Google Pulling out of China? Wake up to Baidu
Google’s relationship with China has always been complex. In many people’s eyes the company’s “do no evil” motto sat uneasily with the fact that Google.cn was censored in line with the wishes of China’s ruling Communist party. Searches for contentious political issues such as ‘tiananmen square’ were voluntarily censored by Google – with pages that were officially frowned upon removed from the SERPs.
Google never shied away from the fact that it was being censored – alerting users to the fact whenever a particular search term was being censored. Even so, the contrast with the open nature of Google’s results in the rest of the world was pretty obvious and did some damage to Google’s credibility as a brand.
Even so, events this year have moved pretty swiftly. In January, Google announced that it was among 30 or so major internet brands that had been subject to attacks from within China – with particular focus on Gmail accounts of prominent human rights activists. Google, clearly inferring that the Chinese state was behind the attacks then announced that they were going to stop censoring their results.
Now undercontinuing pressure from the Chinese government, they have changed tack by redirecting visitors to Google.cn to Google.com.hk. The new domain is located is Hong Kong which, under China’s complex settlement with the British over the former colony has a slightly different relationship to mainland Chinese law. While Google’s blog claimed that the move was ‘entirely legal’ there is little doubt that it represents a last-ditch challenge to the Chinese government.
Of course, China has the technology and might to ultimately block Google if it wishes and in the cold light of day the move effectively signals the end of Google’s aspirations in the East.
Commercially for Google, China has never represented any serious amount of revenue in comparison to the markets where it dominates but the symbolism is critical. Chinese scientists have already declared that the absence of Google will “somewhat or significantly” hurt their research. Even in China, the hobbled version of Google clearly carried signified cachet as a primary research tool.
For Western search practitioners a keen eye must now fall on Baidu. As businesses increasingly meet on the internet and source products and services from within China, proper analysis of this search giant is way overdue and a massive opportunity for effective SEO for the Chinese market. The amount of truly informed information on Baidu for English speakers is pretty sparse. You can read that ‘Baidu obeys robots.txt‘ on the one hand, and ‘Baidu doesn’t care for robots.txt‘ on the other. On one count, almost all commentary is agreed: it’s all about link volume and anchor text – with quality barely visible in the equation.
Time to get access to some .cn domains and dust off those train scripts boys!
The internet promised a golden era of cross-border and cross-cultural exchange, but it seems that that politics and business are once again conniving to close down opportunities.