Though most Western businesses venturing into China will focus their attention on social media and sites like JD.com and Taobao, building your own e-commerce store that you own and manage makes sense.
Not only does it give you more freedom (third-party websites can change their rules or fees overnight, causing your business to suffer) but it allows you to capture user data, remarket, and ultimately sell more products and services.
But in order to run a successful e-commerce site and generate sales and leads organically, you need to optimise your content for search engines like Baidu. Below, we offer on-site SEO basics that will help you get your website off the ground and onto the results pages.
First of all, make sure you have the right data to optimise and monitor your SEO campaign.
The chances are that you’ve used software such as Google Analytics and Search Console when working on SEO campaigns in the West, and though these tools aren’t available in China, there are similar alternatives, such as Baidu Ziyuan and Baidu Tongji, which allow you to collect information on your users, see where you’re ranking, and set yourself goals.
As soon as you launch your website, set up Baidu Tongji so that you can see exactly who is coming to your website, how they got there, and why they’re pressing ‘exit’ without buying.
Find a keyword tracker
SEO is all about making your content visible to users through search engines. A good SEO campaign will centre around keywords, so you’ll want to find a ranking tool that will monitor your keywords, their placements on search engines, and offer suggestions on how to climb.
Software like Aizhan and Dragon Metrics offers lots of useful features for tracking keywords on Baidu and other Chinese search engines, collecting data on link building, competitors, and offering in-depth onsite optimisation tips and tricks that are tailored to your website.
Choose the right domain
When setting up a Chinese e-commerce website, it’s important to decide whether you want to launch with a new Chinese domain name or use a subdomain of your existing brand, like China.ZUDU.uk. It’s important to note that companies are encouraged to host their websites in China for speed, but you’ll need your business to register as an Internet Content Provider (ICP) first, so if you’re buying a .cn domain name for your Chinese website, register quickly.
Once you’ve got your name, buy an SSL certificate and direct users to the HTTPS version of your website rather than HTTP - this is important for security and e-commerce compliance.
Improve loading speeds
Next up, think about loading speeds. Just as they are here in the west, loading speeds in China determine how highly your website ranks on search engines. Baidu has already said that websites that are slow and sluggish will rank below fast, speedy, accessible websites.
Make sure you use a Chinese web host - hosting in mainland China or Hong Kong means your content will load quicker than if it’s coming from a server in Australia - and check your website speed using a tool such as 17ce.com, which offers optimisation recommendations.
Structure it right
So, you’ve got your domain name, web hosting, and a website that loads quickly.
We’re not done there, unfortunately; next up is improving your site’s structure so search engines can read your content in the shortest possible time. Google’s algorithms are more advanced and can figure out what content means and where it should be placed on a page, where Baidu relies more on your code to know the difference between a title, form, and text.
Make sure that your URLs are written in Pinyin or English, and avoid Chinese characters and punctuation in URLs to ensure your content is crawled correctly. And be sure to use a logical structure - website/category/product with breadcrumbs for accessibility purposes.
Other things to think about include title tags, formatting your robot.txt file, using languages tags if you offer content in English and Mandarin, and a sitemap that you can submit to Baidu that’s easy to use, dynamic, and updates whenever you add a new blog post or page.
Test, test, test
The truth is that optimising your content for Chinese search engines is pretty similar to the way you’d optimise for Google, so follow best practices and remember to test your site for user experience. Though search engines are important, it’s your users who are going to be clicking through your pages. Make sure any broken links are fixed, and all content loads.
Duplicate content should be removed and keywords should be expertly placed in your meta titles and descriptions.
Once you’re confident in your on-site SEO work and you’ve got the technicalities out of the way, it’s time to create content. The more high-quality, engaging content you can create for your users the better, not only to rank for more keywords on Google but to give visitors a reason to stick around. When you build up a bank of content, you’ll be able to reuse and repurpose it on Chinese social media sites like Weibo and WeChat to improve your ROI.
Though an hour of keyword research and a blog post won’t get you to rank at the top on Baidu overnight, a consistent strategy starts with good on-site SEO. Follow the techniques we’ve offered in this post and check back soon for more Chinese digital marketing tips.