SEO – Top 10 insights for SEO and PPC success in China
Over the last 20 years, I have implemented campaigns with hundreds of global businesses and learned about Baidu and other Chinese platforms.
Here are key insights to help set your search campaigns for success in this market.
1. Understand the Chinese market and audience
Gaining insight into the Chinese market and its audience should be your goal to succeed in China.
Remember that this country has a distinct customer base with its own language, culture, customs and habits which need careful consideration for effective campaigns that will strike home with them.
Getting off on the right foot means you’ll need to research what’s happening locally thoroughly. Discern between different kinds of buyers, from tech-savvy people active on social platforms such as WeChat, Taobao or Weibo to those who aren’t.
The country and its population are massive, and the behavior and dialects can change from one region to the next, to one city to the next.
Shanghai vs. Beijing, for example, is about as different as London is vs. San Francisco. Take note of seasonal trends and special occasions like Chinese New Year and Singles Day.
Knowing when these happen can really give you an edge over competitors so your efforts are at maximum potential during key parts throughout the year.
Finally, cultural awareness must also apply when making up marketing materials. Navigating sensitive subjects like politics, religion, etc., remains a central factor here lest any negative reception could arise.
Keeping an appropriate tone free from contentious topics helps ensure we get our message heard. The Chinese mostly have a very “collective” behavior. That means they often work together, socialize more to help and learn from their broader community.
2. Know the importance of Baidu and the other platforms in China’s digital landscape
Gaining success in the Chinese market requires recognizing the significance of Baidu.
The search engine remains the most popular in China and is many steps ahead compared to its rivals such as 360 Search or Sogou.
Baidu has about a 75% share of desktop search engines’ market. Similar to Google’s guidelines, researching Baidu’s own algorithm guidelines, such as:
- Avoiding keyword stuffing.
- Forming captivating titles and descriptions along with internal links.
- Applying tags and meta-data features correctly so bots can effortlessly crawl pages.
- Optimizing images for faster load speed on mobile devices.
Additionally, those living in this country opt more for social media websites and apps like WeChat, Weibo, Xiaohongshu, Zhihu and Douyin (TikTok).
Thus, you will want to ensure these channels are integrated seamlessly while planning your SEO and PPC initiatives.
3. Compliance and licensing are critical
China has stringent policies regarding what they may consider unhealthy to their culture and laws. This includes nothing politically sensitive (i.e., gambling and pornography) and the types of advertisers, what they sell, and how they sell it.
You may not think it’s fair, but voicing or appealing your own idea of fairness based on Western culture will get you nowhere in China, at worst, banned forever.
You might not try to get into the Chinese search space if you are not compliant.
Your advertising agency or partner should be able to apply for you to get hosting in China. Depending on meeting all of the requirements, the license should take anywhere from two weeks to three months.
There are two different types of licenses:
- ICP filing: For non-commercial websites.
- ICP commercial license: For commercial websites.
Without hosting your site in China, you lose credibility with your users and risk devaluation with search. This devaluation comes from slower levels of access (stuck behind the Chinese Firewall) and not being local.
If the advertiser doesn’t have a registered office in China, they can’t get a .cn domain. And without a .cn domain, they are not qualified to get an ICP.
However, there are ways around this, for example, getting a sub-ICP license from a CDN provider. The rules here change a lot. Your Chinese partner should help navigate your case, especially if it’s unique.
Additional regulations, such as the 2017 Cybersecurity Law and the Personal Information Protection Law, are similar to GDPR and require all sites to protect user data and obtain user consent before collecting and using any personal data.
Some ecommerce laws cover aspects such as ecommerce platform responsibilities, contracts, dispute resolution, and more. Baidu’s policies will mirror the government policies, so remember that it is not as easy as it is to get on Google as it is with Baidu—the same with other platforms in China.
4. Analytics and your data
Set up Baidu Analytics. If you depend on Google Analytics and other Western analytic software, you may risk inaccuracy as the signals fired may never be recorded.
Baidu Analytics will allow you to evaluate discrepancies between analytic tech stacks. However, they may not have the deeper level’s of attribution and data that Google and others may have.
5. Design toward the market
When designing your website and display ads, remember that the images used should also follow cultural appropriateness standards.
Ensure they do not contain offensive symbols from different countries and that they are mirroring established customs (where possible). This gives an added level of confidence and trust by showing Chinese cultural understanding and respect.
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6. Payment gateways are different here
Payment gateways must also be carefully considered when building sites here.
Even though PayPal works fine overseas due to its global acceptance, inside the Chinese Mainland, web payment systems such as Alipay and WeChat Pay remain more popular.
Implementing them into the design will help establish trust outside of just the obvious, sales.
7. Social in China is a must for building credibility and trust
Social in China should also be in your strategy to help both paid and organic’s credibility and elevate your brand.
Social is crucial because Chinese users often use social media to discuss offers with others. This enables Chinese users to further their research and provides you with the trust and credibility points you need to establish yourself in the market. The two most critical social sites are WeChat and Weibo.
WeChat, developed by Tencent, is an all-in-one app widely used for various purposes. It’s aa social media app that also serves as a platform for instant messaging, voice and video calls, moments sharing (similar to Facebook’s news feed), mobile payments (WeChat Pay), shopping, ride-hailing, and much more.
Its comprehensive features make it integral to daily life in China. WeChat is also very easy to advertise on and highly recommended as soon as you launch your search campaigns.
Weibo, often called China’s Twitter, is a microblogging platform where users can post, share, and comment on short messages or “weibos.”
