According to a report by The Intercept, the US business intends to re-enter China for the first time since 2010 by launching a censored version of its search engine in that country.
This would blacklist websites and search terms about human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest in line with censorship expectations from Chinese authorities, according to documents released to The Intercept by an anonymous source within Google.
But with changes in China’s search engine landscape – including the rise of WeChat and Alibaba as dominant players – experts are not optimistic that Google can compete again with Chinese companies, especially when it comes to local language capability.
“China is a very different landscape than it used to be. Is there really a spot for Google any more? I’m not convinced,” said Shawn Rein, managing director of China Market Research Group, in comments to CNBC.
“Google got its butt kicked by Baidu once,” he noted. “When we interviewed consumers at the time, 90% of them said that they used Baidu for Chinese language search, and only used Google for English search, because the results in Chinese just paled in comparison to Baidu’s.
“In the last decade, Baidu has just gotten better, while Google still doesn’t have the trust of knowing the Chinese language,” Rein added.
Search advertising is the second largest element of digital ad spend in China, behind e-commerce, but just 19% of search is for brands – when searching, users usually already have a brand or product in mind and are in ‘problem solving’ mode.
“Many marketers are on auto-pilot mode and because search is big, they tend to park money on it,” according to Bhasker Jaiswal, Managing Partner at OMD China.
“Also it is used inefficiently and as default because they lack big budget for other mass media activities,” he added. (For more read WARC’s report: Think beyond brands for effective search advertising in China.)
Sourced from The Intercept, CNBC; additional content by WARC staff