Want to rank online in China? You’ll need to play by Baidu’s rules. As China’s leading search engine, optimizing your content for the site is critical. Here’s what you need to know about Baidu SEO.

Reaching more than 1.1 billion devices, Baidu is the king of Chinese search engines. Like Google, its name is a verb, meaning “the persistent search for the ideal”. But there are significant SEO differences between the two. And if you want to be found online, you’ll need to adapt.

Before we dive in, be aware that Baidu’s dominance has been challenged in recent years. Their market share was 87% in August 2015, but dropped to 66% by May 2019. New players Shenma and Sogou are gaining traction. Shenma is owned by e-commerce giant Alibaba. Meanwhile, Sogou powers the WeChat search function for Tencent.

Baidu-market-share-2015-2019

Market share of Chinese search engines, 2015-2019
(S
ource: StatCounter)

Chinese consumers also often skip search engines and go straight to virtual marketplaces, like Tmall and JD.com. An estimated 70% of Chinese marketers are focusing their lead generation budget on social networking sites.

As the battle for Chinese clicks intensifies, it’s important to keep an eye on the changing landscape. But Baidu should still be the cornerstone of your Chinese search strategy. Ready to get started? Here’s what you need to know about Baidu SEO.

GET GOING

1. DOMAIN NAME

Baidu puts China first. It prioritizes .cn domains, servers located in China and links from Chinese websites. For this reason, an Internet Content Provider (ICP) licence is a worthwhile investment. They’re issued by the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. And they allow websites using domestic (Chinese) servers to operate. The website must belong to a company that’s legally registered in China though.

Although .cn domain names are consistently ranked higher on Baidu, it doesn’t have to be game over if you don’t have one. Your .com and .net websites will still be ranked if it’s accessible from and optimized for China.

We recommend: A China-hosted website is ideal, even if you have to get your paperwork in order first. The red tape around these licenses often puts companies off. But it’s worth it to secure top rankings on Baidu and increase web traffic. If you need a hand, our digital team is here to help.

2. BAIDU WEBMASTER TOOLS

Baidu Webmaster Tools is the official traffic management platform for Chinese website administrators. It provides a wide variety of tools, from dead-link detecting to speed tests. The platform also offers metrics you can only get from Baidu. And a two-way communication channel between webmasters and Baidu.

We recommend: Submit your website to Baidu Webmaster Tools. This helps the Baidu spider index your content accurately. And gives you valuable tools to monitor and optimize your site’s performance. It’s only available in Chinese, but it’s free to register as a user.

3. BAIDU TRUST SYSTEM

The Baidu Trust System signals credibility to search engine users. It displays badges next to search results, to show a numbered level of trust. Badges are available for purchase from Baidu. There’s no official confirmation that they impact Baidu SEO. However, anecdotal feedback suggests they can have a big effect.

We recommend: Invest in Baidu badges to give internet users trust in your site. They can also help reduce your bounce rates, further boosting your ranking and organic click-through rates.

Baidu-Trust-Badge
Baidu Trust Badge

 

Baidu-Trust-Badges-on-SERP
Baidu Trust Badges on the SERP

GET TECHNICAL

4. MOBILE OPTIMIZATION

98% of China’s internet users are mobile. And Baidu will transcode websites that aren’t mobile-optimized. What does this mean? It will automatically change your page layout based on what Baidu considers best practice. And the transcoded pages will appear on Baidu’s domain.

We recommend: Stay in control by adding “_applicable-device_” meta tags which help Baidu better identify desktop/mobile pages and avoid transcoding. And prioritize mobile-first design.

5. STRUCTURED DATA SNIPPETS

Baidu search results pages typically contain far more structured data snippets than Google. This means that structured data is incredibly valuable when optimizing for Baidu SEO. You can submit this data through Baidu Open, which allows webmasters to create their own SERP widgets.

