Tips and tricks to help you get the most out of paid search on China’s largest search platform
With Google claiming less than 2% of the market in China, the search engine landscape is markedly different from that in most Western markets. While there are several key players, including Haosou, Sogou, and Shenma, in the space, Baidu is undoubtedly the first port of call for most companies looking to run search marketing campaigns in China.
So, why Baidu?
There are several reasons why advertisers turn to Baidu when looking to advertise their products or services to Chinese consumers, the most important of which are outlined here.
Highest market share
Baidu search has the highest market share across both desktop and mobile users. According to Statista, Baidu boasts 74% of the Chinese search market, with Sogou coming in second place with almost 14%.
Figure 1: Statista - Market share of search engines in China (Nov 2020)
More advertising options
As a platform, Baidu offers more than just paid search advertising. With the ability to run in-feed ads and create brand zones, advertisers have a wider variety of methods to reach their target audience.
More sophisticated features
Following major updates to the platform in recent years, Baidu now also offers a more sophisticated audience segmentation feature. Baidu has also launched the ability to obtain industry search insights and a drag-and-drop landing page builder. These new additions are particularly useful for extracting key consumer insights to better inform your campaigns.
Longest-running search engine in China
Having launched in 2000, Baidu boasts a relatively mature structure in comparison to other search engines on the market. Paired with their extensive customer support services and more open resources, they provide a more efficient experience.
How does Baidu look on desktop and mobile?
In 2016, following the scandal around the death of Wei Zexi, Baidu was forced to overhaul its search results ranking system from a maximum of eleven ads to four ads on the landscape.
However, Baidu has been gradually releasing more ad spaces in recent years, and has even begun mixing paid and organic listings across its landscape. As of today, there are a maximum of six paid ads shown at the top of the search results page. This is followed by one organic listing and further paid ads. In 2020, Baidu also released a new ad space available in the top right-hand corner of the results page.
On mobile and tablet, Baidu search results display a maximum of three paid adverts at the top of the page, followed by the organic results, and more adverts. The exact layout of results on Baidu changes from time to time, so it’s important to keep up-to-date with the latest developments.
How do people search in China?
Before diving into PPC advertising on Baidu, it’s worth taking a look at typical search behavior in China.
When a search is driven by purchase intent, the vast majority of Chinese consumers would turn to an e-commerce platform such as Tmall, Taobao, or JD.com rather than searching on Baidu. This is demonstrated in the example below, which shows daily search volume for the same term - ‘male knitwear shirt’ - on Baidu and Taobao (data from Baidu keyword planner and Taobao keyword planner, respectively).
Figure 3: Monthly search interest for ‘women’s bag’ on Baidu versus Taobao (data from Baidu and Taobao keyword planners)
However, if Chinese consumers are at an earlier stage of their purchase journey, they are more likely to search for product reviews, style guides and other information, to help inform their purchase decision.
Opportunities for paid search on Baidu
Before you actually start investing in advertising on Baidu, it’s vital to have a good idea of the volume of impressions you are likely to receive on the platform. Sitting with Baidu ads manager, Baidu’s own keyword planner is a great starting point for estimating the number of impressions you can expect for certain keywords, allowing you insight into daily impressions, estimated cost-per-click, and the level of competition for your space. It can also serve as the major source for your Baidu SEO research.
Figure 4 - Baidu Keyword Planner
If your brand awareness levels are currently very low in China, or if the sector in which you operate is very niche, it may be better to start with upper-funnel advertising, such as paid social and display on WeChat or Weibo, rather than diving straight into paid search on Baidu.
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Baidu account set-up
Setting up a Baidu advertiser account is a much more complex process than the equivalent on Google Ads. There are essentially two options for doing so - to be set up directly with major Baidu branches such as Beijing and Shanghai, or through a Baidu-listed agency partner.
Whichever you choose, several documents are required, which need to be translated into Simplified Chinese, including:
- Business license
- Latest bank statement
- Authorization letter
- Website screenshot
- Photos of your office building
Due to the complex, ever-changing process involved, many companies choose to work with a specialist digital agency when getting set up.
Restrictions on Baidu
When it comes to advertising on Baidu, the landscape is very closely regulated, particularly for certain sectors. There are several blacklisted terms and phrases, including the Chinese equivalents of:
- Best, No.1, Top class
Industries that are particularly highly regulated include the health sector (especially health supplements), finance, and gambling - which is completely forbidden.
Getting the basics right
In many ways, getting the basics right on Baidu is much the same as on other search platforms. Having a clear account structure, for example, is vital, as is ensuring you have a good combination and split of match type, allowing you to filter the most valuable traffic.
When advertising on Baidu, localizing your ad copy is vital for success. Rather than simply translating your ad copy, ensure you use on-the-ground experts who are able to tailor your ads to the local market and trends.
