In the West, Google is so pervasive that the company name has passed into use as a verb. It's certainly the single most widely used search engine worldwide and it remains the most important to focus on in most local and all truly global SEO campaigns.
There are certain markets, however, where Google is trumped by local competitors. In South Korea, it's Naver while Yandex has the greatest market share in Russia. These are names that might not mean much outside their own respective spheres of influence but they're hugely important within them and local SEO campaigns should always take account of which search engine is dominant.
In the vast emerging market of China, Baidu is the king of the search engines. The most recent report published by the CNNIC (China Internet Network Information Center) reported that, as of June 2010, China could boast 420 million "net citizens." And, with Baidu claiming a reported market share of up to a whopping 82 percent, its strategic importance should be clear to anyone wishing to establish and maintain a visible web presence within the emerging economic powerhouse that is China.
Add the fact that the rules that work well for a Google-centric SEO campaign don't necessarily translate so well to Baidu and the importance of familiarizing yourself with the way Baidu operates should also be apparent.
Content and Censorship
As you're probably already aware, the Chinese state authorities maintain a far tighter grip on what can and can't be accessed on the net than most of us are used to. Baidu follows the censorship guidelines set down by the government and, whatever your personal or political views on the subject, your site will have to toe the line if you want to be ranked (or, indeed, if you don't want to see your pages blocked entirely).
Use the Right Language
It seems pretty obvious to state that your localized site should be translated in its entirety but, with only a tiny percentage of searches being conducted in English compared to most other markets (where multilingual users will often use a mixture of native language and English searches), this really is imperative.
Use simplified rather than traditional Chinese for your content, as this is the preferred format for both Baidu and the majority of Chinese Internet users. Automatic translation programs can be a godsend for those with limited resources but even the best machine translation is prone to contextual errors. Native speaking translators are a far better option if resources allow and will also help with your Chinese keyword research.
Get a Chinese Domain
Google's geographic location tool allows you to maintain a generic top-level domain (such as .com or .org) and still specify a geographical area or location for your page(s) when it comes to local search results. Baidu has no such equivalent and purchasing a Chinese top-level domain (.cn) will be of immense benefit. The good news is that domain names are still relatively cheap in China. The bad news is that connectivity and governmental firewall issues mean your pages will take what seems to most Western eyes a painfully long time to load, especially if you're accessing them from outside China.
Adapting your SEO techniques
Until quite recently, Baidu was notorious for filling its first few pages, never mind its first few results, with paid ads. Traditional SEO techniques seemed a little pointless in the face of countless pay-per-click campaigns but the situation has improved and, while PPC campaigns still pay dividends, other SEO techniques are certainly worth the effort, albeit with a few tweaks as compared to a regular Google campaign.
After brainstorming your keywords (ideally with your native speaking translator) you can test their efficacy by checking trends on the Baidu Index or, if you feel like spending a few pennies, you could use Baidu's paid keyword tool. Try to place your main keywords in titles, subheadings, and text near the top of the page, as Baidu's crawlers are not as thorough as Google's.
Another difference is the importance placed on metadata. While metatags and the like are now rather ignored by Google, Baidu still loves them. Remember to ensure that any metadata you do use is in simplified Chinese, not traditional Chinese and certainly not English.
Regarding the effects of inbound links, Baidu does not really differentiate between high and low quality links and relevance to your content the way that Google does. Measures have been put into place to try to prevent blatant link farming but links from, shall we say, less popular sites will still give your ranking a boost.
Optimizing your sites for Baidu can take a certain amount of effort and, often, expenditure but, given the vast potential of the Chinese market, it can be well worth the time and costs.
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Christian Arno is the founder of translation services provider Lingo24, Inc. Launched in 2001, Lingo24, Inc. now has more than 200 employees spanning four continents and clients in more than 60 countries. Follow Lingo24, Inc. on Twitter: @Lingo24.
December 12, 2013
1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT