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SEO Opportunities in the Chinese Internet

  |  September 28, 2011   |  Comments   |  

China presents unique challenges but here's how to identify and take advantage of organic search opportunities for e-commerce companies.

China represents the fastest growing e-commerce market in the world, with around 444 million Chinese speakers online and more every year; it's a market that any online business exploring the opportunities of the, foreign language Internet would be crazy to ignore.

That said, China does present some unique challenges when it comes to conducting ecommerce as a foreign company, not only in terms of language and the practicalities of service and product delivery, but also in terms of SEO. In this article, we'll look at some of those challenges, and the ways that you can identify and take advantage of SEO opportunities in the Chinese Internet.

Naturally, for all SEO efforts in China, you're going to have to tailor your strategies for the country's largest search engine Baidu, which has around 75 percent of the market share. Simply employing the same tactics as you would for Google will not work, as the two search engines have some very distinct differences.

As foreign language Internet on Search Engine Land points out, Baidu's algorithm for ranking pages was in fact patented before Google's PageRank – it's a unique system. There are certain tricks that are unique to its algorithm, as well: the general consensus seems to be that Baidu allows for greater keyword density than Google; does not give weighting to links based upon the ranking of the site that's linking to you; prefers locally hosted sites (no geolocation option); and still places a high value upon meta-data. There are too many tricks to conducting SEO for Baidu to fit here, so suffice to say that seeking the consultancy of a Baidu expert is recommended.

Finding Keyword Opportunities

Google may not be a market leader in China, but its Global Market Finder tool provides a handy starting point for researching the keyword opportunities around your product or service.

For instance, if I search for the key phrase 'translation services', Global Market Finder tells me that the machine translation of that phrase into Simplified Chinese is generating 9,900 searches monthly and comes in at a suggested PPC bid of US$1.24 in China, compared to $11.16 per bid in the U.S. Clearly, bidding on that key phrase makes a lot more economic sense in China than it does in the U.S.

While Global Market Finder's analysis is by no means definitive (based as it is solely upon PPC data and often-inaccurate machine translations of keywords) it does provide a good starting point. Your next step would be to translate your list of English (or other language) keywords into Chinese using the help of a professional translator, and then analyse the search volume and competition levels of your keywords in Baidu's analytics – you can track keyword trends on the Baidu Index and its the live keyword ranking feed (Firefox also has an extension (for Baidu stats). It's at this point of keyword research that an awareness of Chinese linguistics becomes invaluable...

Linguistic Tricks of Keyword Research and Localisation

Chinese can be a rather complicated language, with many variants. Most people will be aware of Mandarin and Cantonese as the main language variants; Mandarin is the main language in China and Taiwan, while Cantonese is spoken in Southern China, Hong Kong and Macau. However, when it comes to the written form of the language (as you'll need for keywords), there are two separate variants - Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese – in which the languages can be written.

Mandarin written in Simplified Chinese is largely used in Mainland China, but when it comes to other regions, things get a little more complicated. In Taiwan, you would write in Chinese Traditional (Mandarin), while in Hong Kong you might use either Traditional Chinese (Hong Kong), which is similar to Mandarin, or Hong Kong Colloquial, which is Cantonese in Traditional Chinese characters, and is used for informal purposes.

As you can see, it's a fairly complex system of languages that will affect which keywords you use, depending on their target region, target audience and the message being communicated - a little local linguistic knowledge can go a long way when it comes to determining your all-important Chinese keywords. But once you've done your research, you've got a great chance to tap into the opportunities of the massive and ever-growing Chinese e-commerce market.

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Christian Arno

Christian Arno, Managing Director of Lingo24, Inc.

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