How to improve SEO positioning in China

SEO in China

Working on SEO in China is a complicated task, but it's far from impossible 😊. Don't let it scare you, as we're here to present the six key elements to consider when positioning your website for the Chinese market:

  1. Understand that Baidu is the search engine in used China: It is very important to know how the algorithm works and its requirements.
  2. Get to know the SEO tools that allow you to control your website's organic ranking in the Baidu search engine.
  3. Work with web analytic tools for the Baidu search engine.
  4. Understand governmental laws for the Chinese market.
  5. This is key: Understand the culture and getting to know your audience in order to offer them what they really need.
  6. Localise content to tailor it to the Chinese market.

It is a universally known truth that SEO ranking in China requires a little more, going beyond the tried-and-tested strategies. Have you ever considered what is behind an organic ranking in a region so far away?

Let's begin by talking about the type of search engine and the operation of its algorithms, both of which are adapted to the online behaviour of the consumers in the region and optimised for the needs of local people. We'll then move on to the cultural and linguistic differences we encounter by simply clicking on a website in Chinese.

The same Google ranking that would be useful for other companies with objectives in Western markets is not useful for a SEO plan in China. How can we invest in these marketing plans and attract leads without placing profits at a disadvantage? And what are the steps you need to take to achieve success with your international business when you're aiming at the Chinese market? You'll find the answers below.

What is SEO and why is it important?

SEO rankings are used to help a website organically achieve better positioning on the Internet in order to reach its objectives. In many cases, these strategies are outlined locally or nationally; In others, they are aimed at international markets, where this task is becoming increasingly complicated. Depending on the goals you have set, you will see varying guidelines and results, as well as differences in execution. SEO is also part of a localisation process that involves more elements that you might expect. It includes the creation of relevant content for the audience, a user interface adapted to those markets, and the implementation of research carried out on a cultural level.

As if that weren't enough, a SEO ranking strategy should be constantly monitored and modified where appropriate.

Which search engine is used in China?

The leading search engine in China is Baidu. (The name comes from a poem dating back eight centuries, which translates along the lines of "hundreds of times", representing the intention to achieve a constant, perfect search.) It was created by Robin Li and Eric Xu so that users could search for content in the same way as with Google, and it shares many similarities with the international search giant. (Interestingly, this is also true for Baiku Baike, which works similarly to Wikipedia).

Baidu's economic influence is undeniable, as its shares have shot up 15.33% due to the launch of its chatbot. Its market capitalisation is around 50,000 million euros. As you can see, it's no small fry.

What are the differences between Baidu and Google?

As similar as they may seem, Google and Baidu do present some differences. Google is not as accessible as you think: While there are no accessibility problems or limitations in Europe, there are in other places. This is the case for China, where Baidu dominates the sector. Your SEO in China will be compromised if you decide to use Google as the driver to digitally host your company. Baidu offers affordable and semi-customisable solutions for the Chinese market, so it can be a suitable option when it comes to internationalising your business in China.

Baidu search engine

How do I achieve good SEO in China?

The million-dollar question! If you have already decided to invest in a SEO ranking for China, where do you start, and what do you need to consider?

It is important to know that Baidu places a lot of importance on content which is localised in Chinese (and its many variants). Not only that, but their servers are physically located within China. It is worth thinking about the benefits of translating your content into other linguistic varieties alongside Mandarin Chinese. Remember that the Chinese territory is extensive and it is home to around 1.4 billion people. Wu (吳 語), spoken by 82 million people, or Cantonese (廣 東 話), spoken by a similar number, could be interesting options and hold a certain prestige in the areas of Shanghai or Hong Kong, respectively. In the case of Cantonese, such is its relevance that is also spoken outside China, although it is considered to be a dialect.

Another aspect to reflect on is your future audience, so that you can start to form a marketing strategy for SEO in China, and the costs of advertising or CPC (which is, generally, cheaper than for Google). To achieve an organic ranking, we have to start somewhere, and where better than by building a solid foundation?

SEO ranking in China: understanding the Chinese digital market

To ensure effective SEO in China, you need to understand the elements relating to consumer culture and get to know this new target market. In this regard, there are four key elements to consider in order to achieve the desired SEO ranking.

