This change didn’t happen all at once. In fact, it’s pretty recent, dating to mid-August. Like many browsers, Qihoo’s offers a search box that lets users choose which search engine to use. Forbes notes that the company changed its search box, “giving users the choice of using Baidu, Google or Qihoo to search the web.” Guess what? Within a week, Baidu captured more than 10 percent of online search traffic in China – not bad in a country where Baidu holds an 80 percent market share.
In short, the fight is on. And Qihoo’s CEO Zhou Hongyi sounds more than ready for it. “Only through competition can the quality of search engines be improved, thus benefiting the users,” he wrote recently. Strangely, though, Qihoo’s results aren’t much different from Baidu’s. It is, however, the default search engine on its browser – and I trust I don’t need to tell my readers about the power of a default choice!
What kind of numbers are we talking about here? The Wall Street Journal notes that Qihoo’s browser reached about 270 million monthly users in the first quarter, and repeated the company’s estimate that its website entertained 77 million unique users per day. Those are respectable numbers to build on, especially when your search engine is less than a month old.
To judge from a recent story from PC World, however, Baidu is not taking incursions from this upstart search engine lying down. Like any search engine, Qihoo sends robots out to crawl the web and index sites. It even indexed Baidu’s products, which include question-and-answer sites and encyclopedia pages. And that’s where Qihoo ran into trouble: it ignored Baidu’s robot exclusion protocol, which allows only a few search engine bots to index its site – and Qihoo’s weren’t among those permitted entry.
As a result, Baidu blocked Qihoo users from accessing these products, redirecting them to Baidu’s home page instead, where they’d have to re-enter their search data. Qihoo responded to this by replacing the redirected links with cached page views of Baidu’s sites.
Could the situation degenerate further? Well, there does seem to be a bit of name-calling going on, and at least one Chinese legal expert weighed in to say Baidu could sue Qihoo for violating Baidu’s robot exclusion protocol; the charges would be copyright infringement and competing unfairly. Will Baidu sue Qihoo over this? It’s hard to say. But things could get very interesting in search in China for a while.
If you’re involved in the Chinese search engine market in some way, should you start trying to rank on Qihoo? Well, if you try to rank on Google in China, you probably should, as Qihoo now gets more search traffic in China than Google. Otherwise, though, break out the popcorn; you’ll simply want to keep an eye on how this develops.