SEO in China

Google’s dominance in much of the other major industrial countries might give the impression that there’s no reason to go to such lengths to gain access to China’s market. But while there is some evidence that a small proportion of users are using Google to access information, there’s no denying the landscape is dominated by local players. China’s SEO market shows signs of reaching the $10-billion milestone for growth.

Western businesses that implement a complete strategy for SEO in China stand to gain an advantage over competitors. Learning how Chinese search engines function can help your business flourish in a dynamic market. 

Mapping the Chinese SEO Landscape

China’s SEO market has shown a remarkable rate of growth over a relatively short period of time. This notable growth rate is only upstaged by the fact that Google is nowhere to be seen. That’s right: Google is blocked by the Great Firewall because of the tech giant’s reluctance to comply with the Chinese government’s regulations regarding censorship.

Although rumours continue to circulate about Google’s plans to re-enter this market, there’s little chance the world’s leading search engine will be able to catch up to the Chinese search engines that dominate this region. 

Many refer to Baidu as Google’s equivalent in China, and while it’s true that it is the most widely used search engine in China, boasting a market share of around 68%, unlike Google, Baidu is up against some serious competitors. There’s Haosou 360, which as of January 2019 claimed about 12% of the desktop search engine market; mobile-dominant Shenma, which has about 20% of the mobile search engine market share; and Sogou, which trailed behind at a search engine market share of 5%. This means that if you put all your eggs into Baidu SEO, you may risk missing out on a significant portion of potential customers. Western companies need to design, implement, measure and optimise their websites across several Chinese search engines to become fully visible to Chinese customers. 

Why is SEO and SEM important in China?

The Chinese internet grew at a rapid pace, so it took some time for businesses to recognise the importance of creating an effective online marketing program. Search engine marketing now constitutes the largest share of the digital marketing sector for SEO China.

Consider the sheer volume of internet users in China who use search engines on a regular basis. Reliable market research provides some startling numbers. Over 80 per cent of these regular internet users will search the web using Baidu, Sogou or 360Haosou. However, only 40 per cent of users click on the first ten listings on the search engine results page, or SERP. Furthermore, 80 per cent of these users will limit their searching to the first page, and only 20 per cent will continue searching past the first page.

These numbers draw a fairly obvious but remarkable conclusion: if your business isn’t on the first page, your chances of being discovered by prospective customers drops by around 80 per cent.

The take-away is fairly simple: to be visible on the internet in China, you need to leverage a long-term SEO strategy that might include some targeted SEM to jump-start these benefits.

Search engine optimisation, or SEO, is one part of building a global brand; search engine marketing, or SEM, is the other. Both of these methods can help you to build your company’s brand awareness with customers while generating leads to your website. However, it’s important to consider these two strategies within the proper context.

SEM helps to establish your company in the online environment, allowing your brand to become visible to large numbers of potential customers. SEM has a higher cost over the life of the campaign, but the results can be seen quickly. Marketing strategies might include pay-per-click campaigns or targeted advertising, for example.

SEO tends to be more of a long-term strategy. Great SEO implementation can continue to generate qualified leads and high-value traffic on your website for up to several years after you initiate this action. In addition, the SEO strategy will provide your business with organic traffic, which is higher in value than the clicks or views generated by many SEM techniques. It’s important to bear in mind, however, that the changes in technology can present unique problems. For example, a great SEO strategy can become instantly obsolete if there are significant changes to the algorithms used to crawl the web, analyse pages and rank the results.

Maintain the SEO strategy over a long period of time to achieve the cumulative benefits. For example, the longer your SEO is visible to Chinese search engines, the more your page ranking can improve, which brings more qualified traffic directly to your site. 

How to develop a SEO strategy for China

Companies located in other countries can only gain access to these customers by becoming visible to Chinese search engines. However, they are powered by a different set of rules. This makes it imperative for overseas companies to create an SEO strategy relevant to the unique characteristics of China's digital landscape. And the sooner the better – entering this market early can boost company revenues, and the benefits are also cumulative. Over time, the cost of new traffic drops significantly.

There are several things businesses need to consider when developing and implementing their SEO strategy in China:

1. Host it locally

A website from outside China might be able to be accessed from within China, but because of the heightened scrutiny from the Great Firewall of China, the site’s loading speed is severely slowed down. Chinese search engines will therefore overlook this slow-loading site for websites that can be easily and quickly accessed, in order to provide their users with the best experience.

The best way to get behind the Great Firewall of China and increase the site’s loading speed is by hosting your servers in mainland China, which first requires you to go through the complex process of getting an ICP licence. You can also host your website in surrounding areas (such as Hong Kong) to improve the site latency if you don’t have a legal entity in China to do this kind of setup.

