What are the necessary preparations needed to host in China and how long does this take?
Before you can create a Chinese website, it is important to setup your domain and hosting. Applying for an ICP license can take some time, so it is important to plan this in advance when you build a Chinese website.
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 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.
At the most basic level one could say that 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.
What about video hosting and payment channels?
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 and can I still use Google analytics, fonts and maps?
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.
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.