Baidu draws ire of netizens for promoting its own content in search results

  • Launched in 2016, Baijiahao is a blog-style platform where about 1.9 million publishers post news and share information
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 January, 2019, 5:07pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 January, 2019, 5:50pm

When Baidu launched its Baijiahao platform in 2016, it was touted as the search giant’s answer to ByteDance’s Jinri Toutiao news aggregator and Tencent Holdings' WeChat official accounts, giving independent publishers a platform while helping it generate more advertising revenue from online content.

Two years on and the monetisation strategy has worked wonders, but Baijiahao’s advertising focus has angered some Chinese netizens who criticise the company for failing to provide a search service that provides useful results.

The debate even prompted one outspoken scholar to proclaim “the death of Baidu as a search engine” in an article that has gone viral on social media since Tuesday.

“ is no longer where you search for online content in Chinese, but an in-site search of its self-made content,” Fang Kecheng, a Chinese media researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, said in an article posted on his public WeChat account. “It’s no longer directing you to high-quality nourishment for minds, but [has become] a hoarder of decaying and deteriorated content.”

Baijiahao is at core of the problem, according to Fang, citing his experience in using searching uses keywords such as “Brexit”, “US government shutdown” and “Trump” – all of which returned Baijiahao content for over half of the first-page results.

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Fang’s article has generated more than 100,000 views on WeChat, the maximum number publicly shown on the platform.  

Launched in 2016, Baijiahao is a blog-style platform where about 1.9 million publishers post news and share information.

The outcry comes after Google, which exited the mainland Chinese search business in 2010 – was considering a return to China with a censored search engine, which would have threatened the near stranglehold that Baidu has on search advertising in the world’s biggest internet market. Google has since shelved the plan after strong pushback by employees.

Baidu is the country's dominant search engine, with about 70 per cent market share, followed by Alibaba's Shenma, Tencent-backed Sogou and Microsoft's Bing, according to statistics by Statcounter.

Analysts and scholars have voiced concerns over US and China developing two parallel internet universes, with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all blocked in China. Even in the domestic Chinese market, a so-called walled garden has been set up with internet giants like Weibo, WeChat and Toutiao limiting each other’s access to their own content, if not banning it outright.

The University of Pennsylvania researcher echoed the concerns. “China’s internet has become increasingly segmented and closed over the past few years,” he said.

However, he added that in Baidu’s case it was due to its own business decision. “Baidu no longer wants to become a search engine, but merely a marketing platform where it hopes to herd users to contribute to its own traffic and monetise,” he said.

In a response on Wednesday, Baidu said on its official Wiebo account that Baijiahao accounts for less than 10 per cent of all search results on its platform.

“Baijiahao is a significant move to step up the content ecosystem of the Baidu app, and can optimise user browsing experience regarding issues like slow loading sites or webpage layouts, and provide them with a unified search experience,” it said.

Still, Fang noted how good intentions can go wrong in execution.

“Baidu was not like this one year ago, and even more unlikely five or 10 years ago. It was then problematic but at least it was a real search engine, a true access to the Chinese internet where one could get satisfactory answers by simply asking online,” he said. “Now it has ended up as an in-site search engine of Baijiahao.”