This post is all about preparation for conducting Baidu-specific SEO, which is a key step that need not be intimidating. It is a simply different environment with its own special considerations, and in some cases, different methods, and tools. This post will attempt to tackle these larger issues head-on (beginning where the last post in this series left off) before we roll up our sleeves and address the groups of individual tactics. As in all things, beginning on the right footing is crucial. Let us dive in!
Understanding Baidu’s backstory
With a growing emphasis on mobile-based revenue, and a corresponding boom in younger mobile Baidu users currently pushing Baidu’s global market share above and beyond 1% of the total, Baidu continues to learn from the leader of global search (Google) on the one hand, and subtly merge that understanding with their own more unique national customer behavior on the other hand.
Differences are bound to develop, many of which can seem like a time warp to most long-term Google users and marketers alike as Baidu develops its user base and naturally conforms to the Chinese market.
For instance, Baidu and Google SERPs differ in how search results are displayed. The differences typically favor the advertiser. For example, they differ in how the ads look on the SERPs page, including how many organic results are shown, as Baidu’s ads are often perceived as blending in with the free results more so than is the case on Google SERPs. This is especially relevant for SEO as we will see.
Spotting the organic results on Baidu
SERPs page results are currently marked by a text indicator next to the display URL, which is the most universally-used way Baidu has utilized distinguish the paid from the organic result. Did you not see it? Look again. The text indicator, “推广链接,” for example, indicates a “Tuiguang Lianjie” type paid search ad, while “Baidu Zhidao” (百度知道), indicates a question/answer forum search result, while others typically are not marked as an ad or a Baidu search property.
Without going into the fast-proliferating world of Baidu’s PPC ad platforms and types, Baiduorganic results are blended into the search results page (to some, almost imperceptibly) with the paid results to some degree at times. Outside of Tuiguang Lianjie ads (推广链接), which are noticeably block-highlighted in gray as in the above figure, the Baidu Display ad format has also been one of the more distinguishable (and more recently, mandatory) secondary ad format in the past.
The most typical SERPs pages should look like the following, these days, consisting mostly of organic search results consisting both of ordinary websites, as well as often including Baidu’s own searchable web properties, such as the above-mentioned user question/answer site, Baidu Zhidao (百度知道 , literally “Baidu Knows”) and many other specialty searchable web properties which somewhat resemble similar services as on Google (though not always owned by Google). The link to the last cached page is called Baidu Kuaizhao, (百度快照), which also appears on each search result.
Organic results are most often categorized by the type of Baidu property (if the result is a Baidu property), or as a paid result, or not at all (as in the case of most organic results). To “do and learn”,
mouse over the link to see if the query string indicating an ad is there. Eventually it will become more easy to see the difference, and then to understand the difference.
Since this is an English language blog, an English term is used to help mitigate the language barrier. In addition, since each industry search produces differing proportions of the ad types, it can be a very different SERP experience with each search, with Chinese-language search terms, naturally, seeing more paid results slipping into the mix, at times.
So be sure to look for the Chinese characters that indicate paid ads when trying to discern the organic results on Baidu SERP. You’ll, also want to get familiar with Baidu’s own searchable web properties, as they take up a considerable amount of SERPs at times.
Notice the display ads on the right that resemble the similar “Google Products” ads format. Also note that Baidu is not always as keen on transparency of algorithm updates as Google seems to have become in later years.
How does Baidu adapt to the search user?
It adopts an advertiser-friendly focus on user behavior and makes China its primary focus, among several other things. For example, Chinese consumers are known to trust bigger companies and polished brands more than smaller companies offering the same product or service. Trust/authority factors do play into search visibility from all sides, as a result.
Sites that are linked to by popular sites, for example, are going to have an easier time, just as on Google, even though using the same SEO principles as those less powerfully networked. The way the trust factor is noted is typically via the ranked level noted on the search result. By moving the cursor over the blue V1, V2, or V3 link on the SERPs page, one can see the score explained: “V1” for 0-40 trust score, “V2” for 41-90 score, and “V3” for a 91 or higher score.
However, unlike on Google, creating raw numbers of inbound links have historically been thought to be a work-around when high trust rating is not within reach, something that is not likely to be a “forever” tactic as the search market further develops within China.
“Top dog” pays to blend into, or trump, organic
While Baidu does distinguish paid from organic, historically, Baidu’s search results have thus far allowed brands to blend into organic results a bit more than on Google, seemingly unlike Google’s slightly more distinct differentiation.
The tiny differences create a blurring effect that is obviously to the advertiser’s advantage in certain stages of the shopping cycle, and in no way stops the advertiser from scoring top positions as on Google when it serves their objectives on more lucrative keyword strings.
Meanwhile, the cost of paid ads has also historically tended to factor in the market price to get on top of the organic results for the same keyword, instead of merely by how much other advertisers are bidding alone, making organic results a strong indirect impact on paid search, and causing many to lean harder toward SEO to help their own pricing base per industry or product/service. That said, Baidu is evolving, and thus will probably continue to morph in this regard.
To be brief, these ads could trump your organic result in some cases, depending upon what policy Baidu has adopted and the current level of priority these ads have as a continued ad platform.
Get your Mandarin on!
That is to say, make sure that Mandarin native-speakers (and writers!) are on your content and SEO staff. You will need Mandarin fluency on your side to navigate these waters. Baidu is highly Mandarin-centric, and so websites that rank best are those that are, quite predictably, in simplified Chinese, as well as hosted on a Chinese server (…that is, in China). This applies both to paid and organic results.
Competing with paid ads
Often, big advertisers win locally. Why? Because localization of paid ad displays is possible by the province (a region containing many cities). This allows larger or hungrier companies to easily steal market share from smaller or more budget-conservative “local” ones, since province-wide ads with adequate budgets can easily trump citywide campaigns with lower budgets and less competitive ad bids. This fits the general style of Chinese commerce, at least in recent years, allowing major market players to emerge on the wider world market faster, which has been a priority of state-guided commercial policies. Focus SEO keywords as much as possible for best effect in such situations.
Baidu SEO subtleties
With all the above items in mind, adopting a mode something more like “Chinese SEO with a Google time machine” becomes all the more important. For example, Chinese stopwords will not match the typical English stopwords, while raw inbound link volume and more link tolerance is generally somewhat higher and on a par with a more dated Google approach.
How to create a Baidu SEO function
SEO functions (teams) should generally gravitate toward a somewhat flat model that is ready to adopt new information from any source within the team. On Baidu, that means one set of specialized rules, and multiple inputs to those ground-rules via regular team meetings that can take in all this new info and evaluate it critically while giving ear to what others are saying.
For more on next steps, read the upcoming Baidu SEO Prep List, as you prepare to get technical, down and dirty with your Baidu SEO!