Let's face it, not many companies become so utterly pervasive that their name can be used as a verb. Google is, by some considerable margin, the most widely used search engine in the world. In May 2012 Karma Snack reported the search engine giant to have a market share of 84.3 percent within the U.S. and an even greater market share of 87.6 percent worldwide. This includes local versions. Alexa lists the main site, www.Google.com as the single most visited site on the web. Google India, Google Germany, and Google Hong Kong all make the top 20 sites.
But Google doesn't have a monopoly of every market. In Asia particularly, local competitors have a great deal of importance within their own markets. Chinese giant Baidu is the most notable competitor but others such as Soso and Naver in South Korea, Yahoo Japan, and Yahoo Taiwan rule the roost in those territories.
Baidu - The Chinese Giant
Taking its name from a classical poem written over 800 years ago during the Song Dynasty, Baidu is the leading Chinese language search engine. It allows users to search websites and multi-media content including music and movies and was the first service to offer WAP and PDA-based mobile search in China.
Alexa currently lists Baidu as the fifth most visited site worldwide. This is particularly impressive when you consider that 91 percent of its visitors come from within China. This, of course, reflects both China's vast population and its rapidly expanding level of Internet penetration. According to Internet World Stats, there were over 538 million Chinese language Internet users as of the end of 2011. And, with Internet penetration standing at around 38 percent, this is only set to rise still further.
What this all boils down to is the fact that Baidu should be part of your SEO strategy if you want to make an impact in China. It is also important in regions such as Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Differences Between Baidu and Google
Until quite recently, Baidu was known for filling its first few pages with results that were little more than paid ads. Pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns are still highly effective but the situation has improved and traditional SEO techniques may now be worth the effort.
Baidu places a great deal of importance on metadata. Metatags and the like are virtually ignored by Google these days but they should be used when optimizing content for Baidu. Inbound links remain important but Baidu does not place the same importance on the quality of links as Google. Quality over quantity is not necessarily the rule as it is in a Google campaign.
You'll also need a Chinese domain name to compete effectively. Baidu does not have the equivalent of Google's Geographic Location tool, which allows you to operate a generic top-level domain such as .com or .org while specifying a geographical area to help place you in localized search results. Domain names are still relatively cheap in China, but there are issues involving connectivity that may see your sites take a long time to load.
Finally, be aware of the censorship issues surrounding web content in China. Whatever your personal or political views on the subject, your content will have to toe the official line if you expect it to rank highly or, indeed, to appear at all.
It took Google a long time to get a decent foothold in South Korea. As recently as 2010, WebCertain's Search and Social Report had three competitors ahead, with Naver claiming a 62 percent market share and Daum and Nate also beating Google. Things can change remarkably quickly in the search world however and Alexa now lists the Chinese search engine Soso as the country's most visited site, with Google taking the number two spot.
Yahoo is also a major player in Asia, with Yahoo Japan and Yahoo Taiwan leading the way in those markets respectively. As with other Yahoo sites, Yahoo Japan puts a great deal of importance on keyword-optimized content. Its crawlers prefer a keyword density of up to 7 or 8 percent, which is far higher than Google's preferred 2 percent density. This means a complete content overhaul may be required if focusing on Japan and its leading search engine. Getting listed in the Yahoo Directory can also be important and, like Baidu, Yahoo Japan places a value on each page's meta tags.
Most search engines work on the same basic principles and it's tempting to think that a single, Google-centric strategy can serve all your needs. There are differences however and, if you want to make inroads into the Asian market, it's important to know which local competitors are worth your time and effort.
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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.
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