C. Custer
C. Custer
9:00 am on Mar 26, 2013

Microsoft’s Bing search engine has never been a major player in China. The company itself conceded that last fall when it all but abandoned Chinese language search, opting instead to focus on what it then said was the 5 percent of searches in China that use English rather than Chinese. But six months later, it appears Bing’s strategy hasn’t worked. In an interview with Sina Tech, Microsoft VP Shen Xiangyang said that the company’s shrinking China market share — now barely above half of one percent, according to research firm CNZZ — put it in a seriously tough spot:

If you can’t see users’ search questions and choices, if you don’t have enough data to work with, then there is no way to make improvements [to the search engine].

And in this market, a search engine that isn’t improving is going to get left behind. Bing already appears to be most of the way there, but the further behind it falls, the less data it has to work with, making a comeback increasingly less likely.

Even so, Shen suggests the company will continue with its focus on English-language search:

Differentiating yourself in web search is extremely difficult. Today, if Chinese users want to search in English, Baidu doesn’t work, and a certain overseas company’s search [Google] doesn’t necessarily work well either. If we can get half of the China market for English search, Bing will have three percent of the overall China search market.

Another possible approach to the market might be pushing Bing to Chinese users through a browser — especially since many Chinese users still surf with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. But Shen doesn’t seem particularly optimistic about that happening anytime soon:

If Bing could use a browser the way Qihoo 360 or Sogou do, our market share would definitely go up. But Microsoft makes changes very cautiously, and it needs to further understand users’ usage habits [before making any changes to Internet Explorer].

Does Bing really have any chance in China? It hasn’t yet managed to capture even the tiny English-language search market, and more and more Chinese users are moving away from Internet Explorer and onto domestically-designed browsers, so any browser advantage Microsoft hoped to capitalize on would need to be exploited fast. Personally, I don’t see it happening. But China’s search market is pretty crazy. You never know what could happen.

(via Sina Tech)

  • Kai Lukoff

    Where Google has been headstrong, MS has been far too cordial and cautious in China. It’s politely followed customs and government regulations for two decades, and has next-to-nothing to show for it. Sad.

    The Qihoo 360 point is great one, with a wholly unsatisfactory answer. Why doesn’t MS use IE to its advantage? Or, for that matter, MSN? It’d receive special scrutiny from Chinese regulators for ‘monopolistic practices’, but at least it’d be relevant rather twiddling its thumbs all day.

    Now its grand ambition is a partial share of the English-language search market in China? C’mon.

  • http://www.techinasia.com Steven Millward

    @Kai ha! yes, MS’ Bing is effectively going for a minority share of a minority market. it might as well just host a banquet for all its current users – i suspect there’s a restaurant in China big enough to seat everyone.

    seriously though, i wonder how much of its woes come down to IE6. it seems some IE6 users got Bing foisted upon them in 2009 (see: http://thenextweb.com/2009/06/02/microsoft-forcing-bing-ie6-users/), but i’m not sure if that happened in China. and so Chinese web users are heading straight to Baidu/Sogou/Qihoo via their alternative browsers, like Qihoo’s optimistically named ‘360 Safe Browser’.

  • Mindy Harmd

    Obviously not helping is the fact that bing means disease in Chinese. No really, it does. Look it up.

    • http://www.techinasia.com Steven Millward

      @Mindy Microsoft thought of this before launching, and actually uses the Chinese name “yi bing” wherein the “bing” character is not “病”.

  • http://www.techinasia.com C. Custer

    Actually it’s Bi Ying 必应, so there’s no “bing” involved at all 😉


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