In this 10-minute guide to Baidu and SEO & in China, we will cover:
• What is Baidu?
• Notable similarities between Baidu & Google
• Common myths when it comes to SEO in China and ranking well on Baidu
• 15 Actionable Tips to rank better on Baidu
• How to optimise your website for SEO in China in phases
To answer how to optimise for SEO in China, the first step is to understand the context and platforms that dominate search.
Baidu is a listed Chinese internet and AI company, most known for its leading search engine platform.
As of 2021, Baidu dominates with over 70% market share of the search engine space, while Google China - a subsidiary of Google, ranks fourth with just around 2% market share.
These two search behemoths share a number of similarities at a glance. Besides search, their broad range of offerings include knowledge products, location-based products like maps, open platforms for developers, and games, music products, and more.
That said, in order to understand how to optimise your site for both environments - It’s important to note that there are key differences between these platforms as well.
A great deal of Baidu’s success can be attributed to its ability to index simplified Chinese pages better and more effectively than its competitors. Its emphasis and focus on the local Chinese market is further affirmed by its user-face, which is only available in simplified Chinese, as well as its ranking priority to sites with simplified Chinese language included.
Language: Baidu and its management services, like Baidu Webmaster, are only offered in simplified Chinese. Google on the other hand, supports 149 languages.
Rich Snippets: Baidu’s search results and rich snippets are far more dynamic than Google’s, including more links, interactive JS components.
UI & Search Results: Baidu’s search results contain thumbnails, forming a less ‘compact’ UI than Google and arguably making it tougher to be on the first page of search results.
Unique Offerings: Baidu offers offerings specific to China’s legal context - including, patent search, missing person search, and senior citizen search.
Some of the biggest misconceptions that companies have when it comes to Baidu SEO is that -
It’s just like optimising for Google
Having the expectation that a website should automatically rank highly because of what it offers
Having a .cn is a pre-requisite or the most important factor ranking on Baidu
That the process fast and easy.
This could not be further from the truth.
Ranking well across search is a long-term strategy, irrespective of whether you are looking to improve your evergreen digital presence in or outside of China.
While there are no shortcuts when it comes to growing an effective digital presence, there are, actionable steps you can take in that direction from lower-hanging fruit to more challenging improvements.
At the core of both search engines, however, is the objective to create a meaningful experience for their users that allows them to effectively, and efficiently discover relevant information.
Keeping these myths, as well as Google & Baidu’s similarities and differences in mind - what considerations should you be aware of as a marketer or IT professional looking to optimise for SEO in China?
Test your site today with any of Chinafy’s free speed test and find out more on how Chinafy specialises in improving China Web Performance here.
Make sure that your website loads fast and fully for China visitors. Most sites load slowly and or are broken when loading from China. This is a result of blocked or slow third-party resources common to most sites, and infrastructural incompatibilities with the Chinese internet ecosystem. Poorly performant sites are correlated with Baidu marking them as short or empty pages, which are automatically filtered out in search. Resolving these issues is not as simple as hosting onshore or bolting on a Content Delivery Network. More on how Chinafy works to improve website performance with considerations for Baidu indexing below.
Optimise for mobile, extra. Most Baidu users will be experiencing your content via mobile. Baidu also automatically transcodes your website content if it is not fast, performative or mobile-friendly. This transcoded version may affect your UX/UI. Prevent this by making sure that your website is i) optimised for a performance (see point #1) and ii) mobile-friendly in its design.
Ensure that your web content is unique. While duplicate content is both penalised across Google & Baidu, Baidu is designed to filter out duplicate content. This means, if you have content copied in more than one place, Baidu will not include it.
Indexing your URLs. You can auto-push your URLs to Baidu (which Chinafy does automatically for all users, more on this later!) or do so via Baidu Webmaster.
Generate long-form content. As hinted above, Baidu filters out pages that are slow, deemed empty, or short. Make sure your pages have searchable content.
