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Search Marketing in China, Now What?

bonfils-michael
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The dust has settled and my phone has gone to about normal after Google's decision to divert its traffic from the previously censored google.com.cn (and its ultra cool g.cn) to the uncensored Hong Kong Google site. But what's causing everyone to scratch their heads and ask "What now when it comes to search marketing in China?"

We've previously looked at the SEO perspective of Baidu and paid search marketing on Baidu. Rather than revisiting those best practices, let's explore the opportunities on both Baidu and Google, as well as its fellow search competitors Soso, Sogou, Bing, and Yahoo China.

Google China

Google ChinaPrior to the switch, censored results in Google's SERPs didn't show up. Now they do, but thanks to the "Great Firewall of China" and its already slow connection speed, the end result is a bad experience for mainland Chinese users.

My agency hasn't yet seen any drastic reduction in impression volumes on Google China. If anything, it has increased thanks to all the press.

The more significant challenges advertisers on Google China may face by being in Hong Kong (other than being forced to shut down) is the impact to B2B search results and analytics. Google's been great for B2B consumers, students, and the affluent. That likely won't change unless they're forced out. However, B2B has been Google's strong point and analytic-sensitive B2B advertisers may be frustrated with duplicate content issues (simplified and Cantonese versions of their sites) and trying to target two very different audiences (Hong Kong citizens versus the mainland).

For now, continue advertising on Google China for as long as possible. Worst case: you'll end up in Taiwan; best case: you'll be worth the wait to someone who may be looking for a fix to their iPad.

Baidu

If you haven't already begun advertising or doing SEO on Baidu, you're missing the boat. Baidu's fixed a lot of its bugs and is set up in a similar fashion as Google in both natural and PPC.

The big difference is implementation. Implementing on Baidu can be challenging; opening an account now often requires a lot of red tape (e.g., Baidu requests Chinese business licenses, proof of funds, a large opening deposit, communicating in Chinese, etc.). Your best bet: hire an agency to help build and manage your campaigns. Local expertise in imperative for success in China.

As expected, query volume has increased since Google's announcement. We anticipate that CPCs in China will also rise due to increased competition between advertisers. It's doubtful that search alone on Baidu is enough to make up for Google's potential departure. However, Baidu's content network (known as their Beidou system) has come a long way and is worth considering.

Our research has shown that there is approximately 35 percent more Web sites on Baidu Content versus Google content in China.

The Beidou system allows for three different types of ad formats.

  • Regular display ads:

    Beidou Regular Display Ad
    • 18 different image sizes, more choices compared with Google

    • GIF/JPG/Flash

    • Large number of placement Web sites

    • CPC

  • Floating image ads:

    Beidou Floating Image Ad

    • Always being in field of vision

    • CPC

    • Three different sizes (120x270, 100x100, 300x250)

  • Contextual text-based ads:
    • Similar to Google's AdSense contextual ads

    • Web site targeting -- either target a group of sites in same industry or more specific sites

    • Region targeting: province>>cities

    • More keyword targeting opportunities

Challenges with the Beidou System:

  • No API: The API of Baidu's content system is expected to launch the Q2 this year. This would mean reporting will have to be manual, not only until it launches, but until it actually works.

  • CPC bidding: Advised bidding is based on industry benchmarks: $0.09 to $.15 for text ads, $0.10 to $0.20 for image/flash ads, and $0.05 to $0.10 for floating ads.

  • Creative issues: There are certain requirements that creative display units in China need to meet in order to qualify for advertising on Baidu, let alone ads that are effective to a different cultural market. Having Chinese experts develop such ads is imperative, as is providing as much A/B testing as possible on the network.
Soso.com

SosoThe Soso.com search engine is owned by its famous parent company, Tencent Inc. Soso was formerly powered by Google and is estimated to have once provided around 30 percent of Google's Chinese traffic until recently when it decided to launch their own search engine platform. They display their paid ads and organic ads identically to Google.

It's widely believed that Soso.com has the highest chance of gaining Google China's lucrative audience. However, their advertising search platform doesn't come close to Google.

  • Ad copy requirements: Titles are a maximum of 12 Chinese characters and maximum 34 Chinese characters for the description.

  • Reporting and metrics: Tracking codes can be added only for ad copy and only one ad copy per keyword. A/B testing isn't available. Soso.com reports on CPC, impression levels, CTR, and cost.

Challenges with the Soso.com system:

  • Soso.com doesn't provide the ability to create campaigns or ad groups, so you must manage a lot of keywords. This issue will probably change in the future as Soso.com becomes more than "so-so" and a better search engine. Additionally, Soso.com doesn't provide an API, so reports must be developed manually.

Sogou

Sogou is Sohu's in-house developed search engine that was launched in August 2004. Sohu.com is one of China's premier online brands and indispensable to the daily life of millions of Chinese.

Sogou's search engine display is different from the standard Google layout. Paid search ad displays on the left side of the page as well as the right side, which may include images. Under the first set of advertisers on the right column, is a fixed annual fee model.

Sogou

  • Ad copy requirements: Titles max out at 20 Chinese characters and descriptions max out at 34 Chinese characters.

  • Reporting and metrics: Like Soso.com, tracking codes are only per keyword and A/B testing isn't available.

  • Costs: The CPCs on Sogou are low, averaging around $.07 to $.10, compared to Baidu's $.42 to $.64 averages.

Challenges with Sogou:

  • Sogou allows you to build campaigns and keywords, but not ad groups.

  • Their lack of an API will make manual reporting a necessity and with the Google departure, Sogou has already started to see increases in its CPC prices.

Bing China and Yahoo China

Bing ChinaBing isn't fully operational in China yet, Their paid ads are backfilled through Baidu. Bing has a great Chinese name that means "must respond" or "must get you an answer."

Yahoo closed its advertising doors in the middle of last year. Considering the events that took place with Google, they may be planning on opening up in the market soon, although there has been no discussion of it yet.

It isn't the end of the world as Google's Chinese curtains begin to close (if they close). For an advertiser, it mainly means the easy way into the market is now over.

In spite of its issues, China is still the fastest growing economy and has only begun to scratch the surface online. The time and trouble to advertise and do business with the Chinese is certainly worth it.


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