SEO Best Practices in China – The Search Engine Optimization Guide

The Chinese digital landscape is arguably the most fascinating and unique online eco-systems in the SEO in CHINA - Best Practices and Techniques - Digitalmonster.orgworld. Due to government regulation and state censorship it has developed more like a closed ‘intranet’ than he open source web we are accustomed to. The Great Chinese Firewall has kept the major western search engines out of China, here domestic engines dominate.

To improve your e-reputation and visibility (and thus drive traffic and generate leads) you need to market yourself on the two main players Baidu and Sohu.com.. Baidu (thought of as China’s Google) is the largest engine presiding over 75% of the market. Without a presence here, regardless of your status outside of the Chinese, large scale ‘Intranet’, you are practically invisible.

Adapting your content

The Chinese will always initially search for particular keywords when researching a topic. Your brand, business or service needs to be seen as a top result from this search. Keywords are searched in Mandarin Chinese so your content needs to be optimized and translated into simplified Chinese. A website needs a quality Chinese version that is not just translated (direct translation will not work) but re-adapted to appeal to the searching habits and tastes of the Chinese audience. Baidu prioritizes websites hosted in China with a .cn domain. Hosting your site on a Chinese server also increases speed, accessibility and complies with regulation.

Search Engine Advertising (SEA)

SEA is a strong initial approach for businesses first entering the Chinese market. Here you can utilize PPC (Pay Per Click) banner adverts and paid advertisement links. You will instantly appear at the top of the search ranking with a paid link. The Chinese have a stronger culture of following these links, perhaps because of the dominance of China’s major digital players, they are trusted and respected. You need to decide on your keywords, the prices of which will vary based on demand.

SEA drives a lot of traffic initially and is an aggressive market entry approach that should be employed. It is however costly and is not sustainable over a long-term marketing campaign. Paid links do not drive the highest quality traffic, ask yourself which serious professionals click on the ads?

Having said this SEA is an effective method when conducted in conjunction with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) which prioritizes the natural results on search engine in China.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Techniques

SEO is about developing your sites ranking in the natural search results. This is where the majority of netziens and serious leads are looking. SEO is a long term strategy, it takes time to build up your reputation but it will pay dividends in the long run. As your natural optimization improves transfer your paid ad budget over to SEO, it is about you appearing on the first page of Baidu, and consistently ranking highly. Read our blog on 3Cs that Rule SEO.

How do you optimize your site in the natural search results in China and how to rank on Baidu? Baidu’s intelligent ranking system is called ‘The Spider’, this is what it prioritizes.

Keyword Selection

You need to research the market to decide upon the best set of keywords that you are looking to optimize. In effect what are Chinese netziens searching for and how does this relate to your business? It is also a case of branding, how do you define your business activities based on these keyword searches. These will be both in English and Chinese Characters. You then need the Chinese keywords to be optimized on your landing page. Chinese web development is unique and can aid with Baidu and Sohu’s rankings.

Back links

A backlink campaign is at the heart of SEO, this is where other websites are featuring back links to your URL. The more backlinks you generate the higher up the rankings you feature. For Baidu this is an indicator of legitimacy and quality. It also depends on the ranking of the site which features you, if they are more highly ranked the power of the link is greater.

Original, quality content

Producing quality Chinese content from professional copywriters is key; it is a good method for link building with other sites featuring this content and also improves the reputation and status of your Chinese site. You need to establish yourself as the expert and specialist in your specific field. The Chinese often share blog posts and articles in forums which are still a key site for the development of your e-reputation.

Forums and social media in China

Appearing in the search results you need your site to be ranked highly, however the Chinese culture is then to turn to forums and social media in China to check reviews and other consumers opinions, the forum in China is still a very popular online phenomenon.

Established Chinese forums such as ‘Baidu Tieba’ and ‘QQ’ will automatically rank highly in the search results with any content or discussion about your business appearing alongside your official site on the first page. Baidu Tieba is part of the Baidu group and is akin to Reddit, it is content based on the upvoting of other users, to be ranked highly and visible you need to be up-voted by the community. It is an important site to post quality, informative and engaging content.

Forums such as QQ and Sogu are where you need to develop your e-reputation, promoting positive comments and discussion on threads and limiting and hiding any damaging or negative comments. The Chinese are strongly influenced by the opinions of other consumers and will check forums for reviews.

Weibo (literally translates as Micro Blog) is the main social network which appears in Baidu’s search rankings. WeChat, the largest social network in China does not. Creating a Weibo page for the benefit of Search Engine Marketing is effective as here you can interact directly with your community and share content with a greater level of exposure. It is the most open social network in China with users able to see content from anyone, even if they are not connected.

Search Engine Marketing in China is very effective if it is utilized successfully, this is a huge and lucrative market for western businesses but they must adapt their business approach in order to succeed in China.

Benji Lamb

Benji is a digital marketing specialist based in Shanghai, for more information see his blog and website here

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