Baidu SEO Guide 2019: How to Boost Your Digital Presence in China

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Dragon Social Limited
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Read our most updated Baidu SEO guide to learn more about how to get started with China SEO and get ahead of all your competitor websites here!

We all know that having a winning SEO (Search Engine Optimization) strategy is an absolute necessity for boosting your business’s visibility online. However, tactics for Baidu SEO can be quite different from those for Google. With algorithms and regulations changing all the time, it can be particularly difficult for you to tell the truth from all myths and rumors on Baidu SEO from afar.

In this post, we will share with you the most updated tips and tricks for your business to increase its visibility on Baidu, the number one search engine in China.

We’ll start off with a brief explanation of SEO in general and then dive right into some of the biggest issues that users face when trying to increase their search rankings on Baidu. If you’re an SEO professional you can skip the first section to more Baidu specific related parts below.

What Is SEO?

SEO is the process of increasing your visibility on search engines

The ultimate goal of SEO is to have your website appear in search engine results for designated keywords that are related to your business.

Increased visibility for keywords related to your business can result in gains in sales and brand awareness. Almost every business with a digital marketing strategy allocates resources to improve their SEO rankings.

SEO is usually broken down into two categories, most commonly called on-page SEO and off-page SEO.

Increasing your search engine ranking is affected by both on-page and off-page SEO

On-Page SEO focuses on improving the readability of your website by search engines. Usage of keywords in on-page content, website speed, and site formatting all contribute to the readability of your website by search engines. All of these factors allow your website to be crawled more thoroughly and better indexed by search engines, and this is true for both Google and Baidu.

Off-Page SEO is about building authority through building backlinks to your website. This is usually accomplished by creating quality content that users would want to link back to. It also is done through things like guest blogging and contributing content to websites in your niche.

Now let’s get on to the Chinese SEO specifics.

How Is Baidu SEO Different from Google’s? – Chinese SEO Basics

Given that Google has lost its presence in China due to internet regulations, marketers in the west need to learn and play by the rules set by Baidu if they want to have at developing a winning Chinese SEO strategy. (If you’d like to learn more about other Chinese search engines check out our other blog here: Top 5 Chinese Search Engines You Need to Care About)

Baidu dominates the China Search Engine landscape

In the rest of this section, we will share the most fundamental differences you will have to be aware of (which means essential changes you will have to make to your site!) if you want to get indexed and enter the playground of Baidu SEO:

Language: Baidu Is a Mandarin-Only Website and so Is Their Ranking Algorithm!

When getting ready for Baidu SEO, the first essential step is to have an all-Chinese website for your business. And that’s because almost all of Baidu’s users search using keywords in Chinese and an English site is NOT eligible to rank for these search terms.

It sounds like stating the obvious, but there’s a catch. SIMPLIFIED Chinese is way more effectively read and preferred over other characters including traditional Chinese.

Aside from that, Baidu also identifies Mandarin grammar better than other Chinese languages even if they are written in the same characters.

How much Baidu can understand the language and grammar used can be a crucial matter as coherence is also assessed when Baidu decides your page rank accordingly.

So if you already have a website in traditional Chinese targeting Taiwan or Hong Kong audience, you will need to translate your content into simplified Chinese (and also to Mandarin if otherwise!) when launching it in China.

Hosting: To Host or Not to Host… in China

Although Baidu has made it clear that its algorithm will not discriminate against foreign sites, it does takes the speed at which your page loads as an important factor for ranking like any other western search engine.

Since most websites hosted overseas load incredibly slow and can even be blocked, your site ranking and the actual user experience could be hugely affected by where the site is hosted. Also, if your website is inaccessible for web users in China, it can’t be indexed either.

To tackle this problem, the best practice we recommend is to host your page within mainland China if possible. But you will need an Internet Content Provider License (ICP) to host in China, and a Chinese business license is essential for you to apply for an ICP.

There are a ton of Chinese hosting providers, but the most popular is Alibaba’s Aliyun

If you are not yet ready to do business in China for the long term, locations close to mainland China such as Hong Kong can be an option for hosting your website. But if that’s the case, make sure to rent a server with high stability so you don’t have to compromise your page rank too much due to poor loading speed.

