Baidu SEO – How can your business have a digital presence in China?

After reading through several guides and having had first-hand experience in Baidu SEO, the favoured search engine in China, I have compiled some useful considerations that should help you understand and improve ranking factors for the region.

baidu seo banner

Before we go into the detail of those, it is important to understand the differences between business in China and the rest of the world, as well as the differences between Baidu SEO and Google SEO. China encourage Chinese to Chinese business sales over international dealings and when I say ‘encourage,’ what I really mean is ‘enforce.’

The Great Firewall of China

I’m talking about a huge firewall know as ‘The Great Firewall of China,’ which either slows down or blocks a whole host of international websites and businesses in favour of Chinese equivalents, including the likes of major international players, Google and Facebook.

Furthermore, it might also be informative to point out that email marketing is an avenue that won’t be as effective in China, as non-China hosted platforms will either be blocked or marked as spam. Social media is another avenue that is badly affected by this huge firewall and we’ll focus more on that further down.

Baidu favours Chinese over International language sites when ranking and to make it even more difficult to appear high up or on page 1 at all, rankings are interspersed with high cost adverts, listings of Baidu’s own information bases and lower budget paid ads. It gets to the point where there is only room for around 5 or 6 organic listings on page 1. Tough competition indeed.

See the dissected screengrab below on how the results are listed, showing a typical breakdown of page 1:

baidu seo breakdown img


Even if you were fully optimised and would ordinarily appear at position 1 organically on Google, in Baidu you would appear around position 7, position 2 would be 10 etc.

As I’ve already alluded to, this is because Baidu place their own featured links above actual websites. If you’ve enjoyed page 1 rankings on other search engines, you could be looking at page 2 or 3 at best on Baidu.

Baidu give far less priority to organic listings than they do their own services, which are varied and plentiful:

  • Baidu News
  • Baidu Maps
  • Baidu Images
  • Baidu Tieba (Forum)
  • Baidu Wenku (Document sharing)
  • Baidu Baike (Wikipedia)
  • Baidu Zhidao (Q&A)
  • Baidu Open (Developer platform)
  • Baidu Jingyan (Step-by-step answers)
  • Baidu Nuomi

The list goes on, but you get the idea.

The good news is that Baidu have their own webmaster tools which can help your Baidu SEO strategy and to rank better with hints and tips for optimisation. The bad news is, if you don’t have a Chinese telephone number to receive a verification code each time you log in, you can’t access it.

So, what are your options for Chinese optimisation?

For quick results, there is no choice but to pay for the privilege of ranking high, either directly through Baidu or a native SEO company – This will not be cheap.

Organic listing will require some patience. Although you could get listed within 1-2 months, your ranking will take time but if you’re lucky enough to know someone who can translate and can regularly update the website with new content, this will likely speed up the process.

Here is a list of factors you should be aware of when attempting organic listing for Baidu in China:

  • Chinese language is a must.
  • Keyword tags are still used by Baidu.
  • Site age is a big ranking factor.
  • Site trust is another big factor so backlinks from other Chinese sites and resources are important.
  • Regular new content will increase ranking, albeit slowly.
  • Being hosted in China will speed up the site and increase its ranking.
  • Micro data is used differently compared to Google so use a Baidu plugin.
  • Product images should use alt tags. Still good practice here but Baidu is not as advanced as Google in image recognition, so alt tags have an increased relevance.
  • An ICP License* is an essential for Chinese hosting.
  • As with the website, any linked scripts will also be slowed down by the China Firewall so Javascript hosted in China is important.
  • Mobile friendly or responsive web design will help as Baidu has begun to gradually introduce ranking for mobile.
  • Baidu prefers an xml sitemap, which is a different format to Google.

How can social media help Baidu SEO?

Other than the optimisation factors described above, other avenues to create opportunities would be with social media. Most platforms are discouraged or even banned entirely in China so choice is limited – but this can play to your advantage if a strategy is built to utilise one or two platforms to their fullest, rather than juggling the management of a host of platforms – especially when they’re built for a different language entirely.

In addition to this, trust concerns seem inherent in Chinese culture and people are much less likely to interact with social platforms for the very reasons that they are popular in the West. Facebook for example favours open conversation and sharing which is an approach much less valued in China. Instead, private 1-2-1 communication is much preferred.

The 3 main platforms that have been identified as one’s which could have an impact on your online presence in the region are:

  • Weibo
  • WeChat
  • LinkedIn

Whilst there doesn’t appear to be any evidence that a social media presence will have any bearing on Baidu ranking, website visits certainly do and these platforms will help to encourage traffic, build trust and spread awareness. When used well, social platforms can become some of the top referrers to any site – Referrers that register better average time on site, more page views and increased engagement.

It goes without saying that to navigate and get the best out of these platforms, users must be able to update regularly without any language barriers.

A brief summary of optimising for Baidu

There is no getting away from the fact that Baidu will make things difficult for businesses outside of China. The Great Firewall of China, as its appropriately called will pitch lots of frustrating barriers and the monopoly on good ranking is represented clearly through a mixture of businesses paying heavily for the privilege and Baidu preferring its own services.

Very good organic ranking is represented by a 5th or 6th placed listing on page 1, within a concoction of those two things (Paid ads and Baidu services) and would require a tick alongside most of the optimisation factors listed above.

You will want to find a trusted connection who can translate effectively or perhaps a business associate who is a native speaker and include them as a fundamental asset to your Baidu SEO and general optimisation strategy. As with any SEO, ample and informative content is king and simply auto-translating copy into Chinese will result in content full of grammatical holes. If you want to rank, you must be producing content in conceivable Chinese and it needs to be on a regular basis.

Whilst not directly affecting ranking on Baidu for your website, social media will have an impact on traffic if used well, regularly and again, if using the native language across the preferred platforms.

We will be keeping a close eye on best practices for optimising for Baidu and like any SEO, things move on quickly, development of these platforms are constantly improving, and the learning curve can feel intimidating.

But you can also look at it in very simple terms: Don’t attempt to find gaps in the algorithm, don’t assume what works on Google is automatically appropriate for Baidu and optimise according to their terms, even if they seem challenging to begin with.

Happy optimising!

About the Author

Richard Hill

Richard is the S2F studio manager, providing coordinated marketing campaigns and strategy for our clients. Richard’s background is in web design and development but has experience in providing the full spectrum of marketing deliverables, from design for print and interactive presentations through to strategy workshops and detailed reporting.

Connect with Richard on LinkedIn

S2F are a strategic and creative marketing agency based in Birmingham, offering full marketing support from start to finish. Feel free to use our contact form or any of the details below to start a conversation about your marketing requirements.

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*ICP licence (abbreviation for Internet Content Provider; Chinese: ICP备案; pinyin: ICP bèi’àn; literally: “ICP registration/filing”) is a permit issued by the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology to permit China-based websites to operate in China. The ICP licence numbers for Chinese websites can often be found on the bottom of the front webpage.

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