Baidu Pay-Per-Click Search Advertising Guide

Thu, 12/10/2020 - 06:17
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Baidu is by far the most-used search engine in China, with 72% of the market.

Its mobile app has 544 million users, but that’s only a fraction of its total userbase because people use Baidu to search from within mobile and desktop browsers. 

The focus of this post is how to use Baidu pay-per-click (PPC) search advertising. 

We’ve used Baidu search ads to drive conversions for hundreds of campaigns. It remains one of the most important platforms for Chinese marketing.

If you’re considering advertising on Baidu, you’re best off reading this post first before even starting account setup.

What you’ll learn in this post:

  1. Is Baidu Search Advertising Right For You?

  2. Pay-Per-Click Definitions (For Newbs)

  3. How to Write Great Ads

  4. Keywords and Account Structure

  5. Bidding and Quality Scores

  6. Other Ad Targeting Options

  7. Landing Pages

  8. Baidu’s Interface and Reports

  9. Analytics

  10. Optimization Tips

  11. Account Setup

 

Is Baidu Search Advertising Right For You?

Search advertising is perhaps the most highly-targeted type of marketing you can do.

The concept is simple: When somebody searches for exactly what you are selling, they’ll see your ad.

This is great for businesses that have a very competitive offering to match consumers’ search intent.

 

Clicks, Competitors, and Costs

One of the major features of PPC advertising is that you need to pay for every click. I love that payment model because it means I’m not paying for useless things like ad impressions. 

Advertisers can increase their bid for clicks to get more traffic than their competitors. And there are always lots of competitors! It takes both a strong product and marketing skill to beat the competition.

You’ll need somewhere in the range of $2000–$10,000 (USD) to launch a campaign on Baidu, depending on the management fees and how you sign up (more on this at the end of the post).

 

Are You Allowed to Advertise on Baidu?

You don’t need a Chinese business entity to advertise on Baidu. But, some topics are completely off-limits, and others are very tough to get working.

Off-limit topics include:

  1. Cryptocurrencies
  2. Surrogacy
  3. VPNs
  4. Religion
  5. Pornography
  6. Gambling

Very-limited topics include:

  1. Finance
  2. Medical
  3. Dating
  4. Gaming

 

Is Baidu Good for E-commerce?

Most Chinese people that intend to buy a physical product right away will tend to go straight to their favourite e-commerce platform, such as Tmall or JD. 

However, Baidu search advertising is still useful for educating them. As they learn about products or even just explore a certain problem they have, that’s when you can begin to persuade them of the benefits of your products.

The more complex the purchase process, the more likely they will spend time researching on Baidu.

Also, note that Baidu ads can point to JD and Taobao stores as well.

 

Pay-Per-Click Definitions (for Newbs)

In case you’re totally new to PPC, here are some helpful definitions to help you understand the rest of this post.

  1. Keyword - A word or phrase that the advertiser has added to their account. E.g: “Beijing travel.”

  2. Search query - A word or phrase that a search engine user uses to search for something. E.g: “Beijing travel deals.”
    An ad may be shown when their search query matches one of your keywords.

  3. Bid - The maximum amount the advertiser will pay for a given keyword (for their ad being clicked).

  4. Cost-per-click - The cost charged to the advertiser for one user clicking on one of their ads, which is equal to or lower than the bid (for any given click).

 

How to Write Great Baidu Ads

There are several different types of ads you can place on Baidu, but it’s easy to get started with simple text and image ads.

Let’s take a look at a search result for “cloud servers.” The elements in the purple boxes are ads. That’s a lot of ads, right?! 

In general, up to the first five results might be ads. Ads are often shown on the bottom and side too. But, from time-to-time, Baidu will even show ads in between organic results.

 

Text Ads (Images Optional)

Text ads contain three lines:

  1. Title - with up to 25 Chinese characters (or 50 English letters).

  2. Description line one - with up to 40 Chinese characters.

  3. A second description line - the same length as the first.

  4. The domain name

But, we recommend always using an image as ads with images tend to perform better, both in terms of clickthrough rate and ranking.

You won’t have quite as much control over the images though. Sometimes Baidu will show the image in your ad, sometimes not.

Here’s a closer look at the ad from the “cloud servers” search.

There are a few important things to note:

  1. Characters from the search query turn red. That’s good; it improves clickthrough rates.

  2. You can place text in the image...but we recommend you do so sparingly. Can you read the characters in that image? I can barely make them out.

  3. There’s a “广告” mark on each ad, letting searchers know that it’s an ad.

  4. There’s also a mark that means “guarantee.” Users that are logged-in get a limited warranty from Baidu. It means that if they get scammed by the advertiser, Baidu will compensate them up to 10,000 RMB. 

