Mobile search has been on the rise for quite some time, and nearly all major search engines take into consideration mobile-friendliness as a sizable ranking factor. If your site is not properly optimized for mobile search engines, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity for organic traffic.
With the launch of Baidu mobile rank tracking in Dragon Metrics this week, we thought it’d be a great time to provide an in-depth look at how to create mobile-friendly websites and optimize content for the best mobile user experience.
While this article is written for Baidu Mobile SEO, many concepts presented are applicable to optimizing your site for any mobile search engine. Let’s dive right in!
Just as the growth in mobile search has impacted Google SEO, mobile search in China is growing at an even faster rate.
According to CNNIC (Chinese), in 2015 there were a total of 620 million mobile web users in China, which is 90% of all web users in China! Among these users, 127 million access the web exclusively on mobile devices, which is 18.5% of the all web users.
In their 2015 Mobile Web Trend Report (Chinese), Baidu reports that their mobile web index has grown 105% in 2013-2014, and that mobile search traffic from Baidu has reached 1 billion visits daily, with education, lifestyle, celebrity and news sites gaining more than a 100% increase in mobile search traffic.
This could mean that if you are not optimizing your sites for mobile, you may be reaching less than 10% of your potential audience, and could be missing out on a potential traffic growth of over 105% each year.
Increase Mobile Organic Ranking and Indexation
The difference in ranking and indexation for a non-mobile friendly website in Baidu mobile can be substantial. Even highly-authoritative sites can have a poor Baidu mobile ranking performance if their sites are not mobile friendly. While a mobile friendly website doesn’t guarantee mobile traffic, it will at least it get you in the game.
Baidu also adopted a very interesting tweak to their mobile results pages to give non-mobile friendly sites “special treatment”:
Avoid Baidu’s SiteApp Transcoding Like the Plague
With Baidu’s SiteApp transcoding, many non-mobile-friendly pages that appear on on the Baidu mobile SERP (search engine results page) are converted into Baidu-generated mobile friendly pages. Siteapp transcoding will remove or modify onpage elements that they think are not suitable for mobile viewing, and style it appropriately for mobile devices.
Here’s an example of transcoding in action:
Non-mobile-friendly page visited directly
The same page as viewed from Baidu mobile SERP
Baidu states (Chinese) that the main reason for they do this to provide a better user experience, since desktop websites are difficult to view in a mobile screen. That may seem great — you don’t have to do anything, and Baidu will make your site mobile-friendly automatically!
The truth is, there’s nothing more dangerous to your SEO and site goals than Baidu’s SiteApp Transcoding. Here’s why:
These pages are actually still on Baidu’s domain. This means that the visitors are actually visiting baidu.com instead of yours when they click into your transcoded pages.
Baidu decides which parts of your site will be shown, and which ones will be hidden.
This means almost always, ads on your pages won’t be shown.
Navigation on your site is hidden. Users won’t visit other pages on your site.
Even worse, is that Baidu even has a “Back” button overlaid on your content, taken users back to Baidu!
While it’s technically possible to click through to your site by clicking on the Baidu logo, then selecting “Desktop site”, very few users will do so.
The transcoding is not perfect, transcoded page will erase most of the formatting for your page’s content, sometimes the body text will be garbled, and the worst case we’ve seen is the encoded page is not even accessible.
This is basically a conversion-killer, brought you courtesy of Baidu. They’re essentially grabbing your content and hosting it on their domain. It’s just another way to keep users on Baidu’s own properties, disguised as a “user experience” enhancement.
Having a mobile friendly site is a imperative to preserve high rankings, better indexation, and avoid losing your users due to transcoding. Let’s learn how to configure our sites for mobile SEO success.
Configuring A Baidu Mobile Friendly Website
Before we run into specific configurations for mobile friendly website in Baidu, let’s take a look at the 3 main types of mobile web development solutions: Separate mobile site, dynamically-served HTML, and responsive design.
Mobile Site Configurations Compared
Responsive Web Design
Moderate to High
Low to High
Moderate to High
Moderate to High
A separate mobile site serves completely separate HTML and CSS on a separate URL (usually on the “m” subdomain, e.g. m.example.com). Dynamically served HTML keeps a single URL for both desktop and mobile sites, but delivers different HTML and CSS to each. Responsive design uses the exact same URL and HTML content for both mobile and desktop, and simply customizes the CSS each screen size separately.
Responsive Design is the Way to Go? Not So Fast, Baidu…
So which configuration should you choose? Responsive design is typically the go-to best solution in for modern web design. Baidu has recommended (Chinese) sharing the same set of URLs across desktop and mobile is the ideal solution, and they have put a large effort into identifying responsive website design.
