Editor’s note: This was contributed by Steve Yang, co-founder and Marketing Director for Grizzly Panda Media, a digital marketing agency helping foreign companies establish themselves in China.

This year, Facebook has launched its new Facebook Messenger ads, Instagram added a Stories, Snapchat went public for $22 billion, and a bunch of top level China social media KOL (key opinion leader) accounts such as Dusir Movie(毒舌电影) and Guan8(关爱八卦成长协会) were banned.

The world is changing quickly, and as an international entrepreneur that relies on these channels for brand presence, leads, and revenue it could be a devastating blow waking up one morning only to find that 30% of your business is now gone.

Sadly, this is not a dream, this is the reality.

Just a few weeks ago, WeChat restricted access from Weidian—a Shopify like eCommerce platform in China that allows people to setup and run their own personal eCommerce shop online or through WeChat—to WeChat Pay. The reason for the restriction was unknown, at least I’ve never heard much about it. However, two days later, WeChat removed the restriction. Just imagine how these two days must have felt like for the business owner who relies heavily on Weidian to sell their products.

As entrepreneurs, we embrace change, face uncertainties and understand that sometimes change is good. Change will open up a new gate of opportunities that may have never existed and recently this could be the new WeChat search function.

What is WeChat Search?

The search function on WeChat has actually been there for a while, just that no one really used it and it was limited in what it can actually do. You were able to search for WeChat official account and official account posts, but that was about it. With the new and improve WeChat search it is a lot more powerful.

I know what you’re thinking is WeChat trying to get into the search game?

Not exactly, while the new WeChat search function is a lot more powerful and refined than the old search function, but it doesn’t quite work like your traditional search engine. Unlike Baidu or Google, WeChat search function is very much an internal social media search.

Allow me to explain.

If you go on Google or Baidu and search the term “Mercedes Benz”, you’ll usually see a bunch of ads on the very top followed by the official Mercedes-Benz website, followed by news & social media mentions and sometimes Wikipedia or, in China, Baidu Baike. And if you click on any of the links in the search result you’ll be directly taken to another website, this means you’ve left Google or Baidu and enter another company’s domain.

This is because both Google or Baidu are search engines, and really just another website. Unless you’re browsing using Google Chrome, whenever you click on a link you’re no longer on Google’s property.

WeChat search, however, is completely internal. If you search, “Mercedes Benz” on WeChat instead of seeing Mercedes’s official website you’ll see recent news related to “Mercedes Benz” that are from other WeChat official account or properties that Tencent owns a stake in such as Sogou. And tapping on any of the links, the article will open up in WeChat’s built-in browser.

Regardless of the closed nature of WeChat, what we really like about the new WeChat search is the social aspect. On top of the news, WeChat search will also return results of social mention by your friends in your friend list.

Here is an example of WeChat search on the term “wonder woman.”

Why does this matter for businesses in China?

Although the new WeChat search function is still in its infancy, and it may be too early to forecast any predictions. We do believe that with the right growth strategy, the new WeChat search will likely be a success for 3 reasons.

  • If you know China even a little bit, it is hard to deny the fact that WeChat dominates social media and is an integral part of hundreds of millions of lives in China.
  • Like Facebook, WeChat is one of the major online publishing platforms with millions of published articles and news by bloggers thanks to WeChat subscription and service accounts.
  • The down turn of Baidu. Recently Baidu’s share price has dropped by more than 20% and during the same period Tencent’s share skyrocket by 96.9%.

But of course, no one knows for sure whether the new WeChat search will succeed.  And sometimes we’re faced with a choice to try something new or stick to our old ways. For those of you brave enough to explore a new frontier, we offer you some tips on how to leverage the new WeChat search function for your business.

WeChat Backlinks

So far Tencent has not released any information on how WeChat is going to rank results, and they may never. We can, however, make some best guesses by looking at Baidu and Google.

Even though Google’s algorithm has changed drastically over that past 5 or 6 years one thing they never changed is the value of links. Sure, how Google weight links now differ from years ago, but until this day having a strong backlink profile is how you can rank on Google.

And since WeChat started to allow links between different WeChat official account and other Tencent properties, we believe links will be playing a strong role in WeChat search.

Product Search

So far, all product searches on WeChat seem to return results of eCommerce pages that Tencent has shares in. For example, if you search “lip stick” the top results will return a sponsored ad of a mini program, an e-commerce platform pinduoduo(拼多多).

Some of these mini programs will have a 1-click buy button and with WeChat pay, you can literally purchase a product in less than 2 clicks.

This could be great news for eCommerce business, who are looking for a less competitive channel to sell their products at least for now.

Sogou Baike

Most people search on Google because they’re looking for an answer or information. This will most likely be true for WeChat search as well, after all the nature of the search will never change.

Just like Google or Baidu, we found that many top results on the new WeChat search resulted in Sogou Baike(搜狗百科) which is the equivalent of Baidu Baike or Wikipedia. This again is because Tencent is a shareholder of Sogou.

Unlike Baidu Baike however, Sogou Baike is currently free of charge to use, although that could change any day now as it is gaining more popularities thanks to WeChat.

Guest Editor

TechNode Guest Editors represent the best our community has to offer: insight and perspective on how technology is affecting business and culture in China

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