.COM or .CN Domain for Baidu SEO?

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The debate between the efficacy of .CN versus .COM domains persists, fueled by myriad claims from self-proclaimed experts repeating the same narrative, that “Baidu prefers .cn domains”.

Ancient Chinese wisdom reminds us of the value of humility and the folly of presumption—teachings that seem especially pertinent when confronting the complexities of search engine algorithms. No one can truly claim to know Baidu’s preferences, as even the individual engineers behind these algorithms navigate a landscape of complex uncertainty and constant change.

But still we see this claim a lot:

Baidu prefers .cn or a .com.cn over .com and ranks Chinese TLD websites better (do they?)

The following screenshots are anonymized in the hope the website owners read my article, find it inspiring and change their wording!

How come so many China / Baidu / SEO expert websites claim they know what Baidu prefers? Have they studied the data, analyzed the SERPs, had regular lunch meetings with Robin Lee, have their spies in the Baidu search engineering labs, or did they even create the Baidu ranking algorithm themselves?

None of all that!

Rather than asserting definitive preferences, a more grounded approach acknowledges the speculative nature of our insights. Phrases like, “In my experience, Baidu seems to prefer…” or “I believe it is beneficial for Baidu SEO to…” reflect a more honest and open-minded exploration of what might influence Baidu’s rankings.

But some know how to express themselves the right way (and even have a contrary opinion to the often-heard narrative that you will need a Chinese TLD to rank well on Baidu):

James-Santiago Mateos Turner, Director at ThoughtBox Asia writes 2016 in an article on LinkedIn, that a .cn domain might be beneficial for Baidu rankings, but many foreign companies have developed successful online brands in China using .com domains (and let me add – many Chinese brands managed the same):

cn domain is useful, but brands can rank very well with .com domains

Tars Geerts writes 2022 on mlytics.com that Baidu does not prefer .cn domains, but that he still recommends to use .cn domains for a number of reasons:

there are many good reasons for using a Chinese TLD like .cn or .com.cn

Spoiler: Tars Geerts’ arguments are the same we often use when recommending a Chinese TLD for a Chinese website.

This article aims to cut through the noise, armed with data and an objective analysis, to explore whether .CN or .COM domains hold any tangible advantage in the eyes of Baidu. Join me as we seek understanding beyond mere speculation, striving for clarity in a domain rife with myths and assertions.

Top Visible Domains in China – what do they use?

The following is a list of the Top 800 most visible domains in China. Check out all those red-yellow domains, they use a Chinese TLD like .cn or .com.cn. All those uncolored, just block font on white background domains, they do not use a Chinese TLD:

most top ranking domains in China are not .cn or .com.cn domains

In the above image of the top 800 most visible domains (according to Searchmetrics), you can already quite easily see, that most spaces are wite with black font, which means that they are domains not using Chinese ccTLD, but rather a TLD like .com or .net.

In the table on the right, you can see which TLDs are most common among the Top 10,000 most visible domains (via Searchmetrics) on Baidu in China (in February 2024). More than 60% of those domains are actually .com domains. Only 12.38% are .cn domains and only 5.67% are .com.cn domains.

most found TLD in Chinese SERPs is .com, followed by .cn and .net

What does the latest Baidu SEO Ranking Factors Study say?

Already Searchmetrics’ 2020 Baidu SEO Ranking Factors Correlation Study showed more than 70% of all rankings on all Top 10 positions were taken by URLs on .com domains.

tld distribution in Baidu Top 10 in 2020
TLD’s found in Baidu’s Top 10 search results 2020, Source: Searchmetrics Baidu Ranking Factors Study

That was backed up by our Baidu Ranking Factors study for 2023/2024, still more than 70% of all top ranking URLs are found on .com domains.

tld distribution in Baidu Top 20 in 2023/2024
TLD’s found in Baidu’s Top 20 search results 2023/2024, Source: Jademond Baidu Ranking Factors Study

Are Chinese TLDs not to be recommended after all?

The common assumption that Baidu has a preference for Chinese TLDs doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. Despite widespread beliefs, an in-depth analysis reveals that the majority of top-ranking positions on Baidu are actually held by .com domains. This observation naturally leads to the conclusion that Baidu does not favor .com domains either; there’s simply no logical reason for such a preference.

An interesting trend has emerged from the transition between the Searchmetrics 2020 study and our own 2023/2024 study on Baidu SEO ranking factors. While .com domains continue to secure over 70% of the top rankings, there’s a noticeable increase in the presence of Chinese TLDs among these leading positions. This shift hints at a potential role for Chinese TLDs beyond mere domain naming.

.cn domains were less often found ranking on Baidu in 2020, than in 2023

Chinese TLDs might serve as a trust signal to users, subtly indicating that a domain is likely focused on the Chinese market. This could suggest that, to some extent, Baidu recognizes the value of such signals. However, the influence is not pronounced enough to be identified as a definitive ranking factor (and surely not to back up the claims stating “Baidu prefers Chinese TLDs”.

Conclusion: Should we use a .com or .cn Domain for our Chinese website?

First of all – there is no “One Fits All” answer. If you already have a Chinese website running, you should consult with a professional and experienced Chinese SEO, to evaluate your current situation, and discuss risks and opportunities you might face when changing the current domain setup.

But if you are yet planning to set up your Chinese website, here is our advice (very much in line with what Tars Geerts wrote in 2022):

  • Local User Targeting: A .CN domain signals to Baidu that your website is specifically designed for local Chinese users, enhancing relevancy.
  • Clear Site Structure: Unlike subfolders, or subdomains, which may be seen as just another part of your site, a .CN domain clearly delineates your site as targeting the Chinese market.
  • Baidu’s Localization Support: Baidu, being primarily focused on the Chinese market, does not utilize the hreflang attribute for international targeting. This can lead to inefficient use of your crawl budget on non-Chinese sections of your site, potentially reducing the visibility of your Chinese content on Baidu.
  • Trust and Visibility: A .CN domain can bolster trust among your site visitors by clearly indicating your focus on China. This can translate into increased traffic and more backlinks, aiding in higher rankings on Baidu over time.
  • Regulatory Advantage: Currently, the Chinese government does not require local business registration to acquire a .CN domain. Leveraging this opportunity now could be advantageous before any regulatory changes.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: .CN domains are generally cheaper to acquire and maintain compared to .COM domains, offering a cost-efficient option for targeting the Chinese market.

Long story short: Yes, if possible we also suggest running the Chinese website, targeting Mainland China, on a .cn or .com.cn domain. The difference between our advice and the claims of the initially talked about wanna-be-psychics is, that we do not claim to know what Baidu thinks – we reason logically and back that up with data and experience.

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