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Qihoo’s Search Engine Battle is a Publicity Stunt With Little Long Term Value

Zhou Hongyi's Weibo

Qihoo’s CEO Zhou Hongyi

Qihoo 360, a software company in China that focuses mainly on the anti-virus and browser markets,  released its own search engine recently to compete with China’s search-engine enterprise Baidu. The battle that followed was one very characteristic of Qihoo, a company that has come to be personified by its somewhat erratic CEO Zhou Hongyi.  Qihoo has been making Baidu-linked search results a great hassle, and Baidu has responded in kind, attracting a great deal of attention from social media in China.

While Baidu currently dominates the market by an almost 80% marketshare, Qihoo’s 360 web browser has an estimated 272 million active monthly users, and the company is now bundling its new search engine in the package, raising the prospect of greater exposure to the search market.

A lot of press has made mention of this bundling, and Qihoo has made some noticeable gains in the US stock market recently, but is this move one that can truly reposition Qihoo as a company, or are people focusing on the wrong questions? While Qihoo’s CEO Zhou Hongyi is a notoriously aggressive player within the Chinese tech scene, he has been known to pick fights with the likes of Xiaomi’s Lei Jun and with Baidu in the past, and the latest move strikes one as a cry for attention.

Many of his outbursts on Weibo and his moves in the business are usually accompanied by some questionable claims. Qihoo has, for instance, been apparently working on its search engine for 7 years, though this is the first time anyone has heard of it. Some sources are also saying that Qihoo has already gained 10% in China’s search market share since the launch, but these claims seem too conveniently placed. Most of the coverage of Qihoo’s battle has focused on the importance of the very fact that someone has finally dared to challenge Baidu. There is little discussion of the quality of the product. This is an oversight that should be considered.

The search engine/browser marriage does not necessarily guarantee success. Why is it, for instance, that Google still dominates the search engine market at 85% worldwide (Netmarketshare), and yet Internet Explorer, not Google Chrome, is still the most commonly used web browser worldwide? As far as can be discerned from Qihoo’s new search engine, there are no particularly endearing characteristics about the product compared with its larger rivals, and one could argue that it will have little effect in the long term.

In China, Baidu is the largest contender in the search market, and it has been this way for quite some time. Much in the same way that “Google” is now a verb in English, the go-to phrase for searching online in China is to “Baidu a bit” (百度一下).

My guess would be that branding and product reliability will generally prevail over arrogance. There is no indication that 360 will do search any better than Baidu, and there is definitely reason to doubt the claims of CEO Zhou Hongyi from time to time. You can check out some inside info about Zhou Hongyi from this article over at TechinAsia.

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