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[Case Study] How Apple Does SEO on Baidu and Google

Sure enough, Apple does pretty well on SEO for both Google and Baidu. For a company that has next to zero contents on their website. This shows you that contents are not always required for ranking in on SEO. But of course, we’re talking about Apple, a company with products worshiped liked a religion.

But our purpose today is neither to praise or criticize Apple in any way or form. We’re simply using Apple.com as a guinea pig to show you some good SEO practices in general, and how Baidu and Google China (which ironically cannot be accessed in Mainland China) crawls your site differently.

Random Meta Description from Page?

First, when we first started doing SEO for Baidu and Google we realize something odd. What we found out is that Baidu and Google threats the Meta Description very differently when it comes to getting information for their SERP ranking.

Google takes whatever is written in the meta description tag as the universal description displayed on their SERP result. Baidu, on the other hand, would crawl the page content and selections a section of your content randomly as the universal description displayed on their SERP result.

To proof that we’re not lying, we took a screen shot of Apple China’s official iPhone 7 web page on both Google CN and Baidu:

 Baidu SERP for Apple iPhone 7

 

As you can see from the highlighted section in the above Source Code, Baidu SERP has taken a piece of random content between the paragraph tags (<p>) as the description. Now, let’s see what Google does here:

Google SERP for Apple iPhone 7

 

Just like every website, Google grabbed the description in the meta tag for their SERP result.

The point isn’t to tell you that Google is not as cool as Baidu because they’re not able to crawl your page to grab some random piece of content as a description. In fact, it is quite the opposite, Google’s bot loves to crawl your page random unless there is an NOODP tag implemented in the <head> section of your page.

Which brings us to the second point we want to cover here.

How the NOODP Tag Works.

Matt Cult wrote a short post explaining what the meta NOODP tag does, you can read it here. Basically, Google for whatever reasons grabs SERP descriptions from DMOZ (Open Directory Project), and in order to force Google to use the descriptions in your meta description tag the NOODP tag was introduced.

So when you add the noodp meta tag in the head area of the page, Google will not crawl your page and use some random content your SERP description. Below is a picture showing you how to use the noodp tag.

Secret of Multi Level XML Sitemap Structure

It is no secret that your XML sitemap of your site will play a significant role in your SEO, this is true for Google just as much as Baidu.

However, what people don’t realize is that the structure of the XML sitemap for a small site that only contains a few hundred pages will be vastly different than a site like Apple China which may have thousands of pages in dozens of different languages.

To find the sitemap of a small site in most cases all you need to do is go to “domainname/sitemap.xml” and boom you’ll see the entire sitemap. But, to find the full XML sitemap of a large site like Apple, the method may be a bit different

A trick that I use is to look in the robots.txt (Yes, check the robots.txt first). it usually reveals where all the XML sitemaps placed. We’ll use Apple China’s official website again as example…

First, visit www.apple.com/robots.txt in your browser and scroll down to the bottom, you will find a list of XML sitemaps:

As you can see Apple China actually has 4 different sitemaps and not just one single sitemap. For the purpose of this case study, we’re going to take a closer look at www.apple.com/shop/sitemap.xml as our instance.

 

If you look at folder name, each row in this sitemap represents a country. This means that Apple has subcategories it’s sitemap into more smaller sitemaps. Which also means we’ll have to go deeper to the next level to check each what each country’s XML sitemap. So, let’s take HongKong, the /hk-zh/ one:

In the Hong Kong level of Apple’s sitemap, it seems to contains yet another level of XML sitemaps for each content categories. Again, we will continue and dig one level deeper and look at: www.apple.com/hk-zh/shop/sitemaps/sitemap-buy.xml.

And at last, we’ve discovered the list of single product pages. As you can now see the complexity see of Apple’s XML sitemap structure. While you may not need such a complex sitemap structure as Apple, but they’ve done an amazing job. Their sitemap structure not only will help the crawlers to understand the silo architect of their website, but it will also have a significant impact on their index ratio.

URL Distribution

The last subject we want to talk about is the idea of URL distribution Again, we are going to use Apple’s site website as our example, and we’re going start from the base domain name www.apple.com.

And… as we traverse down a level we’ll get a list of Apple’s product such as www.apple.com/iphone-7. And below is a list of most Apple’s current products and their URL.

But wait, where is the category folder? That’s odd Apple doesn’t seem to have any category folders. As many of you may know it is common for an eCommerce site to follow an URL structured that sort of look like this domain name/product-category/product, but Apple seems to have skipped the category page (A.K.A bridging page) for their products.

However, if you enter www.apple.com/iphone into your browser, it seems that the bridge page actually exists. In other words, Apple has put their product pages as well as product category pages both on the same 2nd level.

But why…?

Well… there are 2 benefits:

First, it provides a better user experience. As visitors looking for say iPhone 7, you don’t need to know or type the category to find the iPhone 7 page. All you have to do is type in apple.com/iphone-7 and boom you’re there. And on top, Apple has anticipated of the scenarios where you may enter iphone7 instead of iphone-7. In such as case, Apple is smart enough to redirect you from “apple.com/iphone7” to “apple.com/iphone-7”.

Second, by putting the product pages as level 2 URL path instead of 3 will move up the product pages that are in demand to rank and performance better on SERP.

You may wonder if this would confuse search engine crawlers on the structure of the whole site? No, not really… not with a complex multi-level XML sitemap like Apple does, it should not be a problem.

Apple’s Big Mistake?

I know we’ve talk positively so far about Apple’s SEO. But they’re not perfect (wait did I just say that…). The problem we’ve found on Apple’s website is how they treat their old product pages.

For example, if you would to enter www.apple.com/iphone-4/ in you’ll browse, you’ll see a 404 page not found. Here is a screenshot.

This is a myth to us…

We all know there are many ways one can leverage a no longer valid page before removing it completely. For example, you can do a 301 redirect to and keep the page authority.

Perhaps Apple just didn’t notice.

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