However in China, responsive design has not caught on as fast as other countries where Google is dominant search engines. There are some discussions in the Chinese web, doubting the effectiveness of responsive design as it relates to Baidu SEO, claiming a disconnect between what Baidu says and what it actually practices.
A fair amount of webmasters are suggest that Baidu seems to index separate mobile sites more efficiently. Thus many adapt a wait-and-see attitude on the time it will take for Baidu to improve their algorithm so responsive design can receive its full SEO benefits:
We are sharing a bit more so you can have a clearer picture about the current state of Baidu Mobile SEO. In our opinion, while responsive web design can take more front-end design resources to develop in the beginning, for longevity, user experience, and maintenance, we recommend using responsive design over the other methods when possible.
Let’s cover each of these configurations in detail.
Responsive Web Design
Responsive Web Design will automatically adapt website’s view according to the size of the screen. The main advantages of responsive design include:
Compatibility across all screen sizes: As new devices with new dimensions are coming out all the time, we will need to support viewports 200px wide or 2800px wide and everything in between. This is really only possible in responsive design.
SEO Friendly: Desktop and Mobile SEO will remain consistent, duplicate content issues will be avoided, and the value of the outbound links can be kept because there’s only 1 set of URLs.
The main drawback of responsive design is the time and cost for developing responsive websites can be much higher, especially with complex UI and UX elements. However as we just said, after the initial develop stage, everything is much easier than separate URLs and dynamic serving.
If you already have a responsive website, here are two things you should do to inform Baidu your site is responsive:
Place the “applicable-device” meta tag to your pages, for example:
Add a “mobile type” tag to each responsive pages in your sitemaps, for example:
In a separate URL configuration, each desktop URL has an equivalent different URL serving mobile-optimized content. For example, www.example.com will be serving desktop users with corresponding pages served on m.example.com for mobile users. The biggest challenge for using Separate URLs is to ensure Baidu successfully crawls both versions and recognize their relationships. Not being able to achieve this will greatly reduce the potential mobile visibility from Baidu.
General SEO practices for handling Separate URLs include self-redirects, HTML annotations and Sitemap annotations. You can read Google’s Webmasters guidelines about these methods, and they’ll still apply. The biggest downside for these methods are they require Baidu spiders to crawl each of their desktop pages to discover their equivalent mobile versions, for a large sites with thousands of pages, this can take a lot of time. Therefore Baidu offered a handy tool within Baidu Webmaster Tools which greatly reduced the waiting time, we will be covering the usage of this tool in an upcoming article.
Baidu’s guidelines on Separate URLs mobile SEO configuration:
Body text for both Desktop and Mobile site must be the same For example, the number links and their linking pages must be the same.
Use a 1:1 matching relationship between desktop and mobile pages. Matching multiple desktop pages to one mobile page is not recommended. However, in situations where multiple mobile pages are designed for viewing on different devices, up to two mobile pages can be matched to one desktop page.
Matching pages cannot contain content that are too thin, empty or inaccessible.
Use the same root domains for both desktop and mobile site. Use a short and clean URL for the mobile site.
Using Subfolders (e.g. www.example.com/mobile), is not recommended for the mobile site.
Check if you are not blocking Baidu spiders, especially on the mobile site.
Add “applicable-device” tag to header, this is not mandatory but will help Baidu identify page types.
On desktop pages, add <metaname=”applicable-device” content=”pc”> to the <head>
On mobile pages, add <metaname=”applicable-device” content=”mobile”> to the <head>
Dynamic serving is configuration in which the server responds with different HTML and CSS for the same URL, depending on the user agent requesting the page. If we are using Dynamic Serving, we will have to instruct Baidu’s spider crawl your pages with different user agents by adding vary HTTP header to your site.
The vary HTTP header also serves two important purposes in dynamic serving:
It prevent users from receiving wrong cached web pages. Without the vary HTTP header, the server might wrongly provide a cached version of the desktop site to mobile user, or vice-versa.
The vary HTTP header will tell Baidu’s spider whether the page is using Dynamic Serving or not, thus will help your mobile content more efficient discovered by Baidu.
After adding the vary HTTP Header, you will also need to add the “_applicable-device_” Meta Tag to your pages.
The “_applicable-device_” Meta Tag is a Baidu defined meta tag which will help their spiders better identify desktop and mobile pages. According to Baidu, this tag will not guarantee better mobile rankings but is a good practice to follow especially for dynamic serving pages.
