Why WeChat’s new mobile search department is a threat to Baidu?

Tencent’s WeChat, China’s dominant messaging app, is turning up its game in mobile search. In an internal email announcement, WeChat has set up a new department to focus on search and application development, Sina Tech reported on Monday.

With this new department, the tech giant is making an all-out effort to develop search related services including in-app and outbound link search, content recommendation, AI development and application, data mining and analysis, and so on.

It didn’t come as a surprise that WeChat has decided to go deeper in the search engine battle. Although WeChat has laid low in past years on its search service development, it started to build its ambitious plan two years ago when it launched its off-site search feature where users can search articles that are redirected to Zhihu, Sohu and FTChinese.com – just to name a few.

WeChat search feature (Screenshot from WeChat)
WeChat mobile search feature (Screenshot from WeChat)

Dominating the mobile social networking market in China, WeChat is able to acquire a humongous amount of user data which the company leverages to push out its “WeChat Index” service, a tool integrating search and browsing behavior data on WeChat personal and official accounts.

According to Tencent’s financial statements, WeChat’s monthly active user numbers have amounted to 889 million in 2016, with half of these users spending about 90 minutes on the app everyday. This means that WeChat is off to a promising start with its large and stable user base.

However, China’s largest search engine operator Baidu is still the front-runner in search services, and is still active in the mobile search war. The company’s financial statements showed that its mobile revenue accounted for 63 percent of the total revenue in 2016, according to local media.

While Baidu’s position at the PC end remains unshakable, the war over mobile search has just begun. If WeChat successfully optimizes user experience for its search service, the company will likely reach its next milestone in dominating the mobile search market.

(Top photo from Nipic.com)

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