Editor’s note: This was contributed by Carol Fairbanks, a freelance writer with great experience in SEO. She is currently employed with Vancouver SEO.
Most people assume that all SEO campaigns should be aimed at Google. Many search engines tend to follow their example and update their website ranking algorithms after Google has updated theirs. However, Google is not the most popular search engine in China, and it has only around 4% of the market share there. The most popular search engine in China is Baidu, with around 80% of the market share. In recent years, China has passed Japan and is the second largest global market, which means that it would be a mistake for a business to ignore it. Optimizing a site for Baidu has some similarities to the methods used for Google but it also has some notable differences as well.
One of the first things that a new site needs to do is register for an ICP record. This is a license that is a government requirement for websites operating in China. There are two types of ICP record. The first is for commercial sites, and also needs a Chinese business registration. The second is an individual record. It can not be used for commercial purposes. There are some requirements in order to register for an individual ICP record, such as you must have an address and phone number in China. Some foreign sites can be accessed without needing an ICP record, however, it is one of the things that Baidu takes into account. Sites with a record are ranked higher than those without one.
Another factor in ranking is the domain. The domain can end in .com, .com.cn or .cn, and Baidu considers all of these equally. The Chinese consumer base trusts sites that end in .com, .com.cn or .cn more than sites that have any other domain. Baidu also considers the age of the site as a more important factor in site ranking than Google does.
The site loading speed is considered in both Google and Baidu’s site ranking algorithms. Services that host websites can increase the loading speed, but if the speed is within the optimal levels without hosting then it isn’t strictly necessary. It’s the loading speed of the site and not the hosting that is more important. If having the site hosted increases the speed then it should be done, but Baidu prefers hosted sites to be hosted in mainland China and ranks them higher over sites hosted in other countries.
Baidu looks at the URL when its algorithm assesses a site. It refers to the spiders that examine the site as normal visitors, and normal visitors prefer understandable URLs. In terms of ranking, the keyword, or brand name should be in the URL.
Mobile optimization is one of the biggest ranking factors for both Baidu and Google. More and more people are using their mobile devices to access sites, which has meant that search engines now think of the mobile performance of a website as being one of the most important aspects of SEO. Baidu rates it so highly, that if you don’t optimize your site for mobile, then it will do it for you. However, while letting them do so may seem like it will save time, effort and money, it’s not a good idea. Baidu will decide what is seen on the mobile site, and how it reacts. It’s a much better idea to optimize the site yourself and make sure that the mobile version is consistent with your main site.
While both Google and Baidu take keywords into account when they assess a page for ranking. The big difference here is that different keywords and keyword tools need to be used. The keywords that would be used for Google may not be appropriate for Baidu once they have been translated. Google’s keyword tool is not able to make suggestions that would be appropriate, and their translator tool may not translate English to Chinese accurately. It’s recommended that when you translate words, you have a human translator with native-level Chinese look them over to make sure that they are accurate, and appropriate.
Both Baidu and Google consider the internal links when they rank a site. Internal links can help direct visitors to other pages within your site, which can also help visitor site navigation. Although, these links should be on a keyword that is relevant to the page linked to it.
Google and Baidu rank sites that keep their content fresh higher than sites with older content. This can mean that old content needs to be re-examined and updated, or that a regularly updated blog is included on the site. There should be no duplicate content as Baidu penalizes sites for this. It can be very difficult to recover the rankings lost after a site penalty. Another mistake that many sites make is that they translate their English content into Chinese and post it. Any content for the Chinese site should be directly targeted to the Chinese people. There are some cultural differences in terms of expression and thinking, so any content for the Chinese version of your site should be written explicitly for the Chinese market.
Links to external sites are also taken into account in both algorithms. In both algorithms, these links must be to high-quality sites. Baidu, however, prefers these links to be to other Chinese sites, while Google has no country restrictions on external links. Baidu will consider links to high-quality foreign sites, but preference is given to sites that link to Chinese sites.
Starting an effective SEO campaign for Baidu is a little different to an SEO campaign for Google, where PBN setups can pretty much rank anything, even today. One of the biggest selling points for Baidu in the Chinese market is that it understands what the Chinese consumer base wants, and ranks sites for their value to the Chinese people. It regards the homepage as being the most important page on a site. The focus should be on developing a homepage that has been built with the needs and desires of the Chinese people in mind.