When working with clients on optimizing their websites for the Chinese market, a common early conversation is that of the Great Firewall and how to serve content in China effectively.
The Great Firewall is a term used to describe content censorship within China. When talking about SEO for Baidu, it is also a very misused and misunderstood term.
Websites hosted outside of China used to suffer from slow load times, but most websites loaded slowly regardless of their origin.
Not so long ago, Chinese internet speeds averaged 700/kbps while internet speeds were averaging 3,812/kbps in the UK and 4,684/kbps in the US.
As a result, this has lead to users having an expectation of pages loading slowly so the habit of opening multiple tabs or items in new tabs formed, a user behavior that still occurs today.
Speed is now not so much an issue in China, with speeds averaging 91.88/mbps on desktop. That said, there are a number of other considerations to bear in mind when optimizing your site for both Baidu and Chinese users.
Getting indexed in Baidu is also touted as being a difficult challenge, but that’s not the case.
It is true that Baidu has different criteria than Google, but these criteria can be met and your site indexed.
In fact, Baidu themselves say that:
“Most websites on the Internet are not included in Baidu at all. It’s not that Baidu didn’t find them, but they were filtered out before being entered into the database.”
So how can you avoid being filtered out before you even make the Baidu database?
Understanding the Great Firewall & Site Speed Ranking Factors
The Great Firewall is often used in conversation to relate to the speed that websites (hosted outside of China) load within the country. However, this isn’t the full picture.
China, like most countries, has varying internet speeds. While your site may load fine in Beijing, it may not necessarily load as fast or be as accessible in other large cities like Chongqing.
You can test your page load speed across Chinese regions using tools such as Webaka. (This is only available in Chinese and you will need to run Flash.)
Webaka Chinese Regional Speed Testing Tool
Page load speed is an important factor for Baidu. It is also a factor in how Baidu processes the page into the database.
Again, referring back to Ziyuan:
“If the webpage load speed is too slow, the page may be treated as a ‘short page’. It’s important to note that the load time of Ads is also counted during the overall load time of the webpage.”
This means that if you’re not fast, Baidu might not even index your page.
The Great Firewall acts as a censorship barrier against:
Websites deemed to publish politically sensitive content.
Some social media/self-publishing platforms hosted outside of China.
Any other content deemed by the Chinese government as being inappropriate. This includes a number of websites we take for granted, such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, Chinese Wikipedia, and some major publications (e.g., The New York Times).
However, sometimes websites that don’t contain political or “sensitive” content can fall foul of the Firewall, and all websites outside of China can intermittently be slow to load, or completely accessible.
The frequency of these issues tends to correlate with political events in China, with more disruptions and issues at sensitive times.
In November 2014, the EdgeCast CDN network was blocked, meaning their customers (including Atari, Magento, WordPress, Pokemon, and Tumblr) will have likely experienced outages and organic performance issues in China.
“Please be advised, we are experiencing issues with content delivery in the China region due to suddenly increased restrictions imposed by the Chinese Government. If you are receiving reports from end-users not able to view content from within China, please contact our Network Operations Center to discuss the options available to you.”
This disruption also correlates with the timing of the Fourth Plenum, which occurred a couple of weeks before.
Because of this, it’s important to first understand if the website you’re looking to optimize is accessible within China. You can check this with a tool, such as GreatFire.org.
Due to the intermittency and volatility of the firewall, declines in performance can sometimes be traced back to a period of being blocked or metered by the Firewall – and in these instances, there’s not a lot you can do.
Baidu & HTTPS
The adoption of HTTPS in China has been much slower and with less emphasis than it has in the U.S. and other markets.
Baidu announced full support for crawling and indexing HTTPS protocol webpages in 2015, and then in summer 2016 they further update Baidu-spider to better handle HTTPS.
Similar to Google, Baidu claims a small performance benefit in rankings from server content securely to users.
Baidu & CDNs
If you’re having issues with site speed in China, leveraging a CDN might not be the worst idea.
In addition to speed improvements, CDNs can also offer other benefits such as additional security, up-time, and edge SEO functions.
When it comes to choosing a CDN for China, there are three options available to you:
A global CDN (as part of your wider, international strategy).
A local Chinese CDN.
A local self-serve CDN.
