Are you thinking of targeting the Chinese market in 2015? If so, insights from Mathew McDougall, one of our Ambassadors, who has 23 years of experience in Internet technology, with the past 11 years of that time spent in China, may help –

Is Google dead? Long live Baidu! Pretty provocative words I know and not strictly true, however in China this is very much the case. I won’t go into the reasons why Google didn’t make it within this region as that’s pretty well documented elsewhere. However I will explain how best to optimize your site for Baidu – the main Search Engine within China.

To get a presence in the Chinese Search Market there is clearly one king – Baidu, while others are closing the gap Baidu has the clear lead. If you are reading this, then I imagine you are creating a site that is aimed at the Chinese market, and
have already made that decision, to target this audience; (and so for that reason I’m not going to explain why Baidu is where to focus your attention as you should already know)! But you may be thinking that Baidu and Google are very similar in what they look for in a good website. Yet, while they do similar things, they are aimed at different markets and use very different technologies to achieve. So they actually tend to differ more than they share similarities.

The Baidu search algorithm looks like that of western search engines from many years ago – it’s less sophisticated and not as advanced. You can have frequent connection issues caused by the less sophisticated Internet Infrastructure of China.

How to Optimize for the Baidu Crawler:

Normally when taking into account SEO factors Baidu isn’t usually considered, and every SEO Consultant can get a blinkered view to only think of Google. I would say that this is a wrong approach when dealing with SEO, and Baidu in particular. To Rank well in Baidu you have to do things you would not normally worry too much about when dealing with other Search Engines. To optimize for Baidu you need to do the following:

  • Ensure Good crawl ability; (use a flat website style – every page should be accessible within TWO clicks of the home page)
  • Use an .xml sitemap not an .xml.gz sitemap
  • Host your site inside China; (Baidu gives search preference to sites on a Chinese IP)
  • Use a .CN Domain name; (.CN are given preference in rankings on Baidu)
  • Optimize the Meta data in your code to be at the top of your site; (Baidu sometimes only can see the first 100kb of your code, this is due to connectivity issues)
  • Post in Chinese; (this is a simple one people forget, Baidu does not like Non-Chinese content it knows its users Speak Chinese)
  • Don’t use iframes, JavaScript or Flash
  • Google Fonts (It’s ok to use them, but you need to make a small code change as the Google font API servers are hard to reach.

Website testing in China:

Now that you are about as technically prepared as you can be, you should do some on site tests. There are some factors we should think about when making a website for the Chinese market.

    • Speed: This is one factor you won’t get penalised by Baidu for it being too slow but your users sure will, so ensure that your website loads within a few seconds; (3-4 seconds is pretty acceptable if testing them from servers outside of China).
    • Usability: This is more of a major issue as this can affect how not only the users will interact with your site but also just as importantly they Baidu website crawler, this can be test by using a crawler simulator that can also emulate the behaviour of Baidu and acts like a simulator of how your website is seen. For this test I would recommend SEO Chat’s Spider Simulator. You should also make sure that the majority for your site is accessible from the Home page within 2 clicks, (as noted above), as this will make your site more discoverable to the Baidu Web Crawler and will result in more indexed pages.
    • Social Links: It obviously makes sense to use only Chinese Social media and not western ones as these are mostly inaccessible from China, and you should have your site optimized for their use on your site. You optimize for this by ensuring your accounts are set up correctly, and all links on your site are accessible from all parts of your site. I would firmly advise that you place these as a widget that follows the users as they scroll, but also at the end of each post. This is key to having a good conversion rate.
    • Mobile: Optimizing for mobile is key in the Chinese search market as the majority of searches take place from mobile in China, Baidu and other Chinese search engines will give you higher weighting if they can see that your site is optimised for mobile search. You are also more likely to get better conversion rates too.

If you follow this guide you will find that your site is more discoverable to the Chinese market, but also gain more in rankings for keywords, as you will be given a higher weighting by Baidu – this is what I specialize in here at Digital Jungle.  There are many other best practices that can be covered to ensure a higher ranking within Baidu too, but there simply isn’t enough time to list them all in detail. Those that I have just listed are some of the more important ones and will put anyone on the right track to performing well in China which I hope you will find of use.

Do you have any tips when creating optimized websites for the Chinese Market? What are you experiences in dealing with Chinese customers and getting conversion rates from them? Let us know your thoughts.

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