 

Baidu Ad Extensions

Baidu also offers a variety of add-ons for ads that can help drive conversions for certain types of businesses.

  1. Phone numbers (click-to-call) are useful for local businesses.
  2. App download buttons can direct searchers directly to the download location on an app store.
  3. Sub-links and lists can help users find a specific page on your site. These are worth testing out because they sometimes beat the basic text + image ads.

Another powerful format is “display window” ads. You can see one here from the “cloud server” search. It contains four different items, each with an image, and a short title and description. It’s a useful ad format because it makes more of a splash and helps users choose an item that more closely matches their search intent.

 

Baidu Ad Writing Tips

Writing great ads is mostly about understanding your customers, competitors, and positioning. If you can do that, you should be able to craft an ad that speaks to your searchers.

An ad should contain a strong offer. Can you offer a special deal? A free trial? An insightful free report?

Please don’t simply translate your ads from English. This will result in ads that aren’t positioned right for the Chinese market, and you’ll end up running into a whole variety of different issues regarding translation or regulation.

There are a whole bunch of different things that you aren’t allowed to say in your advertising in China. We keep on top of the list but still bump into issues once-in-a-while. For example, you can’t use superlatives like “We’re the best…”, or “The most trusted brand….”

Also, use dynamic insertions often. Baidu allows you to create ads that will automatically insert the search query into them.

For example:

  1. You create an ad in ad group with the keywords “Beijing travel”, “Beijing travel deals”, and 50 other related keywords.

  2. You enter the ad title “{Beijing Travel} - Top-rated 3 Day Tours”.

  3. A user searches “Beijing travel deals.”

  4. When your ad is displayed to the user, it will say “Beijing Travel Deals - Top-rated 3 Day Tours”.

  5. If the user searches for a keyword that triggers the ad but isn’t in the list, the ad title will say “Beijing Travel - Top-rated 3 Day Tours”.

I used English in the example to make it easier to understand.
 

One More Thing - Baidu Brand Zone

Baidu “Brand Zone” is a completely different ad product. It lets advertisers fill the top of the whole fold with their ad.

We never use it because it’s very expensive compared to the advertising options available on Baidu and elsewhere. I think it’s meant to be tailored to businesses that want to make a big branding push, and are not allocating their spending based on performance metrics.

In the image below, you can see Nike’s brand zone ad.

 

Keywords and Account Structure

Baidu advertising accounts are composed of keywords. A small campaign might have 100 keywords, while a large one could have 100,000 keywords or more.

To make accounts easier to manage, keywords are grouped together into “ad groups”, which are in turn grouped into “campaigns.”

Ad groups also include the ads.

 

Keyword Match Types

Keyword match types determine how a keyword is matched to users’ search queries. An ad can only be shown if the search query matches a keyword in its ad group.

Precise match keywords only match almost identical search queries. They also match search queries that are:

  1. Synonyms.
  2. Have an extra space. (Chinese doesn’t have spaces in sentences, but search engine users will commonly add them anyways.)
  3. Misspellings.
  4. Missing connector words (“travel to Beijing” would match “Beijing travel”).

Phrase match keywords will match an identical search and any longer search queries that contain the keyword.

For example, a phrase match keyword for “cute dog” would match search queries:

  1. “where to buy cute dogs.”
  2. “make dog cuter.”

(Again, I’m using English to make this easier to read, but the lessons apply to Chinese too.)

Intelligent match is broader still. Baidu will try to interpret the user’s search intent and show the corresponding ads. 

Intelligent-core match allows you to state which part in your keyword is essential. Search queries that don’t contain the “core” word won’t trigger your ad.

Which match types should you use?

Our favourite match types are phrase or intelligent-core. Of course, it depends on the situation, but you will want to find a match type that brings you enough traffic without bringing too much useless traffic.

You will also need to build negative keyword lists. Negative keywords result in ads not being shown. For example, if you were advertising translation software, you might use the phrase-match keyword “translation software” then add the negative keyword “free.” In that case, if somebody searches for “free translation software”—they won’t see your ad.

 

Doing Keyword Research

Baidu has a tool that makes it easy to come up with new keyword ideas and even get estimates for search volumes, clicks and cost-per-click.

It’s called “Baidu Keyword Planner” and it can be accessed by logging into a Baidu ad account via a browser. Unfortunately, you will need a Baidu ad account to be able to use it.

From there, you can search for one or more keywords and get a list of recommended keywords, along with data like:

  1. Guideline cost-per-click
  2. Competitiveness
  3. Estimated monthly:
    1. Searches
    2. Ad impressions
    3. Clicks

There are two tabs. One where you can enter a keyword and get suggestions; one where you can get data for a whole list of keywords. 

