As of June 2017, there were 751 million internet users in China and 81.1 percent were search engine users. As one of the most important digital marketing practices, search engine optimization is essential to a B2B company’s success in China’s online marketplace.
Baidu continues to dominate the search engine space in China and as such, companies need to know the best practices of Baidu SEO. Although Baidu and Google share many similarities with SEO, there are some fundamental differences that need to be considered when you optimize your Chinese website.
In this post, I will introduce seven items that B2B marketers should pay attention to when practicing Baidu SEO. Let’s dive in:
1. Host Your Site in China
As an international digital marketing agency, we often work with US companies who want to enter China via syndicated Chinese websites. One of the most frequent questions we’re asked is: Why do we need to host in China? There are two key reasons:
First, the Great Firewall of China has a significant impact on the Chinese user experience of your site. A study from CDNetworks shows that the average loading time of international sites is 33 seconds. In our own experiences with clients, loading time for sites not hosted in China ranges from 10 to 40 seconds.
Obviously, no one will have the time (or patience) to wait that long for a website to load. Users will close your site while it’s still loading.
Second, like other search engines, website speed is critical to Baidu. A slow loading website is difficult to crawl and index and may be identified as an unstable site by Baidu.
To host in China, you need to work with your site developers closely for creative options. Some of our clients opted to set up a brand new site hosted in China; others chose a content delivery network (CDN) to boost site speed; and some chose to use a mirror site on the China server, but only serve priority pages to the Chinese audience. You need to evaluate the costs and benefits of each option to make the judgment for your business.
2. Apply for an ICP License
Applying for an ICP (Internet Content Provider) licence is a must-do for any site hosted and operated in China. An ICP is issued by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and allows a website to be hosted on a mainland Chinese server and to publish content. It needs to be clearly displayed on your website, typically in the footer.
Baidu has never officially claimed that an ICP is a factor for ranking. However, a website with ICP establishes credibility with Baidu and will be given a better visibility than those without it. If you take a closer look at the websites that rank on the first page of a Baidu SERP, you will find almost every site has an ICP license. Even Baidu puts the ICP license at the footer area.
3. Create Relevant and Unique Content
Content is the core of Baidu SEO. Baidu prefers indexing sites in simplified Chinese, so if you want to target mainland China, it’s best to carefully translate your content into simplified Chinese. A professional translator is needed, but that’s not enough. You also need some local marketing experts who know your industry to make sure your content and website messaging aligns with your brand image and target audience.
Keyword research should guide your SEO and content marketing efforts. In addition to understanding the China market and your potential audience, SEO tools can help with this task. You can start with any one of the keyword research tools found in my previous post.
Baidu values unique and updated content, just like Google. Developing a comprehensive content calendar will help B2B marketers have a bigger picture of what content has been produced and what is still needed.
4. Use META Data
Baidu’s algorithm give more weight to the meta-tags compared to Google. Important meta data includes:
Title Tag: Similar to Google SEO, incorporate the most important keywords into the title tags, but write it in a natural way. A good title is roughly 30 Chinese characters.
Meta Description: Baidu ranks sites with meta descriptions higher than those that overlook it. A well-written meta description is around 70-80 Chinese characters.
H Tags: Make sure you have at least one H1 tag on every page of your site, and use H2 and H3 tags to break down the pages with relevant keywords and content.
5. Build Links
Digital marketers have probably heard the phrase “content is the king and linking is the queen” and it’s no different for Baidu SEO. However, building links on Baidu is very different from Google.
First, you need to know that many sites will not provide external links to you, especially well-known news and forum sites. It is almost impossible to acquire links from news sites via PR efforts like you do in the US.
Furthermore, B2B marketers cannot post any content with links in major forums either, even if they are relevant links. Most likely, your original post or comments will be reviewed after publication. After a couple of hours, you will find that your links are deleted — or, even worse, your account blocked. Forum managers respond to filter out advertisements that they think have a negative influence on user experience.
Second, you may also see many Baidu SEO guides share that Baidu products are good for link buildings, such as Baidu Baike (similar to Wikipedia), Baidu Zhidao (similar to Quora), Baidu Tieba (forum). It is true that links on these platforms are good for Baidu SEO. However, it is very difficult to acquire a link via these channels. Baidu Baike and Zhidao no longer allow links to be posted, while Baidu Baike is very strict with new accounts and new content.
So, where should B2B marketers focus their link building efforts? Try products from other search engines, such as Sogou Baike, 360 Baike, and HuDong Baike. These sites have high domain authority on Baidu and are less strict on posted content.
Third, and this is a key difference from Google, Baidu accepts a link that cannot be clicked. Baidu Zhanzhang (Baidu’s webmaster tools) counts plain text links as inbound links, which can help with keyword ranking. For example, you can try to post text links even if clickable links are prohibited on a forum or commenting platform.
Finally, Baidu’s algorithm puts more weight on the quantity of links, rather than quality (another departure from Google). Identifying relevant forums and blogging platforms is very helpful for marketers because they could build links there via content syndication efforts.
6. Pay Attention to Technical Issues
Baidu Webmaster Tools: Utilize Baidu webmaster tool to gather basic statistics, upload the most updated sitemap, identify/fix broken links or site problems, and audit site security or URL functionality.
7. Be Patient and Proactive
Unlike Google, Baidu indexes a new site very slowly. The Baidu spider doesn’t crawl a new site very often, especially if there are only a few external links on that site. Besides the long crawling process, you still need to wait for the site to pass an examination period by Baidu, which can be as short as month or more than half a year. Being patient is the key during this waiting period.
While you are waiting for the site to be indexed, you need to proactively generate new content on the site and creatively build internal and external links. Moreover, you can send messages to the Baidu Webmaster Feedback center to request feedback from Baidu staff regarding your site’s status.
Chinese online space is unique and fascinating to many foreign B2B marketers. Practicing Baidu SEO in China needs to align to the Chinese government regulations, Baidu guides, and digital marketing best practices. And, perhaps most importantly, it requires B2B marketers to be more patient, creative, and proactive.
As we continue to explore creative ways to improve and implement Baidu SEO, we welcome you to share your thoughts and experience with us as comments below or contact us directly.