Google now highlights censored search terms for users in China

Google has updated its service, to warn users in mainland China on what search queries will create page errors

Google on Thursday began helping users in China navigate the country's strict censorship systems by highlighting search terms that will likely result in page errors, as part of an update to the company's search engine. But the new feature could be arriving too late to help the search giant improve its presence in the country, according to one analyst.

The Internet giant said in a blog post, that while the company has found no problems with its search engine, users in mainland China have complained that the service is "inconsistent and unreliable." Part of the problem results from queries of certain search terms, which can result in error messages and prevent users from accessing Google search again for a minute or more, according to the company.

To address the problem, Google engineers reviewed the 350,000 most popular search queries in China, and identified specific terms that can trigger errors. Now when users type in queries in the company's search engine, the service will highlight certain characters or phrases with the potential to "break" a user's connection to Google. Users can then choose to revise their search query.

"By prompting people to revise their queries, we hope to reduce these disruptions and improve our user experience from mainland China," the company said in its post. Users, however, can ignore Google's warning, and leave their search query unchanged.

Google originally had its own search engine for China, at, which was required by the Chinese government to provide censored search results. The site, however, provided a less error-prone user experience.

The company, however, decided to make a partial exit from China in 2010, following ongoing tensions with the Chinese government. This resulted in Google shutting down its search engine, and instead redirecting users to the company's Hong Kong search page.

But while Google's Hong Kong search engine does not censor its results, certain queries will still bring up errors as a result of Chinese government censors, which effectively block out results for certain sensitive political topics. Google's blog post, however, also noted that using everyday Chinese characters such as "river" and "week" could also lead to page errors.

Because of the frequent problems on Google, many Chinese users have looked elsewhere to make their search queries, said Mark Natkin, managing director for Beijing-based Marbridge Consulting.

"I think if they introduced this a year ago, it would have been more helpful. But at this time, the user base and traffic (for Google) has shrunk significantly," he said. "The user experience has degraded so sufficiently that (users) don't even use it anymore or as frequently."

In the first quarter of this year, Google had 16.6 percent share of China's search market for ad revenue, according to Beijing-based research firm Analysys International. Internet data analytics site, however, shows that Google's user share in the country is at 6 percent.

Chinese search engine Baidu currently dominates the country's search market, with about an 80 percent share in both the online search ad segment and for users.

Besides Google search, YouTube was blocked by China in 2009. Last year, Google also reported that the Chinese government was partially blocking its Gmail service. Other services such as Google Plus and Google Drive have been immediately blocked in the country soon after they were launched.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Michael Kan

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Cate Bacon

Aruba Instant On AP11D

The strength of the Aruba Instant On AP11D is that the design and feature set support the modern, flexible, and mobile way of working.

Dr Prabigya Shiwakoti

Aruba Instant On AP11D

Aruba backs the AP11D up with a two-year warranty and 24/7 phone support.

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers


This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang


It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?