Understanding Baidu — The Chinese Google

Shaumik Daityari

Although China represents a huge chunk of netizens (over 600 million users), the Chinese government is very strict when it comes to what content is shown to its people. They have stringent regulations and their ruthlessness is shown in partially or fully blocking popular websites like Google and Facebook in the past.

In spite of the absence of these American giants in the Chinese world, local websites have emerged, which perform the tasks of their American counterparts quite well. In this post, we look at the progress of one such website — Baidu.

Although the primary product of Baidu is the search engine, it also has services like Baidu Yun (cloud services), Baidu News, Baidu Dictionary and many more. Baidu’s advertisements are also similar to Google’s Adwords and AdSense. In this article, let’s focus on the search engine and how to give your site the best chance of appearing in Chinese search results.

Why Care about Baidu?

To understand the importance of Baidu, you should consider the market share of different search engines. As the January 2015 search engine market share results show, Google accounts for over two thirds of searches, but Baidu comes in second with 18.7%. Bing currently has 8.7% and Yahoo is close behind with 7.8%

Baidu boasts more than 60% of Chinese search traffic but it is also known to refer over a quarter of its traffic to its own properties.

Getting Ready for Baidu

Baidu Screenshot

If the primary audience of your website is English speaking then it’s not necessary or wise to implement any of the tips that I provide here. However, if you run a product line or service with a large portion of your audience being Chinese-speaking, you can’t ignore this huge potential market. Let’s have a look at what you can do to help your website attract more Baidu users.

Use Chinese Keywords in Meta Tags

Although Google does not use the “keywords” meta tag to rank search results, Baidu has no such policy. Therefore, you can add Chinese words to your meta description and meta keywords. I’m not saying that you’ll immediately shoot to the top of Baidu’s rankings but it looks like at this stage, it can’t hurt!

An easy approach to this would be to translate your existing keywords and make copies of them in Chinese. Naturally, this leads to redundancy and you would do this only if you cater to a Chinese audience.

Here is a look at the different types of meta tags and their usage.

Be careful with JavaScript and Flash

Although web crawlers do not have the ability to execute JavaScript, the Google crawler is smarter and sometimes tries to crawl pages that the JavaScript pages point to. However, the Baidu crawler absolutely has no way of interpreting your JavaScript. You should therefore have alternate text for anything that might be invisible to the crawler. You may also want to provide alternate non-JavaScript versions of webpages to point the crawlers to.

In addition to JavaScript, the Baidu crawler also has no way of detecting Flash content. If you can’t avoid Flash content, make sure you provide alternate text strings that describe the content and relevant meta tags.

Avoid sensitive content

The reason the American giants aren’t successful in China is because of the strong censorship by the Chinese government. Baidu adheres to those censorship policies. If you host content that the Chinese government thinks is not suitable for the Chinese public, your website will be taken off Baidu search results. You may refer to the list of blacklisted keywords in China to make sure you do not violate any terms.

Avoid duplicate content

By now you should know that every search engine hates duplicate content, Baidu is not different. Make sure you write a proper robots.txt to tell the crawler explicitly what to search for.

Get a Chinese domain

Baidu prefers sites hosted locally, so there is a higher preference to sites with the domain .cn or .com.cn. If you want significant traffic from China (this might be important for e-commerce sites for instance), it may be worth maintaining a Chinese version of your website with a .cn domain name to rank higher in Baidu.

Final Thoughts

Baidu has a huge market share and as a webmaster, you should be aware of its potential to drive Chinese traffic. If a large portion of your users or target market is Chinese and Baidu doesn’t index your website properly, you are missing out.