Consumer behaviour in China

On the one hand, it is essential to know what type of consumer will be looking for your products or the requirements that will bring them to you. However, you will not be able to find satisfactory answers until you investigate and understand the differences between your original market and this new target market. According to the ICEX report by the Spanish Embassy in Economic and Commercial Office in Shanghai, some of the most significant changes that have taken place in Chinese society are the increase in consumption and the democratisation of services thanks to the Internet. Similarly, younger generations in China are more likely to consume digitally. As such, their interests and needs are largely focused on this environment. This is very good news, as your efforts should focus on improving your SEO ranking in China as much as possible, ensuring that your customers can come to you.

Market trends

As we've seen, the digital ecosystem in China is not particularly different from that of the West: most Chinese companies invest capital in innovating and creating startups that offer them the most benefits (Baidu or Alibaba are examples of large companies which do this). As for the wishes of Chinese consumers, incidental charges long took a back seat, but this is no longer the case. Another example of a trend would be the change in the female market. While still largely focused on the personal care industry, this segment of the population is increasingly focused on health and sport. Once the focus changes from the old guard and balance is established with a little help from globalisation, income levels and technological advances, you can consider how user trends have changed and where they will head in the short and medium term.

Chinese digital market

Understanding the culture

If your target market was a neighbouring country, it would be much easier to take decisions regarding SEO. When you are focussing on something beyond your comfort zone, problems can arise. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that they are opportunities being presented in a different way?

It is true that preparing for the internationalisation of a company towards the Chinese market can be an arduous task. This is due to the territorial extension and cultural and linguistic differences, so the market is anything but uniform. However, nothing is impossible..

Understanding governmental laws

What do you need to include in your SEO ranking plan, regardless of the market? A thorough understanding of the laws governing the market in question.

It is well known that censorship can influence daily life in China. Digital activity is no exception. Are you really interested in establishing your company in the Chinese market? If the answer is yes, it is key to understand that your best option when it comes to implementing marketing solutions is using tools and services from within the country itself. In this respect, VPNs (virtual private networks) are not a viable long-term solution, as the Chinese Government has gone after them in the past. Years ago, Baidu decided to eliminate the term 虫堂臂挡车 (or táng bì dāng chē), which referred to the unknown protester who stood in front of a line of tanks in Tiananmen Square at the end of the 1980s, from its list of taboo terminology. As you can see, it is worth understanding the legal terminology. As tedious as you may seem, it will save a lot of headaches further down the line.

Website ranking in China: step by step

Now that you've studied the Chinese market, and you have ideas for your SEO ranking... What's next? Follow specific guidelines to create your marketing strategy. Pay attention!

Target audience and competitor research

What is your buyer persona? Do they fit with your service model, or do you need to carry out a deeper internationalisation process than anticipated? What kind of competitors can you find in the Chinese market? And, finally, but equally as important, what position do you want to hold in that market? All these questions will be answered over time, but it is important to have an idea of your own from the beginning. This not only helps to direct your SEO strategy in China, but to understand strengths and weaknesses and possible improvements for the Chinese market, and to set out realistic ideas about your investment in a SEO ranking.

Analysis of keywords

Now it's time to take a look at SEO. Let's be clear: If you want to position the company well, your duty is to make it as visible as possible online. To do this, the choice of keywords is (apologies) the key.

User search terms are important as these keywords help them to reach your services; They are the gateway to your offer. It is therefore not surprising that a considerable chunk of the SEO process for China involves searching for and analysing keywords. A helpful tool is the search word index contained within Baidu which is a great place to start.

Website ranking in China

Optimising the website for Baidu

Website optimisation includes: correct segmentation providing the search engine with easy access to your content and the possibility to index it quickly; relevant SEO for China, not only for attracting customers, but also for providing original content for the platform; compliance with rules imposed by Baidu algorithms which, much like Google, are guided by standards with which your website will be catalogued; and the relevance of your website. All of these come together to evaluate whether your website is worthy of an appearance on the first page of results.

