Baidu SEO: 14 things you need to know

There’s been a lot of discussion around the Chinese search engine Baidu and how to SEO content for that market. And for good reason. According to various reports, the Chinese online economy is booming, in part because of initiatives taken by the Chinese government, which has made rural infrastructure one of its highest properties. This includes the development of internet infrastructure.

The Ministry of Commerce reported that the online market in rural China nearly doubled in 2015 to $51 billion. And according to JP Morgan, three of the country’s largest city regions – Beijing, Guangdong and Shanghai – will only make up 10.6 million of the total 159.9 million new internet users to crop up between 2015 and 2018. The remainder will come from other, and often more rural, regions.

With such booming online activity across the country, optimizing for Baidu specifically will become increasingly important, especially since the content you’ve already optimized for search engines like Google or Bing won’t necessarily rank properly for Baidu.

That’s why we’ve put together a list of some of the key components you’ll want to incorporate into your Baidu SEO strategy to expand into the online Chinese market.

Content is . . . the Emperor of China?

Yeah, we digital marketers have all heard that old adage that Content is King. Just like Google, Baidu takes a number of things into consideration when weeding out bad content from the good. But Baidu also goes a few steps further than its Western counterparts to ensure that the content revealed to its users is qualified enough to enter the imperial palace in the Forbidden City.

  • Unique content: For Baidu, it’s especially important that your content is unique, and that there aren’t duplicate versions of your content elsewhere on the web. In fact, Baidu will penalize your website if clones of your content exist, which means you’ll have to do your due diligence in scouting the web and, where possible, getting duplicate content removed from other sites so that yours can rightfully rank where it should.
  • Quality and quantity: Again, unique content is key, but you’ll also want to make sure that you have a minimum of 300 words on each page.
  • Consistently new content: Baidu likes to see that websites are consistently active, meaning that the search engine looks for new and fresh content. That’s why you may consider creating a company blog, through which you’ll be able to prove to Baidu not only that your website has content-rich material but also that you’re an active authority within your sector or field.
  • Language and translation: China is a large country with various languages and dialects (more than 200 to be precise). Which means that a single word could have various meanings. And if your content winds up using words with the wrong meanings for your specific content, Baidu may ding you. That’s why you’ll absolutely want your content to be translated by a professional translator whose native language is Chinese. But beware: Baidu prefers Simplified Chinese over Traditional Chinese, so make sure to pick up some of the former when you stop by the translation shop.
  • Title tags: Just like Google, you’ll need to write a title tag. But because simplified Chinese characters equal two roman characters, you’re only left with a buffer limit of 35 characters instead of the standard 75. Other considerations? Use both a keyword-rich phrase and a branded term.
  • Meta keyword tags: Yes, Baidu still takes meta keyword tags seriously, so don’t think that just because you no longer need them to rank for Google, that you won’t need them for Baidu. Make sure to include three to five keyword phrases for every page on your site.
  • Image ALT tags: For Baidu, ALT tags are your most failsafe way of making sure your images rank, so include these as part of your SEO strategy.

Legal and technical requirements for Baidu SEO

Unlike the United States and much of the rest of the world, China has very strict laws when it comes to the freedom of speech and the topics that can be discussed on the web. Baidu, currently holding a majority share of online activity in China, requires companies to heed the various legal requirements the Chinese government has set in stone. Beyond that, there are a number of other technical requirements you’ll want to take into consideration for your SEO strategy.

  • Censorship: If your content contains certain words that have been blacklisted by the Chinese government, you can be sure that Baidu will de-index your page or your website altogether. You can find a list of blacklisted words here.
  • Internet content publishing license: More important, perhaps, than weeding out blacklisted terms is getting an Internet Content Publishing License, which you can acquire from the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. Without one, your website won’t be able to rank at all.
  • Domains: It might seem convenient, if you already have a .com domain, to simply create a localized version of your website and add a /cn to your root domain. That won’t fly with Baidu, however. Make sure you use a .cn domain that is hosted within China. Baidu also doesn’t take kindly to sub-domains or multiple domains, so just stick to the standard .cn version.
  • Physical address: Make sure your website lists a physical location in China for your business. Without one, Baidu may assume that your non-China-based business isn’t relevant for, well, China.
  • Site speed: A benefit of hosting your domain in China is that the load speed for your website will be much faster – an important factor for Baidu. In fact, if you don’t host your domain within China, your site will load significantly more slowly due to what is commonly known as the Great Firewall of China, a collection of legislative and technological actions undertaken by the Chinese government to regulate content on the web.
  • robots.txt: Baidu isn’t a fan of robots.txt files. So if you have any on your website, you may want to remove them and rely more on .htaccess files or the IIS server to set up the rules you would normally set up through robots.txt files.
  • JavaScript and Flash: If your website features JavaScript or Flash, you’ll want to make sure there’s an HTML alternative somewhere on your site. That’s because Baidu crawlers aren’t as sophisticated as Google in being able to crawl JavaScript and Flash files.

It all comes back to the content and the user

It doesn’t matter whether you’re optimizing your content for Google or Baidu (or both). The quality of the content you’re optimizing is ultimately what will allow you to flourish in complex markets like China’s. Your users, readers and prospective clients are the silver lining of any SEO strategy or campaign, so by following the steps we listed in this blog, you’ll be well on your way to providing relevant content that resonates.