It’s popular for news dissemination, public discussions, and celebrity updates. It allows users to follow individuals, companies, and topics of interest.
8. Translating and localizing
Be very attentive with your translation. “Simplified Chinese” is what is used.
Do not use automatic translation without a true local optimizing it appropriately.
Colors, fonts and other nuances may limit your success in the market if it’s not designed with the Chinese user in mind. Also, do not use it unless you have someone who is Chinese who can review, adjust and correct it.
This is the simplest thing to get right, yet many companies try to take shortcuts and fail miserably in China.
9. Starting with Baidu’s paid search
Before jumping into SEO, paid search provides some important starting points critical to learning your market. Most importantly, you will be able to identify what works and what doesn’t regarding your keyword research, conversions, issues with your website (site structure, speed, analytics), etc.
The keyword research process holds immense importance here. Before jumping onto creating campaigns, you will need to conduct comprehensive analyses to identify those words most likely leading towards conversions.
Moreover, having a good understanding of the different types of keywords available via Baidu (brand-specific ones alongside generic terms and long-tail phrases) will ensure you maximize reachability while getting the highest defined ROI possible from your ad campaign.
When launching Intel into the Chinese market in the early days, we identified 15 different dialect characters per keyword. This was while employing a strategy around targeting and treating every region of China and major metropolitan area as its own country. (When you add the behaviors, context, keywords and monstrous populations, you’d see why that was a smart strategy.)
It is also not uncommon for you to find or even get to use English keywords. A form of “Chenglish” in major sophisticated metro areas such as Shanghai and Beijing, where the population has more Western influences integrated into the culture, may mix English and Chinese search terms while searching.
Another key aspect lies with creative optimization too. Unlike Google Ads or Bing Ads, where certain standards apply across all ad copies alike regardless of which region is targeted.
Things are not really cut and dry when dealing with Chinese audiences through paid search with Baidu. Thus, extra precaution must be taken into account during crafting such display/textual titles or descriptions accurately encapsulating what each respective service offers customers-wise.
Simultaneously, making sure images used comply by set standards within given regions helps maintain high clickthrough rates (CTRs).
Let me be clear here, brand strength, trustability and CTR are more critical than conversions.
It’s not uncommon for your Chinese user to use your website as an infomercial, buying from other trusted portals after they are convinced your site is not a scam.
Due consideration must be made based on factors like seasonal competition levels, industry demand trends, competitive demand trends etc., to determine your budget.
Like any platform worldwide, it does take time, money and a lot of patience to see things work.
Allocate your beginning campaigns high with the expectation that the trial period is not to make sales but rather to find what is failing to succeed. Starting with simple PPC campaigns makes sense before diving into other Baidu ad products or off Baidu.
Long-tail and sentences
Chinese users often use Baidu as step one in their research for a product or service. Especially if they are not very familiar with the brand. Therefore, do not just translate your English keywords into Chinese; expect those to work.
Instead, pay attention to the questions asked about your product and services, making them your priority keywords and also employing the same factors as you would with Google (i.e., quality, relevance, intent, local signals, ad extensions, negatives).
Ensure the landing page content is also relevant to the question and response you are addressing.
10. Getting started on Baidu SEO
As you can see from reading the paid search tips, gaining visibility in the Chinese market is obviously not easy.
However, they are necessary for you to build the data from your keywords to know what you will be optimizing organic for.
The good news is that Baidu’s organic works in many ways, like Google. Here are some useful pointers and similarities when optimizing for the Baidu search engine:
Localizing your content
Customize your content by translating it into Mandarin. Tailoring it according to different regions of China that speak various dialects will help make sure that users who use Baidu as their main search engine get what they’re looking for quickly.
Having dialect versions is nice to have, not a must-have. So unless it’s not Cantonese, you will be fine running in China with Mandarin.
I know I am being repetitive here, but if there is anything you get out of this article, it’s critical that it’s written so well that a Chinese person would feel you are a Chinese company.
Structure your URLs
Structuring your URL properly can benefit crawling and indexing.
All links should lead back to valid pages with canonical tags so there won’t be any broken ones or redirect loops, which could negatively affect rankings in SERPs.
Internal linking is very crucial to the search engine for it to understand what your website is about and to be able to crawl and index appropriately.
Optimize page titles and meta descriptions
Similar to other SEO strategies, page titles and meta descriptions need optimization too.
The title needs relevant keywords but we recommend not more than 50 characters, including spaces.
The meta description shouldn’t exceed 160 characters with important words related to its topic. Getting truncated within SERPs would bring down click-through rates drastically.
Click-through rate is critical to ranking well. Baidu wants to see users clicking through to your website as it signals to them that it’s relevant and has the speed levels to give Chinese users the experience they want and expect.
’d recommend also following Baidu’s editorial guidelines. For example, they don’t use pipes (|) as separators but recommend using a dash(-).
Build quality backlinks
Building quality backlinks from authoritative websites alongside having attention to both do-follow/no-follow links matters when executing a link building campaign here.
Furthermore, working together with local influencers or bloggers would be great since opinion leaders have a massive influence over audiences all across China.
Other important factors
Finally, fresh and “helpful” content is crucial. Regularly update your site with fresh, original content relevant to what you provide. Baidu values content that is unique and provides value to its users.
The key to running successful search campaigns in China
Running SEO and PPC campaigns in China is no easy task.
That said, with some knowledge on your side, you can substantially enhance your chances of success.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.
September 27, 2023
September 27, 2023
September 26, 2023