China’s #1 Search Engine – Baidu
As you likely already know, China’s search engine market isn’t dominated by Google like in the rest of the world. Google left the Chinese market way back in 2010 after it suffered from a cybersecurity attack that had originated within China. In place of Google several domestic Chinese search engines have risen up to dominate the market, with the most successful being Baidu.
Baidu has maintained its leadership in the Chinese search engine market for over a decade and is the go-to search engine for most people in China. Chinese internet users turn to Baidu to answer their questions and when they need more information on a given topic.
This makes Baidu a powerful tool for brands to get the word out about their products and services, particularly for those in more niche industries. As social media has begun to consume more and more of the average internet users time, many brands have begun to get a bit lax in their efforts on search engines.
This can be dangerous for brands, as not every industry is well-suited to marketing on social media, particularly if the goal is to generate leads or drive conversions. B2B brands for instance aren’t going to get the best results on platforms like Weibo or WeChat.
What You Need to Get Started Ranking With Baidu SEO
A Locally Hosted Website
Before you even think about getting started with SEO, you we will absolutely need to ensure that your site loads quickly for users in China. One of the most common reasons for a slow website in China is hosting. Where you host your website is an incredibly important factor in the loading speed of your website. Just hosting your website in China isn’t some magical way to get your site ranking on Baidu, but it puts you on an even playing field with other sites in China.
Most foreign companies naturally have their websites hosted in places closer to their home markets to ensure that they maintain their quick load times in their primary markets. Combined with a content delivery network (CDN) this allows businesses to ensure that their site loads reasonably fast across the globe.
This strategy simply doesn’t work in China. Due to the great firewall and other factors websites hosted abroad tend to load very slowly in China. Not only does this deliver a sub-par experience to users of the website, it also has a drastic effect on search engine rankings.
In determining search engine rankings, Baidu crawls millions of websites to find the best sources of information for different queries. Given that the company needs to crawl hundreds of millions of websites it can only spare so much time per website. If you’re website fails to load in that given time frame, Baidu can’t accurately read what’s on your site. Without having Baidu crawl your site you have an almost zero chance of showing up in search engine rankings.
In a nutshell, don’t even attempt to rank on Baidu before ensuring your site loads fast in China, and if it doesn’t strongly consider hosting the site within Mainland China.
An Understanding Of Your Audience & User Intent
Understanding your audience is one of the most important parts of marketing in general. Many companies entering the Chinese market expect that their audience in China will like the same things that their audiences in other markets like. While this can be true, it is often not.
Market research can be costly in terms of both time and money, so many companies skip this step and jump right into marketing. This can lead to major mistakes and wasted budget for foreign companies.
One of the most important steps to achieving success in SEO on both Google and Baidu is understanding user behaviour and search intent. Both of these should play a key role in formulating your SEO strategy, so take the time to understand your audience in terms of their expectations and how they interact with companies in your industry.
A Well Thought Out Keyword Strategy
Keyword research is one of the most important parts of SEO. Like with Google, there are plenty of keyword research tools available in the China market.
These tools allow companies to determine the difficulty in ranking for a specific keyword and an estimate of how many times users search that given phrase per month. This can be very helpful for determining which keywords to target for your company’s content team. You can check out a few of these tools below:
For example, imagine you ran a Facebook marketing agency. You want to try and rank #1 for the keyword “Facebook.” Ultimately you would have a very hard time ranking for this keyword, because the intent of users searching for this term is almost certainly just to go to the Facebook website. Chances are you don’t even want these users searching for Facebook on your site either as they likely aren’t looking for Facebook marketing services.
Focusing on longer more specific keywords can often yield better results. It usually takes less time to rank for these keywords given that they have smaller search volume and less competition. Not only but the traffic you receive from these longer keywords will likely be exactly the audience you’re looking for!
Achieving success on Google in English is tough enough, so if you’re looking to succeed on Baidu I always recommend working with a Chinese SEO Agency.
Tips & Tricks for Ranking On Baidu
Create a Positive User Experience
The Chinese internet is full of spam, pop-up ads, and low quality content. Baidu’s latest algorithms have been focusing on trying to improve the quality of content appearing in search results by punishing sites that implement these tactics.
This has been a long time coming, and is expected to have significant effects on Baidu’s search results. This is an important point for Baidu, as it has had quite a few scandals over the last couple years resulting in a lack of trust for the platform. By improving the quality of its search results it hopes to improve its brand image and regain the trust of users in China.
Build Links, But Be Careful!
If you know anything about SEO, you know that links are an important component of every SEO strategy. While links on Baidu play an important role in determining the authority of a website, they also help to enforce Chinese censorship laws.
Website authority is an important factor in ranking on Baidu. Websites like Zhihu (知乎) for example have very high authority which results in their content appearing on the first and second pages of Baidu search results. This authority stems almost entirely from links. Building links is a time-consuming process but is incredibly worthwhile.
Links are important both in China and the West, there are some additional risks associated with link-building in China. While almost every company knows not to put any politically sensitive content on their websites many don’t realize that they can even be punished for linking to sites that contain this kind of content. Sites could also be punished this makes monitoring links much more important when working in China.
Mobile Optimization for Search
Linda Lin, General Manager of Baidu reported that over 80% of searches on Baidu were made through mobile devices. This trend of users accessing search engines through mobile devices has made Baidu place a higher emphasis on the mobile user experience over desktop. The China Network and Information Center (CNNIC) confirmed this trend in its latest report when it found that over 99.1% of Chinese internet users access the internet through their mobile devices.
However, Baidu isn’t the only one to notice this trend, Google also recently introduced mobile first indexing for its search results, which also places a higher emphasis on the mobile version of a website as opposed to desktop.
So what does this actually mean I’m sure you’re wondering? It means that while having a desktop site is important, mobile should now be your first priority. While mobile phones have become a part of our daily lives for what seems like forever now, many companies treat their mobile websites like an after-thought.
These latest updates from Baidu and Google are both aiming to change the way that we think about mobile websites and placing a higher priority on providing a good user experience for mobile users.
If you want to succeed in SEO on Baidu, you’ll need to ensure that you’re delivering a satisfactory experience on mobile. As with the current state of affairs you likely won’t be able to rank without it!