While optimization tips for SEO for Google and other American search engines are plenty, SEO tips for Baidu remain a few (at least in English-language realm of the web). That’s not surprising because Baidu seems more secretive and offer less hints on how web pages will be evaluated. Google is more generous by writing down its webmaster guidelines and provides users tools to target audience.
There are different factors that help complicate Baidu’s current state: Chinese government’s somewhat arbitrary crackdown on sites that use terms labeled as detrimental to the security of the state, or destroy the moral fiber of the society (porn sites will pin less hopes on staying online, let alone rank well on search engine results). Politics can also be part of the equation.
But maybe the biggest issue is that since these tools are rendered in a language foreign to foreigners, tools that are even more useful (read: more suitable for Chinese market) than those of Google are neglected for lack of understanding.
Despite of this complexity, there are basic guidelines that can help sites exploit the huge market in China through search engine optimization.
Even if Baidu returns English pages on search results, one key to capturing its attention is by providing content in Simplified Chinese format. This makes sense because target audience is the Chinese people in China who mostly use the language on a daily basis.
Theme selection is also important consideration when making online presence in China. Sensitive issues such as Tibet, Tiananmen Square, June 4 (date of the massacre in 1989), topics about sex and gambling will likely be banned so there’s no use of optimizing these pages. Even social networking sites, like Facebook or MySpace or news sites like the BBC can get intermittent blocks on certain areas. So avoiding these themes will help us move forward on making our sites’ presence noticed in China.
Baidu allegedly has less advanced methods in determining quality of links by means of anchor text. So having a good internal linking structure or inbound links from other sites will help while fine-tuning the hyperlinked text may not matter much.
Site location refers to where the website is currently hosted. Conventional wisdom (also referred to as convenient answer to related questions) states that hosting in China is a key. The problem could lie on China’s infrastructure but that should change tremendously in recent times. Hosting in China doesn’t deliver guarantee that a site will be indexed and ranked better (see Theme above). The target audience are located in China so having a site hosted within China makes sense. But it could mean slower access outside of China.
I have yet to see a study that relates to domain name and Baidu popularity but it seems that Baidu loves sites that are in .CN format as much as it loves content language that’s specific to China market.
Google has Add URL function (something that’s no longer imperative especially now that Google Webmaster is in charge of business). Baidu also has its counterpart at http://www.baidu.com/search/url_submit.html. Baidu may be slower in acknowledging submissions so it’s not surprising if our pages take weeks or months before they get indexed.
Standard steps like keyword research and content strategy will depend on how much a marketer knows the market. This also applies to China where more than 50 ethnic groups belong and have at least five distinct markets to consider. Simplified Chinese is used but search terms will vary among these markets. It makes little or no sense if we rank well on one keyword in Baidu that a significant portion of the population don’t normally use.