The Chinese like to be bombarded by visual stimuli. They operate at a frenetic pace, juggling several things at once, each loudly demanding attention. Some look at this as a lack of maturity in the Asian market. Western eyes see Chinese Web sites as garish, and this is because the designers aren’t very sophisticated yet. Perhaps it’s just designers catering to their audience, who like it “hot and noisy.” The other difference is how Western cultures treat information, compared to the Chinese. In the West, information is in no short supply, and for the most part, people inherently trust the source of that information. People in the west believe most things they read online to be true. The biggest challenge is to wade through the mountain of information available to people and to eliminate the irrelevant. The Chinese treasure information yet has a healthy skepticism as to its veracity. While Western Web users are ruthless in their filtering of information, particularly on a search page, the Chinese are more apt to gather and consider, taking time to digest and choose. They often have multiple windows open at the same time, both as a way to keep busy with the slower load times typical in China, and also because they like their desktop “hot and noisy.”
Two main Chinese search properties, Baidu and Google.cn experience significant difference in user behavior. In North America, the average interaction with a search results page, from launch to first click, is generally less than 10 seconds. In China, it averages 30 seconds on Google and up to a minute on Baidu. While North American scan activity is condensed in the Golden Triangle, in China, it's spread around the page. It’s fascinating to watch an individual session. The eye zips around the page, picking up information in an apparently haphazard manner. Baidu has been taken to task for the opaque nature of its listings, where you can pay for placement. The results are also much more prone to affiliate spam (on both engines, but particularly Baidu) than in North America. But the Chinese don’t mind. Baidu has captured 62% of the search market in China, compared to 20% for Google. After all, lack of trust in information is nothing new to the Chinese. Why should it be any different on a search engine? This is a market ready to explode. Innovation is happening organically and at an incredibly rapid pace. The development cycle to turn out new functionality on Chinese sites is 30% to 50% as long as their North-American-based rivals. In China, you point, shoot and then aim. Deliberation will kill you in China. This is a lesson Google is learning the hard way. The Chinese Internet market is like a Beijing taxi: there may be no logic to its route, but it’s sure getting to wherever it’s going in a hurry!
Thanks Ravi Srinivas, May 2007.