Chinese SEO Guide
With a population little short of 1.4 billion, China is the most populated country on the planet. In 2018, there are now more than 800 million people in China with internet access. Just for a little context, the entire population of Europe is roughly 750 million.
Thus one can easily conclude that China can be a complex market for any business to enter due to the number of cultural, behavioural, and language differences.
But the good news for western marketers is that the expanding middle class in that country likes to shop online and is not afraid to pull out the plastic when a product or service strikes their fancy.
The bad news is that you are not going to reach them (in large numbers anyway) with Google cause in China, the go-to search portal with an 80% market share is Baidu. (Google exited the market in 2010). To add to it, the Chinese government practices internet censorship (“[the] Great Firewall of China (GFW), which adds to a regular marketer’s SEO woes.
Baidu, the most dominant search engine in China also has a large number of additional SERP features, meaning getting in front of Chinese users is more complicated than just optimizing your website and building backlinks.
But when you have to, you got to!
Presenting a curated content on what you need to know to break into China’s market:
Baidu strongly favours the .CN domain suffix (China’s country code) over .com in ranking its search results.
Your best strategy is to use the same domain prefix you are already using and just buy it as a .CN version.
Baidu likes everything done through a top-level domain (TLD), thus avoid getting penalized and do not spread your website out over several domains or create a subdomain for blogging (or whatever.)
When in China, web host via a Chinese provider
You need a Chinese web host to rank well. Start looking for it here – https://hostadvice.com/marketshare/cn/
Also upgrade to a dedicated or virtual private server and avoid the shared hosting route, primarily cause when you share server space and computing resources with myriad of websites, there’s a good chance the whole server will be taken down in case one of them are out of line, leaving you to start over from scratch somewhere else.
Another Must – An ICP License
Other than a .CN domain and China-based web host, you will also need an Internet Content Publishing License (ICP); this is the mechanism by which the government permits you to operate a website in China.
However, a physical presence is absolutely mandatory in this case. Challenging, as it may seem, the alternative is to partner with a local Internet company who can get the license for you. You will need the business version of the ICP, as an individual license will not allow you to pursue profit.
As Google is to most of us and Yandex is to Russia – Baidu is to China.
Baidu dominates the search engine market in China by Jan 2019, in terms of both desktop and mobile.
Desktop search engine market share in China Jan 2019:
- Baidu: 65.96%
- Haosou 360: 12.19%
- Google: 9.49%
- bing: 6.15%
- Sogou: 4.88%
- Shenma: 0.72%
- Baidu: 71.30%
- Shema: 20.92%
- Sogou: 4.88%
- Haosou 360: 1.93%
- bing: 0.59%
- Google: 0.30%
So what is Baidu SERP – How is it different than Google?
Baidu’s search results pages differ greatly from Google’s in terms of content but have a lot of similarities in terms of layout.
As you see above, Baidu adopts the two-column layout and, similar to Google, consists of:
- Organic results.
- A related search/people also searched for section.
- Related topics.
Baidu’s interface is only offered in Simplified Chinese. No other languages are supported. Although the search engine will also index Traditional Chinese content, it’s not preferred. Baidu won’t index content in Chinese dialects, such as Cantonese. It also won’t index content in any Western language.
Rich Snippets Frequency
While many of the rich snippets are from Baidu’s own properties, some can be applied for by any site using Baidu Open platform, while others are paid promotional deals only available to a select few partner sites.
Baidu’s usage on rich snippets been a major challenge for China SEOs.
Often times it is very hard to distinguish between organic and paid results, even more so than Google.
Links clicked on the SERP open in a new window, keeping the Baidu window always open for users to come back to it.
The majority of organic results have thumbnail images associated with them. Image-based related searches are present for almost every single search on the right side.
Structured Data Implementation
Google uses structured data from schema.org markup and crawled data for rich snippets, while Baidu provides its own platform (Baidu Open or Baidu Webmaster Tools) for submitting structured data. Most of the rich snippets on Baidu are custom-designed for Baidu’s own properties and manually submitted by website owners.
Google’s mobile search shares the same URL as its desktop version. Baidu uses m.baidu.com for its mobile search engine.
Baidu Trust System
Baidu uses a domain credibility system that displays the level of trust it has for a domain in its SERP snippet.
Sites must apply specifically for the badge for a fee and is generally only available for paid search customers.
The effect this badge has on the organic ranking is unclear. Many believe Baidu does not treat it as a ranking factor, but it can definitely improve your website’s search appearance and click-through rate.
Transcoding of non-mobile friendly websites
If your site is not mobile-friendly, your site may be transcoded by Baidu to make it load faster for mobile devices.
When this happens, your content will be hosted on Baidu’s servers. This all happens automatically without any action or approval by site owners.
Go Mobile or No GO!
According to the Chinese government, 802 million people are now actively using the internet, which is about 58 percent of the population. The data was published by the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) which is a branch of the country’s Ministry of Industry and Information.
I don’t think we need to emphasise more on being Mobile optimized for China. Although, it is gospel truth for all regions worldwide right now.
Baidu’s Special SERP Features
The layout of the SERP can vary dramatically depending on the type of search.
While some queries may display the traditional 10 blue links, most Baidu searches return a large number of ads, Baidu’s own properties, and other types of rich snippets.
Baidu as a service offers around 60 different SERP features and products.
Baidu and Google seem very similar on the surface, but the deeper you go, the more the differences emerge. While Baidu still follows Google in many ways, this may not be the case for much longer. With the development of machine learning being integrated into search engine algorithms, each will develop independently. As machine learning picks up on local user behaviour and search intent, cultural and behavioural differences of Chinese users will diverge Baidu even further from Google.
