As of 2016, China has the largest number of Internet consumers, with a total of 721 million users. This means that almost one-quarter of the world’s Internet users are based in China.
While Google is the king of search engine in the US and many other countries, it is almost non-existent in China, where if you want to search for something on Google, check your Gmail, or use any other Google services that are user-content centric, you might encounter some difficulties and would only succeed if you have a VPN.
In China, Baidu (百度) is undisputedly the leader in China’s search world. Ranking well on Google, Bing or Yahoo, or other Western-based search engines does not mean that you will be searchable on Baidu, its number 1 search engine.
But both Google and Baidu share some similarities. Both monetizes through paid advertising platforms, both have their own proprietary search algorithms, both have their own Webmaster and keyword analysis tools and both uses geo-targeting to generate more relevant results for users.
Baidu offers almost everything that Google, Yahoo or for that matter, what the other Internet content sites have, such as Baidu Knows or Baidu Zhidao (similar to Yahoo Answers), Baidu Maps (similar to Google Maps), Baidu Shopping (similar to Google Shopping), Baidu Baike (similar to Wikipedia), and more.
Truth be told, you can generally apply to Baidu SEO (百度搜索引擎优化) most of the SEO techniques and principles across the different search engines like Google, Bing or Yahoo. For instance, you should still insert important keywords into your content and make sure your articles are useful and original to the Chinese market.
Though there are similarities as such, there are also differences in how Baidu works from the rest of the search engines, differences that are stark enough to warrant you using a company specialising in Chinese marketing services that can help you fully optimize for Baidu SEO so that you can rank high on Baidu’s search engine ranking pages (SERP).
Baidu SEO and Google SEO: What Are the Differences?
Google is focused on the worldwide market, whereas Baidu has mainly a one-country focus – China, with a search engine market share of more than 70% in China (StatCounter, April 2017). In contrast, Google only has a 1.84% in the same period.
And if you don’t already know, Baidu is primarily a Chinese search engine and its search algorithms are optimized to the needs of local Chinese users, and hence it ranks mostly Chinese sites based on their Mandarin Chinese content. Google, on the other hand, puts English sites as its priority and seems to have struggled momentarily when catering to the needs of the local Chinese in China before its exit in 2010.
In some cases, when you are developing content for your Chinese site, it must be noted that Chinese characters can actually have multiple meanings and there are no spaces in between words like how English sentences or words are structured.
Also, while Baidu will still index sites with traditional Chinese characters, it favours simplified Chinese characters so a site that has all its meta data, content and ads written in simplified Chinese will almost alway rank higher on Baidu than a similar site written in traditional Chinese or other languages. It is absolutely vital to avoid using automated translation services or inhouse Chinese interns who are not good with the primary language you want to translate from, as they could do more harm than good to your site.
(3) Better Rankings for Its Own Products
While Google displays impartially results worldwide, Baidu also tend to rank its own Chinese sites first, giving high rankings for Baidu Knows, Baidu Library, Baidu Wiki, etc. Such an action would probably lead to problems with competition laws in the EU, but China works on its own laws.
But some critics have said that this is not true. Except for the case of Baidu Knows, which works like Wikipedia in the Western world and ranks well in almost every instance, it is not true that the other Baidu products rank better than similar products.
Well, what better way to know than to do a test search? We used the Chinese search term “雪糕制造商” (ice cream manufacturer) to search on both Google and Baidu. On Google, all sorts of results appear, from the Hong Kong Government Food & Environmental Safety agency in the first organic position, e-books on ice cream manufacturing on Google Books to a Baidu Baike result of Wall’s ice cream in the last organic position. For Baidu, the same search term “雪糕制造商” gives me Baidu Baike in 2nd position and Baidu Wenku in the 8th position, both organic results.
Another search using the Chinese search term “游乐场” (amusement parks) on both search engines yields a series of amusement park images in Google and Baidu Baike in the first organic position, Wikipedia 2nd as well as results from sites such as Zhihu, YouTube and Zaobao. On Baidu, it gives me Baidu images of amusement parks, Baidu Baike, Baidu maps and another Baidu blog results.
These findings show that there is indeed a certain degree of truth in saying that Baidu does favours its own products for search engine rankings.
Google doesn’t actually censors anything on the world wide web, except for promoting content that’s illegal, for instance. But for Baidu, it is different. Firstly, it works closely with the Chinese government, respects their censorship rules and only indexes sites that meet the stringent criteria of the government. It regularly censors content such as pornography, gambling and articles that are contrary to what the Chinese government agrees with.
Hence, if you have a Chinese website hosted in China, you need to avoid having these kinds of content and also avoid using prohibited terms and forbidden Chinese characters.
