SEO (search engine optimization) marketing has, for some time now, been one of the most effective tools in the digital marketer’s toolkit. Learning its ins and outs is simply a must. While SEO in China is similar to elsewhere, it would be a mistake to apply the same approaches wholesale. First of all, the dominant search engine is Baidu. It holds a 75-80% market share. The next largest is Sogou, with around 15%. The algorithms that dictate SEO on these platforms are fundamentally different to those used by Google. Below, we look at ten items of best practice when it comes to SEO in China.
- Develop a website in Simplified Chinese. There’s no way around this. Baidu gives ultimate priority to websites in Simplified Chinese. There’s a chance that your website in any other language will not even be indexed, nor displayed in search results. For the best results here, get a translator who is also experienced in localization, as they will be familiar with the search terms that are the most appropriate translations of the original content.
Example of the global website of our client Rioja Wine and its Chinese version
- Get a Chinese domain name (.cn), host your website in Mainland China, and get an ICP license. In fact, if you’re going to be using the website for sales or commercial purposes at all inside China, this is a legal requirement. It doesn’t hurt that it also massively boosts your chances of ranking highly in search results. There’s a snag, though – it’s only possible if your entity is physically present in Mainland China, or you have a partner there to do it on your behalf. If neither of those things is possible, then it’s still possible to register a .cn domain, and get hosting in Hong Kong or Korea for fast speeds, but this allows for less scope when it comes to the business operations said website may perform. More on that here.
- Find the right keywords and define the meta tags. There are mixed reports about whether Baidu algorithms still use traditional SEO markers, or whether it’s following Google towards more content, quality and relevance scores. Recent reports indicate that keywords and meta-tags, especially on image thumbnails, still appear to have large effect. Also pay attention to page titles and image descriptions. Baidu provides several back-end tools with which to research good keywords, including Baidu Index and Baidu Keyword Planner.
Example of Baidu Keywords Planner, with prices, monthly search volumes and competitivities
- Keep updating the website with fresh, high-quality content. These are two key metrics followed by the Baidu algorithms. Blog posts, news, articles and updates on projects can all work; an active website is SEO-friendly. Freshness ratings go down with duplicate content, and content ratings go down with words, phrases or passages that are deemed to be sensitive. It’s a good idea to submit content to a Baidu representative before publishing it, to check for approval.
- Links, links, links. All SEO professionals should be familiar with this – the internet is built as a web. If sites are seen as integral to that web, they get ranked higher on SERPs. Build a strategy for internal links, external links and backlinks. Links to and from high-authority Chinese websites are always best. An easy way to do this? Link back from social media sites.
Examples of Backlinks articles for our client Merck
- Use https, instead of http. The https protocol, being more secure, is hugely valued by Baidu SEO algorithms. This requires you to purchase an SSL certificate from within China. After it’s purchased and applied, submit a new sitemap.xml to the Baidu search console. A good marketing agency can help smooth this sometimes-puzzling process out.
- Keep things mobile friendly. The vast, vast majority of browsing in China is done from the palm of the average netizen’s hand. Baidu’s SEO recognizes this, and mobile-friendly websites will be ranked much higher on mobile searches. If you do not optimize for mobile, Baidu will likely transcode your website, which means taking the data onto their servers, and automatically making it ‘mobile-friendly’. Suffice to say, their automatic conversion might align with a different definition of ‘mobile-friendly’ from that which you follow.
- Backend upkeep. Generate a sitemap with an .xml extension, and submit it to for better indexation. This enables Baidu to find your website, without having to look. Also, take keep an eye on robots.txt to make sure that Baidu crawls through each and every section you want it to. Verify your website by adding a verified file on the root directory of your server.
- Use analytics tools. Once you’re set up and live, you move onto the process of monitoring and tweaking; improving SEO bit by bit. Baidu Tongji is like Google Analytics, it allows you to analyze the standard gamut of traffic and usage data, as well as sources and conversions. With a bit of customization, datapoints for visitor analysis can include geographic location, device, educational level, age, vocation and interests. Baidu Tongji also provides visual representations, such as site heatmaps, to better understand and represent user behaviour. Meanwhile, Baidu Webmaster Tool allows you to go one step deeper into the neurotic land of optimization.
Example of Baidu Analytics account for our client Merck, with all data for traffic, top keywords, top landing pages, etc…
Sekkei Studio: Your SEO Agency for China
With its HQ based in Shanghai and with offices around the world, Sekkei Studio is a 13 years old Digital Marketing Agency that has been helping companies and governments with their Digital Strategy and execution in China. Contact us to get more information about how we can help your company take things to the next level.