For those that don’t know, or who may be unfamiliar, Baidu is the primary search engine in China. To put it practically, Baidu is the Chinese equivalent to Google, both in function and market share.
Baidu controls roughly 70% of the search market in China (perhaps more if we had the most recent statistics) and by comparison, the American giant Google only accounts for around 2% of the Chinese search market.
With nearly 2 billion residents, China’s search market is immense. Being able to properly navigate and use Baidu to its fullest can do wonders for opening up your business to an entirely new market.
That’s where the trouble lies, unfortunately, there’s not a lot of information out there on how to use optimize for Baidu. While amateurish marketers may dismiss Baidu as just a Chinese clone of Google, the fact is, it’s much different once you start looking under the hood.
That’s why we’ve put out this guide to help you understand the algorithms, metrics, and information needed to optimize for Baidu and the massive market that it reaches. The potential for growth with this market is limitless if you know how to reach it properly and effectively.
We’ll take a deep dive into everything Baidu so that you know what you’re getting into and how to achieve the best results.
So, unlike Google, which began as a search engine and branched out later, Baidu is a tech company that happens to provide a search engine. They have numerous products and services that they offer.
The reason they have become the largest search engine in China is in part because they operate very similarly to Google in the way they display results and the services they provide.
The reason they stand out from Google though is that they are entirely focused on the Chinese market. Baidu is the single largest indexer of Chinese pages on the internet. This gives them a distinct advantage in that market.
This advantage is paired with their ability to translate Chinese text better than any engine on the planet. They far outclass Google in their ability to understand, interpret, and translate Chinese.
Additionally, the indexing is almost 100% composed of Chinese sites. Very few results at all are non-Chinese sites. This gives them a higher catalog of Chinese sites than anyone in the world, another reason they dominate the market.
The interface is also focused solely on Chinese being available in only Simplified Chinese. This is one key difference that is difficult to get around. Most other search engines from around the globe have multiple language options, notably the native language of the engine and English, Baidu does not. This makes it that much harder to dig into and understand Baidu without a full understanding of Chinese (or a guide like this one).
We could write you a whole guide on the similarities between Baidu and Google’s SERP. In some cases, it is clear Baidu was copying Google, in other cases the reverse was true.
Anyone reading this guide likely has a pretty healthy understanding of how a Google SERP works, so instead, we’ll focus on what Baidu does and how it makes them better, worse, or different from Google so that you too can take advantage of it.
We’ve already talked about how Baidu is only available in Simplified Chinese, meaning that only those who know the language will have an easy time interacting with Baidu. There are some other key differences as well that set Baidu apart and in some cases make it better or worse.
For one, Baidu remains open even after a user clicks on a search result. In other words, instead of going from the search engine results page to the desired link, the clicked link always opens in a new page. This automatically prompts users to keep searching and keep clicking. This is the only option available so users are always kept with the SERP up.
Baidu search results are also image-heavy. They use thumbnail images with almost all of their search results, this gives users a snapshot image of the page they are going to view.
Ads are one area where Baidu is different and not for the better. There is almost no information telling Baidu users whether something is a paid ad or not. This means that users may inadvertently click on an ad when they intend to click on standard search results.
As you know, there are at the very least, minimal ad disclaimers on Google that signify a paid advertisement for a business or particular site. This way users only click on it if they are interested in that business, otherwise, they continue to standard search results until they find what they want to click on.
One scandal, in particular, forced Baidu to limit ad space and make some significant changes to the way their ads work on the SERP. There’s still some discrepancy between ads on Baidu and on Google though.
One of the first differences in how data snippets are used by Baidu is that almost all of the information on Baidu is created by Baidu itself. Whereas Google uses third-party applications to acquire crawl data and create snippets, Baidu has its proprietary tools.
This is coupled with the fact that much of the information on page 1 of Baidu’s SERP is owned by Baidu, this gives them greater control over the top results and information collected and displayed by their SERP. The use of proprietary data collection and rich snippets makes Baidu much harder to optimize for.
Baidu also uses a separate URL to distinguish mobile search engines from its standard desktop version. While some pages have mobile variants and app versions available through Google, much of the standard search results are not specified for mobile.
Another thing that Baidu does differently of its own accord, is to transcode sites that are not mobile-friendly to make them easier to access on mobile devices. They are then hosted on Baidu’s servers. This is done without any action or consent on behalf of the site owner.
In a sense, this is a control mechanism that Baidu uses to both enhance and control the mobile search market. This can make optimization more difficult as Baidu uses its methods to optimize a site for mobile. You can optimize a site for use on Baidu, but if it is not done properly.
This is one of the most controversial systems that Baidu uses and one that you’ll want to understand fully and be a bit wary of.
With every website snippet Baidu includes a trust rating that shows how credible and trustworthy Baidu considers a domain. This is provided by Baidu itself and must be applied for by the website.
This rating is typically applied for and given out only to paid search clients. The issue with this system is that it is entirely controlled and run by Baidu and is subjective to their approval and whether or not the domain is willing to pay.
