China has more and more people who go on holiday to Europe. These people would like to stay in your hotel. Read here how to achieve this.
TLDR: SEO for Google works differently than SEO for Baidu, just like the Chinese tourist travels differently than the western tourist. Optimise your hotel website according to these best practices to ensure that the Chinese tourist also books directly through your website.
The number of Chinese flying around the world every year to enjoy a well-deserved holiday in Europe is growing, that is clear. If you look at these figures from Statista we see a clear growth in both the well-known Chinese tourist who likes to take a bus trip through Europe and a growth in the more luxurious and 'free independent' segment, these travellers like to get off the beaten track. Tourism Review even shows that the average Chinese is increasingly trend-sensitive and in need of alternative experiences and (more) modern means of payment. Who would have thought that Chinese tourists would go picking cherries in Wadenoijen? Where? Wadenoijen, google it.
Nice all those Chinese people who come to Europe but how do they find your hotel? Booking? That is an option but they by far do not have the same awareness in China as in Europe. Moreover, we have to take into account the well-known towering committee. Ctrip? Yes, but doesn't that look like Booking? That's right! Here you pay commission per booking and the contact is via Ctrip and not via the hotel. Google then? Guess again. The same goes for Google as for Booking.com, in fact, Google gave up the battle with the Chinese search engines nine years ago as described here in Forbes. Last try: Baidu?
Yes! Baidu is the search engine in China and does not intend to give up their position as market leader any time soon. At the time of writing this article, Baidu reached a market share of 78.63%, leaving behind other search engines such as Sogou 11.4% and Shenma 4.69%. Not to mention Google's market share of a small 2.87%. And with a recent investment of 1.9 billion dollars in Artificial Intelligence, Baidu only aims to increase this market share. The figures can be found here on Statcounter!
Google may be the most widely used search engine in the world, but the situation is different in China. In China, Baidu is clearly in charge of the search engines. Since 2010, Google has stopped its direct competition with Baidu because it is not easy for foreign companies to establish themselves in China. For example, companies often have to enter into partnerships with Chinese companies in order to be successful in China. But more importantly, Google was censored by the Chinese government.
This censorship is something that never really felt good with Google, since the motto 'Don't be evil' did not correspond to their practices at the time. Meanwhile, Google's (Alphabet) motto 'Do the right thing' is something they did according to many at the time, namely leaving China. The complete disappearance of Google, however, is dedicated to an attack by hackers in which personal details of Chinese human rights activists were placed online. This attack became known as Operation Aurora and pushed Google into a very uncomfortable position. This was the time for Google to decide: Leaving China or continuing to comply with the long arm of Chinese law. Google chose the first and where does that put us now?
Direct bookings contribute to the hotel's success. After all, you can have a 92% occupation of your hotel, but if you have to pay a commission of 20% on every booking, you'll leave out on a lot of revenue. And what about the online experience on the hotel website, which is completely in line with that of the hotel from the first moment of contact? Cool! After all, giving your guests the best experience both off- and online is something you want! But how do I get visitors to my website and direct bookings from China? This is a different continent, of course, and it is already difficult enough within Europe.
That's where the Chinese version of the hotel website comes into play. Because if Baidu is the biggest search engine in China and the hotel website is found well in Baidu, we can all make this easy calculation. Right?
In addition, where Google is now a full blown Online Travel Agency, Baidu stays closer to the core and thanks to a collaboration with Ctrip, can continue to focus fully on search.
Domain names and hosting
China, own country, own rules. In China, there are 60 government-authorized companies that provide domain names. A Chinese domain name ending in .cn is preferred when it comes to Baidu SEO, however it is not a condition. Baidu prefers also a Chinese hosting provider. Consider here that a lot of latency by hosting in another continent (Europe) does not benefit the user experience of the visitor. To avoid this problem, a Content Delivery System (CDN) can be used in which the content is stored in the closest server to the visitor.
All websites in Chinese have priority at Baidu. Preferably websites are equipped with a version in 'Simplified Chinese' and in 'Traditional Chinese'. Both forms of the language are widely used, the difference is in the characters where Traditional Chinese contains more characters than Simplified Chinese. Traditional Chinese is often used in Honk Kong and Macau where Simplified Chinese is more common in the interior of China.
Optimize for mobile
Ok, this is of course no different from Google (mobile first indexing) but according to research, 61 percent of all internet traffic in China was already on a mobile device in 2018 and this number has only increased in 2019. In addition, Baidu has greatly underestimated mobile traffic in the past and is now trying to catch up by giving priority to mobile optimisation. Moreover, Baidu invests huge budgets in the development of AI and other forms of technical development related to mobile internet traffic.
