Searchmetrics Study: Baidu Ranking Factors Correlation Study
press release

New Searchmetrics Study Reveals the Secrets of Success on Baidu, China’s Top Search Engine

Brands can rank high in Baidu organic searches even if they link to blocked US sites such as Facebook and YouTube finds new Searchmetrics Study.
Nadja Schiller
by Nadja Schiller

San Mateo, October 29, 2020 – You can rank on Page One of top Chinese search engine, Baidu, even if your website includes links to officially blocked sites such as Facebook and YouTube according to new research; and contrary to popular belief, over 75% of websites ranked in the top ten positions on Baidu are .com sites rather than local Chinese .cn or .com.cn domains. At the same time, it seems essential to reference at least one Chinese social media channel such as Wechat or Weibo to help your website rank well on Baidu, while the number of backlinks appears to have a very strong correlation with rankings.

These are among the key findings of The Baidu Ranking Factors Correlation Study from Searchmetrics, the search and content optimization platform. The research analyzed the top ten Baidu search results for 50,000 Mandarin Chinese keywords, busting a variety of myths about what is essential for ranking highly on the search engine. The study provides a comprehensive, in-depth guide with comparative benchmarks and advice to help SEOs and digital marketers improve their search rankings on Baidu.

“Depending on which studies you read, China has either already surpassed the US as the world’s largest e-commerce market or will do in the next one to two years – which means targeting China is a huge business opportunity for western brands. And 70% of all Chinese searches go via Baidu, so making your website visible in organic search results on Baidu is hugely valuable. Our new Searchmetrics report is packed full of detailed, reliable information to help you do just that.”
Matthew Colebourne
Matt Colebourne

CEO, Searchmetrics

One initial finding from the analysis is that Baidu tends to favor many of its own online properties in its search results – sites such as the Baidu Zhidao Q&A platform and the Baijiahao blogging platform. In fact, Baidu-owned sites average around two results on Page One for most searches and appear in nearly 40% of all Position One rankings. For this reason, Searchmetrics excluded Baidu’s own sites when analyzing the factors that correlate with high search results in its study.

Five important insights from the study are:

1) Links to Facebook, YouTube and Google won’t degrade your Baidu rankings

Since China officially blocks access to certain foreign websites such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Google it is widely believed that linking to these sites would negatively impact search rankings (because sending visitors to blocked sites creates a poor user experience). However, the data reveals that links going to blocked websites do not have a negative impact. They might even have a slightly positive impact (the presence of links to blocked sites was found to have a positive correlation score of 0.66¹)

The most common references to blocked sites were to Facebook and YouTube. And in truth, Searchmetrics suggests the presence of these links may be because many non-Chinese brands have not paid close attention to removing them from their website design templates.

2) Best practice advice: choose a .com domain

A little over 75% of all websites that rank on Page One of Baidu.com (excluding Baidu’s own URLs) are on .com domains. The local Chinese top-level domains (TLDs) including .cn, .com.cn, .org.cn and .net.cn together only achieve 9.36% of all top 10 ranking positions. These findings bust the often-repeated Baidu SEO myth that ‘you need a Chinese TLD in order to achieve good rankings on Baidu’. The data shows that is simply not the case.

3) Highly recommended: ensure your website leads visitors to Chinese Social Media channels

In almost all (99%) of websites that rank on page one, there was at least one reference or mention of a popular Chinese Social Media network such as QQ, Wechat or Weibo. However, this does not necessarily mean brands need to have a link to a social media channel according to Searchmetrics. It can also mean it is important to have a QQ number written down for the users to connect to or a WeChat QR-Code to scan and connect with.

“These social media channels are popular ways of communicating with brands in China so perhaps it’s not surprising that they are so commonly referenced on high ranking pages.”
Marcus Pentzek
Marcus Pentzek

Chief SEO Consultant, Searchmetrics; main researcher & author of the study

4) Using exact match keywords is NOT very important

Marketers and SEO pros who are used to optimizing for Google would expect that the keywords that are used in search queries also usually have to appear somewhere in the body copy of web pages in order to rank highly. But the data suggests this may not be the case for Chinese language pages in Baidu’s top 10 search results. Only 34% of all Baidu top 10 ranking pages contain the exact match keyword in the body copy of the page. And there is no positive correlation to suggest that using the exact match keyword is important for improving rankings.

“You have to understand that Chinese keywords often consist of a number of different characters and two or more characters will have the same or a different meaning depending on where the characters are positioned. Baidu is able to make sense of this and understand that a page can be highly relevant without using the same characters that appear in the search query.”
Marcus Pentzek
Marcus Pentzek

Chief SEO Consultant, Searchmetrics; main researcher & author of the study

5) The more backlinks a website has the better it will rank

The number of backlinks seems to heavily influence rankings (with a correlation score of 0.9). In fact, the median number of backlinks to Baidu top 10 ranking pages is 76,250, although there are websites still ranking well with far lower numbers. It’s also important that links come from many different websites (referring domains) and from sites that are themselves highly visible in search results.

“In the past, Baidu was well-known as being easy to manipulate, with SEOs buying or exchanging backlinks to try and improve their rankings,” said Marcus Pentzek. “But in our experience, this is no longer the case. The search engine is now able to detect ‘spammy’ backlinks far better than before. The data suggests it’s important to have a large number of links from a variety of good quality websites.”

Other interesting insights from the study include:

  • The use of keywords in the meta description was found to have NO correlation to rankings at all. In fact, the analysis showed keyword usage in the meta description for the top ten ranking position was almost non-existent.
  • Longer content ranks better – the data reveals an average length of 3,194 characters for top ten ranked pages. For context 3,194 characters is equivalent to around 680 English words.
  • Including unordered lists appears to be a must if you want to rank well – 90% of Position 1 and Position 2 contain unordered lists in the content.
Download The Baidu Ranking Factors Correlation Study

About the data

The Searchmetrics Baidu Ranking Factors Correlation Study is based on an analysis of the top ten Baidu organic search results for over 50,000 Mandarin Chinese keywords using Simplified Chinese Characters. The research aims to identify the factors that correlate with ranking high in Baidu’s search results and the elements that are present in pages that are listed in the top ten organic search listings.

Correlation scores are given to indicate whether or not a factor correlates with top Baidu rankings. All correlations are always based on the complete dataset excluding Baidu’s own search results.

Furthermore, median values are provided within the analysis as these give a more accurate impression of the true trends. Mean values (pure averages) are sometimes disproportionately skewed by outlying values which is why we are using median values here. Any exceptions are clearly indicated.

¹ Correlations were calculated using Spearman’s rank correlation coefficient. A coefficient score of +1 implies a perfect positive correlation and a score of -1 implies a perfect negative correlation. In Searchmetrics’ analysis a high positive correlation coefficient occurs for a factor if higher ranking pages have that feature / or more of that feature, while lower ranking pages do not / or have less of that feature.