Baidu vs Google: What’s The Difference?

By Ray S
September 1, 2022
The differences between Baidu and Google are important to understand if you want your business to get found by online searches in China.

Google might be the biggest global player, handling over 90% of all global search traffic. Yet in China, over 80% of searches are handled by Baidu.

Considering the size of the Chinese market, that’s a whole lot of searches. If China is where your business wants to trade, this makes understanding how Baidu differs from Google vitally important.

Because the dominant name in the Chinese search market diverges from the American giant’s model in several key ways.

What is Baidu?

Baidu is a hugely popular search engine native to China and used almost exclusively within the borders of the People’s Republic:

  • Only around 44% of the global search market goes through Baidu
  • Baidu generates 99% of its revenue in China
  • Around 82% of online searches in China go through Baidu (Google China gets 2-10%)

Like Google, Baidu offers a whole range of web services. Baidu Maps, for example. They also offer cloud storage (Baidu Wangpan) and many others – currently 57 in total.

Yet while, like Google, Baidu does index the entire web, its algorithms and indexing deliberately favour Chinese sites and content.

The key differences between Google and Baidu

Some people say that Baidu is simply a clone of Google or that it’s like looking at a Google of five years or so ago.

These comparisons have something to them, but they’re a pretty simplistic generalisation. A real Google vs Baidu breakdown would reveal key differences in:

1) Indexing and priority

Google indexes the web fairly evenly. Baidu gives websites with servers based in China or written in Chinese languages higher rankings by default.

It takes a little longer for sites to be indexed by Baidu too. Google doesn’t usually ask for much in the scheme of things and is very swift to start indexing, while Baidu takes several days – partly because of China’s more stringent internet regulations.

2) Image, JavaScript, and AJAX recognition

Baidu is a little bit behind Google when it comes to a few key advances the American firm has rolled out in the past few years.

  • Javascript and AJAX – websites generated dynamically using AJAX technology and Javascript are two things that Google has gotten much better at crawling recently.
  • Image recognition – Baidu still uses alt text and nearby plain text to identify images. Google now uses AI for image recognition.

3) Ranking penalties

There are some key differences between Google and Baidu in the ways the two search engines choose to reward and penalise different activities:

  1. Transparency – if you get penalised by Google, you can see why and attempt to come back from it. Baidu penalties are harsh to the point of killing a site and very difficult or impossible to recover from.
  2. Duplicate content – Google has gotten pretty good at spotting when the same business is producing duplicate content. Baidu is perhaps marginally less observant, but its penalties don’t take any prisoners.
  3. Backlinks and link spam – again, Google’s ability to identify link spam has gotten much better in the past few years. Baidu gives native Chinese links greater weight, which makes it possible for some companies to game the system.

4) Licensing

America’s comparatively loose internet regulations mean you don’t need a license to start being indexed by Google.

You can get indexed by Baidu if you don’t have a relevant license too. Yet it gives those sites with an ICP (Internet Content Provider) license from the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) a hefty weighting bonus.

You can apply to that Chinese government department to get one of two types of ICP license:

  1. Individual ICP License – a mailing address and phone number in mainland China are required for this.
  2. Business ICP license – this requires a Chinese business license.

Google vs Baidu on SEO – how to get your business found

Over and above technology and licensing, the way Google and Baidu handle Search Engine Optimisation is also very different. Here’s what to do if you want to get your business found by Baidu:

1) Bring back meta keywords and alt text

People creating sites for Google these days try to meet the search platform’s stated preference for quality content that’s relevant to user intent.

Baidu still uses meta keywords, tags, and descriptions as ranking factors. Google used to place heavy importance on these, yet currently only attaches value to the meta description.

Google has also moved past alt text for identifying relevant images. Baidu hasn’t though, so make sure you go back to writing this.

2) Go local with your hosting

The so-called “Great Firewall of China” is something that should always be borne in mind when trying to get your website found by searches originating in China. As well as applying for an ICP license, you will probably want to:

  • Get a .cn domain – the weighting preference Baidu awards to Chinese sites means getting a .cn domain name is vital.
  • Host locally and/ or use a Chinese CDN – that preference also means hosting your site on China-based servers is important. Whether you can or not, it’s also worth using a China-based CDN (Content Delivery Network). Both of these hugely boost your site’s loading time, one of Baidu’s key ranking factors.

3) Create and regularly update Chinese language content

Websites written in Chinese languages always rank more highly on Baidu. Ideally, you will want yours to be high-quality Simplified Chinese content written or translated by native Chinese linguists.

Otherwise, foreign companies risk being viewed as insufficiently respectful or committed to the region. Also, if you can remember how bad old-fashioned, poor-quality English translations of Chinese websites once were, the reverse is not a good look to have attached to your brand.

Finally, while Google likes fresh content, Baidu adores it. The Chinese search engine gives higher rankings to recently updated sites and will respond to SEO changes you make more swiftly.

If you want to rank higher on Baidu, this means very regular Chinese language content updates. You will also want to prioritise getting Chinese backlinks. All links are counted as a ranking factor and you’re less likely to be penalised for low-quality ones by Baidu.

4) Optimise your site for mobile

Google is placing more and more emphasis on mobile web browsing as device habits and preferences change.

Because Baidu already has over one billion active mobile users, the Chinese platform has gone much further down this road. If you want to rank for SEO on Baidu, you must optimise your site for mobile.

5) Adapt to Baidu’s preferred site structure and mapping

There are some important considerations for your site structure if you want Baidu to rate your website:

  1. Flat site structure – aim for as flat a site structure as possible. Nest sub-pages close to your home page for maximum trickle-down SEO from the home page, which is usually favoured.
  2. Clean internal links – this should be standard practice anyway, but a clear site map of internal links will make it easier for Baidu to index your site correctly.
  3. Improved anchor text – make your anchor text more descriptive of the destination (whether internal or external) to please Baidu and its way of doing things.

6) Think about trust

In this context, trust is a specific paid-for feature of Baidu. “Trust badges” are supposed to certify your site and can be purchased from Baidu.

Technically, there’s no guarantee this will boost your Baidu search rankings. But unofficially, trust badges are understood to give your site a big boost.

Baidu vs Google on advertising

Like Google, Baidu offers paid advertising options. Thanks to the huge market this lets you reach with your business, this can be extremely lucrative.

However, there are many differences between how the two search engines deliver advertising. For example, advertising on Baidu has to be done in Chinese and you can only target mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau, and “overseas”.

Using Baidu for PPC (Pay-Per-Click advertising) also differs from Google in that there are:

  • A wider range of advertising products
  • More regulation, including that Chinese-language stipulation and censorship
  • Upfront payments and a required deposit of around £750 or more
  • Proof of official business documentation required
  • Longer set-up times to create an account

Reaching out to the Chinese market online

As search engines fulfilling similar functions – if for very different audiences – there is much Baidu and Google have in common. For example, long-tail keywords are a better way of attracting visitors on both platforms.

However, comparing Google and Baidu reveals many more differences. Their focus. How SEO rankings are calculated. There are also far more regulatory hurdles to getting your web presence noticed in China than there are in the UK or US.

Being the go-to search engine for almost one billion people gives Baidu some serious power though. If you want your business to get found online in China, understanding how Google and Baidu differ is the place to start.


Want to reach your audience in China more effectively?

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