for free music downloads when people search by song, singer, or label — is extremely popular. Google is unable to compete with Baidu in this regard due to its adherence to US copyright laws.
Another example is Baidu Post, an online forum allowing Internet user to create new topics based on search keywords and provide commentary. When people search online by keyword, they can also follow these keywords to Baidu Post, where they may find additional information — or at least find out what others think of the selected keywords.
Online forums are a very important medium in China for distributing information online. I think an important reason for this is because the Chinese, as well as many businesses, want to remain anonymous. While this may change in the years ahead as the next generation embraces social networking sites, for the time being, online forums are dominant. Baidu also offers a blog platform (Hi Baidu) while Google has localized Blogger into Chinese, very few Chinese people currently use it.
Local culture and consumer behavior are critical factors in determining whether a product will succeed in an overseas market or not. So far, Google products have not been as appealing as Baidu to Chinese users.
The Brand Name
The name of Baidu (百度) is from a beautiful Chinese ancient poem:
Thousands of times, I looked for my girl;
Suddenly, at some point, I stopped and looked back,
I found she was just over there among a bunch of lanterns.
This poem, written by Qiji Xin, who lived in the Song Dynasty nearly 1000 years ago, is still very popular in China and also taught in high schools. Baidu in Chinese means thousands of times. In Chinese culture, this poem communicates one’s desire to achieve his/her dreams. Obviously, meshes well with the services offered by Baidu, a company that claims it better understands Chinese users and Chinese culture.
Google started to use its Chinese name Guge (谷歌) in 2006. Guge (goo-ge) is transliterated from Google and it literally means “the song of grain” in Chinese. A survey conducted in 2006 shows 84.6% Chinese do not like this name. I think the most important reason is that Chinese people want to feel international and modern. This is also one reason you may see many Chinese companies using English words in their marketing materials, as it creates an international effect. The “song of grain” presents an image of the agricultural society that the Chinese people are striving to break away from.
Google has exerted a good deal of effort in localizing its name for China but it has not yet been accepted by the Chinese people. It may take some time. Some companies have chosen to simply use their English names in China, avoiding localization altogether, such as IBM.
To sum up, Baidu definitely has an edge over Google in China. But it is early yet and Google has been doing things such as redesigning its Chinese home page, which may resonate with users. The key takeaway here is that every new market is a new challenge; just because you are number one at home does not mean you will be number one in every country you enter. Should Baidu enter the US market some day, it will face many of the same challenges that Google is now facing in China.