Adding the “applicable-device” meta tag:
On desktop pages, add to the section (Including Baiduspider Desktop UA)
On mobile pages, add to the section (Including Baiduspider Mobile UA)
Note: Both Desktop and Mobile crawlers are named Baiduspider, but they can be differentiated by the user agent string:
How to verify if your dynamic serving site’s been setup properly:
Using Google Chrome’s Developer Tools, you can verify if your page is serving the right content and meta tag with the UA given above, this will ensure visitors being able to see the correct version of your pages
Use the Crawl Diagnostics Tool in Baidu Webmaster Tools to verify if the returned UA is correct. This will make sure Baidu Spider can crawl both your desktop and mobile pages correctly.
Adjust site properties in Baidu Webmaster Tools
Regardless of which configurations you’ve chosen, you should also do this extra step to inform Baidu which configuration your site is using in their Webmaster Tools:
Let’s take a look at different on-page factors Baidu has suggested for mobile friendliness.
Having a fast website is no-brainer from a user experience perspective. In fact, this will directly affect your rankings since most search engines have claimed that their algorithm will prefer ranking fast pages over than slow pages. This is especially true on mobile, where not all devices will be browsing your pages with high speed internet connection. This means that page speed must be a very important part of your mobile SEO strategy.
Luckily, page speed optimization techniques are quite similar across the board (not just specific to Baidu mobile), so there are a ton of resources online that you can find about this topic. If you haven’t pay attention to your pages’ speed, this article is a good one to start with.
You should check you websites’ performance in China, these are 3 main ones:
The above tools are useful for testing your server’s connection performance in China. Especially with the Great Firewall in place, it’s possible if your site is hosted outside of China, it may load very slowly.
After testing for server connection in China, you should start examine your front-end web performance by using these tools:
They will not only tell you how your pages are performing, but also what should be optimized to improve performance. Some common elements that slow down a site include:
Image size – Probably the easiest way to improve your page speed is to optimize the size of the images on your site. Don’t use image dimensions larger than they need to be. Also, by properly compressing your images you can usually further reduce their file size, sometimes by more than 60%. For example, Tingpng allow you to upload 20 images and compress them in bulk
Preloading videos – Preloading videos is generally not a good idea from a page performance perspective, and they might also not supported by mobile devices. Learn more about preloading video’s effect on site speed.
Ads – Excessive placement of ads not only hurts user experience, but also can kill your page speed.
Excessive HTTP requests – Yahoo claims that over 80% of the end-user response time is spent on the front-end, so reducing the number of HTTP requests required will have a big impact on speed. More about how HTTP requests affect page speed.
A well-structured page should allow visitors to spot the main idea of the content at first glance, consume content without unnecessary disruption, and be able to quickly get what they are looking for. They should also be able to quickly understand the main idea of each part of your sites by reading through your sites’ navigation. To build a well structured pages on mobile, Baidu offers 2 tips:
The page should be able to adjust the size of the content according to the viewers’ screen types, viewers should be able to clearly consume content on pages without any horizontal scrolling or zooming.
The main content of the page should appear in the middle of the main screen, other on page elements with low relevancy shouldn’t interfere consumption of main content. Baidu will penalize improper usage of pop-ups and layers according to its effect on user experiences by reducing the ranking power of these pages.
Here are a few examples to avoid when designing your mobile pages:
Horizontal Scroll Required
Zoom required to view content
Improper Ads Usage
Ensure your pages are easy to read by optimal usage of styling and organize different section of your content neatly.
Baidu’s tips on improving content readability:
Use 14px font size and 0.42 – 0.6 line spacing for body text
Ensure consistent image width if you have multiple images in the body of your content
Use 14-16px font size and 13-14px padding for text links within body text
Any clickable area within your body content should be at least 40x40px, so they’re easy to tap without missing.
Example of page with poor readability
Baidu’s tips on optimizing pages for resource accessibility:
All links should be shown clearly and be clickable
Text content like articles, Q&A, and forum pages should look clean and neatly-formatted
Flash should be avoided
All audio and video should be able to play directly without using any external app
For app download pages, the app file should be the best version of the app and be able to be downloaded directly without using an external app repository
Document pages should provide directly accessible files that display properly on mobile devices. Avoid converting your document files into images because it can cause inconsistent user experience and is not search engine friendly.
For product pages, product information and purchase methods should be clear, valid and usable
For site search result pages, the search results should tied closely with the search query
For form fill-in pages, all the entries should be accessible and submittable
Example of inaccessible resource
User Experience (UX) Enhancements
Stop with the Interstitials
Before talking about UX, let’s talk about those annoying interstitials, pop-up modals, or ads telling you download the app. Baidu is aware of how these elements are hurting the user experience and released an algorithm update to discourage websites from using these ads, so make sure your mobile site is not using any of them.
