Qihoo 360 has quietly launched an online shopping search engine in collaboration with Alibaba’s Etao, as the two firms partner up to step up efforts against rivals Tencent and Baidu.

The site, 360.etao.com, directs the domain to Etao, which will likely drive more traffic to Alibaba but, most importantly, it could develop into a high-profile service to rival Baidu’s dominance in China’s search market.

According to a report on Sina Tech, sources say that collaboration with Alibaba is a key strategy of Qihoo 360 going forward. “As a late entrant into the search engine scene, in order to get a greater market share Qihoo 360 has to spread out traffic and not accumulate everything in its own hands. This is why it has chosen to cooperate with a number of sites for vertical search engines, and Alibaba is one of them,” the report cited the sources as saying.

An Alibaba spokesperson confirmed to TNW that the site was launched via Alimama, the group’s open ad platform. Besides Qihoo 360, Alimama is also working with Kingsoft, Sogou, Funshion and others to jointly promote items on Tabao.

“In essence, this program helps those sites to monetize their traffic and at the same time it provides more channels to help sellers on Taobao Marketplace and Tmall to promote their products online,” the Alibaba rep explained.

Screen shot 2013 05 22 at AM 11.47.10 730x284 Alibaba and Qihoo 360 launch shopping focused search site in fresh bid to rival Baidu in China

As of now, Qihoo 360 has already launched music, maps, software and medical search engines as it looks to close the gap on Baidu, which accounts for more than 80 percent of China’s search traffic.

Qihoo started off with security software before branching out into operating a browser and just last summer, launching a search engine. It has been very aggressive in taking on Chinese search stalwart Baidu — which has resulted in warnings of unfair play from regulars — and its roster of existing partners includes Sina, the firm behind China’s popular Weibo microblogging service. Now, this partnership with Alibaba will take the competition up a notch.

Earlier this year Qihoo 360 stated its aim of achieving 20 percent market share in the Chinese search industry by the end of this year and 40 percent by 2015.

Etao was launched in 2010 by Alibaba’s e-commerce site Taobao, as it sought to compete against Baidu in terms of online shopping searches. Alibaba is also striving to tap into the social market. It recently took an 18 percent stake in Sina’s Weibo in a bid to slow down Tencent’s WeChat success and also bought 28 percent of AutoNavi, China’s top mapping system, suggesting that it is focusing on maps as another prong of its social strategy.

Alibaba’s mobile business, Aliyun, launched a search service that will rival Baidu, and of course Google, on mobile.

Update: We contacted Qihoo 360 and were given confirmation of the partnership with Alibaba, but the company declined to provide further details at this point.

Alibaba

Related: China’s Qihoo sees profit fall to $5.6 million in Q1 2013, even as revenue climbs 58.6%

Image Credit: Peter Parks via AFP/Getty Images