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What is Baidu?

Baidu is the world’s second largest search engine behind Google and is China’s largest. It was launched in Beijing in 2000 by creators Robin Li and Eric Xu and its success has propelled Li to be one of the richest people in China. Baidu’s literal meaning is ‘hundreds of times’ and gets its name from the last lines in the poem, Green Jade Table in The Lantern Festival written in the Southern Song Dynasty by Xin Qiji, which roughly translates as, ‘searching for her a thousand times among the crowd, I turn around suddenly. She is there under the waning lantern light.’ Baidu’s main strength is in its natural Chinese language processing where it is well ahead of any western competitors.

Baidu’s Market Share

The proportion of Baidu’s market share in China as of April 2019 is 70% according to Statcounter, which is less than Google’s share of the US or global search market. There are more differences in the Chinese search market across devices than in other areas and even device specific competitors. According the China Internet Network Information Centre (CNNIC), 53.3% of China’s population goes online and 95.1% of them do so with a mobile device. On mobile devices, Baidu has 80.98% of the search market with the nearest competitor Shenma having 11.35%, whereas on desktop, Baidu has 48.62% of the market with Sogou having 29.66% after seeing a large increase in its popularity in 2019. Shenma hardly has any desktop market share which shows the differing landscape for search in China and the differing market forces that Baidu contends with.

baidu market share China 2019

As for Google in China, the search engine giant withdrew from the market in 2010 over disagreements over censorship. It started to re-enter the China market from 2016, but with more of a focus on development and Artificial Intelligence (A.I) research. In 2018, a leaked memo revealed Google’s plans for project Dragonfly; the creation of a search engine for China which conformed to the Communist party’s censorship rules. However, following a backlash from Google employees and US politicians the project was scrapped. As of April 2019 Google only has 3.1% of the total Chinese search market.

Anatomy of Baidu SERPs

Baidu’s Search Engine Results Page (SERP) follows the basic layout of Google’s with a clean UI featuring two columns with search results on the left and query related information and similar searches on the right. There is more variety in Baidu searches when compared with Google with hundreds of variations in the SERP listings depending on the query type. Also, Baidu’s own sites have high visibility in its SERPs making it more difficult to attain the number one rank for a query. Like other search engines, Baidu features ads, which are highlighted in a pastel pink and marked as advertising.

Baidu SERP - huawei phone

Website Setup in China

The People’s Republic of China employs the ‘Great firewall of China’ or Golden Shield project as it’s officially called. This is intended by the Chinese government for censorship and surveillance of the internet on the China mainland meaning that views contrary to the government won’t be seen on the Chinese internet. What the Chinese government considers to be ok is vague and is subject to change. Marriot hotels recently fell afoul of the government when it listed Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet and Macau as being separate countries on its app and in emails resulting in it being banned for a week. You can check whether your site is blocked at here.

Baidu Ranking Factors

Like other searches engines, Baidu has many factors in its algorithm contributing to organic search performance. Here we will examine some common SEO factors and how they are apply to Baidu.

Verification

Baidu has a unique system for verifying the trustworthiness of websites with its V-labels which appear in the SERPs for both organic and paid listings of your site. The labels are available through Baidu’s PPC program, so you’ll need to set one of these up first, which requires a mainland China contact. There are three levels of verification; V1, which costs around $100 a year, V2, which is more expensive, and the top verification level V3.

The V3 label is not bought like the others but is earned by proving a level of trustworthiness and professionalism to Baidu. Acquiring a V3 labels requires that you first have had a V2 label. Having a V label for your site will give you a ranking advantage as well as providing a sought after sign of authenticity to Chinese users, which with so many counterfeit and spammy sites in the space is very important.

Baidu - V1 verification - 360doccom

Baidu - V2 verification - mujicom

Baidu - V3 verification example

Domain

The first thing that is necessary for a website to operate in China is having an Internet Content Provider (ICP) licence. There are two kinds of ICP licence; a commercial and individual licence. The commercial licence also requires a Chinese business licence, while the individual licence requires you have an address and phone number in mainland China. Not having a ICP licence does not stop sites being indexed and returned by Baidu. However, having an ICP will mean higher rankings in Baidu and should be acquired for those wanting to operate in China and perform well in Baidu’s SERPs.

