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by Arnold Ma on 10th April 2012
As the economy grows in China, people with access to modern necessities such as computers and the Internet have been growing rapidly.
Amongst a number of success stories, the search engine of choice for China has been Baidu. In this post, we take a look at the rise of the search engine and provide you with some core SEO principles that Baidu acknowledge.
Internet Usage In China
In the year 2000, only 22.5 million Chinese people had access to the Internet, this translate to an Internet penetration rate of a measly 1.7%, but just 5 years later in 2005 this has already grown by an astonishing 357% to over 103 million people – that’s a 7.7% penetration rate. The graph below shows the growth of Internet usage from 2000 to 2011.
Data source: ITU, CNNIC, IWS
By the year 2011, the number of Chinese Internet users has grown to an astonishing 513 million (still at only 38% penetration). This is now over double the amount of users in the US at 250 million, who still have a very high penetration rate of 78%. In contrast, the UK has only 51 million Internet users, but have the highest penetration rate of 82.5%. That means in China, there’s still room to grow.
So, where does Baidu fit in? Well, very comfortably in fact! As the principal search engine in China, Baidu dominates with a 78% share of the Chinese search engine market, in comparison Google has a 65% share in the US and a 92% share in the UK. However, when the 78% market share that Baidu has is translated into actual search engine users, they suddenly dominate, and almost double Google’s UK and US search engine users combined!
Below is a graph showing the search engine market share in China during 2011, Baidu clearly dominates with Google having only 2.6%.
Data source: CNNIC
How To Dominate A Search Engine with 400+ Million Users – Baidu SEO guide
Baidu and Google are very similar search engines at their core. They both use a search engine crawler to index pages around the web. The crawler used by Baidu is called the “Baidu Spider”. Baidu however index a lot less pages than Google, currently Google has 48 billion pages in its index, while Baidu has just over 800 million pages. This means that a website with thousands of pages indexed in Google, might only have a few hundred pages indexed in Baidu.
What does this mean in terms of SEO? Well, with Baidu, it’s more important than ever to get your technical and on-page SEO right. As a result of Baidu not indexing as many pages as Google, this will ensure that your most important pages are indexed.
This therefore emphasises the importance of on-page and technical SEO when working with Baidu. Both the crawl spider and the ranking algorithm is still not as advanced as Google, so Baidu relies heavily on the on-page information. Of course links are still important, and part 2 of this post will focus on analytics, links and other topics.
First of all, when it comes to domain names, it is important to use a local TLD such as .cn or .com.cn. If you really want to dominate Baidu, build a website just for the Chinese audience. Ensuring that your website is hosted in china is vital, as US and UK hosted pages can be very slow when viewed in china.
Baidu Webmaster Tools
Just like Google, Baidu also has its own webmaster tools. It is essential that you register and add your website to Baidu webmaster tools, just like it is important to register your website with Google webmaster tools. The only downside is that the whole platform, being from China, is in Chinese. However, Google translate does a pretty good job if you are using Chrome.
Baidu Webmaster tools: http://zhanzhang.baidu.com/
Within this, you’ll be able to do many of the same things you can with Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics. For example, submitting your website to the spider and sitemap, checking your robots file, traffic data and statistics. It’s nowhere as advanced as Google Webmaster Tools, but absolutely essential for Baidu SEO.
Meta descriptions and keywords have been made largely obsolete in Google’s ranking algorithm, but Baidu still puts huge emphasis on them. Ensuring that your Meta description and Meta keywords (yes, Meta keywords) are optimised is very important.
Titles have the same value of importance in Baidu as they do in Google, and they should be unique on each page of your website. Whilst different SEOs use different tactics when it comes to titles for Google, for Baidu, they actually suggest that you include your site name in your title on each page. They also suggest that you write a short description of that specific page – not forgetting your keywords, of course.
The same rules apply when optimising your Meta description. Ensure it is well written and click enticing text with a strong call-to-action. Make sure you include you service description, highlighting your unique selling points and always remember to include your target keywords.
Another important thing to note is that Baidu highlights your search query with red text rather than bold text as used in Google – making keyword heavy entries a lot more attention grabbing. So getting keywords in your title and description not only helps your rankings, but will also help to increase CTR.
Baidu has recently partnered up with Bing to display English results, but English searches represents a very small percentage. The chances are that if your business requires a presence in China, you would want Chinese searchers to be able to read your content.
In order to capitalise on the Chinese search market, make sure your website is in simplified Chinese, ignoring any other dialects used in China such as traditional Chinese. This is assuming that you can write, speak and actually understand Chinese of course.
Baidu hates duplicate content just as much as Google does, so follow the same unique content rules as you would with Google SEO.
Due to censorship implemented by the government, Baidu will not index any websites that include keywords banned by the state. This won’t matter to 99% of the businesses, but please do your research for your industry to ensure you are not excluded by the number one search engine in China.
As mentioned, the Baidu spider is not as powerful as the Google Bot, so placing your most important content near the top of the page will help the Baidu spider find them, and thus index your page more effectively.
Header and Alt Tags
Baidu actually places much more importance on header tags and alt tags in the ranking algorithm, so make sure your keywords are naturally well placed in your H1, H2 and H3 titles and image alt tags.
Just like Google, stay away from elements that cannot be crawled by the Baidu spider. For example, do not use Flash and iFrames if possible.
When creating the Menu page, again, do not use Flash. Plain HTML menus that are easily crawled is strongly recommended.
Similarities between Google and Baidu are evident again. It is important that your website structure should be user friendly and spider friendly. Try to ensure your content does not go too deep. Again, the Baidu spider is not as powerful, so keep your website to just one or two levels deep where possible. For example, Home page > top level categories > second level categories > content. If you are going to have very deep pages, using breadcrumbs will help.
This concludes the first part of this Baidu SEO guide. In the next instalment I will be looking at some of the other SEO topics such as the significance of inbound links (very different), analytics, and Baidu penalties.
Follow me on twitter to be kept up-to-date with part 2 of this post!