Introduction to China's Largest Search Engine: Baidu
August 4, 2012
Why Consider Using Baidu?
Baidu is by far the most-used search engine in China and is ranked #5 in the world for traffic according to Alexa. Baidu states that over 90% of China’s Internet users use Baidu search and that there are hundreds of millions of searches performed each day. Research firm iResearch reports that Baidu has 78% of the search market in China, while Google has just 18%.
Like Google, Baidu also has an advanced pay per click marketing platform. In many ways, it is similar to Google’s, but there are also many differences in how ads are displayed and managed. I hope this article serves as a concise overview of Baidu’s marketing platform for those with experience with Google AdWords.
Baidu Ad Display Basics:
Baidu Ads Can Take Over the SERPS
Baidu displays ads in two different layouts. Sometimes, ads are displayed as on Google, with a different color background that clearly separates the ads from the organic search listings. The image below shows this layout in use for a search result for “Beijing real estate”.
Other times, ads are displayed in a format that is identical to the organic search results, except for that the small grey “Cache” link is instead a “Sponsored” link. The image below shows this layout in action for the search results page for “Europe hotels”. If you look closely, you can see that the first 4 seemingly organic results are actually Baidu ads, marked with “??” (sponsored). The fifth result is an organic search result, marked with ????” (Baidu cache). Baidu will sometimes place up to 10 of these advertisements that look like organic results, making SEO for those terms a lot less profitable.
Baidu Quality Score
Like Google, Baidu also uses a calculation based on bid price and quality score in order to determine ad positions and cost per click. It uses the same calculation method, with one notable exception: Google’s minimum bid price is based on the minimum auction price. However, Baidu’s minimum bid price is actually the maximum bid used by the advertiser that ranks lowest in the auction. This will result in higher bid prices. Plus, Baidu’s minimum prices for ads to be displayed are sometimes significantly higher than Google’s. Some of the factors Baidu uses to evaluate quality score are the same as Google’s, including the ad creative; the relevance of keywords to the landing page and ad creative; account structure; and past clickthrough rate of keywords. However, Baidu doesn’t consider geographic factors, landing page quality or the performance of ads per device.
Besides the standard ad format, Baidu also has a sitelinks feature that is very similar to Google’s. As this is a newer feature, we’ve found that it is still underused by advertisers, and we’ve been able to use it to improve results for several campaigns.
Baidu Brand Promotion
Another notable difference with regards to Baidu advertising products is Baidu’s brand promotion product. It’s actually a standalone product, rather than part of the pay per click platform. What it does is provide searchers with a great deal of information about a certain brand, above-the-fold, for branded searches. For example, see the below screenshot of a search for Coca-Cola. It includes 3 images; a video; an animated Flash ad; an organic-like search result nested within it; two more smaller organic search-like results; and several site links! The benefits of this type of advertising include greater brand exposure and greater control over the display of a brand.
Baidu Account Management is Similar to AdWords, But…
For English-reading marketers, the main pain with managing a Baidu account must be that it is only available in Chinese. However, keep in mind that to be competitive the Baidu account manager should have native-level Chinese anyways.
If you can read Chinese, you’ll find that Baidu uses a similar structure to Google, with campaigns, ad groups, ads and keywords. However, the Baidu interface is more awkward to use and requires more manual work. Plus, while there are other apps available to manage Baidu accounts that are useful, there aren’t nearly as many such tools as there are for Google, nor are they as advanced.
Baidu has an analytics platform of its own as well, and it integrates with PPC accounts very nicely. As you might expect, the analytics platform isn’t as advanced as Google’s. However, in a few ways it actually exceeds Google Analytics, such as with the heatmaps feature and an improved site speed measurement feature. Of course, the main benefit of using Baidu’s web analytics system for us is that it can be easily integrated with Baidu ads, allowing it to show tons of useful data without the need to tag ads with URL parameters.
Keyword Research on Baidu
From experience, Baidu’s keyword research tool is less accurate than the AdWords keyword research tool. Plus, it requires a registered account at http://www2.baidu.com. Regardless, their keyword research tool is still essential in account planning; the data just needs to be carefully considered in conjunction with a fair amount of ‘gut instinct’ and industry insight as well as data produced by the AdWords tool or web analytics tools.
Setting Up a Baidu Account Can be a Hassle
The administrative matters of setting up and maintaining a Baidu account can make it a bit of a hassle to work with at times.
Baidu allows a company to setup an account associated with just one domain. They also require a scanned copy of the certificate of incorporation or other proof of the business. Plus, they often request minor edits to the website, such as the addition of the official, legal, company name to the homepage and other such changes. These are barriers that can’t be avoided.
There’s also a bigger problem though. Baidu sells their ad products through a network of resellers. The salespeople work on commission and they’re always busy. Since most of them don’t get many non-Chinese clients, they often don’t know how to complete the signup process themselves either! To avoid this issue, it would be best to deal with a Baidu reseller or Baidu PPC management agency that has experience setting up accounts for non-Chinese clients.
Baidu’s Content Network Not up to Par – Except For Remarketing
Baidu also has a content network, meaning they place contextual ads on Chinese-language websites. We use Baidu’s content network sparingly, as we think it only produces valuable-enough traffic for some industries.
However, the content network does have one excellent feature that we use extensively: the behavioral targeting system, which is similar to the remarketing feature in AdWords. This allows a fine-grained method to serve ads to users that have visited your website, or searched for certain terms in the past. Yep, that’s right, while Google’s remarketing feature allows you to serve ads to people that have visited your website, Baidu will also allow you to serve ads to people even if they only searched for a certain term.
And One More Thing – Baidu Chat
There’s just one more thing I’d like to introduce. Baidu has a product called Baidu Business Bridge that allows webmasters to place a chat box on their website. Live chat is an extremely popular feature on Chinese websites and in many cases is expected by users. One of the main benefits of Baidu’s chat feature is that it provides useful stats on users, including which keywords chat-box users used to find the website, which pages they viewed and which geographic area they are in. Plus, all this can be seen in real-time.
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