What is Baidu?
As detailed in our previous article about Chinese search engines VS Western search engines, Baidu is a Chinese web services company which was established in 2000 and has since become one of the world’s largest internet companies. They offer a number of services with the most important being their flagship search engine; Baidu is the Chinese equivalent to Google.
After the Chinese government banned Google in 2010, Baidu became the most important Chinese search engine in Mainland China. It should be noted that users in Hong Kong and Taiwan continue to use Google.
Just like Google, Baidu also offers music streaming, maps, images, data storage and the best service to grow your business quickly; the PPC campaign (pay per click ads).
What is Baidu’s structure and how to do marketing in this platform? Let’s dig deeper:
Marketing on Baidu: SERP
Baidu, like Google, uses a familiar two-column structure.
In this example, the SERP displays a variety of related (often paid) results on the right and a mix of paid and organic results on the left.
Another important thing to focus on is the incorporation of Baidu’s products into the SERP. These products help to tremendously improve the national and local SEO, similar to Google’s “My Business” service improving local SEO. But what are the most important Baidu products?
- Baike: otherwise known as the “Baidu Encyclopedia” is China’s answer to Wikipedia.
- Zhidao: or “Baidu Knows”, is a massive Q&A platform that essentially serves as an enhanced Yahoo Answers, allowing users to create and participate in topics covering anything from advanced questions to how to cook a Beijing duck correctly.
- Tieba: is a keyword-based discussion forum where users can follow specific “Bars” (吧) which can help start discussions about a specific topic.
- Other Baidu services: maps, video search (similar to Youtube), news and documents tabs.
These services are really useful for a SEO strategy and to get more visibility and credibility for your brands.
Baidu SEM campaigns
As you may already know, SEM campaigns and PPC (pay per click) campaigns are the best methods to place a website in the first position of a search engine according to specific keywords. This is the fastest way to place a website in top search result positions.
If you have experience with Google Ads, Baidu PPC campaigns work in a pretty similar fashion: you need to create the campaigns and then optimize them based on the client’s objective (using the right bid for each keyword, testing the copies, testing creativities, etc.).
Much like Google in terms of keyword planning, Baidu has a platform called the Baidu Keyword Research Tool where you can analyze all keywords and choose the top performing keywords for your SEM campaigns.
The big difference between Google and Baidu is the fact that you cannot create and open an ad account in 5 minutes. The marketer has to contact a Baidu customer service representative to open a Baidu PPC account and subsequently one ad account belongs solely to one company.
What are the steps taken towards opening a new Baidu account? Let’s dig in.
Steps to opening a new Baidu Ads account
1- Have a Chinese website: First of all, you should have the content of your English website translated into Mandarin and create a Chinese language variant of your site. As Baidu targets Chinese consumers, the platform recommends that your website should be in the Chinese language. If your target audience is mostly in the south of China (eg. Hong Kong) then traditional Chinese is the right choice. However, if your target audience is in the north of China (eg. Beijing) you need to use simplified Chinese.
2- Use a Chinese domain and server: another important point is to use a Chinese domain and server. The server must be located in China in order have the right page-load speed. Obviously, conducting a Baidu campaign with a slow website means your money will be wasted. You would be investing to be on the front page of search results while all of your visitors need to wait a long time to access your website. It is likely most users would leave the website in an instant.
3- Approval of your website: a Chinese agency can help you check if your company has any issues with the Chinese government before being able to promote your business on Baidu. In fact, companies that focus on gambling, adult material, VPN services and tobacco products cannot promote anything in China.
4- Submit required documents to Baidu: after step 3, deliver all documents to Baidu, including:
- Copy of Business Registration Certificate: include your company name, registered office, company telephone number, etc.
- Simplified Chinese Translation of Business Registration Certificate.
- Website homepage screenshot
- Local government official website search: go to your local government official website to search for your company information and then submit a screenshot of the final query page showing the URL.
- Business Bank Account Statement: includes bank account information, local tax payment certificate, bank statement, etc.
- After 3-4 weeks Baidu may approve your request and you will be one step closer to opening your Baidu Ads account!
5- Make the payment to Baidu: you will need to pay a deposit to Baidu, which is around 2000 USD
6- Receive your Baidu account login details: Baidu will provide the login details of your ad account to you once they receive the payment.
The SEO process aids in improving the organic visibility of a website in search engines using specific techniques. The difference between SEM and SEO is the fact that SEO takes time: your website doesn’t stay within the top search results because you pay but because you worked for it and deserve it.
The first point that needs to be considered is that Baidu is a Chinese search engine and it only indexes simplified Chinese Characters. For any English website, using a simplified Chinese translation is the only way to have your website show up on Baidu. Furthermore, Baidu emphasizes website performance differently compared to Google.
Like Google, Baidu has its own webmaster tool which is extremely helpful to monitor your SEO performance and maintain the site’s presence in Baidu’s organic search results.
Any new sites are recommended to be registered on the “Baidu webmaster tool” in order to be quickly indexed by Baidu. However, the biggest challenge for English speaking markets is that the tool is only available in Chinese. A Chinese speaker or someone who can read and write in Chinese is essential for your team to manage the console.
But what are the most important techniques on Baidu to help you to increase organic visibility? Let’s dig in:
- Domain Hosting: For Baidu, it is best practice to procure a website that is hosted in China on a CN domain. If possible, get your hands on a Hong Kong-hosted site; though a correctly Baidu-optimized CN sub-domain certainly won’t leave you out of the Baidu ranking race.
- Chinese Server: as we mentioned before, it is crucial to have a server which is located in China because it will save users from a hefty loading time when visting your website
- Site Architecture: Keep it simple. Baidu spiders aren’t as developed as Google’s in terms of crawl power and they favour flat-structured sites in which content is accessible in as few clicks as possible
- Page Titles & Meta Data: Much like with Google, make sure title tags (the limit is 80 characters) and meta descriptions (the limit is 200 characters) are unique, descriptive and the keywords are in simplified Chinese.
- On-Page SEO: Never rely on Google Translate for the creation of your website content and ensure that what you’re writing is correctly localized and is well-informed by keyword trends from Baidu’s keyword research tool. Like you would for Google, having a blog helps you to refresh your website and to cover more topics and keywords.
- Off-page SEO: Link building is a key factor in Baidu ranking. In the past the general assumption was that quantity was favoured over quality. However, Baidu is becoming more similar to Google with a new spam-combating algorithm that rewards higher quality links.
Having a Chinese website doesn’t necessarily mean that your Chinese audience will visit it. Often it’s the contrary as companies don’t plan and execute SEO properly.
SEO takes time while SEM is more immediate. However, for SEM it is still crucial to respect the basic SEO guidelines in order to have a better CPC (cost per click) on Baidu Ad campaigns.
In dominating over 70% of the Chinese market share, the question is why wouldn’t you choose Baidu? There are of course Baidu’s competitors within China and Asia, but none of them come close to matching Baidu’s reach. It’s very similar to the situation with Google in the West with their market share being so monumental; you may as well focus on the search engine powerhouses first.
Especially with SEM campaigns, it’s also important to invest in other search engine platforms such as Shenma, 360 or Sogou, in order to get a lower CPC (cost per click) and cost per conversion.
Moreover, due to the big number of Chinese internet users, having a search engine with 5% of the market share in China means that around 30-50 million people would be using that search engine!