While Google rules the internet here in the wild west, the east is governed by a different beast. Of course, I’m talking about the exclusively Chinese search engine Baidu, China’s leading search engine and the dictator of most of its internet traffic. If you’re not in “tech circles” you may not know Baidu, but when it’s commanding almost 70% of Chinese search traffic, it’s hard to ignore it once you do. If your personal or business interests reach internationally you may want to start running some digital marketing to reach China’s 800 million internet users. Unfortunately, you can’t just jump over to “Google China” if you feel like it. Probably because it’s blocked in China. Actually, that’s exactly why. And getting your website to rank using Baidu SEO tactics is a whole new challenge.
When it comes to ranking your website in western countries like Australia and America, Google makes it fairly clear what you have to do, with strict guidelines and thorough documentation from Google and the myriad SEOs out there trying to rank their websites better than the rest.
In comparison, Baidu’s regulations are similar, yet operate differently to accommodate for an exclusively Chinese audience. Many current SEO strategies, and some older ones, are very popular among Chinese SEOs, including most kinds of on-page SEO, link outreach, link spam, content creation and mobile search optimisation. The difference lies in the fact that you have to engage in these SEO activities the Chinese way, using their services and channels to get the job done.
If you’re looking to start doing Chinese SEO for your website, there are some major things you need to consider beforehand. I’ve summed it all up into four main sections of SEO, the biggest factors affecting ranking on Baidu.
1. Hosting and Backend Optimisation
While most countries can access anything on the internet from wherever they are, China is a little more limited. With the “Great Firewall of China” in place to censor content, the internet is much smaller for people living there. It also means that every site hosted outside of China takes a lot longer to load, as it has to go through this firewall first. Page load speed is still an important ranking factor, along with mobile optimisation, and this page load speed handicap can make it very hard for websites hosted internationally to rank well, especially if they have a lot of Chinese competition. Chinese hosted sites also get preferential treatment from Baidu’s algorithms, as hosting is a good indicator that the website is specifically for a Chinese audience.
The first thing you need to consider if you’re going to be branching into China is website hosting, and whether or not you need and can afford to host a Chinese version of your website in china itself. Hosting a website in China can be a lot more complicated than hosting in other countries. You’ll need an Internet Content Provider (ICP) license from the government before you can even consider hosting, which requires you to have a physical Chinese address, phone number etc, for approval. Alternatively, if setting up hosting in China proves too difficult, opting to host in a nearby country such as Hong Kong, Singapore or Japan can help you decrease load times without having to get licensing.
It may also help to have a .cn website domain (China’s domain code), as it’s another indicator that your website is for a Chinese audience. Thankfully this is the easy part, as .cn domains are cheaper and easier to get a hold of (no local business registration needed).
Things to Avoid for SEO in China
Most of the other ranking factors for on-page, including internal linking and mobile optimisation are basically the same as Google, with the exception of a few things. When building your website for China, avoid doing these things at all costs:
- Links to firewall blocked sites: If your site has links to websites that are blocked in China, such as Facebook, Google, Twitter or any other blocked site, it can cause huge problems. Besides being banned, they will be hard for Baidu’s crawlers to read and you may get penalised for them. If you want social sharing, try using Chinese social networks and plugins like Baidu Share.
Hot Tip: The recommended meta title length for Baidu SEO is 60 English characters/30 Chinese characters, and 220 English characters/110 Chinese characters for the meta description.
2. Chinese Keyword Research
Once you’ve got the actual website side of things sorted, you’re going to want to fill it with keywords to get ranking! I know, I know, it’s not quite that easy. But it’s not that much harder than ranking in Australia, America or wherever else you are. Starting with the basics, your keyword, competitor and audience research are all going to be the same as usual, besides the fact that you’ll need to use Chinese keyword research tools, of course.
Baidu has inbuilt tools for keyword research, including Baidu Index (Baidu’s google trends equivalent), Baidu Webmaster Tools and Baidu Keyword Planner. While they’re fairly clunky to use, require a Chinese Business Registration to access, and are in Chinese, they can get you some good data and ideas for keyword planning. Another great tool is Aizhan Keyword Tool, which works better than some of Baidu’s tool. While it doesn’t require a Chinese business registration, it is also in Chinese.
If attempting to translate all your keywords doesn’t sound like fun, Dragonmetrics have built programs specifically for Baidu SEO and Chinese SEO, offering tools for keyword research, site audits, backlink analysis and Baidu competitor research. Otherwise you’ll have to hire a native Chinese speaker to do your keyword research, as trying to use Google translate will NOT work, due to the nuances of the language.
Long-Tail Keywords are Essential for Baidu SEO
Long-tail keywords are going to be the prime parts of your keyword research. They’re super important for Baidu SEO, as ranking for the biggest short tail keywords can be incredibly difficult.
Due to the way the Baidu SERP is set up, a lot of the screen space can end up covered in featured snippets and ads. So much so in fact that while you could be ranking position 4 organically for a keyword, you’ll still end up on page two. When targeting long-tail keywords you won’t run into this problem, as long-tail keywords don’t often have featured snippets, and there are fewer people competing for ad space. With a lot of long-tail keywords under your belt you can have a huge, highly targeted reach without all the effort required to rank for the big keywords.
