WeChat, the Chinese internet company, rolled out a new search feature late last week that gives preference to things that can be accessed while in WeChat, instead of a browser that is built-in.
According to a eMarketers report, by rolling out the new search engine, WeChat can capitalize on its user data to preference content that has been widely shared via its users and is part of its so-called “walled garden” strategy, in which it provides all the reasons for users to stay within its platform.
WeChat started out as a messaging platform but now offers eCommerce, bill payment, ride-hailing, photo and video sharing, news and content. The idea is to keep users on WeChat’s platform rather than going elsewhere to perform other internet activities.
The report pointed to the launch of mini-programs in the early part of this year, which WeChat calls mini-apps, as part of its “walled garden” approach. The apps can be used for specific purposes and then deleted without having to download anything or leave WeChat. They haven’t caught on yet but are part of the strategy to keep users within its service.
“By directing searchers back within its program, the new feature continues WeChat’s long pursuit of eliminating the need for users to ever travel outside the app to the wider web. That trend may portend trouble for Baidu, long the market leader in China’s search sector,” eMarketer wrote in the report.
The research firm estimates Baidu will get $6.62 billion in net search ad revenues worldwide in 2017 but is not doing as well on the search end of things. In the third quarter of last year, it posted its first decline in quarterly revenue, due to new regulations on search ads, paving the way for Alibaba to surpass Baidu as the leading generator of net ad revenues in China, noted the report.