I think you’ll agree that Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an essential part of building any business’s digital presence.While it can be a complicated process on Google, it can be even trickier when working with the number one search engine in China, Baidu. With all the rumors and outdated information available it can be tough to figure out what’s true and what’s false regarding Baidu SEO.
In this article we’ll try to clear some of the mysteries and rumors surrounding the process of SEO on Baidu and provide you a few tips and tricks to help get your page ranked in Baidu’s search results.
We’ll start off with a brief explanation of SEO in general and then dive right into some of the biggest issues that users face when trying to increase their search rankings on Baidu. If you’re an SEO professional you can skip through to the more Baidu specific related parts below. We’ll also cover some of the most common mistakes companies’ make in their SEO efforts on Baidu.
So what is SEO?
The ultimate goal of SEO is to have your website appear in search engine results for designated keywords that are related to your business.
Increased visibility for keywords related to your business can result in gains in sales and brand awareness. Almost every business with a digital marketing strategy allocates resources to increasing their SEO rankings.
In the west SEO professionals focus their efforts on improving their rankings on the number one search engine, Google. However, since Google has little to no presence in China marketers need to focus on China’s market leading search engine Baidu.
If you’d like to learn more about other Chinese search engines check out our other blog here:
However, complexities in Chinese internet regulations and the existence of loopholes in the Baidu algorithm have made it a difficult process for overseas companies to compete in search rankings. We’ll go further into that later.
SEO On-Page vs. Off-Page
Just for those of you who are not familiar with the process of SEO, I’ll give a brief introduction of how it works. SEO is usually broken down into two categories, most commonly called on-page SEO and off-page SEO.
On-Page SEO focuses on improving the readability of your website by search engines. Usage of keywords in on-page content, website speed, and site formatting all contribute to the readability of your website by search engines. All of these factors allow your website to be crawled more thoroughly and better indexed by search engines, and this is true for both Google and Baidu.
Off-Page SEO is about building authority through building backlinks to your website. This is usually accomplished through creating quality content that users would want to link back to. It also done through things like guest blogging and contributing content to websites in your niche.
Unfortunately, There are a multitude of “black hat” techniques that exist to aid in accomplishing this goal, such as paid link sharing, link networks, etc.. Google has successfully prevent use of most of these techniques, but Baidu does lag behind, meaning that many of these techniques are still widely used.
Now let’s get on to the Baidu SEO Guide.
Things you’ll need before getting started on your Baidu SEO Journey
A Chinese Website: Ensuring both Baidu and your target audience can actually read your website
This is absolutely necessary to rank on Baidu, as Baidu is not very effective at reading languages other than Chinese.
But there’s a catch,
While Baidu can process traditional Chinese characters, it shows a much greater preference to simplified Chinese. So if you’ve created a website using traditional characters for an audience in Taiwan or Hong Kong, you’ll want to change to simplified characters when launching in China.
Having a simplified Chinese website will make it easier for Baidu to read what your website is about and what it should rank for. If the Baidu algorithm can’t understand what it’s reading on your site it will fail to understand what your website is about and index it accordingly.
Hosting: To host or not to host…in China
Baidu takes the speed at which your website loads into consideration in its ranking process. If you’re website is hosted in Europe, The U.S., or other locations far away from the China mainland, it will undoubtedly load quite slowly.
The most effective method for increasing load speed would be to host your website within Mainland China. Due to strict internet regulations in China, you will require an Internet Content Provider License (ICP) to host in China. To apply for an ICP license as a company, the company must have a Chinese business license.
So how do you ensure you don’t get penalized for a slow loading website without a Chinese business license?
The next best solution is to host in a location close to the China mainland, such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, or Macau. While it won’t be as fast as it would be within China, sites will load fast enough to not be penalized too heavily by the Baidu algorithm.
If you are planning on doing business in China for the long term, obtaining an ICP and hosting in China will certainly improve your rankings. Businesses looking to test the market before fully committing should consider hosting in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore or Japan.