Make sure your content is high-quality…and not spammy. You should make sure that you prioritise the quality of your content, much like you would expect of your global website, if not more, for the sake of user experience. Think from the perspective of your visitor, and you should be able to improve how Baidu sees your content as well. Would you leave this site? Is this information useful and relevant? Is the site easy to navigate?
Avoid Pop-ups. Baidu’s search engine spider penalises sites that have low-quality pop up windows and malicious content.
Internal & external Links: You should be doing this for your Google search results already, but make sure you work on both internal and external for your Chinese pages as well. Tip: Baidu indexes non-hyperlinked URLs as a positive variable, unlike a number of other search engines. This means you should include these within your text to improve your overall search rankings.
Keywords, keywords, keywords: It’s worthwhile knowing what your keywords are in simplified Chinese, as you would in your other website language and including them in your meta descriptions and title tags. Baidu still includes these as ranking factors as of 2022, unlike Google.
Use pinyin in your website URLs…e.g. www.website.com/zhong-wen instead of www.website.com/中文
Watch out for the line. Baidu, as per extended policy of the Chinese government, censors anti-government speech, gambling, culturally insensitive content, and adult content. Make sure you are mindful of the content you include on your website and to pre-emptively review what your website writes or shares.
Use a .cn domain. In order to get a .cn domain, you need to own a Chinese business or be a Chinese citizen. This may come as a relief, but this is not a prerequisite for being on SERPs for Baidu and websites have managed to perform well without one via a combination of factors.
Remember basic SEO best-practices. Just because the Chinese internet and Baidu is notably different to google and SEO practices globally, doesn't mean you should throw out your SEO knowledge out the window. Basic optimisation practices - yes, as basic as optimising images, and working on a streamlined UI/UX experience - can only help you. Keep this in mind.
Think long-term. Think of SEO in China as a long-term project but break it into phases that aren't so overwhelming. More on this below.
Keep in mind that these suggestions are not holistic. Search is constantly evolving, especially in such a dynamically evolving digital ecosystem in China.
For companies or individuals just starting out in China, this information can feel rather overwhelming. China’s internet ecosystem is unlike the rest of the world - with distinct differences across infrastructure, unique rules across censorship, content and privacy, as well as differing best practices and their relative impact on the success of a website (e.g. hosting, CDNs and more).
That said, many SMEs to listed MNCs alike would argue that the Chinese market and its potential are worth it.
Just starting out? Here are the overarching phases that companies go through to better reach audiences in China.
Performance & Analytics Phase. Make your website work in China with Chinafy - the leading, virtually turnkey solution to China Web performance. Don’t just take our word, but our client’s. The average set-up process takes just about 2 weeks to achieve a fast, fully interactive, indexable site for China visitors using your existing site and minimal technical resources.. Performance via manual means is doable, however, it can take anywhere between 5 weeks to 2 years depending on requirements. *The unspoken suggestion is to make sure this is all tracked! To date, Google Analytics works from a trigger perspective once your website is optimised - meaning you can track anonymised visitor behavior via Google. Another popular alternative or supplementary analytics solution is Matomo.
Content Phase. Add simplified Chinese to your site as a language option. Note, we say language option and not automatic language option (e.g. auto-directing users to simplified Chinese or forcing them to a single-language page). Just because a visitor from China is accessing your page doesn’t mean they want to only access content in Chinese. Consider this when managing languages on your website.
Marketing Phase. There’s no point in driving traffic to a site if it doesn't work or provide accessible value to your Chinese visitors. However, once you’ve optimised your site, gotten a good sense of your ‘base’ traffic/visitor engagement, and taken the steps to improve your odds of ranking well, you can consider paid traffic campaigns to your content or building out local Chinese social media channels to support your growth (e.g. WeChat, Weibo).
Ready to grow digitally in China? Reach out to learn more about how you can improve your website for China via our Get Started form.