Step 1: Hire SEIRIM. Ha just kidding, but through constant effort, study and trial and error we have gotten ourselves and our clients to rank very well for their goals (both in China and globally) for almost a decade now, so we know that of which we speak.
Without further ado, step 1:
1. Become aware of who (and what) dominates the search markets and methods:
Search is different in China. It’s more fragmented than in the west, with more players and “on-ramps” into search used. The top search engines are, as of September 2021:
Also note the wide variety of browsers, especially because in China the browser can influence the content and app usage of the user significantly, think walled garden effects:
Searching with Apps is much more of a thing in China than in the West, think of product searching within shopping apps, and general searching within WeChat, which has now almost as many search users as Baidu's app. An interesting bit of data from Zhiyan Consulting indicates that WeChat, (which wasn't appearing in the direct Search Engine usage data above from Statcounter) has now more than 500 million monthly users for search, compared to 558 million in Baidu's app.
Note this is for the search feature within WeChat, "WeChat Souyisou", as their general monthly users are over 1.151 Billion (!)
You need a WeChat presence as a company to appear in the results. To succeed, pay attention to aspects that will affect your ranking: Account credit, quality content, and user behavior (Click, stay, reward, reading completion rate, interaction, attention, etc.）
It’s more mobile. Most search is done on mobile, at 64.88%, compared to 54.61% in the west:
The Takeaway, a.k.a "Do This": In contrast to SEO in the west where we check Google rankings and that tells us most all of the story - in China we need to take in a broader view of more search engines, more search methods like WeChat, more browsers as they affect the searchers' results environment and so on. Later we will showcase some helpful tools to do that, but for now just be aware of the broader vision required.
2. Get comfortable with the “Pay to Play” China SEO game.
SERPs are more populated with self-owned platform options and advertisements.
The controlling search platforms, think Baidu here, not so subtly suggest participation into their paid tier systems.
Sign up here for the Baidu Trust System, and if you have the budget it’s worth considering paying for one of their “verified” tiers. It’s debatable if it helps rankings directly, but it helps indexing your site for sure and will result in a visual indicator next to your company’s listing in search results which should help conversions. Can see their options range from free, to 2000, 3000 and 3600 RMB in the range of consideration for most companies.
What do you get for your hard-earned money? Well, like we say it's debatable (but possible) that it directly helps your rankings, but your company will go through Baidu's verification process, which will help conversions via more trust in your company's listing. Your entry in search will have special details, showing your company name, phone number, website, address, verified status and more like can see here:
You are also vetted by Baidu's Trust System team for creditworthiness and get your entry in their database, giving searchers very helpful and trusted insight into your company, like so:
If you're a big company and brand and feeling ambitious, there are next levels up starting at around 13688RMB yearly which come with many more features like more images, info, site links and more, can see:
The Takeaway: Shift some of your SEO and marketing budget into the column of just outright paying the search engine masters, Baidu in this case. It's not mandatory, but for many companies it's an advisable 'Faustian bargain'...
3. Gear towards volume
Work hard for many links. China SEO is certainly a numbers game, SEO always is but it’s amped up here due to the volume of competing content, signal noise, scan frequency and slightly antiquated algorithm. Links from websites on Chinese servers, with ICP license and in Simplified Chinese are important. It's not only quality but also quantity that matters in China SEO.
Content creation needs to be ongoing. Baidu places a higher importance on freshness of content, so gotta keep the new fresh content publishing on your website. Aim for at least once a month.
4. Get local and flexible
For best results, as a baseline you’ll want a China-dedicated website, with a China .cn url, on a China server with ICP license, with all content in Simplified Chinese.
Make sure to remove all blocked assets, like global social media widgets, assets from such services as Google etc. to ensure good site loading speeds.
For linkbuilding and services, you’ll need a budget and WeChat and Alipay payments ready for wheeling and dealing micropayments.
5. Get Social
Chinese use platforms more than even the west, you will want to select multiple platforms that are suitable to your company and that you can handle the workload of maintaining and put them to use.
Top contenders include:
WeChat - The super app in China, get an official account (about 300RMB a year) and be regularly publish engaging content.
Weibo - Very open microblogging social media platform similar to Twitter and Facebook, can get an official account and post stories and content. (108RMB a year)
Baidu Tieba - A bulletin board system of sorts, where searches can find and result in hyper specific discussions, helpful for niche businesses.
Zhihu - The "Chinese quora" from Baidu, so it often lands high in search results. A good trusted platform for finding answers.
Toutiao - A news and entertainment application with some intelligent algorithm boosting engagement. Part of the ByteDance group (TikTok and Douyin).
Douyin(TikTok) - Short video platform. Good if your brand can relate in the catchy video genre.
Xiaohongshu - Instagram-like, and social e-commerce, popular platform for products’ reviews, good for building online reputation.
Youku - The "Chinese YouTube", if you have longform video content this is the place to make your account.
Some of your best initial options for building quality local links are your local Chinese business partners and associations. Seek out opportunities for them to mention your company’s website in blog posts, news announcements and social media.
Reciprocate to help them too, of course. Maybe can sweeten the deal with mentions from your global website to help gain them more presence abroad.
7. Think Outside the Regular SEO Toolbox
The Chinese internet ecosphere is different. Self-owned, small and independent websites and blogs are less common due to the higher level of restrictions on website publishing, so your opportunities exist in different kinds of places like blogger's presences on social media and blogging platforms, for example.
Understand that the SERPs on Baidu and on Chinese platforms are significantly less transparent than in the west regarding what is and isn't sponsored, advertising content, and that this kind of "self-dealing" content takes up a trememdous amount of search results space. This pushes the potential zone for your organic appearance in the search results way, way down the page(s) in many instances (product type depending).
With the SERPs in Baidu, for example, full of their own content and content predominantly from the major player social media type websites, embrace a "if you can't beat 'em join 'em" mentality and seek to place articles about and your own presence.
9. Broaden Keyword Horizon
If the "wall" of opportunity seems closed off for your usual keyword targets; don't forget how significant the seemingly less common keywords may actually have a whole lot of valuable search volume at China's scale.
Just like in Google, the real search volume for these less common but valuable-for-you may not be reflected accurately in keywords tools.
10. Manage Expectations
Compared to Google, the China-dominant search engine Baidu places more ranking weight on website age, number of links, volume and consistency and other factors that skew in favor of established websites and brands. In a land of high competition, high stakes, and a history of brazenness regarding trademark issues and so on this might be understandable.
SEO progress in China will take a lot of time, resources and patience. But a large market awaits so it's worth it, yeah? :p