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Has Baidu Cracked the Code of the New Web Ecosystem?

Baidu is at a crossroad

You may have heard that Baidu launched MIP (Mobile Instant Pages), its own version of AMP, last year. At the time I’m writing this post, the company has already indexed 1.4 billion MIP pages and been sending over 100 million clicks to those pages every day. You may also have read that Baidu is pushing the PWA with its LAVAS framework. And, this doesn’t even account for the artificial intelligence yet. All Baidu’s updates are following Google’s footprints within the mobile internet.

The locations of Baidu's latest AMP roadshows

AMP Roadshow – Two stops in China

You can imagine that Baidu is facing the same challenges Google is facing when rolling these out. If you work in China SEO, you would have this strong feeling that Baidu is now working with webmasters closer than ever. They have roadshows across dozens of cities every year, letting their engineers meet the webmasters and SEOs face to face. On the other hand, Baidu has even started cooperating with Google, who was their direct competitor before Google got censored in 2010. They offered a CDN to Google for its AMP library.

Note: There are three forms of AMP URLs. Only the Original AMP URL can utilize this CDN. The Google AMP Viewer version and the AMP Cache version do not work in China. Now you can submit your Original AMP URLs in Baidu Webmaster Tools.

Clearly, Baidu has envisioned the roadmap of its next 10 years as a search engine: to rebuild the web ecosystem.

Baidu, as a search engine and the world’s fourth most trafficked site, is a major traffic source for brands online. Baidu also drives a significant amount of traffic to its other websites outside of search. However, the competition surrounding the Chinese search giant is much fiercer today than what Google has in the western world. Tencent’s WeChat and Toutiao are prevailing in the war on mobile, which is the preferred way Chinese consumers use the web. They are influencing consumers’ time on mobile away from Baidu.

The pressure from new channels urges Baidu to do something different from AMP, MIP or PWA. Those players are not going to be a game changer, because they either require sophisticated implementation or have a lack of flexibility for personalization and customization. Moreover, if you take web analytics into account, those brands are missing a chunk of data with MIP. These are the reasons Baidu ended up with a new product: The Bear Paw (BP). To clarify; the Bear Paw is not a new shiny product from Baidu, it’s a platform. Products grow, yet they don’t scale. Platforms do scale. In the latest Baidu Webmaster VIP Conference in China, Baidu stated firmly that the Bear Paw is the answer to the evolving mobile web ecosystem.

Meet the Bear Paw

In Chinese, it’s xiong-zhang-hao (熊掌号). Obviously, the name is from Baidu’s logo, which is designed around from the paw of a bear. In Chinese language, the bear paw is a symbol of a “delicacy.” According to Xie Tian, Director of Baidu Search Ecosystem Dept., Baidu will send 50% of its mobile traffic to BP pages in 2018, and 80% in 2019. See a screenshot of the home page of a BP account below.

The Baidu home screen

Here are some facts about the Bear Paw platform:

  • Any individual or corporation can register a BP account.
  • The BP account is a container of content your brand generates.
  • The content can be from either the Baidu Baijia (Baidu’s blogging platform) account it connects to, or web pages (must be a HTML5 or MIP page) you submitted through Baidu Webmaster Tools.
  • Baidu users can follow your BP account through Baidu Mobile App with their Baidu account.
  • A verified BP account can broadcast a push message to its followers daily through Baidu APP.
  • The content of the push message can enclose up to 5 articles from one of those sources:
    1. BP’s ative CMS
    2. Baidu Baijia
    3. Web pages you host (must be a HTML5 or MIP page.)

The back-end of Baidu

How does BP work?

For brand marketers, the BP is like your Facebook page — it connects your brand to the audience on one of the major mobile apps in China. It sounds like BP’s push notification feature would be like the push message feature of modern browsers which PWAs provide on mobile to make it look like a native app. However, those push messages only go to the aggregator in the Baidu Mobile App, which has a daily active user-base of 130 million people.

Detail on how BP works

For most SEOs, the BP platform is a new method to get your new content indexed in Baidu Mobile search.

Note: Baidu separates its desktop and mobile indexation. What’s indexed by Baidu Mobile is not necessarily indexed by Baidu Desktop search.

Baidu has provided an API for new content submission. You may also submit up to 5 million existing pages a day in BP platform. It is easy to recognize a BP result on Baidu SERP. You would have your logo and your account name under the description. Most of the time, you will have a thumbnail in the result layout.

