Following a scandal over medical services advertising in 2016, Baidu has been subject to strong criticism. A student in central China died after going through an experimental cancer treatment that he found by searching on Baidu. At the time it wasn’t clear how much vetting Baidu was doing of those hospitals, which lead to fatal results. Healthcare accounted for 20 to 30% of the company’s search revenue during this period.
Over the past five years, the dominance of emerging mobile apps has also affected Baidu’s mobile search market share. Chinese users tend to make searches directly in the relevant platform – Tmall and JD.com for shopping, Dazhong Dianping for lifestyle services, Weibo for gossiping and TikTok (Douyin in China) for entertainment – rather than using search engines.
This lead to the viral story of Baijiahao, Baidu’s media aggregation service. Originally designed to optimize retrieval speeds for users it received opprobrium in January 2019 for serving low-quality content – republished from other sites – and placing it toward the top of Baidu’s search results. Baidu received the traffic and made it hard for users to find the original source.
The aim of using Baijiahao in this way was to improve the content ecosystem on Baidu, so as to better users’ experience and SEO. It was also to tackle the loss of traffic to mobile by seeming to innovate. At the time, Baidu claimed that Baijiahao articles only accounted for less than 10% of its search results.
To compound matters, Chinese Netizens commenting on a post on Weibo by Baidu CEO Robin Li in August 2018 appeared to prefer Google over Baidu. Many commented that they would gladly uninstall Baidu and start using Google if it was allowed back in China.
However, despite all this Baidu is used by over 90% of Chinese internet users, which equates to around 700 million people. This is a huge potential audience for any product or service that wants to enter the Chinese market.
So, the obvious question to ask at this point is how can we compare these two search engines?
Same Same, but Different
As of May 2019, Baidu dominates search in China with 65% of the nation’s online search queries. However, Google China, a subsidiary of Google, ranked a distant fifth in China’s online search market, with a 3% share. As has been well publicised, Google has had issues with the Chinese authorities over the years but it is without doubt the global leader in Search.
Both companies have multiple offerings across search products, social products, knowledge products, location-based products, music products, PC client software, mobile products and services, open platform for developers, games, and translation services.
Both companies generate revenue primarily through online advertising, but Google’s diversification is higher compared to Baidu and continues to increase.
However, a major way they differ is that Baidu has the edge over Google in terms of localization. Baidu better understands Chinese language and culture, which enables it to better optimize its search technology to the needs of local users compared to Google.
Baidu Search Engine Marketing
As a search marketer, you’ve likely run SEM campaigns using Google Ads. This knowledge means you won’t have any difficulty understanding how Baidu Advertising works. Baidu presents its advertising in much the same way as Google; ads show up in search results alongside content based on keywords. Baidu is essentially the same as using Google for advertising, however, the way SEM is used with a Chinese audience is very different than how it’s done in most western ecosystems.
Different kinds of content ranks in China compared to in the west, so even if your display ads have worked well for campaigns run on Google Ads, you’d want to do plenty of research to find out if your ads have the right content to support your ads in China.
Cultural differences also play a big factor. Advertising campaigns on Baidu are more than just ad copy translation; you need to profoundly understand your local target audience. Regulations can also stand in the way when it comes to SEM in China, meaning a reliable local consultant is vital to campaign success.
Just like Google, you can use Baidu SEM to target users geographically to a precise degree. This is incredibly important for all kinds of products, but it is especially important in China because of its scale and disparities of demographics across the different tiered cities.
Baidu has on average cheaper CPC than Google for similar search terms, although this varies depending on keywords and industry. There are some strict payment terms that foreign companies need to follow. At Popify we require an initial deposit of RMB 5,000 (USD 730) per ad top up to run a search campaign. But the overall cost of your campaign should be comparatively lower than Google.
Baidu used to have a notoriously confusing backend interface, but after successive updates it has improved significantly. It’s not as sleek as Google Ads but an experienced search marketer would be able to use it. The problem is not necessarily navigating the backend but rather mastering the concept of Chinese keywords. This is where the help of a marketing company with a deep knowledge of the China market is invaluable.
If you want to use Baidu for search engine marketing, there are three things that you will need no matter what. These are:
- a fully accessible Chinese language website.
- a valid business license.
- a Baidu authorized agency.
The Chinese authorities also enforce a set of stringent requirements that internet companies must adhere to. Therefore, Baidu has tough restrictions to its advertising system, just as Google does with its media buying.
Here, we have a comprehensive list of industries forbidden from advertising on Baidu:
- Medical and pharmaceutical organizations
- Drug treatment institutions
- Family planning services and medical institutions
- Beauty medical facilities and surgical services
- Veterinary drugs and information platforms
- Medical devices production and sale
- Prosthetics production and sale
- Health and nutrition products
- Medical drugs
- Special purpose cosmetics
- Public reserve funds
- Foreign exchange
- Entertainment facilities (nightclubs, dance bars, karaoke and disco bars, etc.)
- Escort organizations and services
- Adult toys
- Hazardous chemicals
- Spa & Massage
- Top-up services
- Video live-streaming
- Funeral-related organizations and services
- Terminal products, POS machines
- Rare animals and sensitive animal products
- Odor smell treatment products
- Weapons, including drones with weapons
Sensitive industries (industries that need to be confirmed specifically based on the nature of the business):
- Financial and investment industry
- F&B related items
Baidu SEM will Always be Valuable
China’s current domestic internet usage is around 800 million people and is expected to grow to one billion in the next two years. With Baidu spending more than 10% of its yearly revenue on mobile carriers and smartphone manufacturers, who in turn pre-install Baidu’s mobile apps on brand-new Android phones, it’s likely that Baidu’s mobile search rates will continue to increase.
Baidu’s success is also expected to grow internationally, where there are no internet restrictions and Chinese users who live overseas or are travelling abroad will want to use Baidu as their primary search engine; this because Baidu is the default search platform for Chinese language users.
For all the knocks that Baidu has taken over the past few years it has shown great resilience. Talk that China’s answer to Google “is already dead” is much exaggerated.
If you are a search marketer and want to sell your products or services in China then Baidu search engine marketing is without a doubt a great place to start.
Do you have experience of using Baidu for PPC advertising? How does Baidu compare to Google in your experience? Let us know in the comments below.