Creating a website for China. What everyone should know.

Mar. 01, 2019

An interview with Flow.Asia’s CEO Gontran Mullier.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about the Internet in China?


The Chinese digital world has evolved in tandem yet greatly independently from elsewhere. Many people think that Chinese Internet is simply a limited version of Internet elsewhere, but actually, when considering how to create a website for China, it is less about removing blocked elements, and more about harnessing the power of what the unique Chinese digital ecosystem can offer to you when you build a Chinese website. That being said, Internet in China is much more regulated and monitored. Outside of China, it is virtually possible to publish any website, at any time, but in China this is not the case; it requires preparation to create a website for China.



Can you talk a little about social media in China?


At the most basic level one could say there are Chinese social media equivalencies for the most popular Western social media such as, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram, which are all blocked in China, and oftentimes equated to WeChat, Weibo and Douyin. This risks negating the opportunities of Chinese social media- that it does not simply serve as a replacement when you create a website for China, but actually, when leveraged properly, it can be more powerful than you are likely used to.


My suggestion, when working on the plan of how to build a website for China, first start with the understanding that arguably the most popular social platform, WeChat, is used for communication both among friends and work related. Everyday messaging, large file sharing, video conferencing, discussion groups, paying bills, ordering a cab and food delivery...just to name a few features... all take place within WeChat.


When you create a Chinese website, you need to look at all the points in which Chinese social media can be utilized. For example, WeChat or QQ should be used for logins in a website built for China, not email or Facebook. While virtually every Chinese netizen has an email address, it is used far less to register for services than you might expect. Inputting a mobile phone number and receiving a unique sms confirmation, is much more widespread.


Youku or QQ video should be built into a Chinese website to embed videos, and WeChat pay and/or Alibaba’s Alipay should be the payment method integrated.



What’s the real story about Google in China?


Well, that is quite a complex story, but as it relates to web services necessary to build a website for China, Google can basically be considered blocked. For search engine SEO and SEM, its commonly used equivalent is Baidu, which is very high performing at crawling Chinese-language content. Additionally it is important to build your Chinese website without employing Google web services. Google fonts and Google maps (with the exception of its Mainland China version) can not only slow down your website, but also cause your Chinese website to not function properly.



How is design and UX different in China?


The China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) released their annual report stating that 788 million people in China are mobile users- 98 percent of the country's total user base. When thinking about UX or design, is not so unique- it requires thoughtfully and methodically considering factors such as environment, attention span and screen space. As with anywhere, it is highly important that the purpose and audience is clearly defined when creating a website for China. I will say that often this leads to mobile-first design in China, but this is not a hard fast rule. Additionally, integrating the website that you create for China with WeChat or building a Chinese WeChat minisite will create a more seamless user experience.


One of the biggest misconceptions when creating a Chinese website is that it is not just about an English-language website being adjusted for Chinese text font and style. When looking to build Chinese websites, the content architecture, image choice and user flow must be evaluated for the specific audience- similar to elsewhere really.



What is the difference between translation and copywriting localization?


Chinese marketing language is full of high-contextual meaning. When working to create a website for China it is important to keep in mind that the content should speak directly to your target market. Rather than hire a translator, hire a copywriter with knowledge in your specific industry that can adapt and polish your content for a Chinese audience.



What is the most complicated part of creating a Chinese website?


I wouldn’t say that there is anything inherently complicated, but some things do require time and preparation. For example, before you can create a Chinese website, it is important to prepare your domain and hosting.


If you want any chance of your website to rank on Chinese search engines, your website must be hosted in China. Websites that are not hosted in China are penalized by Chinese search engines. To host your website in China, your Chinese website domain name must be managed by a Chinese registrar, your organization must be registered in China, and you must apply for an ICP license. (An ICP license is is a permit issued by the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology that is mandatory for China-based websites to operate in China.)


While there are workarounds (HK hosting and CDN services) that work, they don’t allow any WeChat integration and won’t drive any ranking on Chinese search engines. Applying for an ICP license can take some time, so it is important to plan this in advance when you build a Chinese website.



Final words of advice?


While the principles driving user experience are the same inside and outside China, the Chinese digital landscape is unique. To succeed online in China, you can't simply just add another language to your international site, you need to create a specific website, with its own domain name, its own localized content and integrate it with Chinese 3rd party services. Always keep the targeted user in mind when approaching how to design a Chinese website.




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