Like other search engines Baidu places some weight in its algorithm to the age of a domain and website and the TLD it uses. Baidu gives more weight to domain age than Google which should be considered if you are considering launching a new site for the Chinese market or expanding an existing site to include the country.

For new sites another important consideration is the size of your site on launch. When Baidu first crawls your site it will access how large it is and how comprehensive the content is. On this information Baidu then sets what it thinks is an appropriate crawl rate for the site. If on launch your site is small and low on content Baidu will view it with less trust and won’t crawl it as often.

Baidu considers some TLDs as spammy and will give less priority to them for indexation. Low cost TLDs such as .online or .website should be avoided and you should invest in a .cn or .com TLD which is more reputable. The use of a .cn TLD is a hard signal to Baidu that your site is intended to serve Chinese mainland users. However, from research by Searchmetrics it does not seem to be a ranking factor in itself and Baidu even uses a .com TLD.

Baidu also treats sub-domains slightly differently to other search engines and views them as sub categories of the main domain. It is best to use one domain for China to concentrate equity to a single and oldest domain.

Site Speed

Site speed is more important in Baidu’s algorithm compared with other search engines for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the internet speeds are slow in China, so quick sites are better for user experience and crawl efficiency. Secondly, most Chinese web users use mobile devices which require faster load speed. The use of a China based CDN could help improve load speed and are preferred to global CDNs which could be blocked by the government, as happened to Edgecast in 2014.

To help increase speed on the mobile web, Baidu launched Mobile Instant Pages (MIP) in 2016 and the following year announced a partnership with Google Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project. With over 1 billion MIP URLs indexed, Baidu has made a big commitment to the project that would suggest it won’t be depreciated any time soon. Although MIP pages currently don’t get a ranking boost, Baidu is considering giving them a distinct ranking advantage in future. If load speed is an issue for your Chinese site you should consider developing MIP pages.

Meta Tags

Like other search engines the page title is an important ranking factor and for Baidu should be a max of 30 Chinese characters long. The target keyword should be included towards the beginning and Baidu recommends including the brand or company name in page title.

Unlike other search engines, Baidu does give some ranking weight to meta descriptions and they should be optimised for search. The limit for meta descriptions is 78 Chinese characters and should include target keywords a couple of times along with some branding.

Meta keywords are another ranking factor in Baidu which aren’t used by Google and are a negative ranking factor for Bing. Your Chinese URLs should include meta keywords including the target terms for the page in simplified Chinese.

Content

Baidu is much better than other search engines in processing native Chinese, however with more than 200 languages and dialects in China it favours simplified Chinese. Your site’s content should be in this language set and should be written by a native Chinese speaker and not machine translated. Your content should also be in HTML with minimal scripts as Baidu can’t crawl JavaScript Flash or iFrames. URLs should use English or Pinyin characters.

Baidu’s web crawler is not as sophisticated as Google’s and it may not crawl all the content on a page, especially if it is slow to load. This makes it more important for target keywords to be included high up on the page to ensure they are crawled and considered by the Baidu spider.

Content freshness is also important to Baidu with it favouring new over old content and especially content which is topical and relevant to Chinese users. Having a content marketing strategy which ties your product and service into trending topics in China and that includes regular updates to a blog, publishing of press releases and other media should improve organic visibility.

Content quality, as with other search engines is important for Baidu and it is recommended that you include at least 300 words of unique copy on your pages. The uniqueness of you content is also important as Baidu will penalise duplicate content and is not as sophisticated as Google in telling who originated the content. This means that in Baidu sites that scrape content can rank higher than the original publisher and so it is a good idea to regularly check for scraped content appearing and where possible have it removed. You can also submit your content to Baidu when you publish through the webmaster tools account which will help establish you as the content creator.

How your site’s content is organised is important to Baidu with URLs higher in the site structure being preferred over deeper ones. This means that homepage content is more important in Baidu and you can find it ranking for more queries than in other search engines. It is recommended to keep all important content within four clicks from the homepage, or closer if possible.

The use of internal links is important to give Baidu an indication of the hierarchy of URLs within you site and you should concentrate internal links to the most important URLs on you site linking to them from URLs high in the site structure. Like other search engines AnchorText is used to inform them about the content of the linked URLs and internal links should contain target keywords relevant to the target URL.

Off Page

Links play a part in Baidu’s algorithm as they do for other search engines, but it is considered less sophisticated than Google’s handling of backlinks. There are many tactics still used in link building for Baidu that would be a definite no-no for Google.

