This article is part of International SEO series on the WebMeUp blog.
For anyone looking to promote a business in the Chinese segment of the Web, Baidu - China’s most popular search engine - would definitely be the first advertising platform to turn to.
Baidu presently holds over 63% of the Chinese 600-million search market, with Google barely stacking up to 3% there and other two noteworthy players, Qihoo 360 and Sogou, accounting for 18.23% and 10.35% respectively.
Baidu still being the heaviest-weight market participant, we spoke with Tait Lawton of BaiduAdvertising.com, a digital marketer who has years of experience helping Western businesses get heard – and found – in China.
Tait speaks a common tongue with Baidu both figuratively and literally: apart from being a Baidu expert, he’s also fluent in Mandarin Chinese.
The first thing he told us about Baidu marketing was that the majority of English-language Baidu SEO advice on the Web was plain wrong, since most authors who write about Baidu don’t have first-hand experiences with it.
So, we asked Tait a series of questions concerning Baidu’s paid and organic search, Chinese social media, e-commerce marketing in China, and more.
A: Let's say I want my business to be found in Baidu, where would I start?
T: To get your website indexed by Baidu organically, it’s best to have Chinese-language content on your website, then get some links from other sites indexed by Baidu. In our experience, URL submissions or other methods won’t do much for you otherwise. However, those can also help, and can be done with Baidu’s webmaster tools platform (Chinese-language only).
A: Is it necessary to host my site in China or have a .cn domain?
T: No, absolutely not. This is one of the most common myths about Baidu. We have had great success with websites that are .coms and hosted outside of China.
That being said, it is helpful to be hosted in China, mainly because it should speed up access for visitors within the mainland.
A: Which steps are particularly vital to Baidu SEO? Is it similar to Google?
T: Baidu thinks like Google, but isn’t as advanced. Using the proper keywords in your page title and content is very important. Backlinks too, are highly important. One thing different from Google is that Baidu tends to place even more emphasis on fresh content, and on the homepage.
If you use Baidu much, you’ll find that it will direct searchers to the homepage of a website much more often than Google. Google, on the other hand, is more likely to direct users to an internal page. In my opinion, Google is a more user-friendly search engine, especially when it comes to making more long-tail searches.
When it comes to actually running an SEO campaign for Baidu, the biggest difference is in the implementation, as opposed to the on-site work or marketing theory. The online ecosystem is quite different, so it isn’t easy to simply copy-and-paste some Western link-building tactics into a Chinese SEO plan. On the plus side, this means that the on-site SEO work you do for Google should be relevant for Baidu 90% of the time. But you really need someone experienced with the nuts-and-bolts of off-site Chinese SEO Work in order to make a run for it in a competitive niche.
A: Does Chinese social media (Sina Weibo) help maximize exposure in Baidu?
[Sina Weibo is China’s microblogging site that is said to bear resemblance to both Twitter and Facebook - note by editor]
T: Yes, usually. Social interaction will help build the brand which will help with SEO. We use social media as a bigger portion of the overall digital marketing mix in China than we do for similar English-language projects.
A: Where would one start if they wanted to advertise with Baidu Tuiguang?
[Baidu Tuiguang is Baidu-run advertising platform similar to Google AdWords and Google AdSense services – note by editor]
T: Find a reliable reseller that knows how to work with non-Chinese companies. Baidu rarely processes pay per click advertising account setups on its own.
Baidu requires an initial deposit of 5,000 Chinese Yuan or more, which is about 900 US Dollars. Besides that, there isn’t a minimum monthly spend.
A: Are average ad budgets different from those in the West?
T: The average cost per click for Baidu is lower than it would be for equivalent English-language campaigns on Google.
Interestingly, one problem we see Western companies face is more competition from Chinese competitors with larger budgets. Chinese companies that are already entrenched will bid up the prices and use paid search as one of their brand-building channels. Western companies, on the other hand, may be more focused on conversions. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. On the plus side, we have had opportunities to outmaneuver competitors that spend big and analyze little. But on the other hand, consumers are more likely to buy from a brand that they’ve been exposed to many times, and that is hard to accomplish with a smaller budget.
A: As a middle-size foreign retailer in China, should I look into regional SEO, paid advertising, organic SEO, social media?
T: All of the above. I mean, at least look into all of them for sure. If you have the right partner, they should be able to help plan out the right combination of marketing channels to use. The choice of which channels and platforms will vary based on the circumstances for the specific business.
A: What's the best way to promote an e-commerce site in China?
T: Here’s a good question. The e-commerce environment in China is very different from elsewhere. Major e-commerce platforms like Taobao, TMall and JingDong are so immense that they create an ecosystem of their own. To put it in perspective, TMall sold more during one of their one-day sales than was sold online by all US retailers during Cyber Monday.
So, marketers who come from a Western background tend to start with pay per click or SEO first, without giving a lot of thought to these platforms. My advice is to consider the major e-commerce platforms as a possible method of market entry.
Another important thing to note is that for many Chinese Internet users, the e-commerce platforms are the starting point for their transactional searches. They don’t go to Baidu and then end up on Taobao - they just go straight to Taobao.
So, pay per click, SEO and the other staple channels of Western digital marketing are still very important, but just keep the massive e-commerce platforms in mind too.
A: What are the pros/cons of working with a Chinese agency to promote a biz in Baidu? What about a Western agency?
T: Well, it’s my opinion that Chinese agencies have much better insight into the Chinese market. And, being based in China, they can be less-expensive too. On the other hand, Western agencies are more up-to-date with the most cutting-edge global marketing tactics. Plus, Western agencies tend to have highly creative and well-educated staff, and understand Western businesses better.
It’s my opinion that it’s best to work with an agency that is bi-cultural – I mean, both Western and Chinese.
A: What is the one pro tip you'd give a person who is starting with Baidu marketing?
T: The ability to collect and interpret analytics data is essential. Anybody involved in making marketing decisions needs to have access to this data, and that includes your staff or the staff of a marketing agency partner. Analytics are your eyes and ears.