Another way to speed up your website with an overseas server is to use a CDN (Content Delivery System). A CDN network enables users to visit your webpage from the closest possible server to them so that the distance won’t be an issue anymore. Try to select Chinese CDN providers such as Baidu, Alibaba, or Tencent as they perform better and don’t get blocked, as foreign CDNs have been blocked in China in the past (e.g. Cloudflare).

Baidu Baike: Make Yourself Heard Through Baidu’s Own Products

As we have mentioned in one of our previous posts on Chinese search engines, it is particularly difficult for sites to rank on the first page since sponsored ads and Baidu’s own product pages often appear before any organic result.

This special rule of Baidu is actually pretty useful when your page is not currently indexed or ranked well, or your Chinese site is just not ready yet. You can try to create your business’ Baidu Baike page (Baidu’s own version of Wikipedia) and put everything you want your audience to know about it there.

If your content gets past the verification stage, this “ad space” is guaranteed to be ranked on the first page whenever people search your company name on Baidu, even if the official website itself does not get indexed at all!

For example, when searching “JVC” (a Japanese company), its Baidu Baike page ranks above everything else – and is more noticeable than its own official site thanks to the giant logo!

Home Page: When Page Hierarchy Comes into Play

While Google ranks web pages primarily by relevance, Baidu allocates extra weight to a website’s home page rather than any of its internal pages. For this reason, sites ranked on the first page of Baidu search results are normally the main page of a site.

Businesses aware of this should put home page design and content as their top priority when trying to rank for relevant keywords on Baidu.

Page Title: Critical Factors in Ranking Your Page

Experimenting with the same search keyword on Google and Baidu shows a huge discrepancy in search results.

The implementation of NLP (Natural Language Processing) on Baidu still lags behind, which is also a key difference of Chinese SEO that you should keep in mind.

Here we did an experiment testing the result from searching “How to do digital marketing” on Baidu and Google separately. And the search result differs from each other a lot. Baidu still prioritizes sites with the exact search keyword in the page title while Google ranks them based on the actual content.

As much as being the flaw of the search algorithm itself, this reflects a golden rule for China SEO players to pay extra attention to. Incorporating the exact keywords you want to rank for the most into your page title is very important, but remember to keep it concise! (We will talk more about why in a bit.)

What Is Baidu Spider and How Does It Work?

What Is Baidu Spider?

There’s no way to fully understand the many Baidu SEO techniques without knowing how Baidu Spider works.

Baidu Spider is the name Baidu gives to its automated search engine program (a.k.a website crawlers). What this “spider” does is basically crawl on websites and collect the information it finds into Baidu’s search engine database. Only pages that reach the user experience requirement will be indexed and ranked based on their values assessed by Baidu.

Baidu Spider is the crawler used by Baidu to determine the rank of its search results

Now, first thing first, suppose you just have your Chinese website ready, is there any way to speed up the process of getting your sites crawled on and indexed on Baidu?

The answer is yes! If your site does not get crawled by Baidu Spider quickly enough, you can just “feed the spider” by sending your website homepage through Baidu’s link submission tool. Baidu Spider prioritizes links fed to them this way and this would work for any old site that doesn’t get discovered and indexed for a long time.

Now, if your website is indexed, you are officially in the game! The next step for your Baidu SEO is to see how we can play with Baiduspider’s fundamental preferences to optimize your rank amongst all these competitors.

Feeding the Spider: What Does Baidu Spider Like?

1. Freshen It Up!

The frequency at which Baiduspider crawls on a website depends on how often it is refreshed. Baiduspider is more sensitive to sites that get updated frequently and even more so when the content’s completely renewed. Constantly updating your content is one way to get your website in the good graces of Baidu.

2. Make It Clearer, and Flatter

A clear website with a flat hierarchical structure is easier for both Baidu Spider and your audience to understand. Take the time to create a good user experience and improve your on-page SEO to get noticed and start ranking!

Here’s a checklist for you to see if your website structure matches up with the Baidu Spider standards:

  1. Each of your web pages should be reachable by at least one text link.
  2. Put important content on a higher hierarchical level, preferably on the home page.
  3. A navigation bar on each page helps, and use breadcrumb if you can. (only use Text links for navigation and if image navigation is necessary, remember to use alt text.)
  4. Having too many subdomains is often labeled as cheating by Baidu.