Blogging platforms are widely used to build external links as they are very popular in China and Baidu regularly crawls platforms such as Sina, Sohu or Tianya and is quick to index their content.

Many sites in China will accept content submissions for publication which they do without hyperlinking URLs and just featuring URLs in plain text, which Baidu will count as links. As these content submissions generally have human editors they are considered somewhat trustworthy and can be effectively used in a link building campaign.

Baidu has many publishing platforms such its Wikipedia equivalent Baike and Zhidao, its version of Quora or Yahoo answers which are highly visible in SERPs, crawled often and quickly indexed which can be great for getting referral traffic as well as linking to your target site.

Reciprocal linking is still somewhat effective in Baidu and it is common to see ‘friendship links’ on sites. However, this tactic should only be followed on high quality sites that are relevant to the target site as Baidu is developing its link algorithms to reduce and penalise spam.

The AnchorText of external links plays more of a role in Baidu than other search engines and you should try and build links to your site which contain target keywords and phrases, but avoid doing so in bulk and try to acquire links from quality website, relevant to you site which provide genuine benefits to users.

Baidu has made some progress in following Google example of tackling web spam and will penalise sites using web spam tactics to manipulate its SERPs. It has two types of links that it considers as spam; garbage links and spam. Garbage links are those which are links from scraped content, automatically generated content and links in results pages. Spam links are those which have been bough, links injected through hacking, comment and signature links and link farms. These links can negatively affect both the linking site and the linked site and should avoided.

Baidu did have a disavow facility in its webmaster tools for dealing with such links. However, in 2015 it closed this tool as it announced that it was able to identify spammy links and discount them and that it was only going to value links from high quality, trusted websites. There is some scientism among SEOs as to how truthful this announcement was and to the sophistication of Baidu’s algorithm for link spam, but with them focusing on tackling web spam the best tactic for long term success in Baidu off page is to build relationships with quality websites and publisher related to you niche and offer high quality content which is of interest and use to users.

Baidu SEO Tools

Baidu provides several tools for SEOs to use like Google, Bing or Yandex. First though you must create an account to access these tools, which you can do from outside of China here. The tools are all in Chinese and don’t support any other languages, so you’re best using Chrome and its translation tool to view them if you are not a native Chinese speaker.

Baidu Keyword Tool

To use the Baidu keyword tool you need to have a Baidu PPC account set up which requires you to have a contact in China. The tool is limited compared to Google’s keyword planner in that you can only get data for one keyword at a time. It is best to employ a local agency when conducting keyword research and to use simplified Chinese.

Baidu Webmaster Tools

Like Google and Bing Baidu has a webmaster tools web service where you can view crawl rate, indexation and error data, view keywords that your site is visible for, your site’s top pages, submit a sitemap and generate a robots.txt file and ping Baidu.

baidu-webmaster-tools

Baidu Index

Baidu index is similar to Google Trends available only in Chinese which gives trends by keyword for PC and mobile over a 7 or 30 day period. It also provides related keywords which is great for analysing semantic relationship in Baidu and for keyword research. It also provides some user profile data, with location in China, age ranges and the gender of users making the query. A great feature that Baidu index has is its news monitoring which shows media publications related to your keyword. This is great for identifying content partners as well as trending topics.

Baidu Index Demand Map

Baidu Index Information

Baidu Search Operators

Like other search engines Baidu supports the use of several search operators for researching sites:

domain: & site:

Examples – domain:amazon.com & site:amazon.com

These search operators show whether a domain is indexed by Baidu and approximately how many of its URLs are indexed.

inurl:

Example – inurl:.cn

This search operator returns URLs with the specified word in the URL. This can be combined with the domain: and site: operators to show URLs containing the word from a specific website.

Example Inurl: & site: – site:amazon.com inurl:shoes

allinurl:

This search operator is more specific than the inurl: operator and returns URLs which contain all of the words queried. This operator is best used along with the site: operator as it can be a bit buggy when not querying the whole of Baidu’s index and doesn’t always return results containing all specified keywords.

intitle:

Example: intitle: – intitle:shoes

This search operator returns URLs with the specified word in the meta title. It can also be combined with the domain: and site: operators for more specific search on a particular site. To return URLs with multiple keywords in the title it is best to use the allintitle: operator.

allintitle:

Example: site:amazon.com allintitle:flat shoes

This operator returns URLs with the specified words in the meta title. Both this and the intitle: operator are best combined with the site: operator as like with the allinurl: operator it can fail to returns results containing all words in the title when querying the whole of the Baidu index.

