When adapting your business for China’s online ecosystem, one of the very first things you will need to focus on is website localization. Many user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) preferences and SEO strategies that work well in other countries, might not be appropriate for Chinese audiences.
There are numerous cultural and technical differences that you will need to consider when tailoring your site for China.
In this article, we will explore:
- The benefits of using a Chinese domain name and Chinese hosting.
- Applying for and the differences between an ICP filing and an ICP License.
- Avoiding restricted APIs and how to find China-friendly alternatives.
- How to optimize UI/UX for Chinese habits.
- Adapting not just the language but your content to meet consumer demands.
- Baidu SEO strategies.
Why should companies host their website in China?
China’s digital market is very unique and one of the main reasons is because of China’s great firewall. Any foreign website operating with an overseas domain name will first have to be filtered through it. The processing time will slow down the operating speed of your website and seriously affect your Baidu SEO ranking, leading to visitors feeling like they’ve hit a roadblock.
If you want to improve user engagement, then you should plan to host your website inside of Mainland China to prevent it from being blocked by China’s Great Firewall. This will improve the loading speed of your website and your business conversion rate.
Websites that are hosted within Mainland China will be more stable for Chinese users as .CN domain name websites are resolved by domestic servers. With the China Internet Network Information Centre (CNNIC) installing auxiliary servers over 5 regions, the stability of the .CN domain has been enhanced to the highest level.
Improve brand reputation
A .CN domain tells your target consumers that your brand has a presence in China, that your identity has been audited and that local laws apply to your business. All of these factors will improve the trustworthiness of your site and increase the likelihood of consumers choosing your products or services.
How to host your website in China
Buy a Chinese domain name
One of the first steps for hosting a website in China is to buy a Chinese domain name. For foreign companies or individuals that want to buy a Chinese domain name, they will need to have a legal entity in Mainland China or book under a local provider inside the country.
They will also need a signed “Letter of Commitment” that states that the domain owner is hosting outside of a Chinese server, and that if the site is transferred to a Chinese hosted server that the domain owner will apply for an Internet Content Provider (ICP) License.
Documentation for the CNNIC
The CNNIC is the domain name registry that is responsible for administrating, operating and maintaining the Chinese domain name system. To get a Chinese domain name you will need to register with CNNIC. The list of required documents needed to register differs depending on your location, and whether you are either a company or an individual applying.
Documents for companies that are located inside China:
- Chinese Business License
- Certificate of Organization code
- Copy of the company representative’s Chinese National Citizen ID
Documents for companies that are located outside of China:
- Company’s registration certificate
- The copy of the identity card from the company’s representative (passport, national ID etc.)
- Signed commitment letter (both in English and Chinese)
Documents for individuals that are located outside of China:
- Copy of ID card
- Signed copy of commitment letter (both in English and Chinese)
Buy/Rent a server
There are many web hosting service providers in China that will allow you or your company to post a website onto the internet. Here are some of the country’s top hosting providers: Aliyun Cloud, Tencent Cloud, eName, xinnet 新网, CNDNS 美橙互联, west西部数码, now.cn时代互联.
Apply for an ICP
An ICP certification is essential for hosting a website in China and bypassing China’s great firewall, as this gives your site the stamp of approval from the Chinese authorities.
There are two kinds of ICP certifications that you can apply for depending on your business’ needs or the services you are providing.
- This certification is for websites that are information based and non-commercial.
- ICP Filing can be applied for by businesses and individuals.
- The time it takes to process this certification takes 30 days.
- To apply for this certification, you must first apply for an ICP filing.
- Businesses that want to set up a commercial website where they can make profits from (e.g., an e-commerce site with an integrated online payment system such as Alipay) should apply for this certification.
- ICP licenses can be applied for by companies with a legal entity in China, and joint ventures between a foreign and Chinese business, granted that the Chinese business owns 51% of the company.
- The time to process this certification takes 60-90 days.
Technical Website Localization
Here are some of the best practices that you can use to improve your website’s loading speed in China and give consumers an outstanding user experience:
Replace APIs with China-friendly alternatives
Application programming Interfaces (APIs) that are blocked in China will not load properly on your site and this will lead to a dissatisfactory UX.
Once again, restrictions are caused by the Great Firewall. Applications like Google and YouTube are blocked in China, meaning that you will have to use Chinese alternatives. This technical localization strategy will have you adopting Baidu for services such as maps and search engine, and Youku or Tencent video for inserting videos.
Example of our client Rioja Wine: Google Map on the global website, Baidu Map on the Chinese website
Changing Social Media Platforms
You will also notice that China does not allow access to western social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram without the use of a VPN. In their place, China has developed a country-centric ecosystem of many colourful and dynamic social media sites and applications.
