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Google Still A Distant Second To Baidu in China



When the world looks at areas where the pure numbers are pretty staggering it’s the sheer size and potential of the Chinese market. Let’s face it there are a lot of Chinese folks. So it would only be natural that Google would like a piece of that pie. What is not normal though is the fact that Google is second fiddle by a considerable margin to Baidu, which is acting like the Chinese version of Google in its homeland.

CNNMoney.com reports that Baidu is pretty much putting it to Google. As one should expect though it is probably not wise to count Google out on this one.

At first glance one might readily declare “game over” in the China online search war. Beijing-based Baidu (BIDU) dominates: According to Jennifer Li, Baidu’s chief financial officer, Baidu’s market share for search in China was about 77% in the third quarter, up from 75.6% in the second quarter.

Google (GOOG), she says, lost share in China, dropping to 17% in the third quarter, from about 19% in the second quarter.

So what’s the cause of this disparity? Apparently it’s not Google’s handling of the Chinese language. In fact, they receive pretty good marks on this one. What is likely the biggest contributor that can be seen (meaning there might be, just maybe a little bit, of Chinese government stuff going on here but that is PURE speculation on my part) is something that even Google can’t overcome: time. Google came to the Chinese marketing in 2006 while Baidu has been at it since 2000. That’s a lot of time to get a head start.

What might be interesting to watch is the battle that is developing as Baidu makes a play in the growing mobile market. Google has fared well there but Baidu is making some serious waves in that pool.

And Baidu is trying to extend its search dominance on mobile phones, an area where Google has done well in China, thanks to a search deal with China Mobile, the nation’s largest carrier. In October Baidu announced a deal to provide mobile search to customers of China Unicom’s (CHU) 3G services, and it also is testing a mobile app that features Baidu’s some most popular online tools, including a message board service.

This market will be interesting to watch for sure because the political side of opportunity is one that the world watches very closely. Remember all the Internet ‘issues’ around the Beijing Olympics of 2008? Missteps by anyone outside of the Chinese market are likely to happen and it will likely keep foreign competition at a serious disadvantage. Once again, this is just me thinking out loud based on what has happened in the past.

Baidu is saying that Google is on their radar and not being overlooked.

But no one, least of all Baidu executives, assumes Google is content with its position in China today. “We don’t underestimate their technology or their ability,” says Baidu CFO Li.

As for Google’s plan of attack? Maybe it looks a lot like the ne that it has for Apple elsewhere.

Google’s ambitions in China go well beyond traditional online advertising and search. The company is widely believed to be looking for multiple ways to introduce its Android mobile operating platform in China, and recent reports suggest it may look to open an Android application marketplace in China.

Google most certainly has its work cut out for it. How it fares in China may very well tell a lot about what the company is made of since it is one of the few places where it will need to fight from behind rather than defend from the top.