Last month, Baidu sites had a total of 72.97% usage share; Sogou had 7.83%; Soso had 3.68%. Qihoo search took 9.64%, from 1.13% two months ago, becoming the second biggest search engine in both market share and usage, according to CNZZ, a third-party data service based on 1.6mn Chinese websites.
Tencent confirmed that Li Haixiang has resigned as senior executive vice president and the supervisor of its search business(source in Chinese). Wu Jun, the head of Soso search and a former Google executive, left shortly after the company’s restructuring in the past May. Two core parts of Soso, monetization team and Soso Maps, were merged into Tencent’s Mobile division, while the rest of the engineers, who didn’t choose to leave as many their colleagues did, were dispersed into engineering support team.
Launched in 2006, Soso never got much traction. It seems it even didn’t benefit from Google’s retreat from Mainland China — both Baidu and Sogou gained market share then.
The problem with Soso has been that, as both outside experts and people from Soso said, it isn’t used as a separate search service but an in-site tool. It has been mostly used through search boxes within Tencent empire, Q-zone, online news service, QQ Music, Weibo and so on, for content contributed by QQ contacts or content that isn’t so lucrative as search queries like losing weight. When needing search results for a diet, they’d visit Baidu instead.
The social search concept it touted also didn’t turn out encouraging. The lack of meaningful search activity data hinders improvement in both search performance and monetization. Soso made 300mn Yuan in revenue in 2011, 2% of Baidu’s, as disclosed by a former Soso staff.
Sogou, who seemed to have benefited from Google’s decline and passed it to become the second biggest search engine back then, never was a threat to Baidu in the past years. But within two month, Qihoo search grabbed approaching 10% of market share from Baidu. How come?
Qihoo (NYSE:QIHU) simply replaced the default search engine with its own on hao.360.cn, the default start-up page 89mn out of 303mn browser users visits daily. Qihoo used Google China as the default and provided with Baidu, Bing and other choices. You may ask why the victim is Baidu rather than Google China? A well-recognized reason is most Chinese users aren’t aware of search brands, but they’d prefer Baidu to Google China as the latter is continually disrupted.
Qihoo CEO expects to gain a 15-20% market share on desktop, “based on our traffic and browser coverage”(source in Chinese) . It doesn’t sound ambitious a goal given that his team is so experienced in converting the users of the free security products into adopters of its other services, browsers, the start-up page and online game service, which became revenue drivers.
Soso is strong on mobile, only after Baidu, which must be the reason that its core businesses were merged into the mobile division of its parent company. But as CEOs of Sogou and Qihoo said, the game on mobile must be a big difference. They mentioned voice, small screen, among other factors that may even involve different technologies. Baidu hasn’t been that strong on mobile, with about a 50% market share, as it is on desktop. Both Baidu and Soso has input heavily in Maps services. On mobile, it just started.