The Chinese Internet space is significantly different from the Western one, also by promotion tools. They are based on the infrastructure for adapting your website, ranking algorithms, determining your target audience, linguistic and cultural features that facilitate promoting websites in China.
Most of the Internet services usual to us, such as Google, Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, are banned in China. Each Western platform, whether it’s a social network, messenger or metasearch engine, has its own equivalents successfully developing in the Chinese market. The main search engine in China is Baidu, the largest video hosting sites are Youku and Bilibili, and the major ecosystem, as well as the replacement for Facebook and all the messengers combined, is WeChat. Baidu search engine algorithms are significantly different from Google algorithms, so SEO promotion of websites in China will be as effective as deeply you understand the Chinese Internet space and its key players.
Since Google left China in 2011, the Chinese Internet space is now divided between the four largest search engines:
Baidu (百度 bǎidù) - 73% market share
Shenma (神马 shénmǎ) - 10.9% market share
360 (360搜索 sōusuǒ) - 7.9% market share
Sogou (搜狗 sōugǒu) - 4.5% market share
Google, Yahoo and other search engines customary to the Western users are banned in China or work very slowly due to the Great Firewall. It slows down loading the websites hosted outside of mainland China and blocks access to “unwanted” websites or websites contradicting China’s policies.
The key difference and factor of Baidu SEO is SERP links. Baidu has its own services that will always be ranked better than others: Baidu Zhidao, Baidu Baike, Baidu Tieba, to name a few.
In contrast to Google’s search engine algorithms where contextual advertising takes the first and last positions, Baidu's first page has almost no organic links but only links to paid ads or Baidu services.
Despite the growing popularity of metasearch engines, AI news feeds and ecosystems that enable searching within a web service, China's search engines still remain the dominant sources of information. Baidu, the major Chinese search engine, has an audience of over 1 billion Chinese people, and the Baidu Ads advertising network has more than 600k partner sites. Baidu Corporation is one of the largest technology companies in China, along with Alibaba, Tencent, and Bytedance. Although competed by other Chinese search engines such as Shenma, 360 and Sogou, Baidu takes 90% of China’s online search engine market.
Website translation and localization into Chinese are mandatory. The Putonghua (普通话 pǔtōnghuà) dialect featuring the simplified writing system dominates in mainland China. The simplified and traditional writing systems can be distinguished by the number of elements in a character.
Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan use traditional characters, but it should be noted that Google is accessible and leading in these regions, so the location of your target audience will be the key factor.
The Baidu search engine gives priority to the websites hosted in mainland China. To be hosted in China, one has to obtain an ICP license issued by the PRC Ministry of Industry and Information, more details can be found here. Without an ICP license, you cannot connect your website to a Chinese hosting provider. The license is an identifier located at the footer.
The key precondition for obtaining an ICP license is having a commercial license, which, in turn, can be obtained only having registered a legal entity in China. If you do not have a legal entity in China, then an effective tool for Baidu SEO will be connecting your website to a peripheral hosting provider in Hong Kong or Singapore. To do this, you do not need to register a legal entity or be physically present in China. Learn more about connecting here.
The correct selection of keywords is the basis for indexing in Baidu search results and directly affects the SEO promotion in China. Despite the specificity of the Chinese language, a certain sequence of characters and the importance of conveying semantics, there are tools to help you track the frequency of keywords and key phrases, check the spelling of characters, and track Chinese trends. Baidu Index can help you check the keywords and their frequencies. Statistics on keyword queries per unit of time in the Baidu search engine can be tracked through the Baidu Ads personal account.
The application should be submitted via ziyuan.baidu.com, but a Chinese phone number with the prefix +86 is required for registration. Indexing a new domain by Baidu takes 1-3 months.
One can use familiar Google Analytics to monitor website traffic, but https://ziyuan.baidu.com or Baidu Ads personal account should be used for high-quality analytics.
What does the Baidu Webmaster do:
Tracks website errors
Shows website visibility in China
Analyses link mass
Any linked mentioning in the Chinese Internet space expands the reach of potential leads and enhances your website indexing in Baidu search results. Before registering official pages and accounts, you need to identify your target audience and their relevant platforms which include the following most “universal” for Baidu:
Weibo, a social platform (equivalent of banned Instagram and FB), 500 million Monthly Active Users (MAU), more details here.
Baidu Tieba, the largest forum with many thematic threads, 600 million MAU
Baidu Zhidao, a “question-and-answer” service, 900 million MAU
Baidu Baike, a Chinese Online Encyclopedia, 500 million MAU
Sohu, the largest information portal, 400 million MAU
Toutiao, an AI news feed with smart selection algorithms, 300 million MAU
Little Red Book, a social e-commerce platform, 30 million MAU, more details here.
YouTube is banned in China, so if you are going to post a video content, you should use links from the Chinese resources:
Youku, a Chinese video hosting, equivalent of YouTube, 127 million MAU
IQIYI, a Chinese Netflix, 198 million MAU
BiliBili, the largest streaming service, 585 million MAU
The Baidu search engine does not index links from Tencent services, unlike Sogou, but Sogou takes as little as 4.5% of the Chinese market.
It is important to realize that your website users are not search engines but real people, so the entire process – from localization to posting content – should be planned with emphasis on the “usefulness” of the offered information.