How does Baidu view and handle international content versus local Chinese content?

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Baidu, as the leading web search engine in China, presents a unique landscape shaped by cultural, linguistic, and regulatory factors. This article will shed light on how Baidu deals with non-Chinese content and what that could mean for your Baidu SEO strategy.

2012: Baidu’s Earlier Approach to International Content

A decade ago, Baidu’s approach to handling content on its search engine painted a different picture from what we see today. During my time living in Beijing, I frequently used Baidu to search for content in German, a testament to the platform’s then-inclusive approach to multiple languages. Typing German keywords into Baidu’s search bar often yielded relevant German websites. Though Google’s results were more refined, Baidu’s ability to list German, and similarly English websites, was notable.

In my opinion, this multilingual capability was more than just a feature; it hinted at Baidu’s broader international aspirations.

The absence of indexing information in Baidu’s Webmaster Tools at that time meant that these insights were gleaned from direct, user-based experiences rather than analytical tools. The fact that Baidu was indexing and ranking pages in languages other than Chinese suggested a vision that extended beyond its dominant Chinese-speaking user base.

Baidu’s Global Ambitions?

In 2012 Baidu’s approach to handling international content was markedly different from today. Living in Beijing then, I often used Baidu for searching content in German and English. Interestingly, typing German keywords into Baidu’s search bar yielded relevant German websites. The results, while not as sophisticated as Google’s, were nonetheless significant. Baidu’s ability to list content in multiple languages, including English, suggested an openness to international content, hinting at possible global ambitions.

Fast forward to 2017, these early signs of international aspirations were further underscored by Baidu’s strategic moves in the technology market. To be highlighted is Baidu’s launch of the Raven H smart speaker. This device, the first to emerge directly from Baidu and based on the DuerOS AI platform, was a testament to Baidu’s technological evolution and its readiness to step into broader Asian markets.

The company was eyeing markets beyond China, with plans to expand into countries like Japan, India, and Thailand, which were lacking a smart speaker like Amazon’s Alexa. These markets, with their cultural and linguistic similarities to China, were seen as natural next steps for Baidu’s expansion.

did Baidu have ambitions to expand its reach to other Asian markets?
Did Baidu have ambitions to expand its reach to other Asian markets?

This period marked a significant chapter in Baidu’s history. On one hand, the search engine was indexing and ranking international content, catering to a diverse set of linguistic needs within China. On the other, Baidu was actively exploring avenues to export its technology to non-Chinese speaking markets in Asia.

These strategic moves suggested that Baidu was positioning itself not just as a local search engine giant but as a global technology player, challenging Western tech giants in both the search engine and AI spaces.

The early 2010s, therefore, represented a pivotal phase for Baidu – one characterized by an exploratory approach to international content and a burgeoning ambition to make its mark on the global technology stage.

2023 and beyond

In recent years, Baidu’s strategy has undergone a significant transformation, pivoting towards a more localized approach. This shift is most evident in its search engine functionality, where there’s a pronounced preference for Chinese content, even in response to queries in other languages.

Today, if one enters English or German keywords into Baidu’s search bar, the results are markedly different from a decade ago. Instead of listing websites in the language of the query, Baidu now primarily displays Chinese pages.

The German search query “tanzschule” (dancing school) gets answered by Baidu with a Baike entry for the dancing school in Darmstadt, followed by three Chinese-German dictionaries witheir entries for the word “tanzschule”, and a QQ music list of a music album the the name “tanzschule”.
The English search query “what is baijing kaoya” triggers first a Baidu Fanyi (Baidu Translate) snippet, followed by English-Chinese dictionary entry, followed by a bi/lingual Chinese-English article on WeChat on thte topic (also read WeChat’s influence on Baidu SEO), followed by another dictionary entry and another bi-linugal article, this time on Bilibili.
For the English search query “what are the best tv series for children to learn about dinosaurs” Baidu completely fails, just listing Chinese pages that contain some of the individual words contained in the search query. None was even close to the desired answer.

