Baidu, in China, is the mother of all search engines. Despite plucky newcomer rivals like Sogou, Baidu still commands a 70-80% share of the online search market. As of 2021, it is the 7th most visited website in the entire world, despite around 90% of its visitors being from only one country. This should give an idea of not only the scale, but also the importance of Baidu for any brands looking to do business in China. If there is one place that brands should want to show up, it’s organic search results on Baidu. Taking SEO practices applied to websites looking to appeal to Google, and applying them to Chinese websites, won’t always work, however. This article will give an overview of Baidu SEO necessities for websites to maximize chances of being ranked highly, on Baidu’s terms.
Share of search engine users in China as of June 2019, by purpose. Source: Statista
Hosting and Page Speed
Baidu prioritizes pages that load fast, and do so reliably, with a low bounce rate. There are a few ways to ensure this:
- Host in China. The page speed is measured from servers located within China, so having a website located elsewhere will add unwanted lag. Websites within mainland borders are boosted by auxiliary servers run by the China Internet Network Information Centre (CNNIC), which are dedicated to resolving domestic domains. Always check loading speeds from within China, not from outside.
- Code & script intelligently. Optimise and compress CSS, HTML and JS files. This is a task for an experienced programmer, who can slim down bulky processes.
- Reduce homepage size. You may need some pages to feature graphics, images and videos. Try as much as you can to keep these away from the homepage – it is this page that Baidu primarily measures for loading speed. Most Chinese websites are just one or two screen-lengths long, and contain only text and basic images.
Baidu will return search results that are most appropriate based not just on content, but also on device. If a search is made on a desktop, then desktop-friendly websites will show. If someone searches on mobile, mobile-friendly sites are prioritized. With 95% of Chinese netizens accessing the web via their phones, this is too significant a factor to ignore. Use responsive design to make the most of both systems.
Sitemap visualization. Source: Jennifer Jhang, UX Collective, uxdesign.cc
A sitemap file is like a guide for search engines. When their bots visit your website, they will look to a sitemap to see the relationship between the different pages, the information contained, and their contents. It helps search engines crawl and understand a site with ease. You can either generate a sitemap.xml manually, or use tools such as CMS plugins and sitemap modules to assist.
Ensure that navigation is possible through submenus. This means not simply having a series of headings that each direct to one place, but having headings with drop-down boxes that contain relevant options. Not only is this preferred by Chinese users as a matter of UX, but it helps search engines move around the websites with ease. List the most important pages and menu items first, as Baidu will assume a hierarchy of importance from the front of the list to the end, and assign an understood purpose of the website accordingly.
The golden rule with content is that as much of it as possible (if not all) should be in Chinese. Baidu does not translate search terms, and rarely includes websites in any other language at all in search results. There are some other important considerations:
- Use relevant keywords. While focusing on keywords alone is no longer a good strategy for Google, Baidu still very much relies on keywords. Compared to Google, it is far behind in ‘natural language processing’, meaning that rather than taking a search and matching it to the most contextually relevant results, it will search for exact strings of text in websites that match the search text. Keyword research is a lengthy but beneficial process. Enlisting the services of a qualified agency to assist is recommended.
- Use meta keywords and meta descriptions (more details below). While Google has largely waved goodbye to these, Baidu has not. Ensure that they match up with the on-screen keywords however, as mismatches will be counted as stuffing, and result in search-ranking penalties.
- Add new content frequently. Websites that are active, and have regular traffic, rank higher. Simple as that.
- Build Link. Build both internal backlinks and external links. If other websites direct towards yours, this will count towards the legitimacy and primacy of the website in the Baidu algorithm’s eyes.
Metadata. Source: dataedo.com
This is a little technical, but don’t let that put you off. Metadata is information that you can enter, with the help of modules, plugins, or manually, that describes elements of a webpage. It is not usually visible to users, but is rather hidden in the code. Baidu’s bots can and will read it. A couple of things to note:
- Metatags: meta titles should not exceed 80 characters, or 40 Chinese characters. Meta descriptions should be no more than 200 characters, or 100 Chinese characters. Meta keywords should not exceed 100 characters, or 50 Chinese characters.
- Heading tags: Use label h1 for the page title, h2 for the main subtitle, and h3 to h6 for additional subtitles.
There are a few key points to note here:
- URLs in English or Pinyin are both totally fine.
- Do not include Chinese characters in a URL, as Chinese search engines will re-encode them in pinyin, thereby increasing the URL length.
- Keep URLs short. While they can technically be up to 255 characters, the shorter, the better.
- Have redirect settings in place such that if a page is removed or its URL changes, users entering its original URL are redirected, instead of meeting a 404 page.
Images cannot be interpreted by Baidu’s bots, but the metadata associated with the image can be. Ensure that alt-text, image description and image title are all optimized with appropriate keywords. Additionally, ensure that images are a reasonable size. There’s usually no need for images to go beyond a resolution of 150PPI. Adobe provides a useful guide to appropriate image sizes here, and you can use lightweight, free software to resize images efficiently. If an image is larger than 1mb, alarm bells should be ringing.
Baidu Visibility should be one of the main pillars of your China Marketing. However, understanding how Baidu works can be a little intimidating as Google best practices are no longer valid at the other side of the Great Wall. Luckily, Sekkei Digital Group has been helping companies with their Baidu optimization for the past 13 years. Reach out to us if you have a question about your Baidu strategy or need a plan to optimize your Website for China.