We recommend: Submit your structured data through Baidu Open. This is particularly important if you want to rank for rich snippets. You can only apply for a very limited number of rich snippets via Baidu Webmaster Tools.

6. JAVASCRIPT CRAWLING

Google has worked hard to improve its crawling of JavaScript and AJAX content. Baidu, on the other hand, is still struggling. In fact, Baidu’s own documentation says that JavaScript content can’t be processed.

We recommend: Avoid using Javascript on pages which are of key SEO importance.

GET VISIBLE

7. BAIDU’S OWNED CONTENT

Baidu owns many digital platforms beyond the search engine, including:

  • Discussion forum Tieba
  • Document sharing via Wenku
  • Wikipedia-equivalent Baike
  • Q&A site Zhidao
  • Baidu News

Baidu heavily favours content from its owned platforms. This can be a challenge for brands and specific keyword themes. The good news is that most Baidu platforms allow brands to upload content, enabling an indirect engagement with users. And they’re considered trusted sources of information. You’ll just need to register first.

We recommend: Creating content for Baidu platforms is a good way to be seen. Start with a company page on Baike. Review potential results for your target keywords. And consider keywords which have less competition from Baidu platforms.

8. SERP LAYOUT

The Baidu search engine results page is laid out differently than Google.

Baidu-Search-Engine-Results-Page

 

Baidu search engine results page

Baidu services and rich snippets can take up to 70% of space on page 1. This means there’s a lot less room for organic search results. Even if you’re ranking highly, you may still only appear on page 2.

We recommend: Consider targeting long-tail keywords, where rich snippets are less common.

GET RANKING

9. KEYWORD RESEARCH

As with Google, keyword research is a vital part of ranking on Baidu. But don’t rely on Google’s Keyword Planner, as it doesn’t have complete data for China. Instead, use Baidu Keyword Planner or Dragon Metrics – an excellent third-party tool for finding Chinese keywords. Simply translating keywords you found for other languages on Google won’t help you find the best keywords to target for China.

We recommend: International keyword research will help you target the most relevant keywords for your Chinese audience (and any other market, for that matter). Find out how to go about it here.

10. CONTENT FRESHNESS

Baidu considers content freshness as a ranking signal. This means that publishing new content regularly is more important than for Google. But all content needs to meet China’s censorship rules. Anti-government speech, adult content or gambling material are all forbidden.

This can be more difficult than you think. Some apparently innocent words, such as ‘toad’ and ‘rubber duck’, are banned due to their political connotations. Similarly, an innocent photo of sunbathers or even piglets could see your website blocked for showing too much skin. Research is needed to make sure you aren’t accidentally falling foul of the censors. If in doubt, leave it out.

We recommend: Publish new content at least twice per month. But be careful to stay on top of new rulings from censors. Or submit your content directly to a Baidu representative for censorship approval.

11. THUMBNAIL IMAGES

Thumbnail images feature frequently on Baidu’s SERP. Google increasingly uses image recognition technology to provide relevant image results. Baidu relies more heavily on alt tags, image URLs and related descriptions. This means that optimizing image content has added importance for Baidu SEO.

Results from Baidu Images are also a familiar part of the SERP. If you have high-quality images, this is another way of driving traffic to your site.

We recommend: Image optimization has greater weight with Baidu than for Google. Ensure that each image has optimized alt tags.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Baidu SEO should be your Chinese search strategy’s top priority. It takes time and effort, but the rewards are worth it. Keep an eye on Baidu’s rivals though. We may be entering a new, more competitive era in Chinese search. Staying up-to-date and also optimizing your content for these sites could help you stay ahead of the competition.

Need support with your Baidu SEO strategy? Our expert digital team would love to help. Check out our global SEO service, then get in touch.

ABOUT Gary Reilly

Originally from Sydney, I'm an international digital marketer with over seven years' experience. I help global brands achieve their goals with integrated digital solutions. And I'm passionate about deciphering user intent to create relevant content that's accessible, visible and delivers ROI.

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