China. The most populous country in the world. A place where over 640 million internet users buzz away amid an ever-changing sphere of innovation and evolution presenting boundless opportunity for businesses and consumers alike. What’s not to get excited about?
For businesses both domestic and international, or anyone with an involvement in the digital world; China should not be ignored. Yet, when we think of China we think of complexity, cultural differences, internet censorship, language difficulties and more. With the Builtvisible guide to Chinese SEO and Baidu, we’ll show you what you need in order to navigate through the maze of the Chinese internet and obtain the visibility you deserve China-side; be it through correct Baidu SEO optimisation or localised content marketing campaigns.
This guide aims to inform anyone considering embarking on a digital strategy in China with a series of useful insights on the structure and make-up of Baidu, how to rank on Baidu, insights into content research and marketing in China as well as ongoing cultural considerations to take into account. Given Baidu’s dominance in the Chinese world of search we’re going to be focusing on it rather a lot, and for anyone unfamiliar with China’s Google here a few introductory bullet points:
Launched in 2000 in Beijing by Robin Li, with the name “Baidu” (百度) comes from a Song Dynasty poem in which the term is used to describe “a persistent search for the ideal”.
Around 80% total share of China’s search engine market, asserting dominance following Google’s exit of the market in 2010
Handles reportedly over 3.3 billion queries each day
36.5% of revenue came from mobile in 2014
How to get a Baidu account
Before we delve into Baidu SEO, Chinese content marketing and everything in between, we’re going to show you how to get a Baidu account. This will enable you to action a fair amount of what we’re going through in this guide, and will put you and your site in a handy position moving forward with Baidu SEO.
First, head to this page and fill out the parameters accordingly. Baidu allows you to sign up with verification via a Chinese phone number or, for those of us based elsewhere, by email (thankfully). Here’s a screenshot explanation:
You’ll then get a confirmation email from Baidu to activate your account.
And you’re done! Each time you navigate to a Baidu page or Baidu product page you’ll see your email address in the top right-hand corner, meaning you’re signed in as a Baidu user. If you ever got logged out, click on the login (登录) button in the top right hand corner as shown below.
A Basic Breakdown of the Baidu SERP
Let’s begin with a snapshot of a Baidu SERP to kick things off. Here’s what Baidu shows us when the term “SEO” in Chinese (搜索引擎优化) is searched for:
As you can see, Baidu, much like Google, employs a familiar two column structure. In this example, the SERP displays a variety of related (and sometimes paid) results on the right and what is a mixture of other types of paid results as well as some organic results on the left. What we want to focus on here is the incorporation of Baidu’s own products into the SERP – something of which this picture illustrates the significance when it comes to embarking on SEO for China.
Now, we all know that Google owns its fair share of products– YouTube, Maps, Flights, Docs, News and beyond. Of course, these do pop up in the overall SERP from time to time, however Google has strived to ensure these products a certain degree of their own space and independence outside of the overall SERP. Baidu entails a somewhat different approach however, allowing these sub-products a liberal amount of free-roaming in the SERP space, as illustrated above. In fact, it is estimated that around 30% of Baidu queries are redirected to one of Baidu’s own products, with the overall strength and trust of the domain resonating with Chinese users who often opt to rely on a trusted, dominant brand to find what they’re looking for. So what are these products, which ones deserve your attention, and crucially, how do we leverage them for optimisation? Let’s take a dive in.
As you’d guess, Baidu has its own maps service, video search (compiling videos from several major Chinese YouTube-esque platforms), news and documents tabs. There are of course countless others doing all manner of things (which can viewed here), but let’s take a look at three of the familiar characters that frequently stake their claim in the Baidu SERP: Baike, Tieba and Zhidao.
Baidu Baike, otherwise known as “Baidu Encyclopaedia” is China’s answer to Wikipedia. While it may not currently have the breadth and depth of Wikipedia (11.9 million articles to Wikipedia’s 35 million across the board) the opportunity lies in just that; as well as the fact that a typical Baidu search query will often display around two Baike results with sub-links to related articles on the very first SERP. Given its prominence in the make-up of the Baidu SERP, SEO opportunity lies not only in the entry of brand or product-related articles but also in the editing of content, images, links and keyword tagging. Given the stringent nature of verification as well as factors such as censorship, this can be a bit of a long march, though the potential for visibility on such a large and prominent platform really speaks for itself.
Baidu Zhidao, or “Baidu Knows”, is a massive Q&A platform that essentially serves as an enhanced Yahoo Answers, allowing users to create and participate in a deep plethora of topics covering anything from advanced computer science to how to cut vegetables correctly. Users can level up, accrue points and can gain reputations as online experts in certain fields based on the number of answers given, up votes on comments and so on. Given a high tendency for Chinese users to search using long-tail, query-based lexicon as well a general overall prominence in the SERP, Zhidao is a force to be reckoned with and can be powerful SEO-wise if leveraged with the correct amount of subtlety.
As with any Q&A-based forum however, Zhidao has prevalent anti-spam efforts. These are also taken up a notch somewhat given that this is China and constant monitoring is simply part and parcel of online life. Obviously, simply searching for questions related to your brand’s sector and posting short answers riddled with links back to your site won’t do, so here are a few tips on leveraging Zhidao for Chinese SEO:
Optimise your brand’s Baidu account so it’s as branded and official-looking as can be, and offer up well-informed, credible answers to users who are asking questions related to your brand or its products. This will in time earn trust and reputation from users.
An organically placed link within the text of the answer, as long it’s relevant and informative, will be indexed.
Why not flip the tables and ask a question yourself? This could be in the form of asking for potential customer opinions on certain products or debates within the remit of your industry, or simply just a call for help on something related to your brand. It’s a great opportunity to get to know your target demographic and the notion of brand-to-customer discussion and dialogue is key when it comes to forging your name in the Chinese market.
Slightly different yet not vastly dissimilar to Zhidao, Baidu Tieba (or “Post Bar”) is a keyword-based discussion forum where users can follow specific “Bars” (吧) which serve as subreddit-esque BBS spaces and currently boasts around 300 million active monthly users.
As with Zhidao there is opportunity to assert your brand into your target demographic with organic discussion and participation with relevant threads and users.
You also have opportunity to create your own Bar based on your brand (if someone hasn’t done so already!), with the chance to create a hub and redirect users to your forum if they happen to search for your brand in Tieba or Baidu as a whole. This is especially useful if you already have a good degree of brand awareness in China yet have little presence on these platforms.
Currently, the Bar for World of Warcraft has over six million followers and over 420 million threads.
While many of us are familiar with Google’s ranking factors and have a good understanding of the key on-page SEO measures to get your site ranking, there’s little out there in terms of resources with regards to what makes Baidu tick.
Thankfully, the mind-set remains largely the same, and in practice Baidu’s ranking algorithm isn’t too dissimilar to Google’s. However, there are of course some key differences to consider:
Site Architecture and Functionality
Keep it simple. At this stage, Baiduspider isn’t as developed as Google’s in terms of crawl power, and favours flat-structured sites in which content is accessible in as few clicks as possible (here’s a useful FAQ on Baiduspider in English).