With an 80% market share and 3.3 billion searches every day, Baidu is indisputably the king of Chinese search engines and the relative “Google of China.” However, the differences between Google and Baidu are vast, especially around SEO. So if you want to be discovered in China, you’ll need to play by Baidu’s rules.

1. SPEAK THE RIGHT LANGUAGE

Short URLs written in Pinyin (a Romanized version of Chinese) are recommended, but for the website’s actual content, Baidu overwhelmingly favors Simplified Chinese.

While you may be speaking the right language, you need to also be conscious of what content you’re putting out there. Baidu not only censors anti-government speech, adult content and gambling material, but anything considered to be culturally sensitive news and information. So it’s crucial to make sure nothing on your website could be construed, either directly or indirectly via external links on your site, as censored material.

This can be more difficult than you think. Some seemingly innocent words, such as “toad” and “rubber duck,” are banned due to their political connotations (source: International Business Times). Similarly, an innocent photo of sunbathers could result in a blocked website for showing too much skin. So thorough local-market research alongside professional in-country linguistic expertise will ensure your content doesn’t fall foul of local censorship.

2. GET TO THE POINT

Baidu has a limited time to index web pages, and typically only takes into account the first 100 KB of any page. To increase your rankings, you’ll need to place the most locally relevant content and keywords at the top of the page, which may mean forgoing more Westernized page layout and visual designs. Posting frequent updates, such as new blog content or news articles following this same approach, will also help boost your ranking.

3. MAKE PEOPLE STAY

As is the case with your online presence in any locale, if people in China don’t like your website, they’ll leave, and this can impact your SEO ranking. High bounce rates (where users leave your website shortly after opening it) will decrease overall domain authority on Baidu and negatively impact the likelihood of your content being served to users. Unlike Google, Baidu offers verification levels for the web results it shows, ranked according to their trustworthiness, from V1 to V3. By registering and paying a fee, you can obtain one of these levels, which will help strengthen site authority, reduce your bounce rate and boost your Baidu ranking.

Given the volume of information now provided via rich snippets in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs), it’s key to ensure your website is localized for a Chinese audience in order to appear in Baidu search results. Further avoid high bounce rates by making in-language information easily accessible and by engaging users quickly via locally relevant, authentic messaging.

When localizing your Chinese site content, keep in mind that Chinese consumers typically do a lot more research than Western consumers before engaging with a brand and its products. Although US domestic marketing tends to focus on benefits over features and to use highly visual content, Chinese consumers are generally put off by a lack of detailed company and/or product information. They also put a lot of stock in ratings and comments from other consumers, so depending on what you’re marketing, that feature (or lack of it) could make or break your likelihood of establishing trust and engagement.

4. GET CERTIFIED

It’s best to have a .cn domain name, but it can be tricky to attain one because you either need to be a Chinese citizen or own a Chinese business entity. Any website based in China must also have a Bei’An license, and if you are a commercial website, you’ll also need an ICP license. The red tape around these licenses can be both time-consuming and costly and often puts companies off. But it’s worth getting certified to secure top rankings on Baidu and increase web traffic.

Although .cn domain names consistently rank higher on Baidu, all is not lost if you don’t have one. Baidu’s primary requirement is that a site loads well for Chinese users. While this is easier for .cn domains, .com and .net websites will still rank if they’re accessible from and optimized for China.

5. GO MOBILE

For the past few years, more users have searched on Baidu via mobile than desktop, a trend that’s expected to continue. Mobile SEO is essential if you want to be seen on Baidu since Chinese consumers are heavily mobile-focused, with many users owning multiple mobile phones, and there’s a huge emphasis on mobile-optimized sites. In fact, Baidu takes this into account when ranking search results.

FINAL THOUGHT

By following these best practices, you can increase your ranking on Baidu and reach more Chinese consumers. However, for many organizations there’s a lot to consider in properly establishing your online properties on Baidu and, in the meanwhile, you can build your brand presence and engage consumers through other channels.  

For example, an estimated 70% of Chinese marketers are focusing their lead generation activities on mobile and social networking sites. And when it comes to paid advertising, social media platforms in China offer considerable opportunity for engagement. While strict regulation of online marketing is a reality no matter what, Chinese social platforms often have a less complicated setup process and require less of a budget commitment than paid search efforts on Baidu. A holistic, multi-channel approach to digital marketing in China can help you maximize engagement online while you establish and optimize your presence on Baidu.