Minus (-)

Using the “-“ minus symbol in a search query excludes a particular part of the phrase. The word to exclude should not be the first in the query and space should be left after the word before the minus, but not before the word to exclude.

Example: shoes -sports

Baidu Owned Properties

A large difference in Baidu SERPs are large numbers of Baidu properties which tend to rank for most queries. There are numerous Baidu properties which you will compete against in the SERPs and which can also form part of a content strategy for SEO in China.

Baidu Baike is China’s equivalent to Wikipedia and is highly visible in Baidu’s SERPs. Launched in 2006 it has now over 15 million articles and is for many searches the first listing in Baidu’s SERPs. To gain visibility for your brand or company you should have a dedicated Baike content strategy. While external links can be included in a Baike post they are nofollow and should be viewed as a way to build trust to your target site as well as being a driver of referral traffic.

Baidu Zhidao is its version of Quora or Yahoo answers and is highly visible in the SERPs for direct question queries. As with Baike external links are nofollow and this platform should again be used as a way to promote your offerings by providing genuine answers to users’ questions. It is also a very useful tool for discovering content ideas and to check for trends.

Baidu Tieba is an online forum for China, similar to Reddit. Tieba does not allow advertising, so you should be very careful if posting that any links you include are relevant to the topic of discussion and not to include too many. As with Zhidao the value of using Tieba may be content creation ideas more than linking as you will be able to gain insights into consumers needs and create content that satisfies them.

Baidu Algorithm Updates

As with all search engines Baidu is constantly innovating, updating and developing its algorithm. Unlike Google who have become increasingly secretive about their algorithm updates Baidu has been more forthcoming with information about them giving them names and providing information on what they do. Here are some of the main Baidu algorithm updates and what they entail. Baidu seems to have taken their lead from Google, following the release of the Penguin update in 2012 and have mainly concentrated on links spam and user experience.

Scindapsus Aureus/ Money Plant

This update was released in 2013 affecting over 100,000 sites and is similar to Google’s Farmer update and targets links spam, link farms and overtly commercial content on Baidu news. This update penalised both the linking and target sites involved in spammy linking practices. A second version of the update was released later in 2013 and targeted linking from advertorials.

Pomegranate

Again, launched in 2013 this update focused on content quality like the Google Panda update and targeted sites with poor quality content as well as sites which included ads that blocked content for users.
Superchain

With this update, released in 2015 Baidu also closed its disavow tool facility and announced that it was able to decide which sites’ links to trust and were ignoring most links apart from a limited number of highly trusted sites. It stated that web marketers should not engage in paid link building tactics any longer as they would no longer work. It remains to be seen whether this is entirely true as this would entail a highly sophisticated algorithm which many believe Baidu does not have.

Ice Bucket

The Ice Bucket update has had the most iterations; first release in 2014 and five versions released until 2016. This update focused specifically on mobile devices and similarly to Pomegranate targeted sites with ads that prevented the page content from being viewed or required users to login to view the content.

Blue Sky

This update, released in 2016 targeted news sites which were selling advertorials and directory listings with links. It removed offending sites from list of news sources and gave a ranking penalty.

Beacon Fire update

Released in 2017 this update targeted hijacked pages which drove users to fake Baidu results pages where malicious sites were linked from.

Hurricane

Released in 2017 and taking a harsh stance on sites that copied content this update would remove offending URLs from the Baidu index. The effectiveness of Baidu’s ability to algorithmically identify the originator and copier of content is questionable and there is a feedback centre for content originators to contact if they experience drops in traffic which suggests the algorithm still has some way to go.

Breeze

Another 2017 update from Baidu was the Breeze update which specifically targeted page titles and sites that either stuffed page titles with keywords or used misleading page titles, such as fake sites purporting to be official, offering different content than that stated in the page title or lead to fake download pages.

Thunder

The Thunder update, again released in 2017 introduced load speed as a ranking factor. Sites whose mobile pages’ load within two seconds receive a ranking boost, whereas load speed of over three seconds would receive a ranking penalty.

If you need assistance with your Baidu SEO efforts, contact Engage today!