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An introduction to Baidu – China’s leading search engine

Posted by Craig Townsend on 11-Nov-2015 16:25:24

Baidu is the number one search engine in China, with approximately 68% of the country’s market share. Therefore, if you are thinking of targeting the Chinese market through digital means, we recommend that Baidu should be one of your first platforms of choice. Increasing your website’s ranking on Baidu requires a slightly different way of thinking about search engine optimisation (SEO) compared to what you might be used to when working within Google and Bing’s requirements.

Baidu’s engineering team are constantly improving the platform, but overall the technology is still a few years behind companies like Google and Microsoft when it comes to evaluating and choosing which content is the most relevant and authoritative (and therefore which to display first in results pages).

Having said that, the platform has grown at a rapid rate over the past few years, becoming more refined, so it’s safe to say a lot of common SEO practices you already implement for Google and Bing will help on Baidu.

A comparison between SEO when targeting Google versus Baidu

The current differences between the two engines are ranked below on how much influence each has on driving your content to the top of search results. What's most interesting to a digital specialist like me, is how much emphasis Baidu places on best practice for web development. Google has started penalising companies with large websites, with slow load speeds, no mobile version and excessive use of inline CSS, but Baidu classes these poor practices as being majorly important in how your page will rank. According to Baidu (and increasingly Google), a poorly built website doesn’t deserve to rank as highly as a fully optimised website.


 

Google

Baidu

Page titles Major Major
Meta description Minor Major
Meta keywords None Major
Heading tags Medium Major
Alt tags Minor Major
Page hierachy Medium Medium
Optimised media assets Minor Major
Quantity of inbound links Major Major
Quality of inbound links Major Minor
Site size Medium Major
Site speed Minor Major

 

Tips for Baidu success

With all of this in mind, how can you make sure your website is not only ready for the Chinese market, but will also feature highly on search engine results pages (SERPs) when indexed by Baidu? Follow these quick tips below.

1. Getting started

First of all, you need to submit your site to Baidu (in exactly the same way you submit your website to Google and Bing). If your site doesn’t appear in Baidu’s search engine there is a significant chance that it hasn’t been indexed yet.  Without submitting your site, the Baidu spiders may not find you and your site will not appear on SERPs.

Like Google and Bing, submitting a sitemap to Baidu helps it to find all of the pages on your site and evaluate what is contained within each page.

Submitting your website and sitemap can both be done through the Baidu dashboard (although you may need a native Chinese speaker to help you with the submission process!).

2. The language

The most important thing to know about the way Baidu handles localisation (and its most important selling feature in a way) is that it only indexes simplified Chinese characters. The Chinese language has often been an issue for SEO managers in that:

  • There are so many differing dialects in China
  • There are often several different characters for the same word

Google has historically had a difficult time attempting to index Chinese websites especially when there is an English language version of the website on a separate domain, as it doesn’t natively index the Chinese simplified form.

Baidu solely indexes simplified, traditional Chinese characters. This is a huge advantage for an English speaking company that wants to rank high on Baidu because, when you’re translating your site, it is difficult to decide which characters to include or which dialects to focus on.

3. The resurrection of meta data

Unlike Google, Baidu places significant importance on meta data, much like the Google we saw three years ago. Meta data includes:

  • Meta descriptions
  • Meta keywords
  • Title tags
  • H1 and H2 tags
  • Alt tags

We still include all of this information when looking to increase rankings via Google and Bing, but the difference is that this information is a much stronger ranking factor for Baidu. Make sure all meta data is translated into the simplified Chinese form and is well-written for search spiders and humans alike.

4. Localisation and domains

Have you thought about hosting your website on servers based in China? It may be an extreme step to take (with numerous other mitigating factors) but Baidu will give preference to websites hosted in China. Of course, there is little need to migrate your entire website across to China, you can always just place the Chinese version of your site under a .cn or .com.cn domain and host that in China.

5. Inbound and outbound links

For me this is the real defining factor in how Baidu and Google differ. Because the Baidu technology is a few years behind Google, a lot of ‘bad’ SEO practices that Google has penalised over the years can still be used to achieve results through Baidu. The most major of these being quality vs quantity.

Five years ago, when SEO was really paving the way as a specialist field, technicians learnt that Google placed an unusually high ranking authority against links to your website – basically, the more websites that featured a link to your site, the higher you ranked. What Google overlooked is that it didn’t account for the quality of the websites that were featuring your site. As such, overnight thousands of blogs appeared, all hosted on ‘throwaway accounts’, which would post 10 links a day to your website (and nothing else). When Google indexed the web it discovered millions of ‘websites’ (actually spam blogs) all talking about your website. As such, it pushed your site up the rankings.

This practice was soon shut down by Google (who realised what was happening). Whilst links remain a huge factor in ranking highly on Google, the quality of the links remains more important than sheer number. Basically Google only treats links back to your website as acceptable if the website has been established for a long time and receives a certain number of unique visits each month. It then ranks the quality of websites linking back to you and your website is ranked accordingly.

Why is this so interesting? Well, Baidu cares about the number of links you have across the web and doesn’t (currently) account for the quality of the links. Now I’m not suggesting this is the best way to hit the top of Baidu (sooner or later we can expect them to take quality into account), but you may need to consider that this is what you may be up against (as your competitors may resort to this tactic in the short term, pushing you down the rankings).

6. Use Bing

Part of Baidu’s success in China is due to Google’s complete exit (including the Hong Kong office) in 2014 because of censorship. Since Google left, Baidu has monopolised the search engine market (holding a 68% market share) with soso.com and Bing being the next closest competitors.

Microsoft’s Bing search engine has been present in China for a while, but only has a 2% market share. However, in 2014, Bing and Baidu announced that they would be ramping up their partnership (the two search engines had been working together since 2010, but now searches on Bing and Baidu in China would share some results). This means that if you have a solid ranking in Bing (i.e. your English language and Chinese language sites both rank highly) you will already have a step up on Baidu SERPs.

7. PPC

The Baidu paid advertising tool (much like AdWords) is called Baidu Phoenix Nest. Comparisons are largely the same apart from one major factor. Phoenix Nest places ad spend at the top of its ranking list (whereas AdWords judges by the relevancy of onsite content).

Currently Baidu doesn’t display paid ads and organic ads differently, meaning paid advertising will always top SERPs for phrases where ads have been paid for. To find out more about PPC and how to make the most out of it, check out our blog.

8. Offsite SEO

With all SEO, you need to build the reputation of your website and increase the number of visitors. As such, it’s vital to actively promote your content and website across as many relevant channels as possible. The same applies for your Chinese site. Baidu and Google are trying to do the same job, therefore many traditional SEO rules apply to both platforms. Some tips on how to improve you Baidu rankings through offsite SEO are:

  • News posts: Baidu will rank you for news posts. To utilise this, you can submit your news posts to the Baidu News Protocol. This will help attract more visitors to your website.
  • Traditional marketing: Post as much relevant content (i.e. to the Chinese market) as possible e.g. videos, images, copy, and make sure these are shared on authoritative Chinese websites.
  • Baidu social bookmarking tool: There is a rumour that submitting pages of your site to Baidu Bookmarks helps pages get indexed quicker. This is very much a rumour, but as with all SEO, explore every potential avenue.

Baidu.jpg


Getting you to the top of Google and other search engines

If you are concerned that your website doesn’t attract enough organic traffic from search engines such as Google, it may be that you are not ranking highly enough for the keywords and phrases your prospects are using when searching online. If you’re worried that might be the case, our team can help. We can audit your site to help identify quick and easy ways to improve your rankings, as well as help you build a strategy that will help you continue to improve performance over time. 

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