What SEOs Need To Know About China’s Golden Shield Project

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Doing SEO in China is much different from anywhere else in the world. One of the biggest reasons for this is due to the Golden Shield Project, also known as The Great Firewall of China.

This is the largest and most sophisticated firewall in the world, which affects anyone accessing the internet in mainland China.

When the Chinese government decided to open up internet access to its citizens, it sought a way to protect people from seeing certain pieces of content like pornography, gun sales sites and political groups. The answer was to implement the Golden Shield Project.

With the explosion of the middle class in China and rapidly growing internet access penetration, China now has a huge internet market for companies around the world to tap into. However, the search landscape is much different.

Baidu, Qihoo 360 and Sogou are king when it comes to China’s search engine market share. These are companies that tapped into a rapidly growing market at the right time, and succeeded by conforming to the laws administered by China’s Ministry of Public Safety.

china search engine market share july 2014

Internet content has to jump through a series of hoops before it is delivered to users, which is part of the reason why it is often difficult to achieve good page load times in China. Content has to go through a series of sniffers in the firewall before it is served up.

4 Primary Methods of Filtering

There are four primary ways that content is filtered in China.

1. DNS Block

When the searcher enters a URL into her or his browser, the DNS looks up the IP address. If the IP address is on the blocked list, the DNS will be instructed to give back no address. A DNS block is the harshest form of filtering by the firewall.

China employs tens of thousands of people that serve as the internet police. If a site frequently violates the internet content laws, the internet police will take action on the company. DNS blocking is one of the primary actions they take.

Others could include penalizing the business, requesting that certain pieces of content are removed, or possibly taking legal action. A couple examples of sites that have a DNS block placed on them include Facebook and Twitter.

2. Connection Phasing

This form of filtering is very similar to DNS blocking, except instead of delivering no address, the servers will interrupt the request and a “connection has been reset” message will be returned to the user.

3. URL Keyword Blocking

URL blocking is one of the simplest forms of filtering content. If a URL contains any forbidden keywords in it, the connection will also be reset for that page.

4. Page Content Scanning

Once a user reaches the site they requested, China’s surveillance system checks the content to ensure it is acceptable. If a page contains any undesirable content, either that page or the entire site may experience a break in connection between users and the page requested. This break in connection can happen anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours.

If users frequently try accessing illegal content, their internet activity may be monitored and reported by the internet police.

How To Succeed In Chinese SEO

This may all sound like a big hassle that will make optimizing sites for Baidu, 360 and Sogou difficult, but it’s actually pretty simple. Here’s a few tips and some requirements you’ll need to rank and have your content accessible in the China.

  1. Have a physical address and presence for the business in mainland China
  2. Treat your Chinese site as a completely separate entity from any other company sites
  3. Obtain an Internet Content Publishers License
  4. Host your website in mainland China
  5. Don’t publish any questionable content
  6. Build links from sites in China
  7. Get a .com or .cn domain
  8. If you have user-generated content, put a filtration tool in place that controls what users can and cannot publish
  9. All content and meta data should be in Simplified Chinese language
  10. Get social on China’s social networks like RenRen, Kaixin and Sina Weibo
  11. Do a paid search campaign for Baidu, 360 and Sogou
  12. Add Baidu share icons to your site

Optimizing Your Site For China

There are several other technical SEO factors that go into optimizing a site in China, but these are the high-level requirements that you should do if you want to see any kind of return on investment. China’s online market is booming right now, so take advantage of it and leverage your Asia investments to work for you in the search realm.

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