Global CDNs for China
As part of your wider international strategy or general tech stack, you might already be utilizing a global CDN.
However, it is possible that the Chinese government may decide to block a global CDN (as with the EdgeCast example mentioned earlier in the article).
It’s also important to note that not all global CDNs work in China, but ones that do include Quantil, CDNetworks, Akamai, and Amazon Cloudfront.
Chinese CDN Providers
If you’re not on a global CDN or your website infrastructure has the Chinese version of your site “outside” the core setup, you may want to utilize a local Chinese CDN provider.
These typically have better performance in China, due to location, but any global CDN with a comprehensive anycast network and locations in China would also perform at a high level.
Two popular Chinese CDNs to choose from are:
Self-Service Chinese CDNs
These CDNs can be more affordable than a global CDN, but you may inherit more technical debt and require more setup work internally as these are predominantly self-service solutions.
The main three providers in China include:
On the same note as CDNs, it’s important that resources (JS and CSS libraries) are not loaded from a Google CDN or other Western CDN.
These CDNs can be easily blocked or metered from China (via the Great Firewall), which will cause your webpages to load slowly and risk being removed from the index.
In short, how efficiently you deliver your content in China can impact your organic performance in Baidu and whether Baidu chooses to index the pages.
However, the three golden rules are:
Make sure that your pages load fast.
Serve your content through a CDN (to be extra sure).
On Oct. 31, Google announced the launch of its Site Kit WordPress plugin that, “enables you to set up and configure key Google services, get insights on how people find and use your site, learn how to improve, and easily monetize your content.”
This plugin allows you to easily connect the following Google Services in a dashboard format within your WordPress backend:
It brings the convenience of accessing your site’s performance data while logged into the backend of the site. This is great for webmasters, developers and agencies who are often an admin for their own site or a client’s WordPress site. However, it does not offer the robust and dynamic capabilities of a Google Data Studio report or dashboard to sort data so it may not be ideal for a digital marketing manager or CMO.
With that said, it wouldn’t hurt to implement this plugin as it’s actually a nifty tool that can help you stay on top of your site’s performance metrics. It’s also another way to give Google more access to your site which can have some in-direct benefits organically.
Here is what the Google Site Kit plugin looks like within the WordPress plugin directory.
Installing and setting up Google Site Kit
To utilize the plugin, simply click install and activate as you would any other WordPress plugin. You will then be prompted to complete the set up.
Click on the “Start Setup” button.
You will be prompted to give access to your site’s Google Search Console profile, which means you need to sign in to the Gmail account that has access to your site’s Search Console profile.
Once logged in you need to grant permissions for Google to access the data in your Search Console profile.
Once you’ve granted all the respective permissions, you will get a completion notification and can then click on “Go to my Dashboard.”
Once you’re in the Dashboard you will see options to connect other services such as Analytics, AdSense and PageSpeed insights. You can now choose to connect these services if you like. If you go to the settings of the plugin you will see additional connection options for Optimize and Tag Manager.
Here is what the dashboard looks like with Search Console, analytics and PageSpeed Insights enabled. You can see a clear breakdown of the respective metrics.
The plugin allows you to dive into each reporting respectively with navigation options on the left to drill down into Search Console and analytics.
There is also an admin bar feature to see individual page stats.
In summary, this is a great plugin by Google but keep in mind it’s just version 1.0. I’m excited to see what features and integrations the later versions will have!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.
About The Author
Tony Edward is a director of SEO at Tinuiti and an adjunct instructor of search marketing at NYU. Tony has been in the online marketing industry for over 10 years. His background stems from affiliate marketing and he has experience in paid search, social media and video marketing. Tony is also the founder of the Thinking Crypto YouTube channel.
Bing announced a new link penalties. These link penalties are focused on taking down private blog networks (PBNs), subdomain leasing and manipulative cross-site linking.
Inorganic Site Structure
An inorganic site structure is a linking pattern that uses internal site-level link signals (with subdomains) or cross-site linking patterns (with external domains) in order to manipulate search engine rankings.
While these spam techniques already existed, Bing introduced the concept of calling them “inorganic site structure” in order to describe them.
Bing noted that sites legitimately create subdomains to keep different parts of the site separate, such as support.example.com. These are treated as belonging to the main domain, passing site-level signals to the subdomains.
