Is your website slow in China? Are you asking yourself if you need a separate website for the Chinese market? I might have the answer for you. The topic of my first meeting with our customers was revolving around the go-to-market strategy for their websites. The main dilemma is whether to have a dedicated and independent Chinese website or just a Chinese version on their official website.
In this article, I will outline some of the most important aspects on why having a dedicated Chinese website is useful to you from a multitude of perspectives such as brand presence and technical issues. In addition to that, I will share some of the potential downsides of having one website to serve both your home market and the Chinese market.
Your Global Website is not Optimized for Baidu
China’s search engine market is dominated by Baidu. As you might expect, netizens use keywords in Chinese to search on Baidu.
Having your website listed on the first page of the search engine results for certain keywords will bring you an immense marketing value. Two search engines are not the same, as their algorithm differs significantly which symbolized how they read your website and index your web pages. So, when we talk about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for Baidu, the process is different from the one you would use for Google. In order to rank higher on Baidu, you would need to use an SEO strategy which is pertinent to Baidu.
In SEO language, there are On-site SEO and Off-site SEO. On-site SEO is the process of making your website search engine friendly. Off-Site SEO refers to “tricks” you can take to promote your website, besides advertising.
Supposedly, your On-site SEO is originally developed for your Westerner audience and it is thus only optimized for Google, while some of the Off-site SEO tactics that are employed for Baidu (in order to make your site rank favorably on Baidu) are not necessarily endorsed or condoned by Google.
The obvious solution is to have different websites for different markets. If not, your website will not 100% benefit from On-site and Off-site SEO techniques for both Baidu and Google. Also, a dedicated .cn website allows you to employ dedicated Baidu SEO tactics.
Your Website Coding is Partially Blocked by China
Many websites are built using third-party codes from Google or other services blocked in China. Some use foreign Content Delivery Networks (CDN), which could also be blocked. So, even if your website is running well in China, it is still partially blocked because of the website coding.
This is one of the main reasons your website loads slowly in China. For example, if Google fonts or Google Maps are found available on your website, 40-90 seconds of delay should be expected before your page to load fully.
The solution is to replace your third-party codes and CDNs with Chinese equivalent ones. For example, Useso Font (from 360) instead of Google Fonts. However, the consequence of changing font will affect your audiences outside China – they will find a slow loading experience since Useso servers are located in China.
Are you seeing a whack-a-mole never ending cycle here? The same conundrum applies to CDN as well (Chinese or Overseas CDN) and other third parties code. The solution to this dilemma is to create two copies of your website so that you can freely deploy any third party code or CDN of your chooses.
A Content Delivery Network (CDN) is a network of proxy servers which enables the end-user to have better access to online content. CDN nodes are distributed throughout a geographic region and can improve page loading speed and increase the accessibility to content, images.
Your Website is Outside China and, Thus, Slow
Most of the visitors expect websites to be fully loaded in less than 3 seconds, so having a fast-loading website will be beneficial to your Chinese visitors, while a slow website will turn away a lot of potential customers.
As we wrote before, Baidu favors fast-loading websites. It facilitates more of your web pages being indexed by Baidu, which further result in a higher visibility of your website to your visitors when they look on the search engine.
You Need a Chinese ICP License
Hosting your website in China requires you to have an ICP Beian License. When submitting application to the MIIT, your website is expected to be inaccessible, otherwise, your request will be denied immediately.
Considering the official turnover time by MIIT to get your ICP Beian approved is 20 days, it is really a deal-breaker to turn off the access to your current international website until the ICP Beian’s approved.
The solution can be acquiring a separate domain, e.g. a .cn domain and clone a copy of your existing website (localizing it at the same time), then go online. Essentially, your existing website could still function properly while waiting for the ICP Beian to be approved for your China-focused website.
The Chinese Firewall is Unpredictable
Websites which are not hosted with Chinese servers (and thus having no ICP Beian License) can be randomly blocked from mainland China. Nicknamed the “Great Firewall of China”, the blocking system is built on certain criteria such as offending content (political, violent, X-rated). Here is a useful tool to see which websites are blocked in China.
If you don’t have an ICP Beian License, you are not registered with the Chinese authorities, and you are exposed to accidental blocking risks from the Great Firewall.
Your Website is Your Marketing Material
Your website is your online business card and it plays a vital role in your integrated marketing campaigns, in both B2B and B2C fields. A website which owns a higher ranking on Baidu can also attract new leads and partners. Target SEM campaigns can be used to promote your company in certain geographical regions, in accordance with your business development plan.
I simply think that having a Chinese version of your website will not make the cut. Websites hosted outside China get randomly blocked by the Great Firewall. The same censorship mechanism can slow down or completely block your website if the code contains links to blocked websites – such as Google.
The Chinese digital landscape and the Chinese netizens’ behavior are extremely different from everything you know about Western online markets. When adapting your website for this specific market you must go all the way!