Web Development for China

How to build a Website for China

One might think that building a website for a Chinese audience would be easy. Simply take the content from the original website, translate it, create a subdomain for Chinese users, and job done, right? Wrong. The way that people interact with the web varies around the world. Netizens in China have a fairly distinct set of expectations about how a website should look, feel, and navigate. The norms guiding Chinese cyberspace often run counter to those found elsewhere. Beyond user experience, there are also practical considerations that need to be made for a website to succeed in China. In this article, we’ll provide an overview of these issues, from UI to UX, social to content, and SEO to licensing.

 

Design

One of the marked trends in the western world over the first couple of decades of the new millennium was a shift towards minimalism in website design. Think about the journey from the dominant user-generated websites. In the late 90s and early 2000s, the web was populated with the bursting bright, flashing, text-abundant pages of Geocities. These made way for slightly trimmer WordPress blog-style sites, which in turn were trimmed down themselves, and joined by minimalism-loving Squarespace and Wix. In China, there are signs that a similar transition is now taking place, but it is doing so at a much slower pace. For now, the dominant taste is for websites that are maximalist in design.

What does this mean? For one, it means that there is very little use of white space. To leave white space is seen as a waste, as it can be used to provide more information to the user. Instead, it is filled with banner advertisements, detailed menus, images and supplementary text. Websites are often flashy and colourful, with animated pop-up ads, and menus that are multicolored. While western websites may contain a few header menu items, or even just icons, and an extensible hamburger menu, Chinese websites typically feature a series of extensible text-based menus.

 

JD.com Homepage

 

Take a look at the above screenshot of leading e-commerce website JD.com, for example. The menus are in the bar on the left, and when we scroll over the first option, we’re greeted with a huge quantity of menu items. On top and on the sides are animated visuals. And in the header position there’s another menu, each item of which contains a drop-down box.

 

Sohu.com Homepage

 

Navigation

The user experience follows directly from the user interface. The busy design matches the expectation among Chinese netizens that they will be able to quickly navigate to any part of the website they need, directly from the homepage. This is why the menus have broad categories, with pop-up boxes that direct towards more specific topics. While at the top of the page there are often menu items related to user-specific actions, such as logging in, checking user account, finding favourites, etc, the other menu items are usually listed below in the page, with rollover menus displaying horizontally.

 

Baidu Zhidao Homepage

 

Keep Things Mobile Friendly

It’s vitally important to integrate responsive design with your Chinese website. More than 95% of Chinese internet users access the web via their phones. In this case, hamburger menus are more and more prevalent, and mid-page content tends to be more focused on featuring images in a grid-formation. While desktop websites in China tend only to be one or two screen-lengths long, mobile sites are often as long as their western counterparts.

 

Mobile friendly homepages Website for China

Mobile Homepages (Left: Taobao, Middle: Baidu Zhidao, Right: Sohu)

 

 

Links to Social Media

Chinese netizens know that often the most reliable way to find up to date information about a company is via their social media channels. Websites are seen, usually, as slightly more static representations of a company’s offerings, whereas WeChat official accounts, Weibo pages and Little Red Book profiles are usually updated on a daily or weekly basis. It’s therefore necessary to make it easy, through links and QR codes, for users to find relevant social accounts.

 

Contact Information

Much like a formal letter, many Chinese websites will contain contact information in the header. Especially in the case of older generations, users may prefer to call to ask for information, and accessing the website is simply a means of finding a correct phone number.

 

Content

Simply translating content from the original language into Chinese is not going to cut it. Instead, localize the content. This means having a translation that is context-appropriate, rather than transferring direct meaning. There are often words and phrases that will make no sense when directly translated, and even for those that do make sense, there is often better ways to convey their particular meaning.

 

Communication Tools

There are a variety of services that can help operate live chat assistance in China. It is also possible to integrate an automated chatbot, which can help users answer frequently asked questions. Below is an example of JD.com’s live chat assistance.

 

JD Livechat Website for China

JD.com’s live chat assistant

 

SEO Optimization for Chinese Search Engines

We are going to write a full article on this, but in sum, Chinese search engines do not follow the exact same rules as international search engines when it comes to ranking search results. Search engines such as Baidu and Sogou are often the first ports of call for netizens looking to find a particular product or service. Getting boosted up in their organic search result rankings can make a huge difference to your web traffic.

 

Host in China & Get ICP

Having a .cn website, with all data stored in China, and an ICP license, is the best way to go for some websites. For Chinese users, loading speeds, website stability and brand reputation are all increased with a .cn domain. To acquire one, companies will either need to be registered in China, or go through a local provider. They will also need to present business registration details, personal ID information and, if outside China, a letter of commitment, to the CNNIC. By law, all user data on Chinese websites must be stored on servers in China. Popular hosting services include Aliyun Cloud, Tencent Cloud, eName, xinnet 新网, and CNDNS 美橙互联. An ICP license is then needed to show approval from the Chinese authorities, thereby allowing the website by the great firewall. For non-commercial websites, all that’s needed is an ICP filing, which takes around 30 days to complete. For commercial websites, a full ICP license is needed, which typically takes 60-90 days to procure. While these processes are a little longwinded, they’re invaluable in terms of SEO, and essential for any company wishing to process transactions that involve selling products or services in China.

 

Building and localizing a Website for China requires local guidance and expertise. At Sekkei Studio, we have been helping companies and corporations with their website localization for the past 13 years. In fact, the first couple of years of Sekkei Studio were mainly dedicated to website localization and search engine optimization, It’s in our DNA. Contact us to have a chat about how we can help build and optimize your website for China.

 

Clervie Le Du

Senior Digital Project Manager at Sekkei in Shanghai. Clervie has more than 7 years experience in websites' design and development, and speaks French, English and Chinese.

Promoting overseas schools to Chinese students

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