Maybe your website is compatible for the Western market, maybe you even come up top in the Google search engine and have a substantial social media following… But that means absolutely nothing in China. Chinese social media and search engine platforms are an entirely different ball game and ensuring that your brand is visible on Chinese platforms and accessible to the market is critical to ensure your company’s success. Nowadays, an appealing website is critical – here are the things to remember when looking to expand into China.
The most important consideration when deciding to access the Chinese market is to ensure that your website actually works in China and is compatible with Chinese apps and on smartphones. A few key points are:
Hosting and domain
Ensuring that your website works in China starts with getting your hosting (where to put your site) and your domain. It is important to get this from very early on! Leave it too late and your domain name may be taken or may now be extremely expensive, particularly if you have gained popularity by the time you buy it.
The next step is an Internet Content Provider (ICP). This is a license from the government to approve your website, essentially a state-issued registration number that allows you to run your website in China and host on a mainland Chinese server. By law, for your site to go live in China, you are required to apply for one.
It is important to clarify that ICP licenses don’t technically determine whether your site is visible or blocked in China. It is possible that sites with ICPs are taken offline, while sites without them may remain visible indefinitely. The ICP merely confirms that you’ve been approved to host your website on a mainland Chinese server.
Interestingly, many non-China-hosted sites exist that do not have ICP licenses. Typically, if a site is small enough and doesn’t contain anything politically sensitive, it may slip through the “Great Firewall” and work in China. However, to avoid connectivity issues and increase the loading speed of your website overall, server hosting in China is recommended. Plus, if run from outside China, monitoring will soon reveal the lack of an ICP license, and the website will be blocked. Once blocked, there is no way to unblock it, given you are essentially outside of the system. Thus, if hosting outside of China and not getting an ICP licence is an option for your firm, you should be aware of the consequences.
Many firms decide to host their website in Hong Kong, since Hong Kong servers are geographically close, but governed by a different set of laws. Hosting offshore may be a viable short-term solution, however it doesn’t guarantee a satisfying internet speed for users in mainland China, with the possibility of your site being difficult to reach.
Consequently, having an ICP and hosting in China is a must to deliver digital content quickly to Chinese consumers. This is particularly important when your site has an array of plugins or functionality to your site which makes it relatively complex. For example, if you want your site to include payment methods then an ICP is essential and hosting your website in Hong Kong would not suffice.
It is important to note that internet laws in China change all the time, so being up to date with current news and updates on setting up a website in China is crucial, a difficult endeavour as a non-Chinese speaker. As for now however, if you want a serious web presence in China, you will need an ICP License!
Different types of ICP
ICP’s vary depending on the type of company you are, and the sort of website you are looking to host. There are two types of ICP: a commercial and a non-commercial ICP. The former allows a website to engage in online selling and payment integration.
Obtaining a commercial ICP license is an imperative for any aspiring business in China that plans to have its own website and operate some kind of online sales on a server located in China.
When looking to set up a website to serve the Chinese population, there are a variety of other considerations besides legal and regulation issues. To expand into China, your website will most certainly need to be restructured as Western website structure varies dramatically from what Chinese consumers are used to. They have different, sometimes very specific requirements that decide how much time – if any, at all – they will spend on your website. For example, it is expected to contain a range of features, such as UX (user experience), payment methods, and social logins, and you need to hit all these targets to build a website that can make a difference in China.
Western websites are generally far more simplistic with less functionality; they are typically more cleanly and simple. On the other hand, Chinese sites are very colorful, overloaded with links, information, animations, flashing texts and banners. For example, the images below show a comparison of Taobao and JD.com with its Western equivalents (Amazon and Ebay).
Taobao vs Ebay
Issues to consider
As mentioned, hosting a website in China from abroad will result in a very slow website, however there are an array of other reasons that may result in a slow loading website, even if you do in fact host in mainland China and are using an ICP license. These issues will most likely come from the website’s structure and coding.
For instance, given that Google and other social networking providers are blocked in China, certain plugins and features your website might contain will prevent the page from loading or result in a slow site. Examples include Google Fonts, Google Maps, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Each of these commonly used features will prevent the page from loading.
In addition to this, the coding of your website is very important. A poorly coded website means a slow website, so using the best coding practices will result in an effective and speed optimized website. In addition to this, the coding should ensure that your site is compatible with Chinese apps.
In conclusion, to make sure your site will work effectively, it is important to consider each of these options which ensure that your site will provide a website speed that meets Chinese consumers’ needs and appeals to the Chinese market overall.
SEO on China’s leading search engine, Baidu
There is no doubt in the importance of SEO to invite potential customers to your webpage. The deliberations mentioned above will certainly help with that, but here are some other essential aspects to reflect on:
Getting the right domain name helps with SEO, as the “.cn” domain name makes your brand more Baidu-friendly. Furthermore, single domains are generally the best way to go, rather than using sub-domains. For example, using “name.cn” instead of “name.xyz.cn” increases search ranking on Baidu.
Moreover, another aspect you might want to consider is the need for a Chinese physical address, because Baidu favors sites that have a presence in its home country. This does not necessarily have to be an office address, but perhaps an agent with a permanent address in China, where mail can be delivered to.
At last, you will need to produce content in Chinese characters, preferably simplified Chinese rather than traditional, because Baidu prefers simplified Chinese. In fact, Baidu won’t index content in Chinese dialects, such as Cantonese, nor in any Western language.
Thus, if you want to outrank your competitors in China, you’ll need to optimize and adapt your website, provide content in simplified Chinese and have a Chinese mailing address. All these enhancements will increase your ranking on leading Chinese search engines and allow you to broadly access the massive Chinese market.