With more than 500 million Internet users, China is by far the world’s largest online market. Their largest Chinese search engine, Baidu, has more than 407 million users, with around 78 percent share of the total Chinese search users.
Since being founded in 2000, the company has shown remarkable growth and is consistently highly profitable. The numbers are impressive and it should be worth it to any international online marketer considering the size and scope of the market they serve.
How to Get Started on Baidu
But how do you get started with search marketing on Baidu? Before you go any further, ask yourself if it's even worth it.
Baidu's business model is to sell its advertising via agencies. It isn’t easy to open a direct account.
Baidu has hundreds, if not thousands, of “agencies” but many are not what we would expect in the West, most of Baidu’s agencies are merely “resellers” of Baidu's advertising programs. However, there are many agencies in China who do offer added value services, as do a few overseas companies who usually have subsidiary branches in China.
If you ever run into anyone claiming to be the “exclusive” provider and agency for Baidu, it's baloney.
Paid Search on Baidu
Business entries into new geographic markets are often accompanied by tedious bureaucratic processes in order to set up a business and start operating in a foreign country – and China is most certainly not an exception. Here are some tips that provide insights into how to deal with Baidu.
Before opening an account with Baidu, ensure that your website is suitable for a Chinese audience and that the name of the company is clearly displayed. It is also important that the site be translated in Simplified Chinese and in Mandarin.
You need to provide Baidu with the following documents in order to open an account:
- A letter authorizing your chosen agency, if you have one, to manage your account.
- A copy of your Chinese Business Registration with 'original copy' written in black ink and signed with the company official signature stamp (chop) and copies of all other licenses there may be permitting you to sell certain products and services in China. For example, if your selling medical products, then you would need to provide a governmental license permitting you to do so.
Baidu may request other licenses, including your Internet Content Provider license and you must be prepared for this.
If you don't have a license to operate in China and do not require one (a hotel in the USA as an example), then you need to do the same as a Chinese company but send your local company registration documents with the words original copy signed by an officer of the company in black ink.
If you have no Chinese business presence, make sure that information about your overseas company registration is available. If you are intending to use e-commerce, make sure that you can handle Chinese debit and credit cads issued by Union Pay. If not, 95 percent of Chinese users will not be able to purchase anything from you online!
Any Chinese licenses for goods or services, if required, must be displayed, as should information about your Chinese business registration. It is crucial that the information on the site reflects exactly the information given to Baidu when opening the account. If it does not, then the site will be rejected!
Baidu will determine if you are allowed to sell and advertise in China and will ask for further documentation if there is any doubt.
As of today, Baidu normally requests a non-refundable deposit of 5,000 RMB plus a 600 RMB set up fee. This is just under $900 U.S. Of course, you can’t send U.S. money unless special circumstances allow it and Baidu does not accept credit cards from foreign accounts.
Your agency is likely to provide funding to Baidu on your behalf, but be warned, isn’t entirely uncommon for small Baidu agencies/resellers to run off with your media funds and close their shop. Use a legitimate agency and you should be fine.
Organic Search on Baidu
Provided your site is linked to a site in China also provided your site is in Chinese, preferably Simplified Chinese, then it will be spidered by Baidu. In order to be certain that your site is being listed in Baidu, it’s a great idea to host in China behind the Chinese firewall.
Although sites outside of China are included in Baidu’s index, this isn’t always assured. For obvious reasons, sites with a .cn domain, which are hosted in China, get a significant boost by Baidu.
On Baidu, links matter, a lot! You can get them in China from directories and other peer reviewed sites.
Unfortunately, most social media sites and other popular sites exclude Baidu’s spiders due to the Chinese internet censorship.
All tools provided by Baidu, for both paid and organic search, are in Chinese. However, a number of third-party packages support Baidu analytics, paid search, and other aspects you may wish to get data on.
Most businesses believe they can just create a website for Bing China, provided the content will be in English. That’s fine, considering Baidu incorporates Bing’s results for English searches within their own. However, hardly anyone uses Bing in China for direct searches, so don’t be surprised if very few would ever visit the site from that source!
It would be nice if Baidu had a simple ad console like other search engines, where you can simply upload your keywords, target and price your ads and the way you go. Unfortunately, there is a lot of Chinese red tape to get through and risk involved. Utilizing a proper agency would be your best bet, but consider it does take some time to get started.
Author's Note: Special thanks to my friend and colleague Barry Lloyd of Webcertain Asia who assisted me with some of the specifics of todays article.