5 SEO Ranking Factors for Global Brands in China

China SEO key ranking factors

According to SCMP’s China Internet Report, there are 989 million internet users in China (as of August 31, 2021). This huge number represents a goldmine for digital engagement, attracting international brands to China, a country with the greatest number of internet users in the world.

As we know, Baidu is the #1 search engine in China. It’s essentially the Google of China. However, optimizing for Baidu is a different beast than optimizing for Google.

Baidu SEO has its own complex set of challenges informed by Chinese regulations, compliance issues, censorship, technical considerations, and other China-specific requirements.

Today, let’s talk about critical SEO ranking factors when preparing your global site for China.

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China SEO Ranking Factor #1: Page Load Speed

Your site’s user experience and ease of crawlability is directly linked to your load speed, specifically how fast your site can fully display all the content on its webpages.

However, it is common for international websites that are hosted outside of China to experience slow loading speeds since they must undergo the scrutiny of the Great Firewall, China’s online censorship system that regulates local access to foreign websites.

In addition, Baidu prioritizes page load speed as a ranking factor and emphasizes that webpages should ideally load within 1.5 seconds.

With that said, let’s explore three ways you can improve your page load speed in China.

Obtain an ICP License

Internet content provider (ICP) licenses are issued by the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. ICP licenses authorize you to host your website in China. Without one, you cannot host your site on Chinese servers, which seriously lags your load speed.

So although an ICP license is not mandatory, obtaining one would allow you to host your site within China, increasing your site speed and helping it rank higher on Baidu’s search engine results pages (SERPs).

Create a CDN For Your Website

To avoid page loading issues in China, we also recommend leveraging a content delivery network (CDN) on your website.

A CDN is a geographically distributed network of proxy servers that speeds up the delivery of web content by spatially bringing it closer to where end users are.

CDNs have the following advantages:

  • CDNs enhance user experience with faster page loading times.
  • CDNs improve your site’s crawlability due to faster load times for content on your site, as well as image compression.
  • CDNs safeguard your site from malicious cyberattacks like distributed denials-of-service (DDoS) by minimizing the risk of traffic spikes at point of origin.

Remove Blocked APIs

Your existing global website may have several application programming interfaces (APIs) in place to improve your UX—many of them, however, do not work in China.

All Google-related services, for instance, are blocked in China, so your China SEO strategy must involve an analysis of which APIs or plugins are blocked and substitute them with ones that work in China. Failing to do so may hinder your site load speed and negatively impact your user experience.

China SEO Ranking Factor #2: Content Localization

In recent years, Baidu has increasingly prioritized content quality as a ranking factor. For global brands, the starting point is localizing content for Chinese users—and knowing and actioning upon how and why they search—to get found.

As more international companies look to expand their digital presence in China, they will have to do more than simply translate a mini-site to serve Chinese audiences.

With seven main dialects, the Chinese language is complex and carries subtle but critical nuances that make direct translations (i.e., word-for-word) from another language insufficient.

Thus, it is imperative that you work with professional translation services or localization specialists (like us!) as relying solely on auto-translate functions may make your content awkward to resonate with Chinese audiences.

In addition to tailoring your content to the local language, you should also adapt your content based on not just local currency, time zone, and payment methods but also the culture and lifestyle of Chinese audiences.

China SEO Ranking Factor #3: Site Crawlability

A sitemap is a list of all the URLs on your site and helps search engine crawlers decipher your site structure and index your webpages to serve on their SERPs. Most websites prefer sitemaps in XML format since they contain more information on top of URLs, such as ‘date modified’ and priority level.

Since 2020, Baidu Webmaster Tools no longer supports XML map indices and advises all account administrators to remove previous submissions of XML map documents that contain multiple XML sitemap links. Note that this does not affect XML sitemaps, which can still be indexed by Baidu.

So, if your site contains XML map documents, we recommend replacing them with XML sitemaps to improve your ranking on Baidu.

Pro tip: Your sitemap should only include live, indexable URLs when submitting on Baidu (or any search engine for that matter).

China SEO Ranking Factor #4: Mobile-friendliness

Ensuring that your website is mobile-friendly is crucial for succeeding in China’s online marketplace, where over 95% of its total netizen population are mobile users.

China is a mobile-first country in all regards, with purchase volumes soaring highest on mobile than any other device. Hence, if you do not optimize your site for mobile, you run the risk of swaying potential customers to your competitors’ sites.

China SEO Ranking Factor #5: Dedicated Hosting

Avoid shared hosting at all costs. Shared hosting refers to the sharing of a single server (including CPU, disk space, memory space, etc.) between your site and thousands of other websites. As such, shared hosting is highly prone to slower load times and security risks for your site.

Dedicated hosting services, by contrast, do not require you to share any of these resources with other domains.

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With online competition soaring in China, ensure that you stay on top of Baidu’s key SEO ranking factors and make the necessary technical implementations before launching your site in China.

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