Many people have thrown their arms up in desperation over Google's latest algorithm change.  Clients and online marketing providers are trying to polish away any smears left by the latest Penguin update.  For many clients, Google placement is a necessity to their everyday operations.  Some clients feel they can't afford any interruptions in their business instigated by Google.

But what if Google has nothing to do with interruptions in a searcher's services?  What if the user's government steps in and establishes cyber-surfing roadblocks?  Last week, Google began warning Chinese users about government restrictions.

Particular words will trigger China's censorship.  Google's Hong-Kong-based search site unveiled a way to tip users off on government-censored subjects.  Google educates users on the notion that the search giant has no control regarding particular material which may be blocked by Chinese authorities.

Some of the censorship makes for interesting dynamics and almost nonsensical blocking.  For instance, a search for the Chinese derivation of "carrot" may elicit a blocked message because the Chinese characters assembling "carrot," also contain a character for the president's surname.

A yellow-dropdown message appears on the screen, alerting: "We've observed that searching for 'hu' in mainland China may temporarily break your connection to Google.  This interruption is outside Google's control."

What's interesting is Google has been very cautious as to not point to government censorship as the issue in Google services; yet, on American soil, the issue can breach the front pages of the Wall Street Journal.  Google has been having ongoing issues with Chinese officials for well over two years.

The issue seems to be openly moot.  Chinese officials don't make it a regular occurrence to openly discuss Internet restrictions.  As the WSJ story explains, restricted search terms are considered 'state secrets.'

Google blog info states listed terms are 'unofficial,' but based on outcomes of more than 350,000 most-popular search queries.  The Chinese government often disrupts Google services such as search and email.  It causes Google to lose market share.  (Analytics express a 36% decrease in market share since 2009.)

What may be worse for Google, and any Google-leveraging brands that try to reach Chinese consumers, is some end-user confusion.  Google is careful to tip-toe around Chinese government; so, Chinese users may think Google is working in conjunction with censorship.  One Chinese blogger, assuming an alias, writes:

"Has Google also started to harmonize sensitive words?"

June 6, 2012

Todd Bailey is Director of Search, Media and PR with Gen3 Marketing and US Brand Ambassador for Majestic SEO. Also, Founder/Editor of


Interesting argued. A newbie here and still trying to know more about SEO. But chinese characters are quite unique and if anything sensitive is blocked.. then google in chinese is almost as good as useless then.. just my 2 cents~

Thanks a lot for this valuable post, I have been researching about this topic for quite sometime. I wanted to know whether Google's control the marketing? After reading this post i cleared my doubts.

A very interesting and well written article. The fact that a giant such as Google is brought to it's knees by such meagre searches such as 'carrot' sort of reminds us that even super-brands sometimes have no power outside of the internet.

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