Devising a SEO strategy for the Chinese market

Having studied your competitors in the sector and adapted your products internationally, SEO positioning in the Chinese market should be that little bit easier. Be aware that relevant information does not always exist to answer your queries. Many companies are unsure about entering the Chinese market because they do not know if their services will be well received or if, on the contrary, they will have to pull out shortly after their launch.

This is why getting to know your potential customers can offer so much value and why it is so important to take advantage of more recent changes under the younger generations, who are much more open to products from abroad than their predecessors.

Creating relevant and optimised content

Which option do you prefer: designing a marketing campaign for SEO positioning in accordance with the target market, or adhering to the strategies set out for your market of origin?

The effect of cultural adaptation and optimisation cannot be overstated, and in doing so you will offer a user experience which is far more tailored to their habits, needs and personal tastes. And of course, a dry experience will have a minimal likelihood of conversion. Let's imagine this: How much success do you think you would have in China by celebrating the Spanish Day of the Constitution with discounts and special offers on your website? On the other hand, what would happen if you were to promote similar offers in line with the Mid-Autumn Festival throughout September and October?

As a key element of SEO ranking, backlinks communicate a lot of information to the search engine algorithms, particularly the relevance of your website in accordance with the providence and relevance of those links. For Baidu, quality is as important as quantity. More is more, especially with an expert backing you up. As with any other aspect of SEO for China, linkbuilding can become an obstacle due to the language barrier, so if you don't feel comfortable with it, we recommend you seek help from professionals in the sector to keep your SEO strategy grounded.

Work on SEO locally in China

A mind-blowing advantage of the Chinese market is how vast it is and all the options it represents. This can, however, be a disadvantage at times too. One of them, of course, is the language.

The official language in China is Mandarin Chinese (普通话, pǔtōnghuà), but that does not mean that it is the only language or dialect spoken in the region. There are also many smaller languages spoken by different ethnic minorities. This alone is enough to justify the need for detailed localisation.

SEO tools to analyse web positioning

That said, how can we analyse the results of SEO rankings in China? Here we'll take a look at some of our favourite support tools.

  • SERPstat: analyses SEO and CPC to check the performance of your website and compare it with your competitors. It also offers data about keywords and even backlinks.
  • Ubersuggest: optimises keywords for maximum impact. The main objective of Ubersuggest is to provide you with information about monthly searches by keyword, competitor performance and online trends. If you're looking for detailed reports, this is a great tool for you.
  • Moz: focuses on visibility indices. Its functions include link analysis, monitoring domain authority, research into keywords and the creation of performance reports.
  • Ahrefs: without a doubt the best programme when it comes to analysing links (quality and quantity) and the position of keywords. This nuance can go unnoticed but is very relevant. The ideal complement to your data collection for SEO ranking.
  • SemRush: a first-rate tool. In addition to its basic services, it offers SEO audit and monitoring of results over time, even including the customer brand. It's an all-in-one!

Web analysis tool for Baidu

For an analysis which is solely focused on SEO in China, Baidu Tongji is your best bet, as it generates web reports based on the traffic in the Chinese market. Here are some of its benefits:

  • Traffic analysis: Check the number of users who visit your website and how, find out which parts of your website are most popular and see the geographical distribution of its visitors in order to control your company's influence by area.
  • Trend analysis: Using graphics, it provides information on visitors, IP addresses, bounce percentage and time spent on your website. There's a lot to think about!
  • Source analysis: Find out where your potential customers found you, whether it is the result of searching or from a specific engine, external link, etc. Understanding the origin of your website's traffic will always offer an advantage.
  • Click analysis: Understand user behaviour and the number of clicks on different elements of your website. This way, it is easier to get an idea of how to optimise your website by following the path that your users have chosen.
  • Conversion analysis: Monitoring your website's conversions has never been so intuitive, offering data as specific as the conversion profile or the route which led to it.

Similarly, Baidu Tongji's reports also offer descriptors such as gender, age, occupation or even the educational level of your visitors, as well as the duration or frequency of visits and comparisons between old and new visitors. All this can be used to develop your company's own trends.

