ComScore’s announcement in early July that Baidu had become the second largest global search engine caused a fair bit of chatter in the industry as well as getting the attention of global marketers. ComScore further reported that Baidu had more than 8 billion searches and 145 million unique visitors in June meaning Baidu’s market share in China is nearly 76% to Google China’s 19.8 percent.
After this announcement, and the recent changes announced by Baidu, those of us with connections in China received a flood of calls and emails from agencies and companies asking how they can get in on this massive opportunity to connect with China’s 338 million online users.
This escalated interest in reaching China, as well as the recent improvements to Baudi’s platform prompted me to take a new look at Baidu and to answer the most frequent burning questions being asked by curious advertisers.
Everything is in Chinese so how do I advertise?
Advertising in Baidu now is a lot easier than it has been in the past. Obviously, if you, your team or agency have the ability to read and input Chinese you can set up an account by going to Baidu’s Advertiser web site. If you can’t interact with the Chinese interface, Baidu has set up an International Support site with English language email and phone support from account managers who can help you get started and answer questions.
However, for most companies who don’t have the Chinese language capability your best option will be to use one of the growing number of agencies that are offering full service solutions for Baidu. For many companies these specialist agencies are the better option since they can handle coordination, ad development, optimization as well as the keyword research and cultural nuances necessary to be successful online in China.
Is it true the only way into Baidu is via paid ads?
Six months ago, search marketers would have told you the only way to get exposure in Baidu was to buy your way in. For many popular consumer phrases, as many as the first ten to twenty pages of results were all paid ads, which is why many SEO firms in China charged businesses by the click to get them onto the first page of rankings.
Paid ad dominance is no longer the norm under Baidu’s new platform code named “Phoenix Nest” (a.k.a. “Professional Edition”) which was officially deployed in April. Essentially, Phoenix Nest moved paid search listings from the left side to the right side and the top three listings making SERPs look and feel more like western search engines.
In early September Baidu migrated over 800,000 keywords from their old system into the Phoenix Nest platform. This migration has resulted in a significant decrease in the number of paid results on the left side. Those sites lucky enough to backfill the now open SERPS benefit from significantly increased organic traffic.
In a future article I will dig deeper into the characteristics of Baidu’s paid search platform, but for now I can tell you the new platform is very similar to Google’s with many of the same optimization techniques working equally well on Baidu. Just like Google, Baidu has deployed a quality score mechanism called “Comprehensive Rank Index” focused on improving the overall quality of ads for searchers and advertisers.
How can I improve my organic rankings on Baidu?
The good news is most of the normal on page optimization factors you implement to rank well in Google will also improve your rankings in Baidu. The algorithm is not as sophisticated as Google’s nor does it currently put much weight on inbound links which makes life a lot easier for marketers to make quick changes to their site and start reaping the benefits. Some items that are unique to ranking well in Baidu are:
The site must be in Chinese. The obvious first step to ranking well in organic results is to have content in Chinese. Simplified Chinese is the primary language of Mainland China so it is important to make sure you have used the correct language tags on the site.
The site should be hosted in China. While Baidu has many non-China hosted sites in its database and it is not a requirement to have a .cn domain or be hosted in China, it is a strong recommendation. The main reason for Baidu’s preference for local hosting is due to government firewalls and poor connectivity issues that are common in China. Local hosted sites stand a greater chance of being found and reindexed when they are in China.
Put the most important content at the top of the page. Due to poor connectivity, Baidu’s crawlers want to get as much content as they can and will often simply crawl only the first 100 to 120k of content on a page (remember AltaVista, circa 1998?).
All-Flash sites are a problem. Since marketers could buy their way into Baidu results in the past, many sites did not need to consider the negative implications of Flash only content on their organic search performance. This has been one of the primary reasons many large company sites are having a hard time gaining traction in Baidu’s organic results.
If you are China-ready, look at Baidu’s options to increase market share
The recent changes in Baidu offer a number of opportunities for marketers to maximize their search presence in both paid and organic search. While I am not advocating you jump into the market unprepared, I do strongly suggest you look at the new opportunities with Baidu as a way to expand your market share and sales before your competition does.
To succeed in China it is critical to understand your Chinese consumer, how they use the Internet and how they would engage your products in their local markets. While the opportunities in China are significant, there are still many challenges for Western companies to overcome to be successful. Those ready to embrace these challenges and leverage the new opportunities of Baidu should be on their way to reaping the benefits China has to offer.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.