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According to data collected from January to June 2019, Baidu holds 70% of the search engine market share on all platforms in China. So, now that you’ve managed to get past the Great Firewall, Baidu is your ideal ‘ground-zero’ for tackling SEO. Baidu is the undisputed leader of the organic search in China and you’ll have to always be in ‘its good books’ if you want to rank on the search engine.
If you think optimising your site for Baidu isn’t going to be any different than optimizing a site for Google, Bing, and Yahoo, you won’t be entirely wrong, but neither will you be entirely right. Baidu comes with its own clinks and quirks, not only are they environmental and cultural challenges, there are also issues on language, user behavior, legal issues, and censorship amongst other technical considerations.
Integration with other Baidu Products
Before we go into the technicalities of things, let’s quickly see how results appear on Baidu’s SERP. While the results page appears to look similar to Google, the content is greatly different because Baidu uses its own products on the results pages. And, Baidu has a lot of products, somewhere around 60. These include, Baidu Baiku an encyclopedia, Baidu Zhidao a Q&A platform and Baidu Jingyan a Step-by-step answer platform to name a few. While it’s interesting to see how all these products are used on the SERP, it also makes Baidu SEO a challenge.
For instance, Baidu News curates news content from various aggregators and the Baidu News box appears on the SERP for relevant queries. If your website creates news content, through good SEO your page could not only be listed on organic but can also appear on the Baidu news snippet. Usually, Baidu gives preference to its own products in the order in which it ranks results.
This deep integration of Baidu’s own products can be an SEO advantage when done right. Here is a screenshot of how the SERP looks when the term “White Shoes” ( ????? in simplified Chinese) was searched for.
SERP looks when the term “White Shoes” was searched for
In-System & On-Page Best Practices
The aim of technical SEO is to ensure that your website supports Baidu’s crawling and indexing. Through on-page optimization, the goal is to make it easier for Baidu to read and understand the content in each page of your site and rank it according to relevancy. As the screenshot depicts, there are very few organic spots on the first page, so, you want SEO for Baidu to work, and you want it to work well! To ensure this, the primary focus areas are:
- Crawler directives
- Site information architecture
- Code structure
1. Page Loading Speed
Owing to the country’s size, speed can be an issue because of network capabilities. While a site might work perfectly fine in one part of the country, it might be inaccessible or have slow load times in the other parts. This especially affects SEO for Baidu because the page loading speed of the website could affect ranking.
- Free tools that can be used to test server speed from different cities in China:
- A Content Delivery Network (CDN) can be used for slow-load sites in China. Here are a few advantages of using CDN:
- Faster load times would increase the quality of user experience
- Enhanced security against some types of hacking, such as DDoS attacks
- CDN would help increase the crawlability of the site for search engines, due to the added speed and stability
- Additionally, it may even lead to higher rankings through direct and indirect searches.
- The most popular CDN providers in China are:
While Baidu’s support of https isn’t as mature as other search engines, it still gives https sites a ranking boost, just like Google.
3. Title Tag
Baidu recommends that title tags are unique for each page and should contain keywords. Having said that, one should avoid keyword stuffing and refrain from using unrelated keywords. There has been some evidence to support the fact that Baidu uses title tags for ranking. Here are a few parameters to keep in mind:
- Length: Each simplified Chinese character equals two letters so the buffer is only 35 characters. However, for romanized characters, you can go up to 70.
- Separator character: While we generally use (-) as a separator on Google or other search engines, Baidu recommends using (_).
- Apart from using primary keywords, the use of the brand name or site name is also recommended, as Baidu sees this as important information.
4. Meta Description
Unlike Bing and Google, Baidu uses meta descriptions for ranking.
- So, obviously, the search engine would rank a page that has a meta description higher than one without.
- The recommended length is 220 romanized characters, or, 110 simplified Chinese characters
5. Headline Tag
It is suggested that the headline tag (H1) matches the title tag. Also, other header tags such as H2, H3, etc. should be used to break the content and make the page more crawlable and readable.
6. Image Alt Tag
Baidu’s algorithm isn’t as advanced as Google’s when it comes to crawling images and ranking them accordingly. However, here are a few things that can be done to help rank images
- Use the main keyword to name the image file
- ALT acts as the most important ranking factor, so make sure to include it.
- Both the file name and the tags should be relevant.
- It is not appropriate to exaggerate with the inclusion of keywords
7. Links and Site Depths
A site that is too deep with interlinks would be difficult for Baidu to crawl it. Here are a few suggestions to optimise user experience while maintaining crawlability.
- The homepage of the site should only have links to the main category pages. The sub-category pages and all other normal pages are to be linked from the main category pages.
- Also, all pages should contain a link to the homepage
- Despite how the pages are interlinked, they must compulsorily contain an anchor text that is descriptive or relevant to the linked page.
- Baidu sees the number of links on a page as a measure of the URL’s importance.
- The site’s information architecture needs depth. A page that is closer to the homepage (that can be reached with a few clicks) usually gets more attention from Baidu’s crawler. The closer a page is to the homepage, the more attention it will likely receive from Baidu’s crawler. The crawler sees a page close to the homepage as more important than more than take more clicks to reach.
- If you want a page indexed, you shouldn’t leave it orphaned. Meaning, you must have the interlink place.
