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Search engine visibility in China

By Huiping Iler

With China emerging as an economic superpower, more and more companies are launching Chinese web sites to establish a presence. The Chinese language has the second largest share on the World’s Internet market, with English in the top spot, and Japanese in third.

Who are the main players in China?

Major international players such as Google and Yahoo! all have a significant presence in China. But, Chinese domestic search engines still have a much larger market share than the Chinese versions of Google and Yahoo!. According to survey results by iResearch (in Shanghai) released in January 2004, 48.2% of participants listed Baidu as their favourite search engine, while 29.8% named Google. 3721.com has a share of 9.7% and Yahoo! is left with only 3.2%.

Receiving over 60 million search queries a day, Baidu has a solid lead in the marketplace. In 2004, it received a big investment from Google (when you can’t beat the competition, you may as well join it). As a matter of fact, Baidu is not the only Chinese search company with U.S. investment backing it. Another major player, 3721.com, has Yahoo! as a major investor.

According to a report in China Business Weekly, the scale of the search engine market – including advertising, paid listings, and real name searches – in 2004, was estimated at approximately 1.2 billion Yuan (U.S. $145 million), up from 500 million Yuan (U.S. $60.39 million) in 2003.

High ranking factors

Three factors contribute to the high rankings of sites in China, in addition to the generally accepted good SEO practices, such as; relevant content, link popularity, etc.:

  • Sites must have Chinese language content
  • Sites have Chinese domains such as .cn or .com.cn
  • Sites that are hosted in China

Keyword research in Chinese search engines

In China, keyword databases are not as readily available as those in English such as Wordtracker or the Overture keyword tool. However, there are some other tools available:

  • The Baidu keyword tool: http://d.baidu.com/rs.dhtml (it doesn’t show the exact number of times that a term has been searched for, but only its popularity in relation to other similar terms)
  • The Overture keyword research tool is available for Taiwan: http://www.content.overture.com/d/TWm/ays/index.jhtml

Whether you are developing content from scratch, or simply having your existing web site translated, it is important to keep in mind what searchers are looking for and to adjust your content strategy accordingly. If the translation service provider you choose is not search engine knowledgeable or doesn’t understand the importance of keyword relevance, you may loose traffic as a result. A translator preferred term, however accurate and stylish, often times is NOT what searchers are using. It is important to state your plan and vision for your Chinese web site upfront, and involve your translation or content development team, from the get go.