3. Link Building
If you’ve ever tried to run a link building campaign, you can basically expect the same thing from Baidu, with a few curveballs thrown in the mix. To start off, link spam is super popular in China. Baidu isn’t as good as Google at dealing with spam links, and success in the past of black hat link building tactics has led to other Baidu SEOs adopting the same techniques. The more spam there is, the more people spam. This led to Baidu announcing in 2015 that they would be only trusting backlinks from a very select group of high-authority sites. Unfortunately, this didn’t really stop anyone, and link spam is just as prevalent as ever. The only change is that backlinks from these sites are far, far more valuable than others. While this whole saga has made creating high-quality backlinks difficult, it’s not impossible, and with a bit of effort and dedication you can leap ahead of the competition.
The best way to build a great Chinese backlink profile is by growing relationships through outreach. By looking at search rankings and checking your competitor’s backlinks you can find sites that are linking to content like yours.
A. How to Find Good Backlink Prospects
When you start looking for backlink prospects, you’ll ideally want sites that are:
- In your industry
- Ranking well for your targeted keywords
- Linking to your competitor’s sites
- Popular on social media
- Created and hosted in China
If you can tick all these boxes then you’ve just found yourself a potential link source! Now, here comes the fun part. Just like you would normally, reaching out to people and asking them to link to your site is the preferred method of getting backlinks, but it’s always better to “wine and dine” before you start asking for favours. Most of these high authority sites value relationships, as anything outside of that could just be another spam link practice. You need to reach out to these people and build trust before you mention ANYTHING to do with SEO. Focus on building a long-term relationship first, and then moving on to asking for links
b. How to Ask for Backlinks
Typically, the best way to contact people in China is through instant messaging or social media platforms such as WeChat and QQ, with email following a close second. A general rule of thumb is the bigger the business, the more likely they are to prefer email; however, some website will list their preferred method of contact. Phone numbers can also be good for contacting smaller, local businesses and websites.
When you’re ready to reach out, the rules are fairly similar to reaching out to any western website. Be personal, but not informal, use their name, and make sure your message aligns with and represents your brand image. It’s important to be open and honest. It’s what relationships are built on after all.
Once you’ve made a friend, built a relationship and you’re ready to start asking for backlinks, it’s figure out how you’re going to ask for that all-important link. The typical thing to do is to ask for a link back to the content on your website, rather than an opportunity to post on their website as many would do usually. However, this all depends on the nature of the relationship, what your prospect’s site is like, and what they usually do when it comes to backlinking. Asking to guest post may be perfectly acceptable, but play it by ear.
Regardless of whether you are guest posting or not, you’re going to need some high-quality content on your website. It’s our third essential Baidu ranking factor.
4. Content Creation for a New Audience
Content creation for Baidu SEO is extremely important. It’s a major ranking factor, and one of those things you’re going to have to invest heavily if you want to rank well. If you’ve had a look at some of your Chinese competitors already, you might have seen just how much content the biggest players pump out. Most of them upload new content every single day! Fresh content has a huge effect on Baidu rankings to the point where you should be publishing one 200-600 character piece of original content every day if you want to stay competitive. For those of you that write content for SEO, that’s just long enough for Baidu’s spiders to work out what you’re saying, and not so long that people get bored.
Remember These Things for Chinese SEO Content
While content creation itself is basically the same as usual, there’s a couple of things you need to keep in mind when content marketing in China.
a. Your content has to be written in Chinese
This might be pretty obvious, but Chinese people read in Chinese far more than English, and Baidu knows this. Unfortunately, just running your existing content through Google Translate isn’t going to cut it. There’s so much nuance in the Chinese language, even simplified Chinese, that if you want to have any success in content marketing, you’re going to need to do it properly. Branching out into China will mean putting together a Chinese content marketing team, one that can read, write and market in Chinese.
There are a few options when it comes to Chinese content creation. You can opt to write it in-house and have professional translators get it ready for Baidu SEO (not recommended if you want to do things properly), hire in-house Chinese content creators yourself or hire freelance writers to create content for you. There are also specialised agencies that will create, optimise and publish content for you, but these are quite expensive and more long term than the other options.
b. Your content will get stolen
While Baidu is known for its ability to understand Chinese better than its competitors, it still struggles a lot when trying to understand full pages of content. Which makes it super easy for people to simply copy and paste your content to their site and take all the credit for it! Content that is stolen and changed slightly often outranks the original as well due to other spammy black hat SEO. If you’re going to create high-quality content for your website (which you will), you’ll need to keep one eye open while you sleep to catch those content thieves in the act.
One of the best ways to stop content theft, or at least get the credit for your content, is to index your content directly with Baidu as soon as you publish it, just as you would with Google. That way Baidu knows your content was the first version available, instead of any content that’s been copied.
As for the rest of content creation, simply create it as you would normally. Conduct content research, know the audience you’re writing for, make it long enough and unique, and fill it with enough keywords that Baidu knows what it’s about. Easy!
5. Where to Next?
While this information barely scratches the surface when it comes to Baidu SEO, it will hopefully give you the confidence to get out there and give it a shot. It won’t be easy, and will definitely take time, but is well worth the investment. If you have any successful (or not-so-successful) encounters with the things I’ve talked about, I’d love to hear your experiences!
For more great articles, tutorials and guides like this, check out the rest of the Xugar blog about e-commerce web design!