How does SEO in China work? Interview with Search Laboratory

18 Feb 2014

SEO China


Different digital scenarios means also different ways people look for information online – and therefore different ways to position a brand on search engines.

Although it’s by far the most used globally, Google is not the main search engine in several areas, especially in the Runet (Russa and Russian speaking countries, where Internet-giant Yandex owns the biggest slice of the search market) and Far East, with local market-leaders such as Baidu in China and NAVER in South Korea.  

Actually, China represents a quite complex scenario, as we already discussed while analysing the Chinese Search Engine ecosystemThis graph gives us an idea of the market shares (updated Q3 2013):




How does this affect the online branding and marketing strategies of companies approaching China? We decided to ask an expert: Angell Zhang is a Chinese Search Marketing Executive at global search agency Search Laboratory. Here’s what she told us.


– Hi Angell. First of all, what does Search Laboratory do?

Hi guys! Search Laboratory is a global leader in search engine marketing, with over 250 clients, in 18 countries working across 35 languages. Based in three offices in Leeds, and a fourth in London, the company has grown from a two-man operation in 2005 to today employing over 150 staff.

Search Laboratory specialises in English and multilingual search engine optimisation (SEO), pay per click (PPC) campaign and bid management and analytics.


– Which areas of the world does Search Laboratory cover? Which countries do you see the internet growing faster?

We cover everywhere. There’s not a country or a language we wouldn’t help a client in. In terms of countries on the rise we’re seeing more and more businesses looking at going online in markets such as Russia and China.


– The digital ecosystems of Russia and China are quite different than the Western one, with many local players. What are the most peculiar aspects in approaching such countries with a web positioning strategy? How important is an initial research phase?

The initial research is important. It is vital to study your competitors, understand what they are doing and analyse the results of their current digital marketing strategy.

The Chinese market is very different from Europe. The general industry consensus is that the Chinese search marketing industry is at least five years behind the UK and US for example. Link buying is still common, although Chinese search engine Baidu has published several algorithms to tackle these. Proactive content works best for natural link building. It is important for companies to create a company blog and use it for industry updates and products promotion.

Apart from this, it is also important to understand social media platforms in China. They have a very strong influence on purchasing decisions; 38% of Chinese citizens make shopping decisions based on recommendations from their social networks.

Take Sina Weibo as an example, it has more than 400 million registered users and over 160,000 corporate accounts. Currently, 143 of the fortune 500 companies have Weibo accounts (29%). The platform offers brands a quality, diversified target audience as a sophisticated engagement tool. It also enables audience analysis such as a company’s followers’ demographic, including their age and gender.


Sina Weibo demographic


Also, it’s interesting to notice where Weibo users are localised:


Sina Weibo Location


In China, mobile is the top device for people to access internet. Over a third of Chinese smartphone users use their mobiles more than five hours a day, checking them every six minutes.

Therefore to build an appropriate mobile marketing strategy and get users well engaged is crucial too. WeChat provides you with a good way to build loyalty as well as promote your products/services to more affluent consumers.


– How different are the search algorithms and PPC systems of China’s main search engine Baidu, compared to Google? 

Baidu is following Google’s algorithm. Baidu releases two updates every month, normally on the 11th, 26th (or 28th). There are three main things to consider when optimising a website for Baidu SEO:

    • Make sure that every subpage can be reached from the homepage within a maximum of four clicks.
    • Try to use text instead of Flash or Javascript to display important content or links, because Baidu is unable to crawl content from these formats. Baidu may not index a page if it only contains links in Flash or Javascript.
    • If possible, create a sitemap and put it on the homepage. It will help the search engine find and crawl all pages.


Baidu PPC is very similar to Google. It offers both online and offline platforms for campaign management. The online platform can be found on the Baidu website and the offline version can be downloaded from Baidu for free. Most foreign companies find that it is more difficult to open an account on Baidu rather than on Google, as Baidu has very strict rules and policies regarding your products and the documentation verifying process.


SEO Baidu


– What’s the best way to integrate these platforms on a global strategy?

A global strategy is perhaps a misleading phrase. Your strategy should not be one-size-fits-all, it should be tailored specifically to each individual market and localised to that country’s audience. A Russian consumer for example uses the internet in a different way to a Chinese consumer, likewise someone from France and someone from Germany.

– Thanks Angell!

Guido Ghedin

Guido Ghedin

After his University years between Italy and California, today he deals with Market Research and Digital Scenario Analysis at Young Digitals. You can follow him on Twitter: @guido_ghedin.


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