According to confidential documents seen by The Intercept, a news organisation that covers national security and politics amongst other topics it reported on the 8th August that unlike Google.com and other Google services, such as YouTube, 265.com is not blocked in China by the country’s so-called Great Firewall, which restricts access to websites deemed undesirable by the Chinese government and so maintains a proverbial foot in the door for Google in the chinese search market.
The 265.com site is thought to have some five million daily visits and was purchased from Chinese tech entrepreneur Cai Wensheng by Google in 2008 and since then has been used to compile lists of keywords and websites that it is thought will form the basis of the sites and content pages to be banned in order to form a revived Google China, i.e., Google China 2.0.
Via the 265.com site Google has been recording what Chinese users are searching for before then redirecting them to Baidu, China’s dominant search engine but in collating the data Google engineers will then use the search keywords to develop a list of thousands of websites that are banned by China’s Great Firewall. Given that records show 265.com is hosted on Google servers it would appear that perhaps Google was using its rival Baidu as a filter to help it identify sites and web pages that were subject to restrictions.
The news seems to support recent (but unconfirmed) reports that Google was planning the return of Google China by complying with local laws and regulations which it fell foul of in 2010 and in doing so is thought to be building towards launching a censored Google search engine in China.
If Google China is re-launched in China, it will be competing with China’s top search engine, Baidu which has approximately 80% of the country’s search market share, up from 68% in 2015.
In a social media post thought to be referencing the news, Robin Li, Baidu CEO had said Baidu will “win once again” if the two search giants are to go head-to-head, adding that Chinese tech companies “have ample ability and confidence” to compete with their global peers such as Google.
Baidu has over a decade of dealing with censorship requests arguably giving it a vast competitive advantage over Google and despite the report in The Intercept that Google has been collating data for 10 years, when it comes to working out what to show and what to hide, Google will have a lot of catching up to do over its firm rival in Baidu.
Given Google has been so dominant in search for so long it will be interesting to see how it deals with the competition which in turn is perhaps something Google’s rivals in the West can learn from in how to tackle a giant such as Baidu, or Google itself.
What does this mean for SEO?
In the short term things will remain the same and if you are looking to market in China the advice is to follow is to continue to implement the best practices that Baidu favours, which are very different to Google for western audiences so local SEO and international SEO skills for the chinese market is a must for the differences in Chinese laws, culture and languages are vast.
Whether Google China 2.0 will seek to differentiate search in a different direction to Baidu in order to offer something Baidu doesn’t, whilst complying with the local laws and regulations, remains to be seen.
But for those of us that practice international SEO and local SEO it is a subject of high interest and excitement, offering much opportunity for western business and the seo agencies helping them reach the largest global market whilst in return, assisting chinese businesses reach the western markets that are attractive to chinese manufacturers.
The Intercept has more on the Google China 2.0 project and how it has been developed, based reportedly on “confidential documents.” and they even detail a number of project code names such as “Maotai” after China’s famous alcoholic spirit drink – and “Longfei” which means “dragon-fly” in Chinese.
Whilst many news agencies have reported the rumoured plans and some are now reporting on the report in The Intercept it is still not known how Google China will deliver the search services as of yet and whether it will host its servers in mainland China, which is somewhat of a prerequisite for having access to the domestic Chinese internet market.
However, in recent developments it has been suggested that teams of Google programmers and engineers have already created a functioning version of the censored search engine and that Google’s plan is for its China search platform to be made accessible through a custom Android app.
Again this is unconfirmed and a spokesperson for Google told Sky News: “We provide a number of mobile apps in China, such as Google Translate and Files Go and have made significant investments in Chinese companies like JD.com. But we don’t comment on speculation about future plans.”