The data is useful for keywords that have more than about 100 searches per month (that’s just a guess). 

However, if you are going to run a campaign with thousands of keywords with low search volumes, this tool will be pretty much useless. In that case, here are a few things you might try:

  1. Just get started advertising on Baidu to begin gathering data based on real clicks.
  2. Get an experienced search marketing team to give you a better guestimate. I mean, even with the tools not working right, I can often take a look at a project and compare it to something we previously worked on. It’s not scientific, but it’s better than nothing.

 

Bidding and Quality Scores

Bids and quality scores can be a bit complex to understand, let alone optimize for.

Basically, an ad’s ranking for a given keyword is determined by its relevance, bid, and quality score.

A higher bid means you are willing to pay a higher cost-per-click. Note that you won’t be charged the amount you bid though. It’s like an auction, and the highest bidder wins a higher ranking.

However, that’s not all because there’s a quality score as well, which is Baidu’s opinion on the quality of your ad. Baidu will rate this on a scale of 1–10.

It’s important to choose the right bids. If you don’t, your ads either won’t get the traffic you want, or you’ll be spending too much.

As for the quality score, it’s important to keep it from getting too low, but you won’t need to obsess about it, especially in the early stages. Quality score can be built up over time as your historical performance increases. But you can’t ramp it up right away, so just forget about it and focus on thinking about the searchers, not your quality score.

 

Baidu Quality Score Factors

So, quality score is not as important as your potential customers’ experience, got it? Since I’m sure you agree, I’ll share the quality score factors with you!

The relevance of your ad’s text to the search query. 

It’s great to have the keyword show up once in the title and once in the description. One way to increase it is to use dynamic insertions. Avoiding incorrect grammar might also help.

The relevance of the landing page to the keyword.

The title of the landing page should match the keyword and load quickly and reliably. It can’t include words that aren’t allowed. 

If you have also optimized your site for SEO, it will help your Baidu PPC quality score too. (See China Digital Marketing 101.)

The ad’s clickthrough rate.

If your ad performs well, its quality score will build up over time. See the section on writing great Baidu ads above.

Bidding higher to elevate the ad’s position may improve performance (even though Baidu states that it shouldn’t).

Your overall account performance.

You should keep your account running steady for a long period of time. Of course, to do so, I understand that you need to see results.

A general tip for any type of Chinese marketing: be patient. It will take longer to crack the market in China than it will for you to expand from the USA to Canada.
 

Other Ad Targeting Options

When it comes to targeting, the main focus should be keywords. But what are the other targeting options?

Location.

Within China, it’s possible to geo-target specific locations based on province, city, and even a precise radius of a few kilometers. 

But, outside of China, target options are extremely limited. It’s not even possible to geo-target India or the European continent.

Device Type.

You can target by device type (mobile or desktop) and also use bid-modifiers. In other words, you can advertise on both platforms, but choose to bid more on desktop and less on mobile (or vice-versa).

Time of Day.

It’s easy to choose which days and hours to keep ads turned on.

However, there isn’t an option to have Baidu intelligently spread the budget throughout the day. Baidu will simply spend your daily budget until it’s all gone.

Demographic Groups and Remarketing/Retargeting.

While Baidu does provide options to target ads based on demographics, we have never been able to make it work well for our campaigns.

Baidu’s remarketing is also weak. Remarketing (or retargeting) means that you have the ability to show ads to people based on their past behaviour. For example, if they searched for certain keywords or previously visited your website. We’ve only had hit-and-miss success with Baidu’s remarketing options.

 

Landing Pages

To have a landing page that converts well, you absolutely need to follow these rules:

  1. The landing page must load quickly in China. Aim for the page to be visible to users within four seconds.

  2. It should be written in Chinese, not English. Use persuasive language that motivates the user to move on to the next stage.

  3. The page should match the ad copy. For example, if your ad copy promised a free trial, it must be very easy for the user to sign up for the free trial on that landing page.

  4. Pages should be mobile-friendly.

For more on landing pages and websites, see China Digital Marketing 101.

 

Baidu’s Interface and Reports

We use two interfaces to manage Baidu accounts:

  1. The website - accessed at www2.baidu.com.
  2. The Baidu Editor desktop app - downloaded from editor.baidu.com.

We need to use both of them because they have different strengths. 

The website is generally nice to use and has many helpful reports and tools, such as:

  1. Search query reports.
  2. Ad preview tool.
  3. Keyword research tool.
  4. Click fraud report.

The desktop app is kind of awkward and ugly but has a killer feature: batch editing. When making changes to URL parameters, landing pages and other factors, it saves a ton of time to do it all as a batch.

