10 March 2014 | Team Tamar

Is your search strategy for Google suitable for Baidu?

baiduEstablished in 2000, Baidu is the largest search engine in China. Despite the recent emergence of rival search engine Qihoo, and despite the fact that their index ‘only’ includes around 740 million pages to date (compared to Google’s 60 trillion as of 2013), Baidu’s market share is generally estimated to be over 60%. In that sense, its dominance in China is comparable to that of Google in the West.

However, the two web giants’ monopolies take place in very different cultural, linguistic and political settings, and there are major differences in how they are used and function.

When all this is said and done, the sheer size of the Chinese market (a potential 564 million users) means that optimising your site for Baidu can bring great results, particularly if your brand operates globally. So is your SEO strategy for Google applicable to Baidu?

Old School SEO

One of the main differences between Google and Baidu is how on-page features influence rankings. Whilst both search engines regard meta titles as essential SEO components, the weight and importance of other elements differ greatly.

For instance, whilst meta descriptions are important in optimising your click through rate in Google, they are actually used as ranking factors in Baidu. Likewise, meta keywords are still very powerful to determine Baidu rankings, although they’re no longer used by Google’s algorithm because they reward keyword stuffing.

In addition, Baidu’s ability to rate and assess links is far less advanced than Google’s. This means that ‘good quality’ links are less effective in demonstrating your site’s value, and that large quantities of links can make a big difference in rankings . In that sense, it’s fair to say that Baidu is a less regulated search engines, with requires a much more old school approach to SEO than Google.

Keep things simple!

As well as the different in weighing up SEO factors, there are several web design elements which Baidu just does not recognise. For example, you should be aware that Baidu spiders do not respond to Flash or JavaScript, which means you should focus on HTML as the most responsive way to get your site properly crawled.

Similarly, it is widely believed that Baidu does not recognize iFrame content. So if you’re planning to optimise for the Chinese market, make sure you keep things simple!

Chinese bias

When optimising your site for Baidu, you should also know about the engine’s pro-Chinese bias, which transpires in several ways. For example, Baidu prioritises content in Chinese, and only indexes simplified Chinese characters (also referred to as Pinyin Chinese) . To an extent, this can also be a problem for local webmasters, because there are so many dialects in China, which makes SEO much trickier.

On top of that, Baidu prefers sites which are hosted on Chinese servers, whilst Chinese domain names (such as .cn or .com.cn) also appear to receive preferential treatment in rankings.

Censorship

Untitled-1Perhaps the most documented difference between Google and Baidu is the alleged influence of the Chinese government over website and keyword search content.

Some of the traditionally banned searches in mainland China include pornography, foreign news sites such as the BBC and searches related to general concepts like freedom and democracy. Occasionally, keywords referring to controversial current issues also get censored. For instance last year, searches related to ‘Ferrari’ were censored following a scandal involving the son of a government member.

In other words, there are certain topics which even the best SEO strategy will not enable ranking for in Baidu, which may be an issue for webmasters and marketers alike.

Different users

Finally, the disparity in how different users carry out searches is also an important factors to consider. Indeed, while we on average spend about 10 seconds on a page, generally focusing on the upper left section, Chinese users spend almost 1 minute on page and look at a broader segment of the page.

Baidu users are also on average 10 years younger than Google’s, and although the rise of mobile is a widely discussed topic it the West, it is already a very popular browsing channel in China. Hence, the differences in how people browse and read your site is something you should take into account if you wish to attract traffic from Baidu.

In conclusion

In appearance, it may seem like Baidu and Google are very similar. For example, the number and resemblances of both engines’ own branded properties, including Maps, News and Shopping may suggest they are comparable. However, there are still many major differences between how they function and rate websites, with Baidu arguably still very much behind the analytical level reached by Google.

Hence, you should try and adopt a unique SEO strategy when working with Baidu.

Team Tamar