The results in BP SERP

In order to have your HTML5 pages submitted to Baidu BP successfully, you need to meet the following requirements.

  1. The fold should be loaded in three seconds.
  2. The layout must be adapted to mobile screens.
  3. No ads covering content.
  4. Ad space less than 40% on any screen. Overall ad space less than 10%.
  5. No ads of gambling, pornography, or any other products/services prohibited by ad law.
  6. No gated content, e.g., download, registration, app-install.
  7. No app store baits or redirection.
  8. No pagination for articles.
  9. Font size: 14px/16px
  10. Line spacing: font size x (0.42~0.6)
  11. Hyperlinks: font size 14px + line spacing 13px; font size 16px + line spacing 14px.
  12. All videos must be playable.
  13. All app download links go to the latest version.

Baidu Webmaster Tools is launching a new tool to verify those requirements. In addition to those page requirements, you need to put a JSON-LD snippet into your pages for structured data. It includes the page title, head image, description, etc. This helps Baidu present your page as a result on the SERP.

The last step before you submit your page is to add the Follow bar. Baidu provides some options for implementation. You can either dock the bar at the top/bottom of your page or insert them into the content anywhere you want.

Adding the follow bar is the last step before submitting your page

The button of Follow/View goes to the download page of Baidu Mobile App if you are on other mobile browsers. Thus, you may only serve this bar when the browser user-agent contains “Baidu.”

Does the Bear Paw Look Familiar?

Although the look and feel differs tremendously in Baidu Bear Paw, you may recall that such an approach was used by Google back in 2011. The Authorship markup, which Google stopped using in 2016, was leverage for Google to promote its G+ social platform. Instead of crawling the content and discovering the markup linking to the author’s G+ profile automatically, Baidu has chosen the other approach by letting the brands submit their content and promote their brand images on the SERP.

The Bear Paw is reminiscent of Google's authorship markup

Now Baidu is in the game. Its goal is not building a new social platform, but a network where China’s internet users consume content on their mobile devices. At the end of the day, when the habits are formed, it is just a matter of time for adding inventories.

The Power of Revolution

Speaking of inventories, when others are building yet another walled garden to trap users on their sites so that they can sell ads, Baidu has opened its arms for brands’ owned media.

Baidu gave a codename to this rebuild of the web ecosystem – Cambrian. The Cambrian Explosion was the beginning of the fossil record on Earth. And Baidu believes that they have figured out a new ecosystem in which brands, consumers, and of course Baidu itself can all thrive and benefit.

Baidu's codename for this project is Cambrian

Brands no longer need to make a copy of their content published with webpages and make them WeChat, Toutiao or Baijia posts. All they need to do is submit the article via API simultaneously to Baidu when publishing. For those media,  the flexibility of the ad placement is kept. Unlike publishing content on earned media, these companies don’t need to share any revenue with the platform since they now host the content themselves. And even when they host content themselves, they can reactivate those consumers who have come and gone.

Consumers can now engage with these brands directly. They can mark those pieces of content matching their interest and enjoy more stories in their Baidu News Feed (Note: BP articles will come to Baidu News Feed later). They search for information and solutions while the information and solutions find them in another way. Most importantly, when the page load speed is guaranteed, everything gets better.

Baidu, as the middle man, loosens its rein and enhances the experience searchers have when looking up information. When the beneficial cycle is built with four pieces – acquire, retain, reactivate and advocate, in return, Baidu will win more happy users and will sell more native ads within the news feed for monetization.

Merkle’s Adam Audette says, “SEO is designed to help build relevant traffic and improve the user experience for people searching across multiple devices and behaviors, from Google, Baidu and Bing, to Siri, Alexa, and Cortana. A better term for the work is searcher experience optimization.”

We will see if this brilliant idea works and how it works in the next couple of years. At this moment, there are only a few thousand sites adopting BP. Compared to MIP, the BP takes minimum effort to implement. We believe it will move much faster than MIP.

Like BWT users, Baidu rates your BP account with four levels. At the beginner level, there is no guarantee that your content can be indexed. While the level-up is determined by the quality and quantity of your content, it is a big challenge for small sites.

The levels and features of BP

Consequently, when it comes to execution, there are five factors for Baidu still needs to address:

  1. The nurturing of small/medium brands
  2. Authorship/copyright protection
  3. Indexation effectiveness
  4. Structured data
  5. High-quality content identification

The Bear Paw is still at its early stage. We’ll see how Baidu tackles these in 2018.