It is interesting to also note that due to its close connection with the Chinese government, Baidu also has unique platforms such as a missing person search and patent search functions, all of which are geared towards Chinese laws.
(5) Priority for Chinese Websites Hosted in China or Hong Kong
According to the Chinese digital marketers that I talked to, Baidu SEO gives priority to Chinese websites hosted in China, which is different from Google which doesn’t really make a difference where you host your site – content is more important to them.
Hosting your website in China will supposedly make it faster and give you a huge advantage in having it show up in Baidu’s SERP. However, many foreign digital marketers are disputing this and saying that it does not really make a difference. For me, I would think that the Chinese would be the ones that really know their products well.
A disadvantage to hosting in China, however, is that accessing your website from outside China can be slow. One option is to host your website in Hong Kong, Taiwan or Macau, where web hosts are optimised for both Chinese and international traffic.
(6) Internet Content Provider (ICP) License
Anyone can purchase a domain such as .com, .net, .co and so on, set up a website and get it indexed on Google. For China’s domain extension .cn, however, although you can purchase it on selected sites, you need to get an Internet Content Provider (ICP) license from the Chinese government in order to activate it, and in order to do that, you need to have a registered business with either a Chinese business license or a recognised foreign business license. China’s .cn extension are deemed to be more favourable for Baidu SEO, though there are experts who said that this does not matter, and ranking entirely depends on your content and marketing too, which I tend to agree.
Also note that for your site to be able to run paid ads on Baidu, you also need an ICP license from the Chinese government.
(7) Site Layouts
Baidu has a tendency to mix their paid and organic search results, and not put it neatly on top or below like what Google does. Its SERP also allows brands to pay to be displayed on the very top – they called it the ‘Baidu Brand Zone’, monthly service for businesses to dominate the search engine results. This is much more expensive as it allows brands to overtake the standard Baidu pay-per-click campaigns. Some notable Brand Zone clients included bigger companies such as Apple, BMW, Nike, Rolex and British Airways.
For Baidu, paid ads are more important, and sometimes paid listings can overtake the entire SERP page with almost no organic results for some highly profitable keywords. However, according to Search Engine Land, Baidu has reduced the number of sponsored results in the main column of their SERP from as many as 10 to no more than 5.
Chinese sites are also somewhat cluttered looking, with more links than their Western counterparts, which tend to be clean and simple.
(8) Meta Description, Meta Tags & Meta Keywords
In general, SEO ranking factors such as information architecture, canonical URLs, meta descriptions, meta tags and meta keywords are important to both search engines. But Google has been taking such factors less and less seriously in recent years after their Panda and Penguin updates, placing more emphasis on semantic search and content quality and relevance.
Baidu, on the other hand, still gives some importance to them because it is still not as advanced as Google. So getting your site fully optimized for your Chinese website is probably a good idea. Implement your meta keywords on every page and also include a couple of key phrases of your core products or services. Care should still be taken to ensure that there is no keyword stuffing. Two to 3 years ago however, some Chinese SEO experts have said that Baidu no longer checks meta keywords, though we are not sure how true is this, yet. So it might be better to still fully optimize your Chinese site for metadata.
Baidu’s meta descriptions should not be more than 78 characters (a good guide is between 60 to 80 characters), and all metadata should be in simplified Chinese characters. As of 2017, even though your meta snippets can be longer, Google may or may not show 320 characters and may not even show your meta descriptions.
(9) Social Links
Baidu SEO does not take into account social signals or links, except its own forums, while Google takes almost all social media signals and links into consideration.
But it’s still important for you to use Chinese social sharing plugins on your Chinese sites to enable your users to share your content if they want to.
(10) Duplicate Content
Google penalises other sites that scrape your content, and usually is smart enough to give credit to the source. Baidu, however, is still not as sophisticated in its detection of duplicate content and is hence less stringent on such a practice. But it will still penalize sites with huge amounts of duplicate content. So if you see your content appearing on another site, it is vital to address the problem immediately.
(11) Mobile Emphasis
The internet was slow in entering China and many users did not use the desktop computer but proceed to buy a smartphone instead for internet search and use. Hence, in China, the smartphone is most Chinese’ only channel to the online or Internet world.
Due to this fact, mobile responsiveness of your website is a very important factor for Baidu SEO, who has their own form of what Google has, the AMP, accelerated mobile pages but they called it MIP, or Mobile Instant Pages. Moving forward, mobile responsiveness and your site’s loading speed will be much more crucial to ranking on Baidu, so you might want to make this a priority. Besides MIP, 3 out of 4 Baidu algorithm updates are targeted at mobile pages, so you can tell the Chinese search engine’s emphasis on mobile.