Launching a new website in Baidu
For Baidu, it is important for a website to be able to be crawled properly from the start. So make sure that the structure of the hotel website is good from the start. Think of 'crawl depth' and make sure that all pages can be found by the Baidu spider. How do you know if the Baidu spider has found your content? Check your access logs for one of the following bots:
Don't want to go through all the data manually? Use a tool like the Screaming Frog Log File Analyser or the Semrush Log File Analyser to filter out the baidu bot as a user agent (see list) and you'll have a clear overview of how often, and what was crawled by Baidu. When launching a website, it is customary to submit a sitemap in a .xml format in Google Search Console. With Baidu you should be asked to do this by Baidu after they have crawled/indexed your content.
As of September 1st, Google stopped reading exclusions in a robots.txt file. In my opinion, this is not yet the case with Baidu. The information in this article will be updated if it appears that Baidu also stops or is stopped. If you want to stop the baiduspider in the mean time, take a look here: "What is Baiduspider and How to Manage It"
The ICP (commercial | non commercial)
If you want to publish content from China you must have an Internet Content Provider (ICP) certificate. There are two different options: the ICP Bei An (non-commercial) which can be used when you only post informative content online or an ICP Zheng (commercial) which is needed when you post commercial activities on your China hosted website. So also when you use a Chinese CDN instead of a classic hosting provider. Without an ICP, there is a chance that your website will be taken offline by the Chinese government. Companies without a legal Chinese presence will not get a commercial ICP. There are several agencies that can help you obtain an ICP. Partnerships with Chinese companies are also possible. For a full explanation of the ICPs, see the Quantil ICP Certification page.
Baidu and content
Baidu assigns more value to the homepage than to other pages. In contrast to Google, which attaches great value to well-linked pages with independent and unique value, the content on the homepage is therefore the most important. How can this work to your hotel's advantage? By placing the right and most useful content on the homepage, you make yourself findable and you can already convince a visitor to visit your hotel. Depending on where a visitor enters the customer (guest) journey, this can work to your advantage. However, this does not mean that a single page website or single page application is enough for your hotel.
Freshness of content is just as important for Baidu. When the structure of your website is optimal, as described in this ultimate site architecture guide by Marieke van Yoast, the Baiduspider will use the crawl budget to check for new content and, if applicable, to index it. This includes updating the content on the home page and not just adding new content.
Meta title and meta description
The ideal length for a meta title is 60 characters (30 Chinese characters) and for a meta description that is 155 characters (78 Chinese characters) according to some international SEO's such as Roland Kettle Baidu attributes value to containing keywords in the meta description.
Those old well known meta keywords that, according to the big G, have not been used as a ranking factor for years, but are particularly known from the time of AltaVista, are not relevant for Baidu either. But why do you mention it? Because we see that there are still websites where webmasters do apply them. In 2012, Baidu published the news that their algorithm does not take the keywords into account as a ranking factor. Jin Ray clearly explains it in his article: Why you shouldn't use meta keyword tags for baidu seo anymore.
Baidu and link building
Link building is a time consuming and difficult part of SEO nevertheless it remains very important. Many webmasters and online marketers have become insensitive to certain link building possibilities and most black-hat link building tricks don't work anymore. This unfortunately also applies to Baidu! So there's only one thing left and that's strong content that is worth sharing. On your website and on the Chinese socials and also on other websites. This creates a strong link profile and will make your website rank better in Baidu. Make sure that the links are mainly from Chinese .cn websites. Actively approaching websites that want to share your great content should be a permanent part of the pre and post publish checklist. For more link building tips see the Dragon Metrics article: Link building guide for Baidu SEO.
Baidu and voice search
With DuerOS, Baidu tries to strike back against competitor Sogou, who got a lead in voice search after Baidu had left some space in this area. DuerOS is a conversational AI system that uses AI (Algorithms, Neural Networks, NLP, Data) to recognise and process speech. An example: talking to a smart home device, and then actually getting an answer back that makes sense. Another example: operating the air conditioning in the car using your voice.
SEO for Baidu part 2
Website optimisation for Baidu is quite a complete and complex process, as with all other search engines. This is one of the reasons why this article is divided into two parts. In the next section, we will discuss the following topics in more detail:
And of course also the downsides of Baidu as a search engine.
*Fun fact: you may have wondered during this article how you actually pronounce Baidu. It's simply pronounced as it is written, Baidu! The name comes from a classic poem written by Xin Qiji and it means 'hundreds of times'.
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