Senior SEO Consultant

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For an international SEO consultant, in my opinion, there is no greater challenge than taking a non-Chinese or APAC region business into the mainland Chinese market.

There are a number of reasons for this; the differences in how online media is consumed and online behaviours, the language barrier and cultural nuances, and then there is Baidu, which is a totally different beast to Google.

Chinese culture and vocabulary varies a lot.


However, with this article I’m going to focus on keyword research for the Chinese market as it’s probably the most complex market to do keyword research for (unless you have access to native Chinese speaking resources, then in which case, assuming that person isn’t useless – you’re good).

Chinese Keyword Research Trends

There are a number of common mistakes when it comes to keyword research for China, but then there are a lot of nuances and trends that you need to be aware of.

Below are some of the more common questions, mistakes, and challenges I come across when working with clients on performing keyword research for China.

Latin Alphabet Is Used Alongside Chinese

This is a common misconception and usually comes as a result of poor translation work and research.

Whilst Chinese (traditional, Cantonese and Mandarin) is the dominant language, a lot of modern terms lead to users using latin alphabet characters and terms.

For example, when looking for SEO services in China a direct translation of search engine optimisation would give you 搜索引擎優化, however using a tool like Dragon Metrics, you can see that users search for SEO in other ways:

Keyword Translation Search Volume
seo seo 210,300
seo优化 seo optimization 32,010
seo查询 seo query 21,870
seo培训 seo training 21,420
关键词优化 keyword optimization 10,500

So the question I then get asked here is does SEO mean the same to a Chinese user as it does to a Western user, where we understand SEO to be an abbreviation of Search Engine Optimisation. The answer is simple, we check Baike (Baidu’s own Wikipedia):

Baidu Baike Entry for SEO


Chinese Keyword Research Can Be Done Once For China, Hong Kong & Taiwan

Traditional Chinese is widely used in both Hong Kong and Taiwan. Thus, if you write your content in traditional Chinese, it will be readable for audiences from both places.

Traditional Chinese is widely used in Hong Kong and Taiwan, but there are a number of variations in how people say things. One example of this is in the property market were a Hong Konger would say buy building 買樓, whereas a Taiwanese person would say buy house 買房.

I’ve seen the above mistake occur because in Western culture the term “building” has commercial connotations, and house more of a residential intent.


Traditional Chinese Is The Only Language Being Used

Traditional Chinese is a set of characters used for writing. When it comes to speaking, however, there is another difference between Hong Kong and Taiwan:

  • Hong Kongers use Cantonese when speaking, the words and style of which are completely different from traditional Chinese.
  • Taiwanese people use Mandarin when speaking, the words and style of which are comparatively more like traditional Chinese.

For Hong Kong people, when they ask a question, using Cantonese is preferred.

When optimizing keywords that target audiences from Hong Kong, sometimes you may want to write in Cantonese, particularly when writing an FAQ section.

Given the high adoption of modern technologies amongst the younger generations in Hong Kong, China and Taiwan, using Cantonese and Mandarin for these sections may also impact voice search performance within the region.

Dan Taylor

It Gets More Complicated…

Now, above I’ve said that Hong Kongers use traditional Chinese when writing and Cantonese when speaking, but to be accurate, they also use Cantonese when writing in an informal manner.

For example, when text messaging or writing on social media, Hong Kong people generally use Cantonese. Being a spoken language, Cantonese sounds more casual and friendlier to Hong Kongers in terms of tone.

When targeting Hong Kongers, write in Cantonese if you want to convey a friendly personality – maybe around customer support sections, and traditional Chinese in other, corporate areas of the site.

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