Why WeChat search ads are essential for marketing in China

Xixi You

APAC Strategy Director

6th September 2023

~ 4 min read

When it comes to search engine marketing (SEM) in China, Baidu Search dominates, occupying over 80% of the market share and generating nearly 75 billion yuan annual revenue in 2022 from SEM.

However, the landscape as we know it may be subject to change as Tencent, the tech giant that owns WeChat, officially launched WeChat Search Ads within the mega app in November 2022. How has this release impacted the way brands should approach SEM in China and what should marketers do to take advantage of this feature? 

The search landscape is changing

The WeChat search feature was first introduced in 2017, where users could search for local chats, contacts, WeChat official accounts, articles, moments, etc. However, at this time Tencent did not aggressively invest in or accelerate the monetisation of the search channel. It wasn’t until late 2022 that Tencent officially launched WeChat Search Ads, in part due to the pressure of further propeling advertising revenues and profits to new heights. Meanwhile, the search landscape was shifting unwittingly to prepare for WeChat Search Ads to take off more than ever before. 

Baidu Search’s dominance in this space has become more unsteady over the last few years, with competitors increasingly cannibalising Baidu Search’s market share, which has dropped to ~57% in August 2023.

Source: Statcounter

On the other hand, WeChat’s user stickiness and user base see no signs of dropping. Whether it be monthly active users or monthly active search users, WeChat already outnumbers Baidu, despite neither having disclosed the total number of searches they received across each month. 

Source: Statista

Unlike Baidu Search which crawls the world wide web, WeChat Search allows users to search for content under 13 categories, including Channels, Articles, Official accounts, Mini-programs, Encyclopedia, Live stream, Books, Music, Stickers, News, Weixin Index, Inquiries and Moments. 

On the surface, this kind of content search seems less monetisable compared to query-based and purpose-driven search, as the latter can better and more easily match the users’ purchase intent. However, with the integration of WeChat into every aspect of their audience’s daily life, especially following the launch of the Mini-program and WeChat Channel (short-video feature), the app enjoys many more day-to-day touchpoints and data signals from social, official account article reading, video watching to payment transactions. 

Plugging into such rich data sources, WeChat Search can enable more personalised and contextual targeting to match even the most niche search enquiries, enabling a competitive edge that Baidu could only dream of.

WeChat search ads myth-busting

WeChat Search Ads work similarly to other search engines. An ad will be triggered by relevant inquiry keywords that a user has searched for. The ad will then be inserted in the search engine results page in six different formats, including small image, vertical video, horizontal image/video, etc. and mainly consist of a headline, description, image, and brand name. 

Similarly to other Asian search engines, Brand Zone ads, an effective brand awareness tool, is also available on WeChat Search.

WeChat Search Ads provides advertisers with six different campaign objectives, including lead generation, product promotion and brand promotion to serve different marketing goals and purposes. In terms of keyword match, it supports broad match, phrase match and exact match, similarly to Google and Baidu, with the additional option to automatically expand keyword targeting based on intention using machine learning.

When it comes to the account structure, one WeChat Search Ads account consists of four layers – campaigns, ads, creatives and keywords. Every account can create a maximum of 300 campaigns and 20,000 ads, and every ad can hold a maximum of 1,000 keywords.

To help WeChat users and advertisers stay better informed on search trends, WeChat has introduced the ‘WeChat Index’ tool (微信指数). This is similar to Google Trends, which tracks and measures the popularity of designated keywords within the WeChat ecosystem across different time ranges. You can also conduct side-by-side comparisons of multiple keywords during specific time ranges. The function can be accessed via a QR code scanning or the WeChat Search feature on the app.

WeChat Index QR code

According to WeChat official data released in 2022, the total search volume across their platform has increased by 54% YoY. WeChat Search contributed to 27% of WeChat official account’s new follower growth and 20% of Mini-program’s new daily active users.

For brands, WeChat Search Ads provide a new channel to target and connect with Chinese consumers. Even if you already have a strong brand presence built up through the official account or Mini-program, WeChat Search Ads can also be leveraged to maximise your traffic volume and fulfil multiple marketing objectives. If you’re interested in utilising WeChat Search Ads for your brand but are unsure of where to start, contact our China WeChat marketing experts today. 

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