Online in China – Search Engines

Online in China – Search Engines

Topic | Working Digitally In China

Tutorial 52

Online in China Search Engines

This tutorial provides an overview of the key search engines in China and how to

undertake search engine optimisation (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM)

activities in this market.

Reading time: 15 minutes


Online in China Introduction

Search Engines 101

Critical Components of Optimising a Website


Understanding Inbound Links to my Site

Sourcing Inbound Links

Travel and Tourism Links

Online in China Search Engines

Just like anywhere in the world, search engines play an increasingly important role in how

content, news products and services are found online in China. As online content is growing at

enormous speed, search engines continue to gain importance and are therefore an essential

component of any online strategy. With more nearly 540 million Chinese Internet users, it is

obvious that there are a lot of people searching for content so a solid search engine

optimisation (SEO) strategy is vital for international companies to gain online visibility in China.

Press releases and news articles, multimedia content and engagement in Chinese social media

platforms are the best ways to improve search engine visibility.

1. Key Search Engines in China

Baidu is by far the strongest player in the Chinese search engine market: it has almost 80%

market share and is the starting point for 95% of all Chinese searches, according to statistics

from the China Internet Network Information Center.

Global search leader Google in comparison has less than 6% market share in China and has

actually withdrawn from the Chinese market altogether (due to limitations set by the Chinese

government), relying on a Hong Kong presence instead. Still, Google ranks the most popular

second choice and so targeting both Baidu and Google is clearly a solid approach for Chinese


In the wake of Baidu's success, other search providers have made very limited impact, with

services from the likes of, and making up the rest of the

Chinese search market.

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Due to Google’s withdrawal from the mainland Chinese search market and a loyal consumer

base, Baidu was able to establish very strong search engine dominance, reaching hundreds of

millions of Chinese Internet users. In terms of online marketing and advertising, Baidu offers a

pay-per-click bid model which is similar to the AdWords program of Google but only available in

a Chinese language version.

What also needs to be taken into account when it comes to search engine marketing (SEM) on

Baidu is that China’s dominant search engine is heavily censored by the Chinese government to

ensure politically sensitive material is not able to be viewed inside mainland China. For much of

the regular travel related content this is not really an issue, but areas like spas and massage

services sometimes face difficulties advertising on Baidu (a licence from the Chinese government

allowing to advertise these services is required, otherwise this type of content might need to be

removed in order for websites to be accepted).

How Baidu differs from Google

Comparing the Chinese Baidu and the Global platform Google, there are certain similarities as

well as differences. It’s basically two different ideologies which determine the different

development paths of these two search providers.

Google has long expanded widely beyond search: with its own web browser, mobile operating

system, cloud-based office software, an operating system and cloud computing it has reached

many fields through pushing technological possibilities and introducing new products through

continuous innovation.

Ever since the introduction of Baidu Tieba in 2003, Baidu has followed the same strategy as

Google of introducing new Internet services to attract and retain users. The company has

launched products with distinct local attributes in order to keep the users in Baidu platforms.

Baidu offers a multitude of services, trying through many different channels (see a list of Baidu

services on Wikipedia to keep the users on Baidu platforms.

While Google does have its own set of platforms beyond search (e.g. Google+ for social

networking, Gmail free web mail service) it also has a strong focus on developing Internet

related products and services that enhance the functionality of other non-Google platforms (e.g.

Google Wallet, a mobile payment system).

2. How is Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) different in China?

As it is so widely used in China, ranking highly on Baidu must be the key aim for any website

undertaking Chinese search engine optimisation. It is therefore essential for Western companies

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to implement a Chinese website complete with Chinese SEO. You should be aware of the


Baidu's search results, unlike Google's, mix paid (or sponsored) results in with organic

listings. This means it is essentially possible to pay your way to the top for your keywords

on Baidu. For Chinese users, this is perfectly normal, with the general opinion being 'if

they're willing to pay for the clicks they must be offering something worthwhile.'

