Tag Archives: China

The State of Search Engine Marketing in China by @michaelbonfils

Here’s everything you need to know about the state of Chinese search engine marketing and SEO practices.

The post The State of Search Engine Marketing in China by @michaelbonfils appeared first on Search Engine Journal.

The State of Search Engine Marketing in China by @michaelbonfils

Here’s everything you need to know about the state of Chinese search engine marketing and SEO practices.

The post The State of Search Engine Marketing in China by @michaelbonfils appeared first on Search Engine Journal.

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What do you need to know about Chinese search engine Sogou?

A few days ago, the news emerged that Chinese search engine Sogou (搜狗) is aiming to raise up to $585 million in a U.S. Initial Public Offering.

Sogou, which is owned by internet company Sohu, Inc., announced the terms for its proposed IPO on Friday.

The news has caused a stir among those keeping an eye on the Chinese tech space, as Sogou is backed by Chinese tech giant Tencent, the company behind the hugely popular messaging apps WeChat and QQ.

But for those of us who might not be up on the state of search in China, what do you need to know about Sogou, and how does its IPO play into the wider search landscape? And could there be any potential knock-on effects for the rest of the industry?

What is Sogou?

Sogou (whose name, 搜狗, literally translates as “searching dog”) is a Chinese search engine that was launched in 2004, and is currently the third-largest search engine in China.

Well, depending on who you ask. As tends to be the case with all things China, the statistics can vary from source to source.

Baidu, China’s largest search engine, is the undisputed king of search in China, but lower down the rankings things get a little murkier. In a January article, Bloomberg stated that “some surveys” have Sogou as China’s second-largest search engine, and it is often referred to as China’s second-largest mobile search engine, with 16.9% market share based on mobile queries (iResearch – Chinese-language source).

Meanwhile, statistics from China Internet Watch put Sogou’s overall share of the Chinese search market at just 3.31% as of May 2017 – fourth behind competitors Baidu, Shenma, and Haosou.

Baidu is the undisputed king of search in China

But regardless of its exact ranking, Sogou is still widely agreed to be a key contender in the contest for Chinese search dominance. Crucially, it’s backed by Tencent, the world’s fifth-largest internet company in terms of revenue, and is the default search engine for Tencent’s QQ mobile browser and on QQ.com, giving it prime access to QQ’s close to 900 million active users.

Other things to know about Sogou are that it has a web browser, launched in 2008, and is the company behind Sogou Pinyin, China’s most popular pinyin input software. (Pinyin is the official romanization system for Chinese characters).

Sogou Pinyin makes use of Sogou’s search techniques to analyze and categorize the most popular words and phrases, and could be a major advantage in Sogou’s future plans for getting the edge in search – more on that later.

So is Sogou the Bing to Baidu’s Google?

If Baidu is the top dog in Chinese search, and Sogou is a smaller contender (albeit with the backing of a huge tech company) trying to make its mark, does that make Sogou the Bing to Baidu’s Google?

Well, not exactly. As you’ll have gathered from the previous section, things are a little more complicated than that.

While the Chinese search market is as unequivocally dominated by Baidu as the western search market is by Google, there are several contenders for the number two spot. These include Shenma, a “mobile-first” search engine by the titan of Chinese ecommerce, Alibaba; and Haosou (formerly known as 360), a search engine by Chinese security company Qihoo 360.

(If you’re wondering where the heck Google itself is in all this, it holds a paltry 1.84% search market share in China, according to China Internet Watch. Google and China do not have the happiest of histories).

What do you need to know about Chinese search engine Sogou?

Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent are three of the leading internet companies in China – as well as the world – which means that the battle for search dominance for China has become a face-off between some of the biggest players in its tech industry.

This is not unlike the way in which the voice search and visual search spaces have become a battleground between major tech companies such as Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Pinterest.

And while Qihoo 360, with an annual revenue of $1.39bn as of 2014, may not be in the same league as three of the world’s largest internet companies, it’s still a force to be reckoned with. Qihoo 360 led a group of investors which purchased most of Opera Software, the company behind the Opera browser, in 2016.

It has also entered into strategic partnerships with Sina (the company behind Chinese social media platform Sina Weibo), Google, and even Alibaba at different times, and in 2013 reportedly considered purchasing Sogou for around $1.4 billion.

So how does Sogou plan on setting itself apart against its heavyweight competitors in the Chinese search market – and can it succeed?

Artificial intelligence and natural language search

Sogou announced in August that it was planning to focus on artificial intelligence and natural language processing in its bid to build a next-generation search engine, with the aim of becoming an “innovator and pioneer in artificial intelligence in China”.

It also plans to shift its emphasis from more traditional keyword-based search to answering questions, in line with the trend towards natural language search prompted by the rise of voice search and digital assistants.

Sogou has joined major search players such as Bing, Baidu and of course Google in investing in artificial intelligence, but its small size may put it at a disadvantage. A huge search engine like Baidu, with an average of more than 583 million searches per day, has access to reams more data with which to teach its machine learning algorithms.

