China’s dominant search engine, Baidu, offers huge potential for marketers seeking to connect with Chinese consumers. Yet, for US companies, there are several barriers to entry that haven’t made it worth the hassle — for starters, all documentation is in Mandarin and ads and landing pages need to be written in Chinese to see any level of success.
To further open up the Chinese search market to US companies, China Search International, a Baidu reseller that helps foreign companies advertise on the search engine, has set up shop in the US.
China Search International (CSI) has offices in Singapore, London, Sydney and now Santa Monica. CSI acts like a chaperone to international advertisers like Saks Fifth Avenue, Quantas, British Airways and Clinique, helping them navigate the complex process of getting up and running on Baidu. Advertisers pay CSI a 2.5 percent processing fee to cover banking and foreign exchange fees. The company can also assist clients in paying their Baidu advertising costs in US dollars, which has been just one of the hurdles for advertisers.
“We eliminate getting lost in translation. The goal is to provide education, service and support in the US. This will allow the management of the budgets, strategy and transparency to occur at US corporate headquarters,” says Sarah Holtzman, head of North American sales for China Search International (CSI. Holtzman, who previously ran Yahoo’s global search program, recently wrapped up a road show in the US to introduce Baidu search products to agencies and brands.
With an online population of 564 million, China has more online users than the next top four online populations — US, India, Japan and Brazil — combined. The growth potential isn’t lost on marketers either. Just 42 percent of China’s population is online, compared to 79 percent of the US population. Baidu claims nearly 80 percent market penetration with 531 million regular users.
Yet, in addition to the shear market size, what sets the Chinese search market apart are the number of fraudulent businesses listed in the organic results and the hurdles companies have to jump over to get authorized to advertise.
Holtzman explains that Baidu has strict regulations and a process in place for an advertiser to market on their platform. “The contract process is only in Mandarin and they mandate a company chop (stamp), business registrations and verification of ownership/right to sell products in order to advertise. This is due to Baidu wanting to make sure there is minimal amount of fraud and illegitimate business practices on the Baidu platform,” explains Holtzman.
Interestingly, the organic listings are so mistrusted, Holtzman points out, “this is why we see such low CTR for SEO results vs. the 3-5 percent CTR on SEM”. Baidu actively encourages consumers to interact with their SEM results rather than the organic listings because the advertisers have been verified as legitimate businesses. (Certainly, this could be interpreted as a way to increase revenue and run what amounts to a paid search engine. But, Baidu has implemented what it calls its Netizen Protection Plan to compensate consumers who have been ripped off by a site they found through a listing on Baidu — both paid and search results.)
Part of CSI’s role is to help advertisers provide the documentation needed for verification. Once approved, CSI will help advertisers with keyword list development, translation services, budgeting and billing.
Ad opportunities on Baidu include text ads that look similar to those on US search engines as well as banner, rich media and video advertising on Baidu’s content network of over 600,000 sites in China.
Baidu’s Brand Zone unit allows established brands to dominate search results for their branded terms. Brand Zone’s can include images, videos, animated gifs and social media links in addition to deep links to the brand’s site. Here’s an example of a Brand Zone for Chanel (translated from Chinese using Google translate).