The dangers of ‘Googlizing’ your site

By optimizing your website for Google, you could be sabotaging your site for Baidu in China and Yandex in Russia and Eastern Europe.

It is an undeniable fact that Google has the largest search market footprint in the world. As a result, there is an endless supply of resources and information about how to optimize search for Google. As such, I understand how important it is for website owners to make sure that their sites are optimized and perform well in Google search results.

However, by optimizing a site solely based on Google’s algorithm changes and abilities, you may actually be de-optimizing a site for other search engines. This de-optimization could devastate your site’s performance in some critical markets.

If a market like China is important to your business, you need to ensure that the changes you are making to improve Google performance also work well for a search engine like Baidu.

Baidu_screenshot_600

For Russia and some eastern European countries, it needs to work for Yandex.

Yandex Screenshot_600

There are many differences in SEO best practices among search engines including local regulations, domain, and hosting location. Below are some of the updates that you may have implemented or are planning to implement to your site that may ravage your organic search traffic from Baidu.

JavaScript and AJAX

Last year, Google confirmed it could crawl and index links and content within JavaScript and AJAX. This was of course great news to many website owners as it would help improve their site experiences.

Unfortunately, Baidu is not good at crawling and indexing content within JavaScript and AJAX, yet. Using JavaScript for site navigation kills traffic from Baidu immediately after a new site launch. In one example, we saw how shortly after a new site launch, the number of Chinese pages indexed by Baidu decreased from 86,300 pages to 174 pages.

In November last year, Yandex announced it would start to crawl JavaScript and AJAX, and warned site owners not to block their JavaScript and CSS files. However, just because Yandex can now crawl and index those links and content, doesn’t mean pages will start to show up higher in search results. Yandex measures the value of the pages based on not only the content, but also the incoming links and other statistical data.

Recommendation:

Where possible, do not use JavaScript and AJAX for navigation and content that need to be crawled and indexed by Baidu. If you still wish to use JavaScript and AJAX, create a separate Chinese site with static links in the navigation, and important content in HTML.

Yandex has created special mechanisms to give greater visibility in the search results for pages with JavaScript and AJAX.

Meta keywords, meta description and header tags

Content entered in the meta keywords, meta description and header tags might not be considered as important as it used to be for Google, but it still plays an important role in SEO for Baidu.

Google Meta Head_600

Recommendation:

Therefore, place meta keywords and meta description tags in the <Head> section on all pages. You can leave them blank for other country/language sites, but be sure to fill them out on Chinese pages. Also use <H1> ~ <H6> tags on pages. They may not help as much against Google, but they also won’t hurt. It’s best to use them in your webpage templates to help your Chinese pages.

Subdomain vs. sub-directory

While most performance tests show that segmenting the country or language using a subdirectory performs better for a site without a country code top-level domain, some international SEO experts still advocate the use of subdomains.

Google’s Webmaster Help Guide allows businesses to use either method. However, Baidu specifically suggests using subdirectories.

Recommendation:

If you wish your Chinese site to perform well in Baidu’s search results, you need to set your Chinese site as a sub-directory such as, “Yourdomain.com/cn/,” or “Yourdomain.com/zh-cn/and not as a subdomain such as, “cn.yourdomain.com.”

Content placement within the web page

Google and most major search engines have become really good at crawling and indexing entire pages of content.

However, Baidu is not as good as doing the job, yet. It is also known that when Baidu re-crawls pages that have been indexed before, it only crawls the first 1000 bytes or so of the content to see if it has new information. If it doesn’t find anything new, it stops indexing the rest of the page, and moves on to the next one.

Recommendation:

Always place important content (including keywords) at the beginning of the page. If you update any content in the bottom half of the page, submit the URLs of those pages to Baidu using Baidu’s Webmaster Tool for re-indexing.

Yandex also has its own Webmaster Tools, where you can review your web site performance, submit XML sitemaps, and take other actions to improve your website.

There are many other algorithmic differences between the Google, Baidu and Yandex search engines. If China and Eastern Europe are important markets for your business, make sure that you take balanced SEO strategies that work for all of your target search engines.

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