Recently, Baidu had also partnered with various mobile manufacturers to build its own mobile search apps to integrate Baidu’s search into mobile phones.
(12) Search Methods
Due to the complexities when searching using Chinese characters, Chinese users tend to like choosing options from a list in Baidu and also clicking on links from there. This is also slightly different from Google users, who tend to type in words to do searches. So Baidu SEO experts out there need to take note of this difference in user patterns.
(13) Link Building
Google and Baidu both takes into account the quality and quantity of your backlinks or external links when checking your site’s offpage SEO. What’s different is that while Google weights the relevance between your links and content, Baidu checks the relevance plus the quantity and variety. Besides placing an emphasis on Chinese backlinks, it also heavily uses anchor text as a ranking factor so it’s important that besides including keyword-rich anchor text randomly, do remember to vary your anchor texts so as not to incur any suspicion of mass spammy link-building activities. Check out Baidu’s very own ‘Green Radish’ update, much like Google’s Penguin update that targets spammy link building practices.
That said, it will definitely be very helpful for your Baidu SEO if you can establish a good relationship with the local media or industry veterans, and get yourself or your business listed on their Chinese portals.
According to our observations too, Google does not take into account a link’s depth when ranking your pages, so when there are many other lower level directory pages with the same keyword, it does not care and will just go ahead to rank any lower level page higher than the rest of the pages if it finds that it has better ranking factors.
Baidu, however, does this differently – it clearly prefers higher level pages, especially those with lots of content and will rank them first.
(14) Time Taken To Rank
Google has a good record when it comes to indexing new websites or pages, and this is especially so if your site has some high quality links pointing to it. However, it is not so easy to rank high on Google SERPs for new sites.
Baidu, on the other hand, needs a longer time to check your web content, due to the stringent control on web content in China and the government’s regulations. We call this their ‘observation time frame’, and it is really sometimes pretty long. However, once Baidu approves your website, it is easy to get your site ranking high on their SERP once it sees that you have good content and some quality backlinks.
However, according to Search Engine Land, Baidu had launched Spider 3.0 in early 2016, which dramatically increased the speed of URL discovery and indexing and hence crawl speed jumped by 80%. Baidu is said to now be able to handle indexing for trillions of web pages in real time.
(15) Content Preferences
Some digital marketers have said that Google has an emphasis on content such as technology while Baidu prefers content on travel and tourism, lifestyle, entertainment, music and games. We’re not working for either companies, so we really can’t pinpoint on this one, thought we would like to highlight that besides your content, other SEO factors such as web host, page speed, meta tags, etc. matter too when it comes to ranking on both search engines.
(16) Keyword Density
For Baidu, though this has not been tested, it has been said that higher keyword density really helps in ranking well on their SERP page. Sometimes, Baidu still has trouble differentiating between the meaning of sentences, and thus gives higher preferences to sites with higher keyword density.
Google, as we all know, penalises sites which have more than a normal percentage of keywords.
Both Google and Baidu have set a secure site, or https as a criteria for ranking well on their search engines. This is especially true for mobile security, which Baidu has placed a strong emphasis on. Google is much slower when it comes to mobile security, but it is definitely placing more importance on it.
(18) Sub Domains
Google does not exactly differentiates between main or sub domains, and accordingly gives SEO credits to them if they have good content and are properly optimized for their search engines.
Differentiating between main and sub domains, however, is something that Baidu still struggles with, and it still puts more weightage on the main homepage domain. So if it’s something important that you want to bring across to your audience, it is recommended that you avoid using sub domains.
(19) Monetization Methods
Both Google and Baidu’s main method of monetization is online advertising. According to Bloomberg, Google’s advertising revenue makes up 88% of its total revenue, but it has more diversification, with the remaining coming from its Android platform, YouTube and other related services, while Baidu’s online marketing and ads makes up 99.7% of its revenues.
(20) Updates to Websites
Finally, Google is said to be quite good at tracking updates, 301 redirects etc. from websites, but according to this article by Marcus Pentzek, Baidu can be very slow to interpret 301 redirects after a webmaster has adjusted the URLs or when migrating a domain, often taking up to a few months before the search engine notices the changes and reflects them in the SERP.
Baidu SEO: What’s Next?
Despite their similarities, Baidu and Google are two completely different search engines as you have seen above. In order to have an edge in Baidu’s SERP, businesses need a unique marketing strategy that is vastly different from what you have been doing for the Western world, and due to the complex intricacies of China and its various laws and regulations, it is only with the help of an experienced China-focused marketing agency that you can get the proper guidance and assistance to break into this market.
And we can help with Baidu SEO or any other Chinese marketing services. Just fill in the enquiry form below and we will give you a call back.