How can I localise content for SEO ranking in China?

Simply respecting the culture of your target market is a great first step when it comes to achieving effective internationalisation. However, as with SEO positioning, there is a little more to it. It is important to look further than the surface of a website in order to avoid translation errors. Your final goal? Increase user confidence to achieve conversions and maintain and improve your brand image with good localisation.

Translation and localisation of a website

Here's a starting point. In Chinese, the writing system is very different from that used in the Western world. Your website must employ suitable coding to ensure that this can be read correctly. Otherwise, your characters may suddenly disappear or be replaced by question marks! Unicode could be a good bet in this situation.

When it comes to translation, nothing should be translated literally. This refers to your content but also your keywords. Even in languages of common origin, literal translation can be a minefield. Imagine how bad it can be where there is no shared origin! The study of keywords involves research to ensure the proper localisation within the Chinese market (it would also not be useful to look for a natural equivalent for China if that keyword is not used). Hreflang tags in the programming code are essential to tell the search engine the language in which your website is available. Geolocated IP addresses will also help you to improve your search success. Don't forget that the symbol ZH represents the Chinese language in accordance with the ISO 639-1 standard!

Understanding cultural values and beliefs

There are many more complicated cultural references to understand, but we believe in building a solid foundation: colours, set phrases, protocols for courtesy, numerical order, how you refer to your customers... Even something as simple as choosing simplified Chinese instead of traditional Chinese.

If you choose to design ads, marketing campaigns and offers which are exclusively aimed at the Chinese market, the likelihood that your business will grow, and continue to grow, will increase exponentially.

To support your localisation for the Chinese market, take advantage of reliable sources to learn more, experts in the field, and professionals in the sector. They are your best bet to make sure your localisation is effective and accurate.

SEO localisation in China

Using expressions and symbols relevant to Chinese culture

If positioning your company in a foreign market takes time and research, the same is true when making use of significant symbols from that culture. Perhaps the way you target your European audience will be completely different from your interactions with the Chinese market. Maybe it's time to think about an independent strategy, rather than simply recycling the existing one designed with your current market in mind... These are issues that need careful consideration before moving forward. For example, if your services are health oriented, you could relate your business to relevant Chinese medicine practices; Or if your company is in the tourism sector, you could feature emblematic monuments such as the Great Wall. As ever, the goal is to make your website a safe place for your audience with SEO specifically created for China.

Find out what type of content and format they prefer to consume

In China, users consume more content on their mobile than their PC, so it is especially important to optimise your website for mobile devices. If the content does not look quite right, or you haven't prioritised it, now is the time to get working! You should also consider different types of content: lives on platforms connected to your website, use of short or long videos, extensive or brief texts, links to references or everything in one place... The more polished your content, the greater your scope. This is how you make your company bigger and better.

Our advice

The first thing you need to know to position your website organically in the Chinese market is that the search engine, Baidu, rewards websites that locate their content and server in China. It is also very important that the content is localised, meaning that is adapted to the Chinese language and culture, so finding a native SEO professional from China is key. This makes sense of course. The person in charge of the SEO must understand the culture and the audience of the target market. Given that there are many language variants in China, another important step is to choose the dialect you would like to use to communicate with your audience. In our experience, analysing which language variant is most commonly used among your audience will help you to determine which dialect to use to communicate with them.

Hey! We can't forget to keep track of the evolution of traffic and the ranking of the website. At ATLS, we work with tools such as SEMRush and Baidu Tongji to control the evolution of the organic ranking and your website traffic in the Chinese market. We hope this has been helpful 😉

SEO agency in China: We help you to position your website in the Chinese market

China is a country which Spanish companies have their eye on, and one of the main reasons is its growth as a global power, more so than other countries and regions.

ATLS, as a SEO agency for China, offers different strategies for localisation and SEO ranking in order to achieve an increase of sales in a reasonable timeframe, so there's nothing for you to worry about. At ATLS, we are experts in our field. While we can't cast a spell for immediate success in the Chinese market, we can offer you this guarantee: We'll do everything we can to ensure your success.

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Written by ATLS

Translation and digital marketing agency
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