Especially for sites with several URLs and interlinks, it’s important to have a well-structured site map.
- A well-defined sitemap would ensure that the search engine is able to find all the pages and thereafter crawl and index them accordingly.
- Since the format of a sitemap for Baidu is almost similar to a sitemap on Google, it makes things easier if you already have a formatted and structured map for Google.
Just like any other search engine, breadcrumbs are equally important in making your website SEO-friendly on Baidu.
- This would allow Baidu to understand the tree of the website leading to the better weight of the links.
- While optimising breadcrumbs, it’s important to avoid over-segmentation. Even the lowest level and the farthest pages must be reachable in just three clicks.
Content Best Practices
Baidu has started giving priority to content quality. Interesting, Baidu uses a Badge to rate the domain trust factor for its paid search results; these results are rated with V2 or V3 badges. This only shows how much Baidu values authenticity of content. The algorithm identifies bad content through originality, coherence and relevance. Baidu goes on to even ban such websites forever if caught more than twice. Here are a few pointers for optimizing site content.
- Language: Baidu can index pages written in traditional Chinese, Cantonese and other foreign languages like English, Spanish, Japanese, etc. However, it is recommended that the content and the meta tags are written in simplified Chinese to ensure better ranking. It’s hard for a page not written in simplified Chinese to get a good ranking.
- Content update frequency: Updating content triggers the spiders to analyze new pages and links. This seems like it is an SEO factor in itself. Therefore, you should not only avoid duplicate content but also ensure that your content is not scrapped by other sites.
- Content Length:
- It is best to keep each article between 200 – 800 Chinese characters
- Since Baidu has a low tolerance to excess keyword density, you don’t have to be stressed about the number of times you use a keyword. Just make sure your content is relevant and authentic.
Mobile Optimisation Best Practices
Mobile plays a very important role in China, in fact, owning a desktop, tablet or even a laptop isn’t as popular as a mobile. For most people, mobile is their only doorway to the world. And, Baidu cares deeply for mobile optimization. Their version of AMP is called Mobile Instant Page or MIP for short, and Baidu continues to develop mobile crawling and indexing deeper into their algorithm, playing a key factor in overall SEO. If you already have a mobile-friendly site, make sure Baidu recognises by using tags, meta and sitemaps.
As a thumb rule, load speeds are important and plays a crucial part in making your website rank higher on Baidu. So, as mentioned above, make sure your page load speeds are optimized. Here are a few other points to be kept in mind.
- Page Structure: This is important because it allows the visitor to spot and understand the idea and flow of the content at first glance. This way, they would be able to consume the content without any disruption and distraction. This would double the chances of the user getting what they want at first glance. Here a few tips for good page structure:
- Content should have the ability to be optimised in accordance with the viewers’ screen. The users should easily consumer content without horizontal scrolling, zooming or pinching.
- The main content should feature in the middle of the screen. This increases the readability of the content. Other elements that have a lower relevance shouldn’t distract the user from the main content.
- Readability: By organising and styling the content on your page, you ensure better readability. Baidu recommends-
- A font size of 14px with a line spacing between 0.42 – 0.6 for the body text
- Using consistent image width when you have multiple images within your content
- A font size between 14-16px with 13-14px padding for text links that are within the body text
- Clickable areas within the body content should be at least 40x40px so that the user can click them easily.
- Resource Accessibility: To improve the accessibility of resources, Baidu recommends that:
- All links should be clickable and clearly be shown that it is clickable.
- Pages with heavy text content such as articles, FAQs, Q&As, and forum pages should be neatly-formatted and must have a clean look.
- Use of Flash is best avoided
- All audio and video content should be embedded, playing directly on the page as opposed to using an external app.
- Any App files available on app download pages should be the best and the latest version of the app, downloadable directly without the use of an external app.
- Document pages need to have directly accessible files that can display properly on mobile devices. Ideally, documents shouldn’t be converted to images as it hampers the user experience and is neither search engine friendly.
- Product pages must contain product information along with clear and valid purchase methods.
- For website search result pages, the results should be in-line with the search query
- All entries on form pages must be accessible and submittable
- Search Appearance: Search appearance on Baidu mobile is similar to Baidu desktop. Therefore, it is best to optimize meta titles and description tags for mobile view due to the limitation of screen size.
- Meta Title for mobile-
- Length under 17 Simplified Chinese characters
- Include your brand name in the title if your brand is popular
- Attractive titles have more value as it will attract searchers while still matching your page’s content
- Meta description for mobile
- The page description should supplement the page title and ideally describe the page content accurately. It’s best to avoid keywords stuffing as Baidu might penalize your page.
- Avoid using default descriptions or duplicate descriptions. Each meta description should be unique.
- The ideal length is usually below 60 Simplified Chinese characters so that it isn’t cut off from the screen.
- Meta Title for mobile-
To sum it up, quality and authentic content with equally pleasing aesthetics will work better on Baidu. Baidu wants to keep trust high, that’s why priority is given to websites with more backlinks, especially to reputed sites such as popular publications and government sites. Mobile is a different ball game, and an important one, nonetheless. Additionally, there is a huge bonus for websites hosted in China because the government likes it that way. Information is easier to control if the government has access to the hosting service.