The importance of SEO in China:
SEO is important because having the best products and most compelling content on the internet won’t make any difference if no one can find them.
What is SEO?
SEO is the process of optimizing your website and its content to make it rank higher in search engine result pages (SERPs). This helps improve your site’s ranking in search results, increasing visibility and organic traffic.
The importance of SEO in China for businesses is crucial, especially in a context where online visibility is synonymous with success. With more than 1.05 billion Internet users, optimizing content for Chinese search engines, notably Baidu which takes up more than 80% of the mobile market, is essential.
In addition, in China, there is a great distrust of unknown brands. Therefore a good SEO ranking strengthens the credibility of the brand. This strategy is particularly effective with Chinese millennials, who are very connected and looking for quality products online. So, having a website is fundamental, not only for sales, but above all for building an online reputation.
What is Baidu?
Baidu, pronounced “BY-doo”, is a search engine specializing in Chinese-language search results. Created by Robin Li, now co-founder and CEO, the platform has the largest search engine market share in China. As of September 2023, Baidu accounted for nearly 68% of the Chinese market across all platforms, far ahead of its closest competitor, Bing, with just 14% . As well as an impressive market share of 81% on mobile platforms compared to barely 4% for Bing.
Baidu stands out thanks to its diverse portfolio in China, reflecting Chinese users’ unique interaction with internet services. The company manages more than 50 different products, ranging from search and mapping to a Wikipedia-style encyclopedia (Baidu Baike), antivirus services, and a cloud storage service (Baidu Wangpan). Baidu has also invested in various marketplaces, such as Baijob (job search engine), Qunar (travel search engine), and IQiyi (a major entertainment streaming platform).
Why is Baidu number one in China?
Baidu’s supremacy in China is closely linked to the Google ban and specific cultural aspects. Google is blocked in mainland China, and access attempts often redirect to Google’s servers in Hong Kong. Politically sensitive searches typically lead to error pages, while other Google services, such as Gmail, YouTube, and Maps, are completely blocked . Although some netizens use VPNs to circumvent this ban, many of these networks are now inoperable in China, leaving users without access to Google.
As a result, Baidu dominates the online search market in China. Its pre-eminence is not limited to its search technology. It is also a reflection of a deep understanding of the culture, language and preferences of the Chinese public. To succeed in this market, digital marketing strategies must go beyond traditional SEO. They must integrate cultural sensitivity, engage on social media platforms, diversify content formats, prioritize mobile optimization, and leverage user-generated content and collaborations with influencers. This holistic, culturally informed approach is crucial in order to resonate with the ever-changing digital environment of the world’s most populated country.
Differences between Google and Baidu:
To understand the differences between Google and Baidu in terms of SEO, here is a summary table of the key points:
These differences highlight the importance of adapting SEO strategies according to the targeted search engine, especially taking into account the cultural and regulatory particularities of each market.
Baidu’s own on-site SEO strategies:
At the same time, compliance with Chinese online content regulations is non-negotiable. China’s strict laws on online content censorship can have direct implications on your site’s visibility on Baidu. To navigate these regulated waters, it is imperative to avoid politically sensitive topics and consider hosting your site within the country for optimized performance and better compliance. Having the necessary licenses, such as ICP, is also a must for operating your site within the law in China.
Finally, localization is not limited to linguistic translation; it extends to culturally adapting your online content. Your site should not only speak the language of your users – in this case, impeccable simplified Chinese – but also resonate with cultural subtleties and current trends. This extends beyond text to include visual elements and web features aligned with local tastes, such as the integration of China’s predominant mobile payment platforms, Alipay and WeChat Pay.
Offsite SEO Strategies for Baidu:
Acquisition of inbound and outbound links
In Baidu SEO, acquiring quality links is a subtle maneuver that requires an understanding of search engine preferences. Baidu makes little distinction between “no follow” and “follow” tags, so it evaluates links primarily on their quantity rather than their quality according to international standards. However, links from Chinese government sites or platforms affiliated with Baidu, such as Baike and Zhidao, are considered reliable and authoritative. These links, often obtained through sharing informative and quality content, can boost a site’s ranking in Baidu’s SERPs.
Interestingly, in the Chinese digital ecosystem, the quantity of reputable seems to be just as important as quality. Therefore, link building strategies should prioritize partnerships with relevant Chinese sites, regardless of their reputation. Additionally, while building quality outbound links is less tangible in terms of SEO impact, it remains a recommended practice for improving user experience and providing value.
Alongside organic optimization, paid advertising on Baidu provides an additional avenue to increase visibility. Baidu Phoenix Nest, Baidu’s PPC platform, operates on a model where ad spend influences ad ranking. This means that companies that invest more in advertising are likely to benefit from better visibility. However, this does not downplay the importance of organic SEO, which tends to generate higher quality traffic in the long term. Paid ads can provide an initial boost in visibility, but a robust, well-established SEO strategy is crucial to maintaining and improving organic positioning.
PPC campaigns should be managed carefully, ensuring a good return on investment. Although they sometimes appear below paid ads, organic results attract an engaged audience and can lead to more meaningful conversions. It is therefore essential to find the right balance between paid advertising and organic SEO efforts to ensure a sustainable and effective online presence in the Chinese market.
The influence of social networks on SEO in China is also significant. Platforms such as WeChat, Weibo, Zhihu and Douyin play a key role in brand perception and generating natural backlinks. Being active on these platforms and adapting content to their specificities can significantly increase a brand’s visibility. On Weibo, for example, content should be viral and interactive, while on Zhihu, the focus should be on detailed and informative responses. Encouraging interactions such as comments and shares can improve brand visibility and create opportunities for natural backlinks. Collaborating with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) is also an effective way to reach a wider audience and gain credibility.