Bing also said sites like WordPress create standalone sites under subdomains, in which case no site level signals are passed to the subdomains.
Examples of Inorganic Site Structure
An inorganic site structure is when a company leases a subdomain in order to take advantage of site-level signals to rank better. There have been
Private blog networks were also included as inorganic site structure
Bing also introduced the idea of domain boundaries. The idea is that there are boundaries to a domain. Sometimes, as in the case of legitimate subdomains (ex. support.example.com), those boundaries extend out to the subdomain. In other cases like WordPress.com subdomains the boundaries do not extend to the subdomains.
Private Blog Networks (PBNs) Bing called out PBNs as a form of spam that abuse website boundaries.
“While not all link networks misrepresent website boundaries, there are many cases where a single website is artificially split across many different domains, all cross-linking to one another, for the obvious purpose of rank boosting. This is particularly true of PBNs (private blog networks).”
Subdomain Leasing Penalties
Bing explained why they consider subdomain leasing a spammy activity:
“…we heard concerns from the SEO community around the growing practice of hosting third-party content or letting a third party operate a designated subdomain or subfolder, generally in exchange for compensation.
…the practice equates to buying ranking signals, which is not much different from buying links.”
At the time of this article, I still see a news site subdomain ranking in Bing (and Google). This page belongs to another company. All the links are redirected affiliate type links with parameters meant for tracking the referrals.
According to Archive.org the subdomain page was credited to an anonymous news staffer. Sometime in the summer the author was switched to someone with a name who is labeled as an expert, although the content is still the same.
So if Bing is already handing out penalties that means Bing (and Google who also ranks this page) still have some catching up to do.
Bing mentioned sites that are essentially one site that are broken up into multiple interlinking sites. Curiously Bing said that these kinds of sites already in violation of other link spam rules but that additional penalties will apply.
Here’s the kind of link structure that Bing used as an example:
All these sites are interlinking to each other. All the sites have related content and according to Bing are essentially the same site. This kind of linking practice goes back many years. They are traditionally known as interlinked websites. They are generally topically related to each other.
Bing used the above example to illustrate interlinked sites that are really just one site.
That link structure resembles the structure of interlinked websites that belong to the same company. If you’re planning a new web venture, it’s generally a good idea to create a site that’s comprehensive than to create a multitude of sites that are focused on just a small part of the niche.
Curiously, in reference to the above illustration, Bing said that kind of link structure was already in violation of link guidelines and that more penalties would be piled on top of those:
“Fig. 3 – All these domains are effectively the same website. This kind of behavior is already in violation of our link policy.
Going forward, it will be also in violation of our “inorganic site structure” policy and may receive additional penalties.“
It’s good news to hear Bing is improving. Competition between search engines encourage innovation and as Bing improves perhaps search traffic may become more diversified as more people switch to Bing as well as other engines like DuckDuckGo.
Read Bing’s announcement: Some Thoughts on Website Boundaries
Google has released version 1.0 of its Site Kit plugin for WordPress, which means its officially out of beta after 6 months.
In the time since the developer preview of Site Kit was released, Google says it drastically simplified the setup, fixed bugs, and polished the main user flows.
Site Kit allows WordPress users to access data from Google products right from their site’s dashboard. The plugin aggregates data from Google Search Console, Google Analytics, PageSpeed Insights, and AdSense.
With Site Kit there’s no additional code editing required, which makes it easy to set up products like Google Analytics for those without any developer experience.
Anyone can install Site Kit, but Google emphasizes that it’s especially useful for professionals who work on sites for clients. The reasons why include:
Clients and other teams can easily access data from Google products by logging into the WordPress dashboard.
Clients will see performance states and improvement recommendations directly from Google
Site Kit allows you to set roles and permissions and make sure only relevant people can see the data.
To get the most out of Site Kit, Google recommends reviewing the main dashboard on at least a weekly basis. You can also check the stats of individual pages by navigating to the page and clicking on Site Kit in the admin bar.
With this data, Google recommends comparing the top performing pages and seeing how people found them. This can help you discover trends, such as which topics get the most engagement on Twitter, which get the most engagement on Facebook, and so on.
To get started with Site Kit, simply install it from your WordPress dashboard.