So, unless the content of a page is rich enough to be a standalone site, put it into your home page’s directory instead of creating a subdomain. (Remember how Baidu especially prioritize home page’s ranking?)

3. Baiduspider Likes Short URLs That Can Reflect Your Page Hierarchy Clearly

Always go for the URL format recommended by Baidu (upper)
Source: Baidu Search College

Baiduspider’s Limitation

1. Be Cautious with Flash, Images, Javascript, and Ajax

Currently, Baiduspider can only process text NOT flash, images, or Javascript. 

I cannot stress this enough – please always, always use text for important content, or links (And don’t forget links on your navigation bar!) or else they won’t be detected by Baiduspider and won’t show up in search results.

The old version of USA Coca Cola website.
A nice-looking all-flash page like this will be read as an empty page or penalized for insufficient content

Excessive flash or images will slow down your load speed anyway so it’s always a good idea to think twice before you insert any.

If your webpage has to be created with flash, you are recommended to make a pure text version of it and link your site’s homepage to that with a text link just so it can be understood and indexed properly.

Also, Ajax is also something that can’t be identified by Baiduspider so make sure you only use that for user interaction purpose but not storing anything you expect Baiduspider to read and rank for.

2. No Frame or iFrame Structure

Frame or iframe structure will be ignored by Baiduspider so just don’t use that when building your Chinese site. As with Flash, Ajax, and images, ensure that any content you place in frames or iframe structures is replicated somewhere on the site so that it can be crawled and indexed by the Baidu Spider.

Baidu Search Algorithms Update and Top Tips on Optimizing Your Site

What gives western webmasters entering the field of Baidu SEO a headache is how Baidu updates its search algorithms so often. Luckily, in this last section, we have prepared a list of dos and don’ts from the latest Baidu search algorithm updates.

1. Good Content Starts to Make a Difference

One of the biggest changes in the China SEO landscape is that Chinese search engines have begun to pay attention to the content quality moreso than ever before.

Content is king, an idea reinforced by Baidu’s Hurricane 2.0, a newly-updated algorithm launched in September 2018

According to Baidu’s new search algorithm Hurricane 2.0, websites identified with low originality, bad content coherence, and poor relevance within the site will be penalized or even banned forever if caught twice.

Top Tips #1: Go into Details When Finetuning Your Content

Good content incorporates the obvious like video and picture quality but also trivial things like grammatical mistakes and even misspelled characters. So hiring a native Chinese copywriter would be ideal for your content success. While it still isn’t as advanced as Google (there’s been no evidence of things like social signals and dwell time affecting rankings as of yet) Baidu has been getting better and better at recognizing quality content for its ranking.

2. Title, Title, Title

As I said earlier, your page title matters a lot (probably more than the actual content) in Baidu’s keyword matching. Creating a Baidu-SEO friendly page title is so important that Baidu actually launched an entire algorithm update to prevent page title cheating.

To create a winning title without bearing the risk of being penalized, you need to be mindful of the following:

Top Tips #2: Keep Your Page Title Clear and Concise

The Baidu algorithm prefers websites titles to be short and clear. Any irrelevant or potentially misleading words on your page title will jeopardize your ranking.

On top of all, keyword stuffing is penalized the hardest. Page titles that overly repeat keywords or its synonyms will be renamed as just the site name or company name – which could be disastrous for companies that rely on non-branded keywords to bring in traffic.

3. “Black Hats” are Not Welcomed Anymore

Top Tips #3: Don’t Overdo Optimization

When we published our earlier version of this guide, we pointed out how Baidu seldom penalizes “Black Hat” techniques. But since last year Baidu has launched a new version of its algorithm called Thunder, which heavily penalizes cheating and manipulating rankings.

“Black Hat” techniques refer to unethical tactics to boost up search ranks

In the new algorithm, Baidu made it clear that websites caught keyword stuffing (even if they are made transparent and can’t be seen by the actual users), traffic cheating or link cheating will be heavily penalized in rankings and risk getting banned from Baidu’s search results forever.

Among all of these, you should be especially careful about being accused of keyword stuffing since Baidu is very sensitive towards duplicate content. So be careful of overusing keywords in your website, especially if hurts the overall coherence or user experience of the website.