Even if you choose to pay for high ranking in Baidu, natural Chinese search engine

optimisation is still important. This is because your natural ranking is part of the formula

that determines just how much you will need to pay.

Baidu also offers separate sponsored listings (advertisements), similar to that of, with spaces that can be rented for a given period.

In addition to paid search result listings and banner advertising, Baidu also offers

something called ‘Brand Zone’ which is quite unique in the world of search engines. This

provides big, well-known brands with the opportunity to own the ‘above the fold’ space

on result pages (this is the part of the page that is visible without scrolling). Advertisers

can bid on core brand keywords so that if someone searches for their brand, they receive

a significant amount of text and graphical content about that brand which is good for the

advertiser’s brand awareness and encourages users to click through to their website.

Brands can also ‘own’ their brand related keywords which means no other advertisers

can use their keywords.

As you might expect, Baidu is particularly China-centric. To rank highly on Baidu a website

needs to be in the Chinese language and ideally hosted inside China.

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The search engine results page (SERP) shown in this example is a typical Baidu SERP. The most

obvious difference between what we recognise as a traditional SERP on say, Google and Baidu

are that there are pay-per-click results on the left side of the page which in the West is used only

for organic or natural listings. The keyword entered in this example is 电 脑 (computer). As it is

quite a competitive keyword there are already advertised listings above the organic listings,

defined only by the characters 推 广 on the bottom right corner of each link.

Instead of pay-per-click listings on the right hand side, there are yearly fixed price listings

instead, where the first three listings are rotated amongst themselves. Fourth to tenth listings

cost less and are rotated in order on a day-to-day basis. The price depends on how competitive

the keyword is and the amount you are bidding. Baidu states that in the situation where two

companies have bid for the same place for the same keyword, the company who pays first will

get the position. Factors such as the quality of the landing page will also affect these positions.

Occasionally, a grey section, similar to Google's blue 'Sponsored Results' section will pop up on

the search engine results page. However, these are links that are put up by Baidu when someone

searches for a search term that has no paid links. Instead, links with keywords similar to the

search term will be displayed.

In order to make sure that you are not listed beneath the paid advertisements, which could be

the first ten or more listings on the first page of Baidu, you need have a targeted keyword

strategy so that your site will be visible on the front page of Baidu. There are a few tools which

can be used for keyword research, such as the Baidu Index ( which

provides insights on search behaviour and popularity of certain keywords.

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Within their Baidu PPC advertiser account, registered users can also use a dedicated keyword

tool similar to the ones from Google. All of these (just like any other Baidu service) are

exclusively available in Chinese language and thus require in-market experts with the necessary

linguistic and cultural insights.

In a market where mobile use is so prevalent, it’s important to consider mobile paid search

marketing activities. Just as in Western markets, there are some strategies for mobile search that

differ from those employed in traditional search campaigns. For example, consider the fact that

search queries are likely to be shorter (important for keyword selection) and only the top few

ads will show on a mobile screen so it’s important to pay what is necessary to secure these


3. Strategies for Improving Ranking

Unless you have in-market support and Chinese language/cultural expertise, a professional

media agency in China that specialises in developing and managing SEO and PPC activities is

recommended in order to successfully reach Chinese consumers online.

Many aspects of the Chinese Internet are unique and require different treatment than similar

activities in the rest of the world. Also in terms of SEO the Chinese web presents some unique

challenges. Simply following the same tactics which are applied for SEO on Google will usually

not work, as the two search engines have some very distinct differences. Baidu’s search

algorithm for ranking pages follows a unique system and there are certain tricks which are

uniquely applicable to this algorithm. In a nutshell, Baidu:

allows for greater keyword density than Google

does not give weighting to links based upon the ranking of the site which holds the link

prefers locally hosted sites

still places a high value upon meta-data.

