Baidu is the largest search engine in China but then again, it’s arguably the only one that’s most similar to Google, which has many features blocked by the Chinese government. However, you can’t optimize for Baidu in the same way that you do for Google.
How to get SEO ranking in Baidu? There are probably some instances where SEO in Baidu and Google works the same way, but if you want to target Baidu exactly like Google, I think you're setting yourself up for failure.
There are more restrictions and challenges when it comes to Baidu. You’ll be dealing with differences in cultural, user behavior, legal, language, censorship, and more.
ANSWER: Follow Google's basic rules with an emphasis on grey-hat tactics, and you'll definitely need a native Chinese speaker to write your content
A Brief History And Understanding Baidu
Eric Xu and Robin Li founded the Baidu search engine in the year 2000. It’s one of the early movers in Chinese search and incorporated many similar aspects of Google. Specifically, in the areas of design and approach in how they rank web pages. That’s the good news but more on this in a moment.
A key reason to Baidu’s success is their algorithms ability to read Chinese text better than any other search engine in the region, including Google. As a result, they’re able to produce more relevant search results. However, one could argue that big G may be able to gain ground if the Great Firewall of China wasn’t blocking it.
Baidu has the largest index on the China search market and is mostly focussed on Chinese web pages. Priority is given to Chinese-owned websites or sites that are in Chinese. Very few web pages are displayed in the SERPs that do not use the Chinese dialect.
Similar to Google, they offer several services like cloud solutions, maps, digital music, video, translation software, browser, self-driving cars etc. Not to mention that they’ve got a Wikipedia clone in the works. I couldn’t find the actual site’s URL but it was supposed to have been re-launched in 2018. In addition, most of the search engine’s revenue comes from selling ads on its platform.
The Censorship Problem
In general, the censorship in Baidu is an issue. There are going to be words or phrases that are common to you and me, but are banned on the Chinese internet. One phrase or one article could be enough to have your website flagged and de-ranked.
The Chinese government is not afraid to shut down social media accounts of dissenters, so you'd better believe they'll ban your site from search. Its best to accept it if you want to rank on Baidu.
It would go against EU and North American competition laws if Google were to unfairly push their own products to consumers. However, this isn’t the case for Baidu because they can pretty much do whatever they want.
SEO Similarities to Consider
As previously noted, there are some similarities to Google in how Baidu ranks web pages and that’s good news for us. A lot of SEO experts (myself included) typically put off learning about Baidu since the general feeling is that we would need to re-learn everything. This is not the case.
You don’t have to do that because the SEO fundamentals are still the same. You’ll still have to address the following:
- Canonical URLs
- Site architecture
- Off-page and on-page SEO
All of the above are still relevant and fundamentally similar to optimizing for Google or Bing.
That being said, as is Chinese fashion, most of what Baidu does is copied from Google, so they are always a few steps behind. Although I don't have any direct evidence to support this, living in China for five years just gives me a hunch.
“A few steps behind” probably means they are much more susceptible to algorithm gaming tactics like private blog networks, keyword stuffing, bot-originating social proof, and black hat ranking methods that were popular a couple years ago.
Key Areas to Address For Baidu
I’m going to share what I know for certain that you’ll need to address SEO-wise. Baidu still uses much of the same ranking factors as any other search engine regardless of the difference in language. For instance, keyword density is still factored in to help their algorithms decide what web pages to rank.
Here are some mandatory things you’ll need to address.
1. Get a Native Chinese Person On Your Team
This is actually the most important thing you must do if you want to rank on Baidu! Otherwise, you’ll struggle to increase your rankings in the Chinese SERPs. Remember that you’re dealing with a search engine that’s Chinese language focussed.
While it’s tempting, don’t use an automated translator (e.g. Google Translate) because you’ll probably ruin the experience of your visitors. Your content will sound a bit off, like it wasn’t written for human beings, even if it’s somewhat readable.
Plus, don't forget that Baidu Webmaster Tools isn’t written in English, so if you don't speak (or read) Chinese proficiently, you can probably stop worry about Baidu rankings right now.
Link building is still a requirement here and a massive ranking signal at Baidu. In fact, it’s the most important one! As a result, the company is extremely thorough in how they filter out bad links. They don’t want Webmasters gaming the system.
Similar to the Penguin AI by Google, their “Green Radish” algorithm targets spammy link building practices and is regularly updated.
After living in China for 5 years, and learning how to read and write the language, the Chinese web still gives me a headache. A page full of Chinese characters all at once is an intimidating thing. I can't offer any specific advice here, but in general, readability affects on-page metrics like time on page, bounce rate, CTR, and social shares.
In true Google fashion, Baidu now uses HTTPS as a ranking factor. They’re also highly focussed on web security, although it may not be entirely for the same reasons North American search engines are. After all, the Chinese government prefers to control the flow of information.
What I found interesting is that Baidu.com is available in an unsecured variation and it’s unclear why this is the case. Essentially, you’ll gain access to a non-secure version of the site if you typed the domain without HTTPS.
5. Mobile Friendliness
China is mostly mobile. Owning a desktop device isn’t all that common in China compared to North America where consumers use several device types to access the web. Many people in the region rely solely on their mobile devices for accessing the Internet. More than 95 percent of Internet users in the country use mobile to access the web.
Baidu cares about mobile as much as Google does. That’s why they have their own version of AMP called MIP or Mobile Instant Page (are you noticing a patter here yet?).
Like AMP, MIP helps Webmasters create Markup that is lightweight and fast loading in order to improve the mobile user experience.
Definitely Going To Be A Learning Curve
Google, Bing, and Baidu are similar in how they approach SEO rankings. The other two seem to be taking cues from Google and following in their footsteps. However, they all want to provide the highest quality search results to their users. Therefore, they share the same goal in that area and you should also focus on creating the best user experience possible.
However, the learning curve will be there even though Baidu is similar to Google. There are no short cuts when it comes to language, so you’ll absolutely need a native speaker of Chinese on your SEO team.
More resources on ranking in Baidu
- Ultimate Guide To Baidu SEO
- An SEO Field Guide To Baidu SERP Feature And Ranking Signals
- A Crash Course In Chinese SEO