Based on my years of experience doing business and setting up websites in mainland China; I’ve put together this list of essential tips on getting started.
Chinese online market is constantly evolving; here are the latest must-knows!
Foreign companies in abundance are attracted by China’s liberated markets, and growing economy to jump over to their side of the wall. But when launching a website in China; many lack important knowledge of online services and how locals use them to engage with businesses.
Traditionally a company would focus their marketing efforts in translating their website to Chinese; while maintaining all elements found on the website’s global version. But nationalism also prevails in their online habits; which favors local internet services. That’s why one should abandon all signs of Western influence on the website and change it to authentically Chinese.
It all Starts with a CN
Get started by adopting a .cn domain name; a clear indicator of your Chinese online presence. Domain name requirements have become much more relaxed; with reliable western registrars such as — Dynadot with easy & affordable .cn registration.
Anyone can get a CN domain. With both individual and enterprise registration; either submit your photo ID or business license to Dynadot which will be audited within a few days before you can actually start using the domain name.
Reserving a domain name for yourself before use has no requirements!
Forget Western Social Media
Familiar social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Youtube, are not used in China. Most of these are blocked by the Chinese government, therefore their use should be forgotten all together. The Chinese instead use social networking services such as WeChat, Weibo, Renren and video hosting service Youku.
Most services offered by Google, such as Google Maps and Google Analytics are also blocked. Similar services are offered by the Chinese Google rival, Baidu.
Focus on Mobile Optimized Service
The majority of Chinese favour mobile devices over desktop or laptop computers. And one of the best ways to optimize your website for mobile in China is their own version of Google’s AMP — Baidu’s MIP (Mobile Instant Pages).
An open standard for publishers to host mobile responsive pages that load extremely quickly; backed up by China’s biggest search engine Baidu.com for significant gains in (a) better search engine rankings and (b) increased traffic. Giving a highly competitive edge beyond regular mobile responsive web design and optimization.
WeChat, the prevailing social media application is used extensively by the Chinese; mostly for instant messaging, but it provides almost everything else, from booking plane tickets to paying for restaurant bills. It also works as a mobile internet browser, so it is necessary to optimise your website to work with WeChat.
The service can be built to work in tandem with the existing website, so the important pages are also accessible through WeChat.
Web Hosting Behind The Great Wall
One of the most significant concerns for online business are unstable internet speeds. Browsing a Western website from China can be painfully slow; increasing page abandonment rate. There are two viable ways around this — hosting the web service within mainland China or using a CDN (Content Delivery Network) which works as a proxy, providing the content from a server near the end user.
Option 1: CDN Hosting
This is the best option for fast network delivery simultaneously across both the Chinese mainland and the rest of the world; with CloudFlare being the leader in Chinese CDN availability — it’s Global Anycast Network consists of an impressive 107 world-wide data centers of which 20 are located within mainland China. These data centers or PoPs (Points-of-Delivery) are used to deliver the website content from the nearest possible location for low latency, high speeds and best availability.
CloudFlare has both free and paid plans; the latter being recommended for any serious business — with support for free SSL certification (HTTPS), advanced firewall against online attacks, live image optimization and extended caching capabilities which deliver optimal speeds; especially to mobile users.
To host with an affordable all-in-one solution for easy install, increased performance & security; I’ve used — A2’s CloudFlare Hosting to host Chinese websites.
While CloudFlare provides these services at a $20 monthly price; with A2 Hosting you can enjoy the same benefits for a monthly $3 added to the cost of your regular web hosting plan (simply select “CloudFlare Plan Basic Monthly” in the additional options during checkout). They also support easy install of the free CDN version.
CloudFlare PoPs are available in the following twenty Chinese cities: Chengdu, Dongguan, Foshan, Fuzhou, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Hengyang, Jinan, Luoyang, Nanning, Qingdao, Shanghai, Shenyang, Shijiazhuang, Suzhou, Wuhan, Wuxi, Xian, Zhengzhou and Zhuzhou.
Note: Shijiazhuang is next to Beijing; providing low latency to the capital city.
Option 2: China Hosting
All websites hosted within China need to carry a state-issued registration number known as an “ICP License” — mandated by law. If your website visitors are mainland only and you are willing to go through the hurdles of obtaining the business license; this is a viable option. However without a CDN your website speeds can still heavily fluctuate depending on which part of China the user is located in.
If you have possible overseas website visitors; they will have a hard time accessing your website without a CDN. Considering that there are over 50 million overseas Chinese; chances are that you want to keep your options open to a wider audience.
Option 3: Hong Kong Hosting
Despite many still giving out advice that Hong Kong or other nearby foreign hosting services are a great way to fast access the mainland; this is often not reliable.
Weather you go to South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan or Hong Kong to obtain your website traffic; bandwidth to and from China is a competitive resource. It heavily depends on the hosting provider what quality and amount of bandwidth resources they carry. Many HK data centers have a poor connection to China; even worse than to the United States since Hong Kong has become an at times over-crowded space for channeling mainland internet traffic.
The situation is never truly stable, unless traffic is being monitored and controlled by a dedicated server management team. For example HostVirtual will do this but they only deliver high-end enterprise solutions.
Checklist for China Website Startup
Go through this list to make sure your business has the basics!
- Make sure that your font supports Chinese characters
- Do not use Google provided fonts
- Get a .CN domain address
- Use a CDN service as a Chinese proxy
- Change Google Maps and Google Analytics to services provided by Baidu
- Forget Western social media services and adapt Chinese equivalents
- Get to know your turf; hire interpreter from a Beijing Tour company like May Tours
- Do not link to Western social media services
- Make sure that your website has been optimised for mobile devices
- Adopt the use of WeChat
Chinese Online Retail Market
China is the world’s biggest online retail market — the online marketplace Alibaba essentially dominates all webstore channels. The portfolio of Alibaba’s online stores includes B2B, B2C and C2C services, depending on whether the marketplace is aimed at the Chinese or for foreign consumers businesses.
Alibaba’s services can be summarised as follows:
B2B/B2C, foreign buyers, mostly international deliveries
C2C, foreign consumers, mostly international deliveries,
C2C, Chinese consumers, deliveries mostly inside China
B2C, Chinese consumers, deliveries to China from outside of China
B2C, Chinese consumers, deliveries inside China
Tmall provides two distinct ways to sell products: Tmall Global and Tmall.com. Tmall Global is meant for companies who don’t want to or are unable to set up a warehouse in China. The office can be situated in China, but deliveries are dealt with as imports, or use Free Trade Zone warehousing.
Respectively, Tmall.com is aimed at companies that have done at least three years of business inside Chinese borders and are able to show that Chinese consumers are interested in their product portfolio. When using Tmall.com, the company has an office with an online store permit and has a warehouse in China. Thus, the seller can take advantage of shorter delivery times, volume discounts provided by Tmall.com and better local service.
Starting a business in China? Any questions or comments? Would love to hear your thoughts or concerns in below comments!
Monetary notice: Some of the links on this page contain affiliated links that can generate monetary benefit to reward my work. However, this has not effected my opinion or review of such services and neither will it change the cost of service.