The second week of October marks not only the first week back to work for our Chinese friends after a weeklong holiday, but also the time earmarked by Baidu to intensify the transition to Pheonix Nest, Baidu's newest "Google-like" search engine platform (note: "Pheonix" is intentionally misspelled, per Baidu).
As mentioned in "Baidu -- A Sleeping Giant Awakens," the older classic system, which confusingly listed paid results along with organic results, will be replaced by a display of a few "sponsored ad" links on top with the rest on the paid results on the right side. If China is a market that's either already implemented in your search plans or planned out for future campaigns, it's imperative that your SEO efforts on Baidu start now.
Old Baidu Version:
New Baidu Version:
Converting your English terms to simplified Chinese terms using translation software probably won't do your Chinese searchers any favors. Your best bet is to hire a native to look at the keyword research you'll need.
Baidu's Pheonix Nest PPC account holders have access to their new keyword research tool, which is still in its infancy and doesn't break out the differences between "broad," "phrase," and "exact" match types. The tool provides you with keywords generated from either a keyword or a URL, and can even allow you to build geo-targeted keyword lists.
Domains and Hosting
It will only help your rankings to have a Chinese domain extension, such as a .com.cn or .cn, along with Chinese hosting for your site. It will probably feel slow when you access it from outside China, but at least you'll get a feel of how the Chinese see your slow-loading site from their country.
Hosting isn't always easy to obtain on the Chinese mainland. Start your ISP search in Hong Kong, where it still has the bandwidth, but is without some of the regulatory restrictions.
Baidu On-Page SEO Practices
Baidu highly values meta data. Descriptions, meta keywords, and title tags should be translated and well written. Good H1 and H2 tags, as well as alt tags are also looked at; just don't forget that these all need translating.
Also, the following tags will help with your Chinese efforts:
When it comes to site structure, Baidu doesn't care for robots.txt, so tweak your .htaccess file and avoid the use of 403/404/defected-links pages.
For all your content, use simplified Chinese, not English. Baidu is a local search engine to the mainland Chinese; it's uncommon to find many people searching in English. However, to make things difficult, there are multiple dialects in mainland China and multiple characters for the same keyword to consider. Fortunately, Baidu isn't indexing all of them, just simplified and traditional Chinese.
Adding to the confusion: Baidu has implemented a "pin-yin" search feature that allows users to type Chinese words phonetically using the English alphabet. Don't worry about "pin-yin" keywords -- you'll just waste your time because they don't actually index that stuff.
China is heavily regulated, so don't even think about using any pornographic/adult, gambling, or anti-establishment related content. They won't bother with a penalty, they will just kill your site altogether, maybe your entire server, maybe even you (just kidding on the last one).
If you believe in keyword density for SEO, keep it around 6 to 10 percent. Internal anchor-text links are "sort of" emphasized on Baidu. I say "sort of" because some swear by having them (it can't hurt), but most don't see that it matters.
Also, my friend and fellow columnist Bill Hunt wrote regarding Baidu SEO, "Put the most important content at the top of the page. Due to poor connectivity, Baidu's crawlers want to get as much content as they can and will often simply crawl only the first 100 to 120k of content on a page."
Baidu Off-Page SEO Practices
Unlike Google, link building is all about quantity, not the quality of links to your site. This of course is the big door-opener for spam-infested SERPs.
My best advice: get as many quality sources as you can linking to you. Do what you would normally do on a Google link building campaign, times 10. Anchor text on incoming links is important and is looked at, but it isn't a ranking factor that's emphasized as strongly as with Google.
Baidu has created a way for Webmasters to provide universal search-related content as suggestions to their search engine to crawl. It's a great backend tool to get your content listed fast.
If your site isn't already being crawled by the baidubot, submit it to their search engine directly using Baidu Site Submit.
In general, think "simple and definitely not sophisticated." Baidu has bright engineers who are always perfecting their engine, but they're far behind in the technology that evaluates and indexes authority, which is a big game-changer if you're used to Google optimization tactics.
My general rule of thumb is that it's OK to still follow Google's rules. It won't hurt you and will probably help you in the long term. Baidu's algorithmic perfections will need some realization of authority in the future in order to clean up the overwhelming amount of spam it will soon face.