Leveraging Baidu to Reach the Chinese Audience

SEMPO’s APAC Working Group has been promoting their upcoming webinar about targeting Baidu for the past few weeks. Even though the webinar is geared toward Asia-based attendees, the majority of the registered attendees are from the U.S.

Given the recent departure of Google from the market, and comScore’s reports of Baidu’s growth, the West’s great interest in using Baidu to connect with China’s 338 million online users isn’t surprising. Let’s take a deeper look at Baidu.

How to Advertise on Baidu

PPC advertising and organic rankings in Baidu are now easier than ever. If you, your team, or agency have the ability to read and input Chinese, then you can set up a direct account by going to Baidu’s advertiser website. Those that can’t interact with the Chinese interface can work with Baidu via their international support site.

However, for companies that don’t have the Chinese language capability and have more complex needs, the best option may be to use one of the growing number of agencies offering full-service Baidu solutions. These specialist agencies are often the better option because they can handle coordination, ad development, optimization, keyword research, and cultural nuances necessary to succeed online in China.

Does Baidu Only Have Paid Ads in Their Rankings?

Until recently, most search marketers would have told you the only way to get exposure in Baidu was to buy your way in. As recently as six months ago they would have been correct. Several popular consumer phrases, as many as the first five to 10 pages, were all paid search results. This helps explain why many SEO firms in China charged businesses by the click to get them onto the first page of rankings.

Paid ad dominance is no longer the norm under Baidu’s new “Phoenix Nest” (a.k.a., “Professional Edition”) platform, which was officially deployed in April 2009. Essentially, Phoenix Nest moved paid search listings from the left side to the right side and the top three listings making it look and feel more like other search engines.

In early September, Baidu migrated more than 800,000 keywords from their old system into the Phoenix Nest platform. By the end of the year, all of the keywords were running in the new system. This migration resulted in a significant decrease in the number of paid results on the left side. Also, due to reduced supply of ads, many experienced a significant increase in their average CPC for many popular keywords.

With the decrease in paid search listings came a significant opportunity in organic search results. Sites that were indexed and relevant backfilled the open SERPs and have benefitted from significant organic traffic increases.

How to Improve Organic Rankings on Baidu

Most of the normal on-page optimization factors you implement to rank well in Google will also improve your Baidu rankings. The algorithm isn’t as sophisticated as Google’s, nor does it put as much weight on inbound links. This makes life a lot easier for marketers to make quick changes to their site and start reaping the benefits of ranking well in Baidu.

There are some key factors that are unique to ranking well in Baidu, such as:

  • The site must be in Chinese: The obvious first step to ranking well in organic results is to have content in Chinese. Simplified Chinese is the primary language of Mainland China so it is important to make sure you have used the correct language tags.
  • The site should be hosted in China: While it isn’t a requirement to have a .cn domain or be hosted in China, it is a strong recommendation. The main reason for local hosting is due to government firewalls and poor connectivity issues that are common in China. Local hosted sites stand a greater chance of being found and reindexed when they are in China.
  • Leverage Baidu XML sitemaps: Baidu recently introduced the ability to read site maps. Unlike the global engines, which have Webmaster portals, you have to tell Baidu where to find the files via your robots.txt file. Simply create a XML site map of all of your Chinese language pages and list the file location on your robots.txt file using the syntax: “Sitemap: http://www.example.com/sitemap_index.xml”
  • Important content high on page: As with any search engine, you should list the most important content at the top of the page. Due to poor connectivity, the spiders want to get as much content as they can and often will only spider the first 100 to 120k of content on the page.
  • Flash-only sites are a problem: Because marketers could buy their way into Baidu, many sites didn’t need to consider the negative implications of Flash-only content on their organic search performance. This is a primary reason many large company sites are having a hard time gaining traction in Baidu’s organic results.

How to Improve PPC Performance on Baidu

Baidu’s paid search programs are similar to those in the West, so the same best practices are important to use in Baidu. Language is a key focus area.

  • The ads must be in Chinese: Make sure your ads are written in correct and compelling Chinese. Remember, Chinese is a double byte language, so you get half the space to write the same text. That means each Chinese character takes two spaces.
  • Ensure keywords offer relevance: Chinese is a complex language and the characters are only relevant in the context of the whole sentence. It’s critical that you don’t just translate your words and ads. Really understand what you’re trying to say and write for the message. For example, in Chinese, there are 21 characters that represent the phrase “anti-virus.” While your choice might be linguistically correct, it may not be the most contextually relevant in a simple translated ad.
  • Monitor the quality of your ads: Similar to Google, Baidu has deployed a quality score mechanism called “Comprehensive Rank Index” focused on improving the overall quality of ads for searchers and advertisers. The more compelling your message is, the higher click rate you will have, increasing your CRI. Focusing on relevance for ads and landing pages is most important here.

Increase Market Share with Baidu

China has become the largest online market in the world. As e-commerce advances, Chinese online users will be more willing and able to buy online, creating digital opportunities we can only imagine. No company should jump into the market unprepared, but you should look at the new opportunities with Baidu as a way to expand your market share and sales before your competition does.

To succeed in China it’s critical to understand Chinese consumers, how they use the Internet, and how they would engage your products in their local markets. While the opportunities in China are significant, Western companies still must overcome many challenges to succeed. Those ready to embrace these challenges and leverage the new opportunities of Baidu should be on their way to reaping the benefits China has to offer.

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