For more information, check out our pdf file on Baidu Editor’s interface.

 

Analytics

Good news - Google Analytics works great with Baidu. We use it, along with Baidu’s own analytics tool.

 

Using Google Analytics with Baidu Ads

For us, the best thing about Google Analytics is that most of our clients use it. They like to have their website data for Baidu ads, Google ads and everything else all in one place.

To use it with Baidu ads, we only have to add UTM parameters to all the keywords.

There are a couple drawbacks though. First, the Google Analytics interface cannot be accessed in China without a VPN. We’ve found this to be less and less of a problem since it seems that virtually everybody we work with in China has access to a VPN.

Second, we can only get data for four UTM parameters properly: Campaign, ad group, source, and keyword. We can’t get the proper dynamic parameter for ads unfortunately.

 

Connecting Baidu Ads with Baidu Tongji

Baidu Tongji is great too. It will give you data from your Baidu ads campaign, such as the performance of creatives, ad impressions, cost data, etc.

It can also show you some of the organic search query data, unlike Google.

For more on Baidu Tongji, check the full guide.

 

Optimization Tips

With so many options, what should a PPC manager focus on?

The amount of work that a team can do on a PPC account is essentially limitless. You could watch every single search query or create endless landing pages, but that would be a waste of time.

Effective optimization is about choosing the most important things to do, and doing them right.

Here are some of the activities that are worth investing time in:

Create the best user journey for a top keyword.

Choose one of your top keywords, then follow the user journey through the process from the keyword to the ad, then on to the landing page, and finally the conversion. Go through it like a user would and take note of any potential obstacles. Common obstacles include:

  1. Mis-matched ad and landing page text. E.g: Ad offers 15% off, but somebody else in your team changed the landing page and forgot to tell you.
  2. Landing page elements that don’t work on all browsers.
  3. Text that isn’t smooth. Maybe you thought it was great earlier but, at a later date, you realize it’s awkward or boring.

Expand keywords.

Research and add new keywords. Here are some places you can look for inspiration:

  1. Your best-performing keywords so far.
  2. Baidu Trends.
  3. Baidu Keyword Planner.
  4. Competitors’ landing pages.
  5. The messages your customers send you.

Add negative keywords.

Look at the search queries and find ones that are irrelevant but high-cost. For example, if you sell all widgets except for blue widgets, and you see a lot of traffic for “blue widgets”, add “blue” as a negative keyword. We go through this data periodically and build up stronger lists over time.

Reassess bids.

Once you have the data to know not only clickthrough rates and cost-per-click but also conversion rates, you can adjust your bids to improve the overall results.

Test new ads.

Try out different text in your ads, as well as different ad types, as explained in the section above on how to write great ads.

 

Account Setup

Stop!

Don’t just let Timmy from the SEM department set up your Baidu account.

It’s something for your CEO to do. After it’s set up, you can pass it to Timmy or anybody else. The CEO should set up your ad accounts (Baidu and others) to make sure you are getting high- quality service for a seemingly low price.

Baidu account setup is tricky because of the way Baidu sells ads. Within some regions of China, Baidu sells ad credit directly to the advertisers. For foreign companies, it sells ad credit via agents, and Baidu pays those companies a commission. This is hidden in the price you would pay.

Another tricky part about account setup on Baidu and other platforms is that the company you go with can “lock” the accounts with them for a period of time, even if it’s not in your contract.

 

Documents Required

You’ll need a scan of your business licence (certificate of incorporation) for one of your business entities, preferably your headquarters.

Plus, you’ll need a scan of a banking document for the bank account associated with that business entity. You don’t need to show anything confidential there, just enough that Baidu can see the account name matches the business name exactly. Note: you won’t need to actually send payments from that bank account.

The name on your business licence, website and bank account need to match exactly.

You do not need an ICP licence or hosting in China, although that might help with the site’s speed.

For some industries, you may need additional documentation. For example, game companies will need to get a certificate from a Chinese consulate.

 

Setup Fees

Different agencies will charge different fees. These are some of the common fees I’ve seen for small and medium-sized businesses:

  1. Setup fees - 0 to 2,500 USD.
  2. Minimum ad credit - 2,000 to 10,000 USD.
  3. Account management - Flat fees of 500 to 3,000 USD/month, OR up to 15% of ad spend.

Ad credit is purchased upfront and then spent each time a user clicks one of your ads.

If you want to set up an account, feel free to contact us. We can either make you an offer or refer you to another trusted company.

 

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