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Google, the US search company, has beaten Nasdaq-listed Chinese rival Baidu.com in a customer experience survey of internet users in China to be unveiled on Wednesday by online business consultancy Keynote Systems.

The results of the structured survey of 1,200 internet users suggest vulnerability in the market lead established in China by Baidu, which was given a strong reception by investors when it listed on the Nasdaq last August and has enjoyed high valuations since.

Keynote said its survey, which had hundreds of users separately try a number of searches using each service, showed that Chinese consumers exposed to Google generally preferred it to local competitors Baidu, Yahoo and Nasdaq-listed portal Sohu.com.

“It clearly came out that Google had the best user experience overall,” said Jeff Kraatz, Keynote’s vice president and managing director. “All things being equal, through time, people will shift from a less happy experience to a better experience. This is a lead indicator of how market share could change in China.”

Search market data is scarce in China, but local research firm Analysys International found that Baidu accounted for 37 per cent of Chinese searches in the second quarter of 2005, compared with 23 per cent for Google and 21 per cent for Yahoo.

Google’s success in the Keynote survey – where it won the highest user ratings in 11 of the 13 categories including general search, news search and image search – comes despite a relatively late arrival in China.

However, Google is now determined to expand its presence in a market that has been drawing enormous interest from global search companies and international investors.

Yahoo last year handed over US$1bn and its Chinese portal and search business for a 40 per cent stake in Chinese e-commerce venture Alibaba.com.

Alibaba/Yahoo and Baidu were both “close competitors” with Google in more than half of the 13 categories, Keynote said.

Baidu, which declined to comment on the Keynote survey results yesterday, came first in music search.

Alibaba/Yahoo’s search service won the top customer satisfaction rating only in the Keynote survey category for “help and instructions”.

However, Porter Erisman, Alibaba vice-president, said the survey was done just a month after the relaunch of the Yahoo search service and before many improvements had taken effect.

“It’s a good snapshot of the first mile in what is going to be a marathon,” Mr Erisman said. “We expect both Google and Yahoo will be taking further market share from Baidu in the future.”

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