Other UX Elements
UX enhancements should be considered after optimizing the on-page elements listed above, since Baidu will take these enhancements into account in their ranking calculations.
Some UX enhancements Baidu has suggested:
Use effective navigation and breadcrumbs, minimize multi-level navigation
Minimizing the use of forms. If they can’t be avoided, limit users’ input to essential fields and display default values wherever possible.
Have well-spaced, large touch targets instead of tiny links to avoid selection errors, make clear to the user what can be selected, tapped or swiped.
Service-related sites can offer like on page phone call and map integration
Query-based websites can offer alternate input methods like voice input, image input or QR code input
Content sites can provide UX enhancement like night reading mode
Search appearance on Baidu mobile is similar to Baidu desktop in a lot of ways, but due to the limitation of screen sizes on mobile devices, it will be useful to optimize your meta title and description tags for mobile sites:
Keep the length under 17 Chinese characters
If your brand is popular, include your brand name into the title
Make your title as attractive as possible to searchers while still matching your page’s content
The description of the page should be supplementary to your title element and describe content of your page accurately. Don’t stuff keywords into the description, as Baidu may penalize your page.
Each page should have a unique description. Avoid duplicate or default descriptions.
We suggest keeping the meta description below 60 Chinese characters to avoid being cut off
If you are promoting an App, you might want to learn about the Baidu AppLink service, a recent project Baidu have started to provide in SERP app calls.
After applying these optimizations to your site, you’ll want to monitor how your site is performing in Baidu Mobile.
There are 3 main ways to monitor Baidu mobile performance:
Web analytics (such as Google Analytics or Baidu Tongji) for traffic and conversion data
Mobile Optimization section of Baidu Webmaster Tools for ranking, clicks, and impressions of your own site
Dragon Metrics for Baidu Mobile rank tracking of your site, and all of your competitors
If you have followed this guide you should see your site’s mobile traffic improving over time. Your Baidu-transcoded page traffic should drop, since Baidu will no longer be converting your non-mobile friendly pages, and eventually all your pages’ mobile traffic should go to your mobile site instead of Baidu’s.
Track Baidu mobile performance in Google Analytics
With Google Analytics you will be able to track your Baidu desktop vs mobile performance very easily:
Go to the Source/Medium page of Acquisition section
Select baidu / organic to view your Baidu traffic exclusively
Select Device Category as the Secondary Dimension
Check both the mobile and desktop category boxes, and click plot rows
After doing so you will see visualization of your mobile and desktop traffic over time.
Track mobile performance in Baidu Webmaster Tools
Baidu Webmaster Tools offer a mobile friendliness test that you can use on not only verified site, which can be accessed here (Chinese).
With your site verified in Baidu Webmaster Tools, you can access the traffic and keywords tool in Baidu Webmaster Tools here (Chinese), the tool will show ranking keywords, clicks and impressions for different pages from your sites.
Use Dragon Metrics for Baidu mobile rank tracking
If you already have a campaign and keyword group in Dragon Metrics set up, just to go the manage keyword groups page to add Baidu Mobile to your tracked search engines.
If you are not yet a Dragon Metrics user, feel free to signup for a trial here.
Select an existing keyword group that you would like to track Baidu Mobile with, or create a new keyword group.
When configuring your keyword group, add Baidu Mobile in your list of tracked search engines.
After setting up the keyword group with Baidu Mobile tracked, you can choose to view only this search engines in most of our reports.
All the guidelines should be followed by any type of mobile site, Baidu also offered a few extra options for specific scenarios:
AppLink is a type of structured data Baidu mobile offers for app call within SERPs, if your app is registered to AppLink service, searchers can access information they are looking for within your app from the text links from the search results. The project is currently in public beta and if you are a mobile app developer and looking to promote your app in China, AppLink is the way to go, learn more here (Chinese).
Mobile SEO for Local
You can add local markup your site with a geolocation meta tag as below:
<meta name=”location” content=”province=北京;city=北京;coord=116.306522891,40.0555055968″> // province and city value are mandatory, coord value is optional depends if you need to target a specific region within a city.
To get your business’s coordinates in China, we recommend using these 2 tools:
According to Baidu, if you markup your pages with Geolocation meta tag, your pages will rank higher in SERPs where searchers’ location matches with your location meta info.
Baidu is improving their ability to provide the best mobile search results every day, and as their mobile ranking algorithm continues to improve, the mobile-friendliness of your site will be a very important factor of your rankings.
Hopefully with this guide you can see the importance of mobile SEO to your business and what you can do about it. We will be updating this article if we’ve found anything valuable in this topic, and if you have any questions, be sure let us know!