Making sure you have clear tracking in place is also vital. Using Baidu’s analytics is a great option, given its direct integration with the Baidu interface. However, using your existing global reporting system, such as Google Analytics, is also possible - just be aware that there can be data discrepancies.
Protecting your brand on Baidu
Protecting your brand and any trademarked product terms on Baidu is even more important than on other search engines, as Chinese consumers place a high value on brand recognition, generally preferring to purchase from those brands they know and trust.
Potential scenarios on Baidu may include competitors bidding on your brand term; using your brand term in their ad copy or using exactly the same ad copy as you. Some competitors may even go so far as to procure false clicks on your ads in order to quickly exhaust your budget.
Fortunately, Baidu offers various levels of (paid-for) brand protection, with the highest level meaning that competitors aren’t even able to bid on your brand keywords. If your brand already has some recognition in China, it’s worth considering Baidu’s brand search products in order to own the SERPs for your brand and trademark terms.
The ads, triggered by keywords, are interactive and media-rich, allowing brands to occupy the top position of their brand terms at all times. The product can be customized to each brand, with an example for Gucci shown below.
Key steps to Baidu PPC success
Once you have all the basics set up, there are several other steps you can take to get the most out of your Baidu campaigns, including:
- Continue keyword mining
- Utilize bid modifiers - which allow you to bid differently based on device, hours, audience, ad extensions, and more
- Effective use of Baidu bid strategies
Deliver creative excellence
- Continually analyze and refresh your ad copy
- Use ad customizers to adjust the copy dynamically based on users
- Implement and test ad extensions (there are more than 37 different ad extensions)
Test, test, and test again
- Be alert to new features and test them as quickly as possible to reap the benefits
- Use Baidu’s industry target feature
- This allows advertisers to target their competitors’ audience (based on previous searches, visits, etc.) in search ads.
- This feature allows you to not only target the most relevant audiences and avoid entering bidding wars with your competitors but also to build brand awareness whilst reducing cost-per-click and achieving incremental conversions.
Use Baidu’s industry target feature
Baidu’s industry target feature allows advertisers to target their competitors’ audience (based on previous searches, visits, etc.) in search ads. This feature allows you to not only target the most relevant audiences whilst avoiding bidding wars with your competitors, but also helps to build brand awareness and reduce cost-per-click, to achieve incremental conversions.
Use extensions to increase exposure
- For instance, including a snippet image and summary can dramatically increase the click-through rate
As well as all of the features outlined above, Baidu is constantly evolving, offering new and exciting opportunities for advertisers. You can find our top 2021 picks below...
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Baidu in-feed ads, for example, are native ads that are displayed on Baidu’s mobile site, browser, and bulletin board system (BBS), Tieba. Tapping into growing mobile usage and changing consumer behaviors, in-feed ads are becoming one of the most popular advert formats in the Chinese digital space, allowing advertisers to:
- Reach new audiences
- Boost brand awareness
- Retarget existing users
Baidu landing page tool
Baidu’s landing page tool is another Baidu product that should be in a marketer's toolkit. It is essentially a drag-and-drop website builder, embedded within Baidu’s server. It is particularly useful for any new brands entering the Chinese market that don’t have enough resources for localization and web building. The built-in tool comes with various benefit, including:
- It is completely free when you have an ad account
- Fast loading on mobile devices
- Simple to set up - you can build a landing page in less than an hour
- Comes with data analytics and A/B testing to unearth insights for your page strategy in China
Baike is another Baidu product worth having on your radar. The equivalent to Wikipedia in China, Baike boasts up to 230 million daily active users, and is afforded high priority in organic results on Baidu.
In order to get the most out of Baidu Baike:
- Ensure your brand term is listed in Baidu Baike
- Ensure the listing has your most up-to-date information
- Bear in mind that an experienced Baidu account is required to create and update a listing
- Plan carefully before making any changes in Baidu Baike
- Most importantly, from 2020, Baidu is aggressively pushing short-form knowledge videos for Baike. Ensure you adapt to the new reading behavior in China.
It’s clear that Baidu presents a huge opportunity for advertisers looking to tap into the Chinese market. Whilst Chinese consumers looking to buy will usually go to an e-commerce site first, they often still search for reviews, advice, and other information on Baidu.
Before investing in search ads on Baidu, it’s vital to evaluate Baidu traffic, as well as being aware of China’s advertising policy and industry-specific rules. In addition, you should be prepared for higher levels of competitive bidding activity than you may be used to on other platforms.
By localizing your ads and keywords, rather than simply translating them, as well as making the most of the latest ad extensions and other features available, you will set yourself up for the best chances of success on Baidu.