But Sogou has an ace up its sleeve: it is the only search engine formally allowed to access public messages on WeChat – a massive source of data that will be particularly beneficial for natural language processing.

What do you need to know about Chinese search engine Sogou?

Plus, as I touched on earlier, language is something of a specialty area for Sogou, as Sogou Pinyin gives it a huge store of language data with which to work.

Sogou also has ambitious plans to bring foreign-language results to Chinese audiences via its translation technology, which will allow consumers to search the English-speaking web using Mandarin search terms. These will be automatically translated by Sogou, and the resulting content translated back into Chinese for the user.

What this all means for the Chinese search market

Sogou has reportedly been flirting with the possibility of an IPO since 2015. So what’s significant about its timing in seeking an IPO now, and what could it mean for the wider search industry in China?

While Baidu may unquestionably be the dominant force in Chinese search, the company is not immune to scandal, and last year it was hit by a big one. A 21-year-old college student named Wei Zixi died after pursuing an unsuccessful cancer treatment at a hospital which was promoted to him on Baidu, sparking outrage over Baidu’s perceived valuing of profit over safety.

Baidu’s shares dropped almost 14% following the scandal, and regulators quickly clamped down on medical advertising in search results pages, which accounts for some 30% of Baidu’s online ad revenue.

This was by no means the first time that Baidu had come under fire for the commercialization of healthcare. Baidu’s history with dodgy medical advertising dates back as far as 2008, and includes a number of controversies in which Baidu sold off several of its health support communities to private hospitals, leading to a widespread public backlash and an apology by Baidu’s CEO.

What do you need to know about Chinese search engine Sogou?

The Baidu support forum for hemophilia, which Baidu was accused of selling off to a private hospital, sparkling public outcry and a public apology from the search engine’s CEO in January 2017.

Up until now, disaffected users haven’t had any viable alternatives for search engines to use if they want to boycott Baidu, which is increasingly gaining a reputation for being untrustworthy and profit-driven.

But search engines like Haosou and Sogou have been slowly but surely eating into Baidu’s market share, and if Sogou’s investment into AI and natural language pays off, it could shape up into a serious competitor.

How could a Sogou IPO affect search outside China?

What do these shifts in the Chinese search market mean for the world outside of China?

At the moment, unless you’re a business looking to invest in or optimize for search in China, not a whole lot. Even if you are looking for a way into the Chinese market, optimizing for Baidu is still your best bet, as Baidu is unlikely to lose its total market dominance overnight.

But these developments are worth keeping an eye on. A successful IPO for Sogou could be a big win for Tencent in the war for supremacy over rivals Baidu and Alibaba, all three of whom are global powerhouses with investments in media, entertainment, ecommerce, gaming, social networking and more.

And with a reported 731 million internet users in China, any search engine which can capture a significant portion of that market wields some serious clout.

So keep Sogou on your radar; it will be worth seeing how this one plays out.

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Baidu SEO: How to optimize for China’s biggest search engine

Speak to pretty much anyone about SEO and the rhetoric will largely be in regards to the “Big G”.

It makes sense. Google has a worryingly large share of the search engine market, especially in Europe and the US, so why would SEOs spend additional time trying to capture traffic from the lesser-used search engines?

However, unless you’ve been a conspiracy theory style recluse for the last two decades, you will have noticed that China is a country with a rather large amount of people, and this comes with new opportunities.

The Chinese market represents significant opportunity across the board. Admittedly, the opportunities within ultra high growth manufacturing businesses may not be what they were a decade ago but for those willing to make the jump there is the opportunity to tap into one of the world’s largest economies.

The problem? The Chinese search market is one of the only places in the world where Google is not King; they’re not even heir apparent (they almost totally exited China a number of years ago).

Baidu rules the roost in China, so if you want to tap into the Chinese search market, you best get acquainted.

First of all: Get used to the differences

China is a very different country to those found in ‘The West’, to the point that there are a number of businesses which specialize in helping companies bridge the gap between the regions.

Heavy state censorship is but one of the not-so-subtle differences. Much like doing business with, or living in a different country with different rules and culture, your best tactic is to accept the circumstances and adapt. For instance, Baidu’s heavy handed inclusion of their own sub products within SERPs would potentially cause conflicts with competition laws in the EU, but not in China.

New laws in China have significantly reduced the amount of ads in Baidu’s SERPs, but there are still quite a few. Just take it for what it is and, in that most annoying recent British export: Carry on.

The good news: there are similarities

I’ll put my hands up and admit, I put off looking into Baidu SEO for longer than I would care to admit. My assumption (assumption being the mother of all f**k ups) was that I would literally have to learn my craft again. Nothing would be the same.

