International Business and Technology Blog

Search engines in China

Posted by Tereza Santava on Wed, Apr 27, 2016

Leading Chinese search engines

Two years ago, Baidu boasted 80% of the Chinese online search market. Today, Baidu’s market share is estimated at 55% (1). But the winner has not been the otherwise world dominant Google, but other Chinese search engines including Qihoo 360 and Sogou.

China_online.pngWhile Baidu’s dominant position among the search engines in China has eroded, Google has not been a beneficiary since it has been banned in China as of 2010. Besides censorship, ClickZ (2) cites different online search behavior as one of the factors why Baidu and other domestic search engines have been more successful in China than Google. For example: an average Chinese internet user spends 3-6 times more time on page on average, does not focus on the upper left corner of the page as their Western counterparts do, searches mostly on smartphones and prefers to choose from a list rather than by typing keywords.

As a domestic actor, Baidu understands these behavior patterns better and has taken them into account from the start. Some sources, however, suggest that you can pay your way to the top of search results on Baidu, but the search engine denies these allegations, claiming that organic and paid search are clearly differentiated. Baidu Search Promotion, Baidu’s version of Google AdWords, does indeed resemble its American counterpart. It is often recommended to complement search engine optimization with paid search as part of your online marketing strategy in China, because the proportion of paid clicks versus organic clicks is reported to be higher than in many Western countries.

Differences in the search algorithm

search_engine.jpgWhile the search algorithms remain a secret for both search engines, Search Engine Land (3) offers insight into Baidu’s best SEO practices, which are similar to Google’s, but include a number of noteworthy differences.

To name a few, unique high quality content of a reasonable length is one of the most important factors for both search engines. Meta titles can be a little longer on Baidu (35 simplified Chinese or 70 Romanized characters) and meta descriptions as well as meta keywords are actually part of the ranking algorithm (unlike Google). The meta description should be within 78 Chinese characters. Image ALT attributes are important to both search engines, as are the heading tags and URLs. Even though Baidu takes meta descriptions and keywords into account when ranking your page, it treats keyword stuffing as a malpractice in the same way that Google does.

Another differentiation is the use of subdomains which are recommended by Google as a good way to differentiate country specific content, while Baidu dislikes them and in our experience using the .cn domain achieves better ranking. Baidu also dislikes robots.txt file (unlike Google) and it is not recommended to include important content in iframes, JavaScript (often used for drop-down navigation menu) and Flash either.

In terms of language, overall preference is for simplified Chinese over traditional Chinese and Romanized characters. Local hosting is said to play an even greater role at Baidu than Google and it will also improve your site’s speed, another important ranking factor by Baidu. Internet Content Publishing License obtainable from the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology will also significantly improve your organic search rankings.

Quick recap on Google in China

The story of Google in China revolves around censorship imposed by the Chinese government. Whilst Google search operated in China for a couple of years, gaining approximately 30% market share at its peak, Google search hasn’t been available in China for 6 years now. In January 2010, Google announced that due to China-originating cyber-attacks on them and other US companies, they would no longer filter search results to adhere to the Chinese censorship regulations. Following temporarily redirecting searches from Google China to a non-filtered version of Google Hong Kong and unsuccessful negotiations with the Chinese government, Google is now banned from China by the so called “Great Firewall of China”. However, not all services and products have left the country – for example, Google Analytics and Android continue their operations and Google’s management announced in late 2015 their intention to further expand in the Chinese market, demonstrated by opening up 50 job positions – both technical and managerial – in Google China in March 2016.





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