SHANGHAI Google Inc. sought to close in on its China market rival Baidu.com by allowing users of its Chinese site to find news by first searching for images carried within articles.
The Web giants are vying for market share in the world's second-largest Internet market.
Google's move was mainly aimed at catching up with Baidu -- which already offers a similar search function -- as many Chinese Web surfers tend to be drawn more to images rather than immediately seeking out text articles, said Edward Yu, president at Beijing-based research firm Analysys International.
"The first priority for Google China is to try to build up as much traffic as they can in order to close the gap with Baidu, then they can monetize the traffic to get more advertising dollars," Yu said, adding that Google would also need to launch services which are more tailored to Chinese consumers' tastes.
The function was jointly developed by Google's recently established engineering centre in Shanghai, and its centre in California, spokeswoman Jin Cui said on Wednesday.
Google.cn's news page, alongside its traditional search method, now also allows users to first search for an image, which then automatically calls up the link to the corresponding story when the user rolls the mouse over the picture.
The rollout comes after Google said last week it had won preliminary approval from Beijing in its application for a license to provide Internet content in China.
"It's a grey area ... but after they get their ICP license, they can promote many services without worrying about regulatory barriers," said Liu Bin, principal analyst at research firm BDA.
Baidu dominated China's search engine market with a 57 percent share of the 493 million yuan ($64.7 million) in first quarter market sales, compared with Google's near-19 percent share, according to Analysys.
Google's engineering research centre in Shanghai, reporting rather than simply show news search results, while Google is promoting a Chinese-language map search service and online word processing programs. Both are trying to build online library services. ($1 = 7.6189 Yuan)