How wrong I was. Thinking about it, I don’t know why I thought everything would be different. Binary hasn’t changed; yes, there are differences in coding languages and website platforms, but why would Baidu reinvent the wheel? Google arguably didn’t reinvent the wheel; they just added some shiny alloy rims to it.

As such, your SEO 101 type stuff – Metadata, information architecture, Canonical URLs – all of this is still relevant. Baidu may have different weightings and slightly different rules for some aspects (meta descriptions are taken into account) but at least the fundamentals are similar.

There are differences, so as a starter pack of sorts we have included some items for consideration when looking to conduct SEO for Baidu:

Translator/native speaker

This is absolutely critical. Without a professional translator or a native speaker within your SEO team you are going to find yourself struggling.

As with Google, using an automated translation tool will result in content that is understandable, but there will inevitably be holes in it. Search engines (including Baidu) care about content and the quality of said content, so you are going to need someone who can create content to the required standard.

Furthermore, Baidu’s Webmaster Tools are not shown in English, so hopefully it is obvious why you need a native speaker!

Mobile

The mobile trend does not stop with the public’s use of mobile devices, or Google’s mobile first indexing and accelerated mobile pages (AMP). In fact, mobile is even more important in China, where owning a desktop or even a laptop was never really commonplace; the mobile is most people’s first and only portal to the online world.

As such, Baidu care deeply about mobile. They have their own version of AMP (called Mobile Instant Page – MIP) and you can bet that much like Google’s mobile first indexing, Baidu will continue to bake mobile deeper and deeper into their algorithm.

Load speed and display on mobile devices will be crucial both now and into the future for ranking on Baidu, so make this a priority for your website.

Simplified characters

Whilst Baidu will index the more traditional Chinese characters, the search engine favors simplified Chinese characters. Don’t make Baidu work harder than it has to and use the simplified version.

Baidu SEO: How to optimize for China’s biggest search engine

HTTPS

In 2015 Baidu announced that HTTPS would be included as a ranking signal, and looking at the updates from Baidu in the latter half of 2016, there is a definite focus on security, especially mobile security. Look up the IceBucket and Skynet updates from Baidu in reference to their focus on mobile security.

Inbound links

A few years ago it was generally accepted that Baidu was some way behind Google in terms of their ability to decipher link signals. Think pre-Penguin Update style link building tactics: forget about quality, more is better (not that those tactics were ever justifiable in the long term).

This is not the case in 2017. Baidu are clearly upping their game when it comes to link metrics. Again, look at the fantastically named ‘Green Radish’ update as an example; it is reminiscent of the Penguin update, targeting spammy link building practices.

It stands to reason that Baidu will continue to observe Google’s updates and learn from them, subsequently implementing their own updates that focus on preventing such manipulation.

Do not be afraid

This may be somewhat controversial due to the fact that there are definitely differences in tactics for SEO teams targeting Google or Baidu. However, both search engines appear to be on a similar trajectory. In the end they both offer the same service: to provide the searcher with the most valuable and relevant result according to their search term.

Yes, Google and Baidu may have different strategies when it comes to monetizing their traffic, but they still want their users to keep coming back. Both Google and Baidu are constantly improving their ability to highlight the best quality content, alongside an ever quickening shift towards mobile devices as the most critical priority.

As mentioned previously, I completely understand the reluctance for those ‘Google’ SEOs when it comes to embarking on the learning curve required for Baidu. Furthermore, regardless of the similarities, there will absolutely be a learning curve.

Even though there is considerable overlap, you will have to get to grips with the prominence attached to certain elements by Baidu and therefore assess where your time is best spent. Don’t forget that you’ll need a native speaker as well!

What is clear, though, is that Baidu’s development has been significant in recent years, providing a platform that is focused on very similar core principles to Google. If you keep these core principles in mind, rather than looking to take advantage of potential gaps in Baidu’s algorithm, you will have a far more sustainable and long term Baidu SEO strategy.

Chinese scrutiny of Baidu ads after bogus cancer treatment causes death

Advertising regulation in China currently doesn’t cover paid search.

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Google Testing Black Instead Of Blue Links In Search Results

Google is testing showing black links in their search results listing pages instead of the typical blue links. Google has red links in Google China, but has never had other colors being used for the blue links in other regions…

The Globalization Of Local Holidays: China’s Singles’ Day Catches On In US

Columnist Purna Virji explores how a record-breaking sales day in China impacted paid search, and what this might mean for advertisers.

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Microsoft Edge Browser In China Will Use Baidu Search

Microsoft announced last week that the default search engine on Microsoft Edge browser in Windows 10 will be Baidu, not Bing…

New Deal Makes Baidu The Search Default For Microsoft’s Edge Browser In China

Deal will see special promotion of Windows when people search for it on Baidu. Baidu also to be home page.

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Alphabet Creates More Localization Opportunities, Says Forrester

A new Forrester report discusses how restructuring under Alphabet could help Google fix its issues in Europe an China, as well as leverage local data, storage, and talent.