This is, in essence, a pay-to-play credibility rating. This is a tricky system for non-Chinese entities to navigate. Whereas the Google rating system is based on customer reviews and is an aggregate of reviews across the different Google services, there are certain stopgaps in place to prevent abuse. No such stopgaps exist with the Baidu system.
Google search results are fairly standard based on the type of query that is put in. You can expect to see your standard links, a few ads and any relevant data such as map results, business listings, and other info.
Baidu results are much different depending on the query. Because 70% of the properties on page one are Baidu’s, much of the results are also taken up by Baidu products. As such, many of these products have an impact on SEO performance within Baidu.
You can expect to see results that mirror the most relevant Baidu products and services front and center on the SERP when you search with Baidu. For example, travel results will include many links from Baidu Travel as well as large snippets and clickable widgets. The volume of information is greater with a Baidu search, but the content can usually be linked back to something owned by Baidu.
The actual Baidu algorithm is very similar to Google’s, only a few steps behind. In this way, it is easier to understand how it processes links and shows results. The key differences lie in the search focus. We’ll break down these differences so you can understand how they impact SEO when using Baidu and how to maximize your SEO.
The biggest hurdle that foreign sites have with ranking on Baidu is locality. Not that foreign sites cannot be visited in China or found on Chinese search engines, it’s that foreign sites hosted overseas have a difficult time accessing China thanks to an impressive firewall.
Because foreign sites are slower and less user-friendly, Baidu doesn’t rank them highly, the indexing is also less reliable. This means that the optimal search results for anything on Baidu need to be in Chinese, have a Chinese domain, and backlinks, addresses, or any other direct Chinese association.
The search engine is explicitly biased in this manner to where foreign sites may not rank at all.
They also have the market cornered for Chinese search queries thanks to their world-class language processing. This gives them a great deal of control in the Chinese search market, even outside of indexing search results.
There are a number of areas where site rank is influenced that Baidu lags behind Google. In particular image results and backlinks are weighted differently with Baidu focusing almost exclusively on Chinese backlinks to affect ranking. That’s a far cry from SEO link building in the U.S. English-speaking market where the correlation between rankings and backlinks lies at about 20%.
If you want to rank higher on Baidu, it’s best to not use these elements at all.
There are certain aspects that Baidu weighs heavier that can be advantageous for sites looking to rank. One such way is by constantly producing fresh content. Baidu weighs site freshness very highly in search rankings.
Additionally, domain age is weighted higher than on Google. This means newer sites will find it harder to rank highly on Baidu. This does give an advantage to older sites though.
Baidu also values meta tags as search criteria. While Google no longer gives them any weight, Baidu uses them to rank sites, which means that SEO with Baidu can include meta tags.
As we stated earlier, Baidu favors its own properties for the large majority of its search results on page one. This doesn’t mean though that you can’t use these properties to your advantage when being searched on Baidu. We’ll break down some of the top properties and how to use them to improve your SEO.
Baidu News is the top news aggregator in China and all of their links are to outside content because they don’t publish content of their own. Becoming qualified to be linked on Baidu news is difficult for foreign agencies, but if you can pull it off, loads of organic traffic can come your way.
This can drastically improve your ranking by being a trusted news source if that’s your niche.
Similar to Google, except less robust, Baidu Images catalogs more images to Chinese content than anywhere else. This makes it possible to use image searches to generate traffic from the Chinese market.
If your site contains relevant high-quality images, your site can rank highly thanks to Baidu Images. Most Baidu properties don’t link to third-party sites, but images are the exception that you can take advantage of to capture a portion of that market.
Baidu Wenku is the equivalent of Google docs in China and is the place people and businesses go to share and upload valuable documents and information.
If you want to share content that is valuable and you can optimize it for a Chinese audience, you can improve your search ranking by hosting documents through this service.
Essentially this is the Chinese counterpart to Wikipedia though, with many more pages and much more profitability. The one thing to note about Baike is that the credibility of the pages is a bit more speculative because you can pay to create and control your own pages.
However, if you can create a business page that gets listed on Baidu Baike, you can increase your traffic greatly and improve your ranking with little effort.
Baidu Zhidao is essentially a Q&A Forum akin to Quora or one of the other websites. Though not a marketing site itself, it can be a highly effective marketing tool.
The way you can use Zhidao to benefit your SEO is by answering questions relevant to your business. These answers often rank so highly in Baidu search results that some agencies specialize in optimizing for Zhidao. You can build your brand recognition and overall traffic by answering questions and being seen.
What we’ve listed here are just a few of the major products that frequent Baidu SERPs. There is the potential to improve your search ranking by using these and many more Baidu products to your advantage. Acquiring business listings for map services, public profiles, customized descriptions, and widgets can all help you climb the Baidu rankings without trying to force your way into the Baidu search engine.
Well, that’s it. Some of the key points to understanding Baidu and how to tap into the Chinese search market. By understanding the differences in how the algorithm works, what preferences are chosen, and what tools are available, you can begin to rank higher in a market that has great potential.
The biggest tip we can give is to tool your business towards the differences between Baidu and Google and use many of the Baidu services to your advantage. If you can master these two key aspects, you can reach a customer base of almost 2 billion people.