When talking about China SEO, marketers usually refer to Baidu, the most popular but sulfurous search engine operating directly from mainland China.
While Baidu leading capacities were more and more challenged due to numerous scandals and a fast-growing competition over the past years, the historical Chinese search engine still remains a strong asset for any serious SEO strategy in China.
In this first article of the SEO series on altima° blog, we get back to the very fundamentals through specific insights that hopefully will help you start off your China SEO campaigns on the right foot.
At a glance
Incorporated in Beijing in 2000 by Robin Li, an eminent Chinese engineer trained in the US who specialized into search algorithm technologies
Baidu, literally “hundreds of times”, takes its name from a well-known ancient Chinese poem and evokes the quest for the ideal
In 2016, Baidu ranked 87 among the top 500 fortune Chinese company, mostly gained from the monetization of its paid search results
Just like its Western competitors, Baidu also owns a search quality team, led by a certain Engineer Lee but this one (unfortunately) remains pretty mysterious and doesn’t show up very often in public
Source: www.seojia.cn (November, 2016)
Despite declining market shares, Baidu still appears as the dominant search engine on both desktop and mobile devices in mainland China.
Behind this performance can be found the direct advantage of having been “the first one”. Through its status of historical search engine, Baidu therefore enjoys a highly diversified demographic - from young hispsters to old Dama, first tier to third tiers cities, blue collars to white collars, that allow marketers to reach their specific target audience.
Search results pages’ breakdown
Among all criticisms addressed against Baidu in the past, the similarities of its interface with Western search engines appear as a recurring one. If it’s true that the overall layout tends toward existing standards (paid results surrounding organic’s, related results on the right) the comparison stops here.
When looking at the search results into details, differences immediately jump out. Below is for instance what Baidu shows (November 2016) when searching for the expression “what is SEO” (什么是SEO):
- paid results (ads)
- organic results (related suggestions)
- organic results (third-party websites)
- organic results (Baidu properties)
As per visible among the top 5 organic results, Baidu ranks websites of its own ecosystem which consists of a wide range of properties, aiming at compensating early technological lag and a lack of indexable materials (remember that the Chinese internet is still not yet as diversified as in the World Wide Web).
Besides, in an environment dominated by a need of confidence, Baidu properties eventually offer a solid user experience that is able to cover most of user’s queries.
Baidu properties include both User-Generated-Content products such as, to mention but a few wiki, Q/A, forums or document sharing products, and traditional products such as video or music platforms. In addition, most of properties use to display bespoke rich snippets formats that aim at catching user attention and maximize CTR.
It’s commonly estimated that Baidu properties capture between 30% and 40% of user searches.
While Chinese competitors search engines all developed equivalent ecosystems, ironically, these ones still continue to enhance their own listings with Baidu properties.
Needless to say, this Baidu ecosystem plays an essential role for any brand awareness or online reputation strategies.
While Baidu could be realistically blamed in the past for its poor search technology requiring regular on-site monitoring and maintenance, this time is pretty much over. After numerous algorithms updates, ranking factors now converge toward the most advanced standards, making organic rankings comparatively more accurate and stable than its local competitors.
That said, everything is not rosy and irrelevancies can still be found here and there. We therefore recommend to continue paying a specific attention to the following elements:
# Website conception
Ensure your strategic pages are easily accessible through the navigation (i.e. linked either from the navigation menu, a sidebar or a footer) to facilitate their crawl and (re)indexation
Consider a local (or Hong-Kong based) hosting to maximize crawl frequency
Keep the page loading time low to ensure the page remains ranked (especially for mobile rankings)
# Website promotion
Leave the translation of your contents to a Chinese native speaker
Publish regular fresh contents (through a blog, news, FAQ, templated, landing pages, etc.)
Prefer qualitative link building (contextualized & natural backlinks)
To help marketers in their daily work such as marketing researches, website optimizations and analysis, Baidu comes with its own suite of tools, with no equivalent on the local market. Below is a list of the most generic ones.
# Baidu Tuiguang Keywords Tool
Equivalent to Google Adwords Keyword Planner, Baidu Keyword tool (part of the Tuiguang platform) provides daily searches impressions, CPC estimations and related expressions to be used during keyword studies.
# Baidu Zhishu (Trend)
Equivalent to Google Trends. In complementary to the previous keywords tool, Baidu Zhishu aims at providing context around demographics or related contents dimensions.
# Baidu Zhanzhang (Webmaster Tools)
Equivalent to Google Search Console. Baidu Zhanzhang provides useful SEO data such as crawl and indexation reports, backlinks history.
# Baidu Mobi
As a response to the rapid development of the mobile traffic, Baidu Mobi proposes to analyze website compatibility with official mobile guidelines and if necessary highlights improvements to be done.
# Baidu Tongji (Analytics)
Equivalent to Google Analytics. Although Baidu Tongji probably won’t replace your main analytics solution, the tool turns out to be mandatory to retrieve the full list of organic keywords used on Baidu (as Baidu now does not provide them any more out of its own analytics solution).
As per described all along the article, Baidu remains the most advantaged Chinese search engine in terms of audience, technologies or data intelligence. Before we could predict the future, we’ll continue our in-depth exploration and focus in the next articles on more specific facets of this colossus search engine.