To further improve the loading speed, optimising images, removing ads and reducing redirects are all factors that will make a difference.

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. Make sure you’re mobile-friendly

In China, it’s all about mobile – around 95% of all internet users in China access the web via mobiles. It’s no surprise, therefore, that search algorithms tend to favour sites that are mobile responsive.

A mobile-responsive site is one that can comfortably transition between mobile and desktop devices by altering the image sizes and content to fit the screen. At a high-level, creating a mobile-responsive site means making the experience for a smartphone user as smooth and seamless as possible. This includes making links easy to find and click, getting the font size right and removing ads that might feel out of place on a smaller screen.

A website that isn’t mobile responsive will have trouble getting top search engine rankings and so, even if you’ve done your homework on your keywords, will have trouble reaching its target audience.

There are also mobile SEO techniques you can deploy such as optimising the on-page content and trimming down unnecessary functions to make the site perform even better and rank even higher.

3. Regularly update with local, high-quality content 

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 to users establishes a big opportunity for international businesses looking to build awareness and improve their search visibility.

Update your site with new, original, high-quality content every day or on a frequent basis. Regular updating of content helps improve your ranking on the SERP. The content should be engaging and helpful to viewers, and give information that quickly addresses the visitor’s top concerns. Make sure to hire writers capable of adding value to the content with impeccable grammar, perfect spelling and plenty of word variation.

Search engines now have a preference for longer articles. In the past, a blog post of 500 words would suffice to get the attention of search engines, but today’s articles are typically between 1,200 and 3,000 words long. Video and animations are also effective at keeping visitors on the landing page longer, and this reduces the site’s bounce rate. It also motivates visitors to continue clicking through the rest of the site, which leads them to ultimately convert into a paying customer. Stay focused on building the user’s experience, because the new generation of search engines will react positively to this strategy.

4. Focus on link building

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 SEO 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 a high quality and quantity of inbound links to impact your ranking favourably, as building links from other Chinese websites through partnerships, link exchange and link procurement 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. 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.

5. Deploy effective keywords

A crucial part of your SEO strategy is finding keywords (essentially the phrases users are typing into search engines) for which you will rank the highest, and also which will attract the most targeted users. These include primary keywords, secondary keywords and long-tail keywords.

Finding the right keywords requires extensive research into trends, user behaviour and search volumes. Ideally, you want keywords that have a high search volume but low competition, and finding the right balance between the two can be tricky. Typically the best performing keywords are neither too broad nor too narrow. Take “眼霜 (eye cream)” as an example. This is a hot word in the cosmetics industry, but even if you manage to rank on the first page of the SERP (which would involve a considerable investment), the conversion rate would be low. If you revise the keyword from “眼霜 (eye cream)” to “抗皱眼霜品牌 (anti-wrinkle eye cream brand)”, the conversion rate will be much higher. Why? Because when people searching for “抗皱眼霜品牌 (anti-wrinkle eye cream brand)”, their needs are more specific. For example, the traffic for “眼霜 (eye cream)” may be 1000 users, but only 10 of them may actually place an order. On the other hand, the traffic for “抗皱眼霜品牌 (anti-wrinkle eye cream brand)” is only 500, but 50 people go on to purchase. The keyword “抗皱眼霜品牌 (anti-wrinkle eye cream brand)”, therefore, is more valuable for optimisation.

6. Continue to review and optimise

In addition to your original SEO strategy and plan, regular analysis and review is critical for further SEO optimisation. By analysing previous results, you will be able to understand which keywords attract the most traffic, which have a higher conversion rate and which pages have a lower bounce rate, etc.

There are also a number of intelligence tools, such as the Sinorbis platform, which can help companies monitor both their own sites and that of their competitors. Analysing how competitors optimise their site and reviewing their ranking is essential for your website optimisation.

SEO Marketing Platform, or China SEO Software

Setting up the business to be visible to Chinese search engines is a necessity. Businesses must create a strategic plan designed to address this barrier to entry. For example, you could try China SEO software designed specifically to create, measure and optimize any business website for the Chinese search engine. Alternatively, you could hire a specialised consultant to suggest an appropriate SEO marketing platform for your company.


Businesses that manage to overcome this barrier will find a veritably endless range of opportunities within the Chinese market. The cultural practice of observing the Chinese lunar calendar holidays attracts international attention every year, for example. It is just one of the many opportunities that businesses can use when creating marketing strategies. There are currently more than eight million companies registered to operate within China, and this activity generates more than six million registered websites. The growth rate of is significant, but keep in mind that an additional 2,000 new websites appear every single day.

How can your customers find you in all this noise without an effective strategy for your business website?

Of course, that question answers itself: China SEO is the solution.