Content Delivery Networks (CDNs): How to further increase your loading speeds
Most large websites around the world leverage the power of CDNs to ensure that their websites load quickly throughout the world. While not completely necessary CDNs can further increase your website speed, which helps improve SEO rankings.
Using a China based CDN will have the best results, but global providers such as Cloudflare and Amazon Web Services, will still have a beneficial effect on your website loading speed as well. Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent also offer CDN services that you can look into as well.
But again, there’s a catch,
Global providers do come with a certain amount of risk as the Chinese government has on one occasion completely blocked a global CDN service called Edgecast. This resulted in 1000s of websites being made unavailable in China.
A Mobile Friendly Website: It’s 2017! Make sure your website displays correctly on mobile.
The dominance of smart phone’s in China over desktop has led Baidu to place greater emphasis on how readable a website is via Mobile.
Having a website designed to be used on mobile is essential to ranking both directly and indirectly. Websites not optimized for mobile will have slower responsiveness when Baidu attempts to crawl them, resulting in lower rankings. Websites that are not mobile friendly at all, will be penalized as of 2015 when Baidu introduced it’s update called “Ice Bucket.”
Indirectly, users who come to your website will be more likely to leave resulting in higher bounce rates and other negative effects that could result in a drop in rankings.
The way a website displays on mobile will eventually be more important than how it appears on desktop. Make sure that your website loads and displays correctly on mobile to stand a chance of ranking on Baidu.
A Clearly Defined Keyword Strategy: Arguably the most important part of Baidu SEO
This is essential for SEO on both Google and Baidu. SEO marketers should conduct keyword research to determine which search terms will bring the greatest return. These keywords must be included in on-page website content to rank for them.
Sounds easy right?
While Baidu may lag behind Google in many areas, it has evolved to recognize “keyword stuffing,” the act of unnaturally stuffing targeted keywords throughout on-page website content. While keywords must be included, they must be included in a natural manner to have an effect on Baidu SEO.
To include these keywords in a natural way, you’ll most likely require the assistance of some native Chinese copywriters.
Submit your Sitemap to Baidu Webmaster Services: Making Baidu’s work easier
A quick way to ensure that your site gets indexed is to have your Webmaster register for Baidu’s Webmaster Services tool. Through this tool you will be able to submit your sitemap directly to Baidu to help them explore your website more deeply and properly index it.
Traversing the Minefield – How to Avoid Baidu SEO’s Most Common Mistakes
Flash: If you’re still using Flash, stop.
Baidu’s algorithm in its current state completely ignores Flash. While Google has been able to index Flash since 2008 Baidu has not added this to its indexing procedures. As Flash has also become less popular over the years it’s unlikely that support for Flash will be added in Baidu’s indexing process.
Most mobile devices also have a hard time displaying flash, which can result in further penalties due to the negative user experience this creates for mobile users.
Link Spamming: Once the golden ticket to success on Baidu
If you’ve been reading some outdated Baidu articles you might have read that Baidu favors the quantity of backlinks over quality. As I mentioned previously in this article many “black hat” methods have been used in the past to generate massive amounts of backlinks. These methods allowed companies to reach the top of search results with relative ease.
In response to this behavior Baidu announced in 2015 that they would ignore all links except those on trusted high quality websites and punish websites who were found to be using these methods. This has hurt many small businesses, who must now struggle to build these backlinks on high quality sites.
Too Many Advertisements: A bad User Experience (UX) = a bad Baidu SEO ranking
In one of Baidu’s more recent updates called “Pomegranate,” Baidu implemented a system to penalize websites with too much screen space devoted to advertisements. It also began to penalize websites that use interstitial advertisements, better known as pop-up advertisements. This is especially true for mobile, where a pop-up advertisement often can take up the entire screen.
While the punishments might not be particularly severe, many applauded this change as a method to combat the overabundance of advertisements on Chinese websites.
The good news is,
If you rely on these types of pop-up ads to convert leads or selling advertising space to generate revenue, you won’t be penalized TOO harshly by Baidu’s search algorithm.
We hope this Baidu SEO guide was helpful! If you have any questions about Baidu SEO or any other china related marketing topics please leave a comment or shoot us an email on our contact form here.