Many are aware that international investment in China continues to increase. The standard of living and buying power of Chinese citizens exhibits a similar growth pattern. Furthermore, internet adoption and access rates in China have exploded creating the largest population of internet users in the world. This has piqued the interest of many international organizations in leveraging digital marketing as a way to connect with Chinese customers.
Digital marketers within these organizations have had to gain an understanding of the Internet landscape in China. Since search engines are central to digital communication, SEO strategies have been a key focus of marketers looking to cracking the code on China. You might be faced with this challenge and need help getting started. I’ve put together a short guide to help you in crafting a Chinese SEO strategy.
Dominant Search Engines in China
Google, while it enjoys ubiquity and market leadership in virtually every country around the world, struggles in China. Occupying just 2.5% market share in China, Google provides hardly enough impact for digital marketers to rest on their laurels. Local search engine Baidu on the other hand, occupies 75% market share. Thus Baidu must be the focal point of any SEO strategy for China.
Hosting, Content Delivery, Licensing and More
The foundation for success on Baidu begins with hosting and delivery. Local hosting or utilizing a content delivery network (CDN) is a major ranking factor. Identifying hosting based in China should be a top priority.
One caveat as to hosting or utilizing a CDN in China is that you must obtain an ICP license from the Ministry of Internet and Information Technology. Without an ICP license, your website will be blocked by Baidu.
Country-code top level domains (ccTLDs) are commonly used to localize websites in many countries around the world. China is no different. Ideally you want to obtain a domain ending in .cn or .com.cn as this is a significant ranking factor on Baidu.
Foundations for Content
Baidu only crawls and indexes content that is in Simplified Chinese. Therefore if you are translating a English site for example, you should avoid translating into Traditional Chinese used in areas like Taiwan and Hong Kong. You can still make these languages available, however Baidu will not read them.
Baidu values quantity and quality so you should make sure that the pages you want to rank contain at least 300 words. The content should be valuable and informational and not stuffed with keywords. Baidu is very strict about duplicate content, so make sure that you do not have any of it on your site.
Optimizing Meta Data for Baidu
Meta data should be as complete as possible. Baidu considers title, description, and keywords all as ranking factors. Titles should use no more than 40 characters and contain a keyword-rich page title that invokes trust. Furthermore, your organization’s brand name should be included at the end. Bear in mind that Chinese characters occupy twice the space as Latin characters.
Meta descriptions can have up to 100 characters and meta keyword can have up to 50. You should never stuff any part of the meta data with keywords, however your most important keywords should be placed at the beginning of the meta description if at all possible. Baidu is unusual in that it does place significant emphasis on the meta keyword section as a ranking factor. Other major search engines around the world do not. Target 3 to 5 keywords in this section.
Baidu’s crawlers do not support noindex meta tags. However, can leverage nofollow and noarchive should you need to control content that appears in their index. Additionally, using canonicals are recommend method for defining which pages of your site are the most important.
Baidu is somewhat lagging in how it utilizes backlinks as a ranking signal. Backlinks are an extremely important ranking factor and it doesn’t appear to matter whether they are low quality or high quality. While that is expected to change over time, SEOs will continue to reap the benefits of large backlinks profiles for the foreseeable future.
You should avoid purchasing backlinks as paid links are viewed negatively by Baidu. However, backlinks from local Chinese websites provide more ranking value than backlinks from international sites.
Keyword-rich anchor text is still critical. Make sure that both your backlinks and internal links utilize keywords as much as possible.
Although optimizing a website for Baidu is no small undertaking, following the steps I just laid out can go a long way. As Baidu continues to grow, so do the number of agencies and consultants that are capable of assisting you with optimization. If you’re struggling with getting started and need assistance in identifying one, let me know and I will be happy to help.