In fact, even before the new algorithm, optimization was not as reliable on Baidu as compared to Google. Baidu is known to allocate less weight to off-page SEO techniques like backlink-building, social signals, etc. compared to Google. This is what led to the emergence of many “black-hat” on-site SEO techniques in China. With the new algorithm implemented, nearly all “Black hat” practices for China SEO seems not worth the risk.

4. Optimize the User Experience on Mobile

The importance of being mobile friendly is no longer a fresh topic. Baidu’s Ice Bucket algorithm, which penalizes sites with poor user experience, has now evolved into its 5.0 version, emphasizing more on the mobile user experience. Most search engines are putting a greater emphasis on mobile, so much so that Google recently announced it will be prioritizing the mobile version of websites in its next update to its core algorithm. While Baidu has started to trend in this direction it has not officially prioritized mobile over desktop as of yet.

Baidu continuously improves its search algorithm to reward mobile-friendly webpages

Top Tips #4: Baidu’s Checklist on Good Landing Page Design

As the Ice Bucket algorithm has become more mature, Chinese SEOs have noticed several key factors important to ranking in 2019. The list below shows a few key points that Baidu uses to judge the mobile user experience. There are many more, but these are some of the most important to take note of:

  1. The first screen of your page should be loaded within 1.5 seconds
  2. Use a font size no smaller than 10pt for your text
  3. The core content (the main part that excludes navigation bar or any ads) of your website should take up at least 50% of the first screen.
  4. For mobile search results, the landing page should be mobile-friendly rather than a PC version

Top tips #5: Baidu’s Restriction on Ads for Mobile

Be especially careful when your mobile website displays advertisements as Baidu has begun penalizing sites that negatively affect the user experience due to an over-abundance of advertisements.

1. Ad Type

No floating or pop-up ads on mobile. Full-screen ads are allowed on mobile landing pages

2. Ad Space

No in-text ads are allowed.

3. Size of the Ad

The first screen: Cannot exceed more than 20% of the screen size

List Pages and Index Pages: Less than ⅓ of the screen size

4. Ad Format

Ads should be static in both location and size.

Replaying ads is prohibited.

Examples of ads not allowed on mobile websites

If you are still unsure of whether your mobile landing page is up to standard, Baidu has prepared a page for you to do a quick self-check.

5. Use HTTPS Sites for Better Ranking

As many other search engine prioritizes HTTPS over HTTP sites out of web security concern, Baidu has started to favor HTTPS webpages since the second half of 2018. So you might want to change your security certificate if you haven’t already. This was a big change, and many websites have not converted over to HTTPS as of yet. If you’re browsing the Chinese internet you’ll be surprised to see that many major websites still have not implemented it as of yet. This could be a way to get a quick leg up if you’re making a big China SEO push in 2019!

6. Last but Not Least, Use Baidu Webmaster Tool

After applying our Baidu SEO tips you might have already ended up with a satisfying result. But no matter how good your website’s ranking is, you will need to constantly look for ways to maintain or even improve it in the face of other Baidu SEO gurus.

Baidu actually offers a really good tool for this. Similar to Google Search Console, Baidu also has its own portal called Baidu Webmaster Tools for you to monitor and optimize your site’s performance. Currently, this tool only accepts registration from mainland Chinese citizens, but in case you have a local Chinese employee or developer, don’t miss out on the great advantage you can that this tool provides.

All in All – Optimizing User Experience Is Key

If you ask me what’s the one key trend to be identified from Baidu’s (constantly changing) search algorithms these years, it has been their constant effort to encourage site owners to create a better user experience.

Be it the meticulous criteria on the website layout or Baidu’s increasing emphasis on high-quality content, these pieces of evidence show that Baidu is putting user experience at the very core of every update they are developing. Given how clunky many Chinese websites are this is a trend that will likely have drastic effects across the Chinese digital landscape.

On the flip side, webmasters need to be mindful of the fact that Baidu is increasingly intolerant towards “black hat” SEO techniques. Getting Baidu to revert its penalties against websites accused of “cheating behavior” is extremely difficult.

The most reliable way to dodge that bullet and always stay on top of the game is to create high-quality content on a user-friendly website crafted to Baidu standards.

We hope you found this guide useful for your Baidu SEO strategy! Stay tuned to our website for more updated China online marketing strategies and subscribe to our newsletter below!

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