WeChat is by far the most essential social media app in the country with 38 billion messages being exchanged on the platform every day. You can create official accounts, set up a mini-program and manage customer data with a WeChat CRM. Integrating WeChat on your Chinese website is a great way to build your brand reputation, as the platform is an integral part of the Chinese consumer lifestyle.
In the West, QR codes tend to be seen as quite ugly and are more of a second thought when it comes to marketing, although we are starting to see their use for checking-in to restaurants/bars and for table services during the pandemic.
QR codes in China on the other hand, mean a completely different thing. They are everywhere and provide a very useful way to connect the offline to online (O2O). You can scan a QR code to transfer money, purchase items, follow accounts, scan URLs and so much more.
Embedding a QR code onto your website will make Chinese consumers feel more familiar with your page and more likely to trust your brand.
Adapt UI/UX for Chinese habits
Design and Layout
When you load a Chinese website, the first thing you will notice is that the layout is very different from what you’re used to when loading a western site.
One big difference on Chinese sites is the amount of text and links that can be found on a single page. This is because search engine results can be poor due to the complexity of the Chinese language. Whereas in English and other languages, words are made up by a certain sequence of letters. However, in Chinese the characters are made of up different intricate radicals and strokes. Therefore, many Chinese web designers have opted to fill the page with as much content and links as possible to allow users to find information easier.
Although minimalist designs are becoming more popular in China, a considerable amount of information is still being put upfront to the consumer. You need to get the right balance between delivering an uncluttered design and providing sufficient information.
Giving your website a familiar look for Chinese consumers will make it easier for them to navigate and will lead to an overall enhanced user experience.
Example of Aliyun’s website, minimalistic filled with links, and live chats integration
Instant Communication options
Live Chats – Chinese consumers expect to be able to communicate with your site via a live chat box. They are also very tech-savvy and feel more than comfortable talking to an AI chat bot.
WeChat QR Codes – As already mentioned, your site should integrate QR codes, especially a QR code that directs users to your WeChat official account/ mini-program with access to an additional communication channel.
Videos – Say more with less
An effective way to deliver information to your consumers is by integrating a short video clip on the front page. Videos became highly popular on social media sites such as Douyin (China’s TikTok) to promote content and popularize different brands. Videos are just as highly engaging for users browsing websites and will improve the amount of time users spend viewing the page. The videos don’t need to be long but they should be rendered in high quality resolution. What is important, is that they quickly and effectively communicate a strong main idea to Chinese netizens.
Ensuring that your page is fully operational for mobile users is crucial for succeeding in China’s online marketplace. According to the Internet Network Information Center’s (CNNIC) Statistic Report on Internet Development in China (2020) mobile netizens accounted for 95.1% of the total netizen population.
Evidently, China really is a mobile-first country with mobile sites leading to more purchases than from anywhere else. If your site isn’t optimised for mobile, then this could decrease your conversion rate and lead consumers to your competition.
Optimizing your content means more than just translating into Chinese
Translating your site into Chinese is not as straightforward as it might seem. You will need to choose between translating into traditional Chinese or simplified Chinese depending on the location of your target consumers.
The official language of the country is Mandarin and is written in simplified Chinese. This is what most businesses in Mainland China and Singapore will most likely use. In Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau however, people are used to writing and reading in traditional Chinese, and is also often preferred by Chinese people who are living abroad.
It is best to avoid using translation robots as the Chinese language is incredibly complex and this method will most likely lead to many errors. Instead use a professional translation service as this will remove any awkward translations and deliver an appropriate message to local consumers.
As mentioned above, it is not enough to just translate the language. Here are some cultural preferences you will need to consider when localizing your site:
- Choose images of Chinese people over westerners as they will resonate better with your target audience.
- Chinese consumers have a special connection with the colors red and gold so incorporate them into your site.
- Provide multiple links, special offers and discounts on your webpages.
- China uses the metric system of measurement.
- For registration purposes, Chinese people put their family name first then followed by given name.
- Addresses follow the format of: country, province, city, street name.
Chinese SEO Best Practices
As the Great Firewall is blocking Google in China, SEO strategies are quite different here. That is why the biggest SEO search engine in China is Baidu, followed by Sogou and Shenma.
Market share of search engines in China as of June 2021, based on pageview
Optimizing your SEO for Baidu then is the most essential for your website to gain traffic. Here are some of the best practices for improving your Baidu SEO:
You can find further best practices for Baidu SEO by following up on this article here.
“Information is not knowledge. The Only source of knowledge is experience” – A. Einstein
Sekkei Studio is specializing in Chinese Web and Digital Marketing for 13 years. We started as a Web Agency and expanded to become an Integrated Marketing Agency who specializes in several digital services and can produce results on a holistic strategy that takes advantage of the key strengths of different channels.
We have never lost our DNA and our Web Expertise got even stronger. Let us know more about your China Website localization project, our seasoned experts would love to help take things to the next level.