May 27, 2020 - Jen Slemp

SEO Recommendations for Expanding in China

While Google is the primary search engine in most of the world, it is blocked in mainland China and accounts for only a small percentage of searches in the country. In order for local users to find content, a website must instead aim to rank highly on the local search engines.  The largest and most prominent is  Baidu which accounted for about 64 percent of market share in November 2019. 

In addition to tailoring a website’s architecture for Baidu and other Chinese search engines, site content must also be carefully constructed to avoid conflicting with internet censorship rules imposed by the Chinese government.

This guide outlines several high-level technical and search engine optimization (SEO) considerations for creating content targeting users in mainland China.

Site Architecture

In order to rank pages and deliver relevant search results, search engines use proprietary tools known as bots, crawlers, or spiders. These tools inspect content on web sites using algorithms designed by the search engine to rank the pages of a site.  The following best practices can help ensure that content can be indexed appropriately to rank highly on Baidu. 

  • Keep the structure simple. Baidu’s web crawler is not as advanced as Googlebot, so designing a simple, flat site structure that enables content to be accessed with just a few clicks will help Baidu’s crawler to find and index all pages.

  • Provide all HTML content on page load. Baidu’s crawler doesn’t run Javascript, meaning dynamically-loaded content cannot be crawled.

  • Keep URLs short and use Pinyin characters if possible. Avoid using URL query parameters as these can be problematic.

  • Include title and description metatags on all pages, and alt attributes on all images. This content is most effective when it is unique, descriptive, and written in simplified Chinese.

Page Load Speed

Due to Chinese censorship, websites that are not hosted in mainland China are typically slower to load than those that are. To improve the experience for local users as well as improve page ranking on Baidu, it’s important to leverage techniques to improve page load speed as much as possible.

  • Use a local Chinese CDN. These can be more difficult and cost-intensive to set up, but they provide the best results.

  • If a local option isn’t feasible, leverage a global CDN. Keep in mind that it is possible for China to block an entire CDN, so choose a large provider like Akamai, CloudFlare, or Quantil to minimize the likelihood of disruptions.

  • Avoid externally-hosted resources. Javascript libraries and other assets are commonly offloaded to external providers to improve page load speed, but can have a negative impact in China if those providers do not optimize for the Chinese internet.

Blocked Sites and Content

The Chinese government typically blocks websites that publish politically-sensitive content, social media sites hosted outside of China, and content it has deemed inappropriate. In order to avoid being blocked, sites should: 

  • Remove social media widgets and share buttons unless they are approved in China—RenRen and Sina Weibo, for example.

  • Steer clear of US-hosted video solutions like YouTube and Vimeo.

  • Avoid linking to content on blocked sites like Wikipedia and U.S. news outlets.

Localization

To ensure that your site has the greatest opportunity to rank in a top position, you should use: 

  • A Chinese server location

  • A Chinese business address

  • Chinese-specific keywords and content

    • Do not use online translator tools

    • Use Chinese keyword research tools

  • Chinese backlinks

  • The .cn domain

Steps for Success

  1. Set measurable goals for performance in search engines and identify tools to help monitor progress 

  2. Create site that is crawlable and indexable

  3. Develop content that is specific and optimized for the Chinese market

    1. NOTE: Hire a Chinese speaker to write content -- do not rely on translation tools

  4. Optimize site speed

  5. Follow Baidu’s best practices for information architecture and internal site linking

  6. Sign up and register for Baidu Webmaster Tools

    1. Verify account

    2. Submit sitemap

    3. Review crawl errors

    4. Examine backlinks

    5. Disavow bad backlinks

  7. Utilize the Baidu Rich Snippets 

    1. NOTE: Baidu uses both Baidu Webmaster Tools and Open Platform for the submission of structured data; Baidu does not utilize Schema.org

  8. Ensure your site is mobile-friendly

    1. NOTE: Baidu will cache data in its own way if mobile is not optimized.

  9. Optimize links and anchors 

  10. Continue to monitor progress and identify new areas of opportunity

    1. NOTE: Tools such as Dragon Metrics, Baidu Webmaster Tools, and Analytics can assist you with measuring performance each month.

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