These pages often include the foreign term, but typically in a context that serves a Mandarin-speaking audience. For instance, an English term search might return Chinese pages explaining the term’s meaning in Mandarin or lead to English-learning resources.

This change in Baidu’s search algorithm reflects a strategic realignment with its core user base – the Mandarin Chinese speaking and Simplified Chinese reading audience. Such a focused approach ensures that the search results are more aligned with the linguistic and contextual preferences of its primary users.

Is it all Simplified Chinese only?

A key question arises when considering Baidu’s focus on local content: does this mean a complete bias towards Simplified Chinese at the exclusion of Traditional Chinese? The answer is nuanced. When conducting searches using Traditional Chinese characters, Baidu does showcase some flexibility in its results, displaying Traditional Chinese pages, especially those targeting audiences in Hong Kong, Taiwan, or Macau, the majority of search results predominantly feature Simplified Chinese content.

This pattern underscores Baidu’s primary focus on Mainland China’s audience. Despite acknowledging linguistic diversity within Chinese-speaking regions, Baidu’s algorithm favors Simplified Chinese, reflecting its strategy to cater to its largest user base. For content strategists and digital marketers, this highlights the importance of aligning with Baidu’s linguistic preferences for better engagement in the Chinese market.

Prioritizing User Experience and Language Preference

Baidu’s current content strategy, particularly its emphasis on Simplified Chinese, can be largely attributed to its commitment to optimizing user experience for its predominant user base: Mandarin-speaking individuals in Mainland China. This focus reflects an understanding of the specific needs and preferences of this audience, ensuring that the search results are not only linguistically accurate but also culturally and contextually relevant.

Search engines, aim to deliver an optimal user experience, which often involves balancing accuracy with relevance.

For Baidu, this means prioritizing content in Simplified Chinese, which is the standard script used in Mainland China. By doing so, Baidu ensures that the vast majority of its users, who are accustomed to this script, find content that is easily readable and engaging.

For businesses and content creators looking to engage with Chinese-speaking audiences, understanding this aspect of Baidu’s content strategy is crucial. It requires not only linguistic alignment but also an appreciation of the cultural and regional nuances that influence user preferences and behaviors on Baidu’s platform.

Analyzing Baidu’s Crawling and Indexing Patterns and Their SEO Implications

Understanding Baidu’s current strategy and its implications for SEO requires delving into its crawling and indexing behaviors, particularly regarding non-Chinese content.

Despite its clear focus on Simplified Chinese readers, primarily in Mainland China, Baidu continues to index pages in other languages. This practice raises intriguing questions about its underlying strategy, especially considering that a significant portion of Baidu’s user base may not be proficient in languages other than Chinese, despite English being a part of school curricula.

The key to this puzzle lies in Baidu’s emphasis on user experience.

For Mandarin-speaking users, encountering a website that is not entirely in Chinese or that risks leading them to non-Chinese content can be jarring and lead to a negative experience. This is not just about the language of individual pages but also about the overall navigation and potential redirects within a site. Even technical elements like hreflang annotations in a webpage’s HTML might signal to Baidu that there’s a risk of users being directed to non-Chinese versions of content.

From an SEO perspective, this means websites aiming to rank well on Baidu should prioritize content in Mandarin and Simplified Chinese across their entire domain. Limiting links or references to non-Chinese pages, even those outside the domain, could also be beneficial. This approach aligns with Baidu’s strategy of delivering a seamless, language-consistent user experience.

While currently, pages with hreflang tags, domains hosting multilingual content, or Chinese pages featuring some English sections can still rank well (especially if they boast higher content quality or a more valued backlink profile), this might change. Baidu’s continuous refinement of its algorithms could lead to stricter evaluations in the future.

In conclusion, for optimal alignment with Baidu’s search engine strategies, websites should maintain a consistent language theme, especially in Mandarin and Simplified Chinese.

Reducing the potential for users to navigate away to non-Chinese content inadvertently can enhance a site’s standing in Baidu’s rankings. As the digital landscape evolves, keeping abreast of these nuances in Baidu’s approach will be crucial for maintaining and improving SEO effectiveness in the Chinese market.

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