We can all agree that China is a HUGE market. Its Internet users top the combined population of Japan, Russia, Mexico and the US, so it represents a significant opportunity across the board and it is only natural that hotels increasingly look for ways to target this segment.
However, this is no simple task. Why? The Chinese search market is one of the only places in the world where Google is not king. Actually, Google is not relevant at all! Baidu is China’s favourite browser and it accounts for more than 80% of internet users.
So, it would seem that you should translate your website to simplified Chinese and expect a significant increase in traffic and reservations from China, right? Well, probably not. Having your website translated to simplified Chinese is mandatory, but not enough.
Baidu has its own rules and restrictions. It comes with its own unique and challenging environment of complex language issues, cultural differences, user behaviour, legal issues, censorship, and technical considerations. Therefore, ranking well on Google does not mean that you will be searchable on Baidu at all.
To rank well in Baidu, hotels have to do things that would not normally do when dealing with Google.
So, how can you get visibility on Baidu?
Here are the main factors to keep in mind in order to succeed in Baidu:
- HTTPS is mandatory (still not enough);
- Your website needs to be hosted in China. – and in a “.cn” domain;
- Social backlinks are very important, however only Chinese ones! Facebook, Twitter, etc. aren’t taken into account and, in fact, penalize the website in Search Engine Results Pages (SERP);
- Baidu’s algorithm gives more weight to the meta-tags compared to Google (Meta Title, H titles, Keywords, Description);
- The website has to have a “physical address” in China, meaning that you must have contact details;
- An Internet Content Provider (ICP) license is mandatory by the Chinese bureaucracy. Without this, ranking high on Baidu SERP will be nearly impossible;
- Baidu takes longer to index websites. Hotels will need to use Baidu webmaster tool to upload the most updated sitemap, identify/fix broken links or site problems, and audit site security or URL functionality. Remember though, everything is in simplified Chinese! There’s no option to change to English or any other language;
- It is necessary to have a Chinese address and a Chinese phone number.
Now let’s make an experiment and see how a website translated to simplified Chinese (but does not comply with most of the rules above) shows in Google vs Baidu.
The search was made using the name of the hotel in the Latin alphabet for Google and in simplified Chinese in Baidu.
We can see that in the SERP that The Wood Norton website appears in first place in Google. However, in Baidu it doesn’t show despite the fact that there is a translation to simplified Chinese.
In addition, when we compare hotels with roughly the same number of monthly visits and the same demographics, we realize that a website that is translated to simplified Chinese has, in fact, fewer visits from Chinese users than others that do not have such translation.
This happens because these visits are from a minority in China that searches in Google and not Baidu, with the Occidental alphabet.
Nevertheless, there might be some changes in a near future according to the South China Morning Post: Google is trying to get back into China by following the country’s strict censorship rules. However, it’s still unclear whether Google will be allowed back into China or not.
In summary, despite having similarities, Baidu and Google are two completely different search engines and, in order to have an edge in Baidu’s SERP, hotels need to have a unique strategy that is different from what has been done to optimize the ranking in Google SERP.
Ideally, this should be done with help from a Chinese agency to make sure all the strict requirements are covered. Simply translating your website to simplified Chinese will not get you where you want to be!