China IT Giants Fighting in Search World
- On July 28, 2020
In 2008, Marisa Mayer, then vice president of Google search products and user experience, boldly predicted: The search in the next ten years will break through the limitations of time and space, anytime, anywhere, and develop from text to multiple information media, pictures, Voice and gestures can be used to search to provide personalized and accurate answers.
The best way to predict the future is to create the future. But 12 years later, our search model today has not changed much, and “search box + keywords” is still the mainstream. Advertising is still the only mature business model for search. Few people now pay attention to searching this “old market”.
A small search box condenses half of the history of the Internet. The first generation of Internet giants once dreamed that search would bring about an information revolution and a cognitive revolution. Netease, Sohu, and Sina have relied on search to secure their status as portals, but Yahoo and Google have come in fiercely, but they are regretful. Search has created a generation of giant Baidu, and it has gradually fallen behind in the mobile era.
Now, the search environment and people’s search habits in the Chinese Internet world have long changed. Although search is still a necessary basic ability for giants, independent search engines are losing their status. Search is no longer a weapon for giants to conquer the city, nor is it a shortcut for new players to break through, but as a tool and entrance to connect user needs and information scenarios.
Both users and content are leaving the search engine. The 44th “Statistical Report on Internet Development in China” published by CNNIC in August 2019 showed that although the total number of domestic search engine users is increasing, the utilization rate continues to decline. As of June 2019, it was only 78.2%. According to iResearch’s data, in China’s online advertising market share, the proportion of search advertising continues to decline. In 2020, Q1 was only 12.1%, and the market size reached 16.05 billion yuan, which both fell year-on-year.
Search engines are showing signs of decline, but users’ search behavior has not decreased, and they have just turned to in-app search. Therefore, traffic giants are still increasing their search, ByteDance launched headline search, WeChat Sou Yisou gradually grew into a search engine, and Ali Baidu deployed AI intelligent voice search to explore new service scenarios.
Search turns below the table and becomes an undercurrent of the mobile Internet. This is a war without gunpowder.
In the Internet public opinion field, there are few reports on search. In the eyes of many people in the industry, search is already a stagnant pool.
In March this year, ByteDance’s headline search was launched independently. This is the most promising challenger since Google withdrew from China in 2010 and Baidu became the winner of the last search war. People expect a search engine with good experience and high efficiency to replace Baidu, and Toutiao search has high hopes.
However, after half a year, the little waves caused by Toutiao search quickly fell silent, and it did not bring revolutionary changes to the mobile search industry.
As of the beginning of 2019, the search engine market is still dominated by Baidu, with a market share of up to 72%. After that, Shenma, Sogou, and Haosou are backed by giants such as Ali, Tencent, and 360.
As the king of search in the PC era, Baidu proposed “Just look at Baidu, you will know” and “If you have any questions, please find Baidu.” Users have a very solid understanding of this. For a long time, Baidu’s market share has remained above 2/3. Regardless of Ali, Tencent, or the rising ByteDance, it is difficult to compete against Baidu on the frontal battlefield.
After so many years, big factories have figured out the basic method to besiege Baidu. This is the differentiation and cannibalization of the upstream content, and slowly cultivate users’ search habits in their own ecology.
In addition to the continuous enrichment of search content outside the site, WeChat Souyisou has continued to make minor repairs and supplements, with more and more comprehensive functions and better search experience.
The giants are all searching more, but the logic has long changed. Content and services have become more core capabilities, and search is just a connection tool. It is basically impossible to imagine charging like Google and Baidu in the early years.
“Information Island” and “Highway”
Apart from Baidu, no giant wants to become the ‘Google of China’, but Baidu cannot become the ‘Google of China’ anymore. Chinese search has taken another path.
The decline in search experience has not been a day or two. As the leader, Baidu has been criticized by users for a long time, and even scolded Baidu as a potential political correctness of the Chinese Internet.
A general consensus is that the cornerstone of search is an open Internet environment. The website allows search engines to crawl content and build indexes, and search engines use technical means to process and display the content. Such a screening mechanism can make more valuable information easier to find by users. Users trust search engines, and search engines complete commercial realization through users watching advertisements. This is a good thing for all three parties.
In addition to the innate scarcity of content, major Internet companies are also doing everything possible to keep traffic within their own territory due to commercial competition considerations. Around 2010, Internet giants imitated each other. What product do you have, I must also have a target product. Search, Weibo, e-commerce, group buying, payment, takeaway, entertainment, giants must do their own hands and provide one-stop services. It is to intercept the traffic and not use it for others.
In the mobile Internet era, “super apps” such as Alipay, WeChat, and Toutiao were born. Web content in the PC era is relatively easy to crawl, but now, most content platforms will set up anti-crawling to close their own content, users, and relationship chains, and prevent third parties from easily accessing them.”
The content is scattered, and the traffic is also scattered. Search engines are no longer the main entrance and distribution center, search behaviors are scattered in the in-app search box of major platforms, the experience is better, and the presence of search engines is getting lower and lower. Baidu, Tencent, Ali, and ByteDance are the “information islands” in the ocean of the Internet, and search is the highway that connects the islands.
What is the future of search?
The current state of search is that it can be used as a necessary capability, but it cannot be a core capability. Content and service are above search. When the content of a product is rich enough, in-app search can be directly upgraded to a general search engine. When a search engine does not have content support, no matter how powerful the technology is, users cannot be retained.
The search in the search box mode has basically reached its limit, and the next generation of search engines needs a more low-level technological breakthrough. If the current information island problem can be solved and more search scenarios and modes can be explored, the user experience of existing search engines can still be significantly improved.
Obviously, Internet giants have different ideas for the next generation of search engines. From the perspective of technological breakthroughs, Baidu has gone further. Recently, Baidu wholly acquired a home hardware terminal manufacturer, seeking a breakthrough in the intelligent voice portal.
Voice search is Baidu’s key breakthrough direction in recent years. From the morphological point of view, the intelligent voice assistant is a major model innovation to get rid of the restrictions of the search box, which improves the convenience and ease of search.
When search engines combine augmented reality (AR), computer vision, semantic recognition and other technical means with traditional search functions, the effect of search engines can be qualitatively improved. This is also an upgrade to the traditional “webpage + information + pictures + Q & A + encyclopedia” compound search.
WeChat is another way of thinking. Now that mobile apps have become information islands after another, turn WeChat into an underlying operating system, and make WeChat Sou Yisou a search engine with system-level permissions. This depends on the other big ability of WeChat-small programs.
As WeChat Sou Yisou successively connects the massive contents, brands, services, and users in the WeChat ecosystem, the definition of search engines may be reconstructed.
The search engine of the Chinese Internet may be reborn in another way, but the essence will not change.