The digital practices one must employ for better reachability and effectiveness in China are different from the methods businesses generally employ elsewhere. Hosting and optimization on search engines, for instance, must be done on compliance with local rules and by matching the criteria dictated by the search engines for better ranking returns. Violation to these will mean penalization from search engines and refusal on part of them to rank the sites properly. Moreover, to add authentication to your site, it is better to have business accounts on Chinese social media platforms. Chinese Search Engines like Baidu take this as a sign of endorsement and use it as a metric in ranking the sites. Practices like using a local Content Delivery Network (CDN), which helps boost page loading speed, are also vital part of your SEO for Baidu.
Thus, one must develop online strategies accordingly to reach out to Chinese customers. Let us highlight a few musts of the China focused digital practices one must employ for greater success.
Chinese search engines rank sites hosted in China higher than those hosted outside the country. This is primarily because of two reasons apart from ensuring compliance with local censorship policies. First, the search engines will take sites hosted in China as ones targeted to cater to the Chinese audience. Second, sites hosted outside China will have difficulty in loading compared to those hosted inside China. It is natural for Baidu Search to rank the ones with faster loading times higher.
To get hosting access in China, one first needs to get an Internet Content Provider (ICP) license. The license are of two types, personal ICP license and business ICP license, with the latter of the two necessary to host business and commercial websites. Getting an ICP license helps in getting better search engine rankings by making them eligible for hosting in China and also because ICP license is necessary for many site verification processes like Baidu Trust.
Even if you cannot host your sites in China, it is advisable for you to host the sites in close proximity of the country – like in Macau, Honk Kong, Singapore etc. Hosting on the American West coast is better than doing so on the East coast. Close proximity will mean faster loading time which will help in getting recognition with the search engines.
Get a .cn Top Level Domain (TLD) when possible because it will mean to the search engines and general public that the site was meant exclusively for China. Getting a .cn domain does not require a local business registration hence it is better if you take advantage of this fact before any change in policy.
Baidu dislike subdomains and links to other domains
Chinese search engines do not entertain sites with subdomains. It is thus advisable to keep subdomains out of your sites. Moreover, it is a big no if you are linking your site in Chinese domain with those with a different domain. The linked site will decrease your page load speed and might get yourself deindexed from Baidu by containing information/widget from banned sites. Even if the formers are not the case, Baidu will still penalize your site for containing links of sites with non-Chinese domains. You should also never host sites in Chinese domains together with sites in non-Chinese domains like .com and .com.au because Chinese search engines refrain from indexing sites hosted alongside the ones in foreign domains.
It is a regular practice for sites to include robot.txt file to guide search engines like Google in identifying which sections of their site they want to get indexed and which section they want out of reach of web crawlers. However Baidu does not rank sites with robot.txt files. The search engine wants full scale crawlability of your sites and access to all information held within. Thus it is a must for you to exclude robots from your site and make all pages available to Baidu crawlers. Even if you include a robot.txt file, Baidu might still crawl your website while not giving you the advantage of being indexed. Hence, if you are looking for a proper ranking in Baidu searches, it is better if you avoid robots altogether.
Contents in Chinese have a higher chance of getting indexed by Baidu and being ranked on its SERP. If you are preparing a site for Chinese audience, prepare contents exclusively in Chinese because multilingual contents will hamper the chances of your Chinese language pages getting indexed with the search engine. Moreover, Baidu does not support the use of hreflang tag for international targeting. Use meta language tags instead for Baidu and prepare and submit a separate versions of your sites with different gTLDs and subdomains to target various geolocations.
For the most useful dos and don’ts in developing your China centric digital strategies for 2017 and beyond, you can find the articles of this series of posts here:
It is great working with such a dedicated and competent team in this ever changing space and I would highly recommend Michael and his work.