It’s not often that we read practical insights on digital marketing in China, as most articles are focused on big market trends and astonishing numbers on market share. Unfortunately, global search engine optimization (SEO) strategy and practices are not easily localized in China. I’ll explain why and hope my tips could help you tackle your problems.
You’ve implemented the usual best practices like writing relevant meta titles and getting good inbound links and they probably have been working quite well. But what if you still discover that your page inclusion results in the Chinese search engines such as Baidu are not as many as those in Google?
If this happens to you, I believe that your Web server is likely to be hosted outside China. In this case, can you still improve the page inclusion rate? The answer is yes.
First, verify your website in Baidu Zhanzhang tool (Baidu’s version of webmaster tool).
Next, check the site speed using Baidu speed test. The results will be unique to the website loading speed for both the North and South Internet backbone in China.
Both of these tools are provided by Baidu and they’re only good enough to identify and troubleshoot the hosting architecture and speed issues that could go wrong for your website, which is hosted outside of China. Nonetheless, they don’t help to fix the issues for you.
To improve your page inclusion rate, which is essentially important to your subsequent SEO efforts, I advise you to make the entire domain resolution process within China: Add a local name server in China and this can greatly enhance the situation.
This is because Baidu does not prioritize websites that are hosted outside of China unlike Google and Yahoo.
When optimizing your website for the Chinese search engines, you’ll be surprised to see multiple entries on the search engine results page (SERP). You might find that your local site is likely to compete with your foreign site in brand keywords.
From my observation, the hreflang attribute won’t make any difference in the Chinese SERP. You might think that “it’s all right” because at the end of the day all this organic traffic, whether it’s from the local site or the foreign site, is all yours anyway.
However, you may not feel all right when you realize that you either lose the game to your paid ads or the Chinese search engines that bury your official website in the stuffed SERP with all kinds of rich snippets.
Let’s look at the screenshot for the keyword “Fendi” in the SERP below. From left, Baidu’s SERP and on the right, its competitor So.com (also known as 360 Search, which has reportedly gained more than 20 percent market share in China’s search engine market).
If a user is doing a navigational search query, she is likely to do so using a brand keyword and most likely clicks on the first organic result. That’s why Baidu’s brand zone paid search format, which features the most prominent ad space above the organic results, has captured most of the traffic. So.com has the same tactics to capture Web traffic. Not only does your official website just cannot compete with your own paid ad, but other results are also stuffed with the rich snippets. Your supposedly organic traffic has been converted to paid traffic.
Now let’s look at another example for “Gucci” in China’s search engines below.
From left to right: Baidu SERP and So.com SERP.
Gucci looks like it’s having a happy scenario. Both Baidu and So.com are stuffed with multiple entries of Gucci.com. Yet, it also proves that Google’s hreflang attribute, which is supposed to be used to specify the language of the page, is ignored by Chinese search engines. The Chinese search engines also fail to answer the question — which one is the official website?All the rich snippets were given to the shopping sites or affiliated ads that were obviously used for capturing the organic-search intentions.
As you can see from my examples, the organic results in the Chinese search engines are quite messy and even confusing. If you’re a foreign brand with a country-focused website portfolio, it’ll be especially difficult for you to specify your default-language landing site. To do it right, it requires a different approach to optimize your website in China, certainly beyond the usual best practice.
My two takeaways:
(1) Add a local name server to improve your page inclusion rate.
(2) If you let your paid ads take over brand engagement, then you should go long-tail for your SEO strategy.