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3 key differences between Western and Chinese search engine ranking signals

The Chinese search engine market is booming and the demand for information from Chinese consumers remains insatiable. With over 700 million active internet users in 2016 and 6 billion daily search queries on Baidu alone, improving your search engine ranking remains one of the most effective ways to reach Chinese digital consumers.

Therefore, international businesses looking to build or expand their presence in the market should make ongoing search engine optimisation a key part of their China digital marketing strategy. This blog post highlights the three key differences between Chinese and Western search engine ranking signals to help you improve your brand’s visibility in China.

1. Keeping it local 

Just like Google, Chinese search engines are focused on providing their users with the most relevant search results. That’s why it’s no surprise that they favour websites with Chinese only content - and this also extends to linking domains.

Ultimately, search ranking is all about signals. Optimising a Chinese website requires marketers to build links from other Chinese websites through partnerships, link exchange and link procurement as this indicates content relevance and quality to search engine algorithms. Links from Chinese social media networks are also favoured over those from Western equivalents since the latter cannot be accessed in China and therefore send negative signals to search engines.

Given the importance of website loading speed on a good user experience, Chinese search engines also prefer sites that are officially Chinese, meaning that they are locally hosted and have an ICP filing or ICP license. Websites that are hosted outside of China are subject to screening through the Great Firewall of China which slows down performance.

Not keeping a strictly local focus is actually one of the biggest mistakes Western companies make with their Chinese digital presence. For example, they build a website in China and go through a lot of effort to optimise it for Chinese search engines, but then have Google Maps on the contact page which simply doesn’t load. This has an impact on load time and therefore overall search performance. This also applies to scripts such as for Google Analytics.

2. Quality content – an opportunity for Western organisations

While Chinese web users do engage with quality branded content and it definitely contributes to search engine ranking, inbound marketing as we understand it in the West is not yet practised by Chinese businesses. That’s not to say those practices aren’t applicable. Everything we do as part of inbound marketing here also works in China.  

One of the barriers hindering an inbound approach is that Chinese marketing departments still operate on an instant performance basis. They want to see sales and ROI in a very short period of time, whereas content requires a long-term focus and commitment.

However, this doesn’t mean that Western companies should follow course. The gap between how internet users engage with brands online and how Chinese companies market, establishes a big opportunity for international businesses looking to build awareness and improve their search visibility.

3. Linking is king

Due to the current lack of focus on content creation in China, local search engines still place a very high emphasis on inbound linking and should therefore be a key part of your search engine ranking and optimisation strategy. However, while just a few inbound links from high authority websites will boost your ranking on Google, Chinese search engines require a combination of both quality and quantity inbound links to impact your ranking favourably. Likewise, a lot of links from poor quality websites will lead to your website being penalised.

When we advise clients on their Chinese link building strategy, we recommend a focus on relevance, richness, stability and security in their outreach efforts as even domestic businesses fall victim to poor link building practices. For instance, the Chinese IT service provider Yunwangke (云网客) decided to partner with only one or two websites, but link back to their site from a huge number of articles. Since the linking articles were all news items and had no relevance to Yunwangke’s content, Baidu downgraded the company’s ranking.

As a general rule, the more relevant your website content is to the content on the external site, the more positively it will impact your traffic. This effect will further increase with the quality and authority of the linking website. That’s why spending some time analysing and identifying websites with high relevance and authority for your business will pay off in the long term. It will enable you to build strategic partnerships that can have a big impact on your ranking.  

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