When it comes to search marketing in China, Baidu is a core component.
In fact, as I write this, Baidu accounts for 78.4% of search engine market share in China to Google’s 1.9% (Sogou comes in at 13.8%, Haosou at 2.2%, and Bing at 2%).
However, to be successful in what is the world’s most populated country, your strategy needs to look beyond SEO and at how Chinese users engage with the internet.
Due to the differences in user behavior and Baidu’s preference, developing a working strategy will involve stepping out of the SEO silo and working with other marketing channel stakeholders (which isn’t a bad thing!).
Ahead of embarking on any Chinese marketing strategy, it’s vital that you establish your measurable goals and how you’re going to track them. A key part of this is getting Baidu Tongji and Baidu Ziyuan installed correctly on your site.
In this article, we’ll talk about developing your search marketing strategy for China and the key differences between two major search engines, Google and Baidu.
(If you’re interested in Baidu SEO in general, I wrote this article previously and for the most part, not a lot has changed.)
Baidu’s Scope of Influence
The first step in developing a Chinese search strategy is to understand how Chinese users interact with internet services, and we’re not just talking about web design considerations — although I will talk about this later.
Baidu operates more than 50 different products ranging from Search through to Maps, an encyclopedia, and anti-virus.
In fact, Baidu has dipped into a lot of markets ranging from Baijob (a job meta-search), Qunar (a travel meta-search), and IQiyi (a big entertainment streaming site) over the years.
It’s therefore important to understand that some users could, in theory, interact only with Baidu assets online, outside of viewing third-party sites.
You should also note that Baidu’s search results pages often tend to heavily augment with their own properties, so getting high levels of traffic and engagement isn’t as simple as ranking in the linear 1 to 10.
Google vs. Baidu
There are a number of differences between the two search engines that will affect your strategy, and your Google strategy isn’t a one-size-fits-all when it comes to China.
Before going into the more intensive differences you’ll need to make to your strategy, there are some smaller ones to take into consideration, these being:
- Baidu’s image AI isn’t yet at the same standard as Google’s, despite Baidu being a leader in machine learning. You need to rely on your image alt texts and metadata to improve Baidu’s image understanding and your chances of ranking in image search.
- Baidu can still be influenced by meta keywords, so these should be optimized in the same way you’d optimize a page for keywords (not spammed site-wide in a bid to increase relevancy).
- Content should be in simplified Chinese. Whilst this should be a given, also take note to translate structural content such as widgets, sidebars, menus, footers, and important in-image text.
Use Marketing & PR to Speed Up Baidu Indexing
A key difference between Baidu and Google is how Baidu goes about crawling and indexing websites.
Anecdotally, Baidu’s bots can be aggressive crawlers but when it comes to indexing, the search engine differs from Google.
Google will slowly index a website as it discovers URLs, but in Baidu, you can influence and speed up this process through marketing and PR.
This increases the demand for your brand/website by generating searches and positive user signals.
The Impact of Social Media on Baidu SEO
I’m typically asked at the start of a campaign for companies who want to enter the Chinese market about the impact of Chinese social networks on SEO.
Whilst WeChat and Sina Weibo are the more popular social networks in China, users also frequent online communities including LinkedIn and Tencent QQ.
They also use (more) Baidu-owned platforms including Tieba, Zhihu, and Douban.
When it comes to SEO, I recommend investing in the Baidu platforms with unique content, as well as aiming for a good presence on Sina Weibo.
All content on Sina Weibo is indexed by Google and is used by the search engine to create rich-snippet-like content pieces within its search results pages.
A strong Sina Weibo strategy can help your brand rank for topical and real-time queries (much like the Twitter carousel) but can also help take more real estate on SERPs for your brand searches.
It’s also important that you:
- Update your Weibo page frequently, and not just sharing/copying content from other social media channels and your site.
- Gain as many followers as possible as data correlates that for non-branded queries, Baidu takes into account the number of genuine page followers as a sign of authority.
- Follow Sina Weibo guidelines to have your page verified as official, as these tend to perform better in Search for both branded and non-branded phrases.
Google vs Baidu Mobile Web Design
However, adoption of the internet was slower in China (in comparison to a number of Western nations) and as internet penetration increased, technology had already advanced to the point where the smartphone was equally as accessible.
China hit a mobile internet access share of 66% by 2010, increasing to 90.1% by 2015 (sadly, no more up-to-date data exists for this statistic).
As a result, it’s vital that your mobile site is as capable as your desktop site in both technical and user performance.
This also means that your website needs to work for the modern mobile user.
For example, in ecommerce, a user will likely want to checkout without needing to take out their wallet.
You need to support Google Pay/Apple Pay, as well as be optimized for a variety of manufacturers including Oppo.
If your website isn’t mobile-friendly, or your mobile templates are a watered-down version of your desktop, you can take advantage of Baidu’s App Transcoding.
This takes your page’s content from non-mobile-friendly pages and converts it into a mobile-friendly “experience.”
Now, I say experience and not version as Baidu will remove any elements it determines not mobile-friendly.
This means you could lose key images, content pieces, or importantly CTAs and conversion elements. This can also be bad for your performance reporting and conversions as Baidu overlays a prominent back button on the user view-port, which in all cases I’ve seen is more prominent than your site navigation.
Technically, these pages are served by *.baidu.com, so won’t trigger your analytics tracking codes or event triggers.
International SEO requires a deep understanding of each of the markets in which you wish to do business.
Learn more in this 9-point international SEO checklist.