Chinese Keyword Volume
So Google keyword planner is clearly useless as you must have noticed by now. So how?
As with Google, you can start typing a keyword into the search box in Baidu and receive a dropdown list of relevant, popular associated phrases that people are searching for.
Another source is Baidu Index (Baidu’s Google Trend equivalent), which can provide many interesting insights for keyword research. A caveat to using Baidu Index is it’s limited to querying only 5 keywords at a time, and data can not be exported
And of course then there is Baidu Keyword Planner, which comes with its own set of limitations like you can search for a single keyword at a time and you will have to login to a Baidu PPC account, which requires a valid China business registration.
Well, once sorted, prioritize and choose your targeted keywords based on the following parameters:
- Popular – High Search Volume
- Valuable – High conversion rate, high value, good search intent, and highly relevant to our content
- Low Competition – The site being optimized for is stronger or almost as strong as sites already ranking for these keywords
- Available – Very few non-organic results occupying top positions on the SERP
Although the same basic keyword research process as used for Google can be used for Baidu, the specific methods and data sources differ.
The focus is more on long-tail keywords, analyzing a different set of metrics, and utilizing different tools to achieve the best results.
Meta everything and other tactics
As Baidu ranking algorithms are not as advanced as Google, following old school on-page SEO best practices can still yield good results.
Baidu absolutely loves meta tags so make sure your title tag, Meta description, Image Alt tag and H tags are in order.
Like Schema.org for Google, Baidu has its own platform for submitting structured data, thus making frequent usage of rich snippets, as one of the most unique features of Baidu SERPs.
Additionally, to optimize your web pages for the best CTR as possible, here are a few guidelines:
- Do not use automatic clicking software – They are no longer effective and can get your site penalized by Baidu
- Recommended Title Length for Baidu – 60 Latin characters, 30 Chinese characters
- Recommended Description Length for Baidu – 220 characters, 110 Chinese characters
- Include at least 1 image on the page so it has a chance to shown as an enhanced organic result, or shown in Baidu Image
Below is a good example of a properly formatted organic search snippet:
As content marketing is less mature in China than in other countries, there will be less competition overall. We believe that international marketers that understand how content works in Baidu will have a much better chance of running successful SEO campaigns on a consistent basis. Having said that, here are a few thumb rules while creating content to rank in Baidu.
- Baidu Ranks Content Higher for Trusted Sites, Regardless of Context
- To keep up your website’s freshness, it is highly recommended to publish at least one piece of content on your website every day.
- Although Baidu isn’t as skilled as Google, you will always score extra brownie points for publishing original content.
- Create content with atleast 200 words. Anything less might not be worth the effort.
- Submit New Content to Baidu Immediately After Publishing, to stand a better chance in fighting the common case of “stolen content”
- Baidu’s crawlers aren’t quite as sophisticated as Google’s, thus it’s a great idea to place important keywords near the top of your content, and facilitate higher and easy ranking.
In order to start using Baidu Webmaster Tools, you first have to sign up for a Baidu account.
Account registration for Baidu requires a China mobile number for SMS verification. If you don’t have one, follow the below steps:
- Register for Baidu account with international SMS verification
- After registering, login to your Baidu account via Baidu Pan (Cloud storage service by Baidu) with your phone number.
- Upon successfully logging in, you can visit the account security page of your Baidu account to bind your preferred Email address to Baidu so you can login to Baidu via Email
- And you are done! If all the steps above are implemented successfully, you should now be able to use your Email address to login to Baidu Webmaster Tools.
Baidu Webmaster Tools Features
- Validate HTTPS site with Baidu
- Apply for brand terms protection
- Submit Content to Baidu for Indexation
- Submit broken links to Baidu
- Minimize negative SEO effects caused by site migration
- Track your site’s indexation on Baidu
- Track ranking keywords, impression and clicks in Baidu
- Track crawling errors
- Test for potential Baidu Spider crawling issue
- Track broken links and backlinks
- Track and adjust Baidu Spider’s crawling Frequency
- Create, validate or update robots.txt for Baidu
- Conduct site security test
- Avoid negative SEO effects caused by offline maintenance
- Optimize site for Baidu mobile
- Structured Data Submission in Baidu Webmaster Tools
- Access Baidu Webmaster Tools on mobile devices
While mastering Baidu Webmaster Tools may not guarantee the success of your SEO campaigns, one thing is certain — not being able to use it can drastically impede your success in Baidu search results.
A detailed account of How to Optimize Your Website in China with Baidu Webmaster Tools is here
Although Social media has no direct influence on organic ranking, there is often a strong correlation between high performing social accounts and high-ranking sites on Baidu – thus establishing modern digital marketing doesn’t operate in silos.
Brand awareness created through social media works in tandem with improved rankings from SEO campaigns to drive targeted traffic to your site.
We need to emphasize that a link from social media sites won’t give the target URL an organic rankings boost; However, some social media platforms such as Sina Weibo are indexed by Baidu, so social media pages can receive organic rankings and traffic.
Sina Weibo (Twitter equivalent) and WeChat (WhatsApp equivalent evolved into food delivery, payment gateway, services hiring – including taxi and much more) are the basic building blocks of all social media marketing in China.
So here you have it – A curated article to help you start optimizing for China. It’s not easy, and as SEOs we know it takes time. But the potential payoff is huge, and absolutely worth the effort.