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)