Baidu is the most popular search engine in China, which makes it a very powerful channel for B2B marketers in the global market. As of November 2013, Baidu held 63.55% of the search engine market share in China. The other two big players in the market are 360 with 21.84% of the market and Sogou at 10.53%. For any B2B company with a Chinese website, optimizing for Baidu is a necessity. While it’s important to keep 360 and Sogou in mind as well, both are very new search engines that only recently emerged in the China market, so there’s not much documentation out yet on SEO guidelines.
Chinese search engine market share diagram
What makes Baidu optimization so unique is that it’s like Google 2009, but with different rules due to heavy censorship by the Chinese government. Optimizing for Baidu entails creating high quality and quantity content, fulfilling Baidu-specific technical SEO requirements, building a massive volume of links, and conforming to Chinese censorship laws. All the tactics within this article are geared towards B2B marketers, but the concepts can also be applied to the B2C sector.
- No duplicate content: Baidu penalizes websites more than most other search engines for duplicate content. Every piece of content on the site should be unique. It would also be good practice to check for other websites who have scraped your content on a regular basis and request for them to remove the scraped content. When developing the site, pay close attention to duplicate content issues with the site like canonical issues, taxonomies, etc.
- Language Usage: All content and meta tags should be written in simplified Chinese characters. Baidu prefers simplified over traditional Chinese characters, and does not like romanized characters.
- Content Definitions: In the Chinese language, there are multiple dialects and multiple meanings to a single word. One word could have 7 different meanings. All words in the content should be checked for relevance and other meanings to ensure the correct words are being used. From a marketer’s standpoint, this means you need to hire a native Chinese translator with very strong language skills and knowledge of the different dialects in China.
- Content Quantity: Baidu relies heavily upon content quality and quantity for achieving rankings. Every page on the site that you want to rank should have a minimum of 300 words of unique content.
- Title Tags: Title tags should be written the same way you would for Google, but with a different character limit. With romanized characters, the title tag buffer limit is 70 characters. A simplified Chinese character is equal to two characters, so the buffer limit is 35 characters. When constructing the tag, use a keyword-rich phrase that’s descriptive of the page’s content, followed by a branded term.
- Meta Descriptions: Unlike Google and Bing, Baidu still uses meta descriptions as a ranking factor. Make sure each meta description has one or two keyword phrases along with a branded term. Also keep in mind that the meta description buffer limit for romanized characters is 156, so the limit for simplified Chinese characters would be 78.
- Meta Keyword Tags: Meta keywords may have been phased out by most other search engines, but Baidu still uses them as a ranking factor. They should be implemented on every page on the site and should include 3-5 keyword phrases. Avoid keyword stuffing.
- Image ALT Attributes: Baidu’s algorithm for crawling images is still very basic. The ALT attribute is the most important ranking factor for images, so make sure they are used on every image.
- Heading Tags: Heading usage for Baidu is no different than any other major search engine. Make sure each page has an h1 tag that appears before any other heading tag. Also make sure your heading tags follow a hierarchy. Be sure to incorporate keywords into the heading tags, but avoid keyword stuffing.
- Blogs: Company blogs are an important element to have on a website. Blogs not only allow for more internal linking, they also show Baidu that the website is content-rich and updated frequently. Baidu also has a news feed for blogs, which can help drive in more organic traffic. Be sure to submit the blog to Baidu’s news feed.
Technical SEO Requirements
- Robots.txt: Baidu does not like websites with a robots.txt file. If one currently exists, it should be removed. Any important rules that would normally be set up in the robots.txt file should be set in the .htaccess file or IIS server settings.
- Sub-domains and Multiple Domains: Baidu dislikes websites that use sub-domains and multiple domains. Only one domain per site should be used. Other language versions of a site should be hosted off of a completely separate domain and should not be linked from the Chinese version. Sub-domains should not be used at all.
- Site Speed: Site speed is a major ranking factor for Baidu. A site that loads slowly will have a much lower chance of ranking well. This further builds the case for hosting the site on a server in China, which will be explained later in this article.
- iFrames: Do not use iFrames for any important content. Baidu is unable to spider any element of a page within an iFrame.
Link Building Requirements
- Anchor Text: Baidu still places a lot of weight on keyword usage in anchor text. All links within the internal linking structure should contain keyword-optimized anchor text. When building links from external sites, try to optimize the anchor text as often as possible.
- Link Building: One of the biggest areas where Baidu has not developed their algorithm is inbound link building. They place a bigger emphasis on quantity of links than quality. Building lower quality links is still an acceptable practice. With that in mind, you’ll still need to consider that what works today may not work a year from now (and also may not work for 360 or Sogou). Build high quality links whenever possible, and avoid any risky link building schemes. Directory submissions and content curation are safer tactics for building a high quantity of links. All link building activities should target websites on a .cn domain that uses simplified Chinese characters.
Chinese Law Requirements
- Physical Address: A legitimate physical address in China should be included somewhere on the website to establish that the website is China-based.
- Domain Types: Baidu prefers websites with the following domain types: .cn, .com and .net. Websites using a .cn domain are generally given preference over all other domain types.
- Web Hosting: Aside from preferring Chinese domains, Baidu also prefers websites to be hosted in China. This will also help improve page load speed.
- Internet Content Publishing License: In China, a special license is required by the Chinese government to have any chance of achieving high rankings in Baidu. Obtaining an ICP License through the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology will greatly improve organic search rankings.
- Censorship: The Chinese government censors a lot of Internet content from its citizens, including most Google services and major social networks. If a piece of content contains any words blacklisted by the Chinese government, Baidu will de-index the page, or the site as a whole. Anything on this list of words blacklisted by the Chinese government should not be used anywhere on the website (variations of these words should not be used, either). If your site allows for user-generated content, be sure to put in measures to reject any content submitted with these words.
Tools for Baidu
- Submit Website: Since Baidu doesn’t have any webmaster tools or sitemap submission feature, the website should be re-submitted every time major changes are made to the website. The website submission tool for Baidu can be found here.
- Keyword Research: When optimizing for Baidu, keyword research should be done for Baidu. People in China will have different search habits than people in other countries. This keyword traffic estimator tool can be used for Baidu keyword research.