Important points to consider for SEO on Baidu and the Chinese web include:

A domain name in Chinese Pinyin is preferred by Baidu over English domain names. Pinyin

is the system of transcribing Chinese language sounds and pronunciations into Latin script

(see It is recommended to register a Chinese Pinyin

domain name before creating a Chinese website. Having a Chinese domain extension (.cn)

is also believed to improve search engine rankings.

Chinese hosting in mainland China is given more weight to by Baidu than websites hosted

abroad. Hosting abroad also causes stricter content filtering and slower display speed and

should be avoided.

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Chinese made website scripts (e.g. Dede or Empire) for CMS are preferred over global

ones (such as WordPress or Joomla). For static websites, flash, javascript and iframes

should be used with care or avoided if possible (even though they are common on Chinese

websites), as these script elements can slow down page load times and can cause display

errors on mobile browsers.

Website URLs using Pinyin for the content and directory structure is important as this is

(like the domain name itself) preferred over English or other language versions.

Original and updated content will help with rankings and should have a minimum length

of no less than 700 words for each individual page.

Links from and to well selected link partners, where inbound and outbound links should be

balanced and only point to and from related sites with relevant content.

Meta tags including title, description and keyword tags need to be filled up for each pages,

as Baidu still gives these a great deal of relevance.

301 redirects for moved content and changed domain names should be provided in order

to make sure all content can still be found and be correctly linked.

Local Linking Strategy

Creating a local linking strategy (i.e. getting Chinese sites to include hyperlinks to your site) is

probably the most challenging part of any Chinese online marketing strategy. As a crucial success

factor in terms of ranking results for Chinese language searches (in any search engine) knowing the

language and finding the right link partners is essential. As China’s online travel universe is strongly

dominated by Online Travel Agents such as Ctrip and eLong, getting direct links back a company

website can be a tough and time consuming. Even more than in the rest of the world, SEO rankings

in China need a lot of time to build up and newly launched Chinese language websites will need to

take their time to slowly gather prominence. Making extensive use of social media and user

generated content - off the company website and linking back and forth between website and this

content can be a good start.

4. Importance of Translation in Search

As outlined in Tutorial 51 (Online in China Developing a Chinese Website), providing a localised

Chinese language version of a website (not simply translated) is one of the keys to success on the

Chinese web. This not only ensure the content is relevant to the target market, but search

engines such as Baidu also favour content that is really developed for China, evidenced through:

creating a linguistic equivalent, not a literal translation of each page

assessing colours of fonts and backgrounds for cultural implications

changing telephone number formats

changing time, date and measurement formats.

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If translated material does not meet the needs of the local culture, it has not been properly

localised. This is no trivial task, and may go a long way in explaining why localisation is costly.

5. How can I run a search campaign if I don’t speak Chinese?

As for many things in China, Chinese language is the key, not only to assist the Chinese Internet

users who are generally not confident with English, but also in order to manage online activities

and content professionally. Many online tools, such as Baidu’s PPC Ad campaign management,

are only available in Chinese and make it very difficult for non Chinese speakers to work with

these tools. Consider engaging an individual or company with Chinese language and cultural

expertise to assist you.

6. Key Learning Outcomes

Baidu may be the equivalent of Google for China, but it’s a mistake to assume that SEO

and SEM activities that work with Google will work with Baidu.

A site that is simply a translated version of your current site will not rank well (if at all) in

search results.

SEO and PPC/SEM activities will be impossible without Chinese language and cultural

expertise if you do not have this expertise yourself you will need to engage a


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7. Related material

a) Related tutorials

Online in China Introduction

Online in China Developing a Website

Online in China Social Media

b) Related websites

Essential China Travel Trends Booklet - Dragon Edition 2012 (free)

Latest trends & developments in the Chinese travel market

Portal about the latest travel and tourism trends in China (free)

c) Recommended videos

Michael Anti: Behind the Great Firewall of China

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