Why your website could be losing you potential Chinese customers /Jamila Dahoum

Maybe your website is compatible for the Western market, and maybe you come up top in the Google search engine, and you have a social media following…but that means absolutely nothing in China. Chinese social media and search engine platforms are an entirely different ball game and ensuring that your brand is visible on Chinese social media platforms and accessible to the Chinese market is critical. In this internet age, a good website is critical. This post will outline the considerations needed for your website when looking to expand into China.


The most important consideration when deciding to access the Chinese market is to ensure that your website actually works in China and is compatible with Chinese apps and on Chinese smartphones, this was discussed in an earlier blog post.

Hosting and domain

Ensuring that your website works in China starts with getting your hosting (where to put your site) and your domain. It is important to get this from very early on! Leave it too late and your domain name may be taken or may now be extremely expensive, particularly if you gain popularity by the time you buy it.

ICP Licence

The next step is an Internet Content Provider (ICP), this is a licence from the government to approve your website and permits China-based websites to operate in China. It is essentially a state-issued registration number that allows you to host your website on a mainland Chinese server. By law, for your site to go live in China, you definitely need one.

It is important to explain that ICP licenses don’t technically determine whether or not your site is visible or blocked in China. It is possible that sites with ICPs can be taken offline, while sites without them may remain visible indefinitely. The ICP merely means that you’ve been approved to host your website on a mainland Chinese server.

However, an ICP is essential when hosting a website in mainland China, because in order to purchase hosting in mainland China, because all hosts will ask for your ICP license before they release server credentials to you. And hosting in mainland China is extremely important, it may mean facing more control and paperwork, however it means faster speed.

Interestingly, many non-China-hosted sites do exist that do not have ICP licences, typically if a site is small enough and doesn’t contain anything politically sensitive, it may work in China. However, in order to get hosting in mainland China an ICP licence is needed, plus, monitoring will soon reveal the lack of an ICP license, and the website will be blocked. Furthermore, if you are blocked, there will be no way to unblock it, given you are essentially outside of the system. Thus, if hosting outside of China, and not getting an ICP licence is an option for your firm, it is important to understand the potential implications of being blocked and being unable to unblock the site.

Many firms host their website in Hong Kong, since Hong Kong servers are geographically close, but governed by a different set of laws. As mentioned, this means being unable to purchase an ICP licence, thus hosting in mainland China. So, hosting offshore may be a viable short-term solution, however it doesn’t guarantee a satisfying internet speed for users in mainland China so your site will be very slow. Consequently, hosting in China quickly becomes a must and having an ICP delivers digital content quickly to Chinese consumers. This is particularly important when your site has an array of plugins or functionality or your site is relatively complex. For example, if you want your site to include payment methods then an ICP is essential, and hosting your website in Hong Kong would not suffice.

It is important to note that internet laws in China change all the time, so being up to date with current news and updates on setting up a website in China is crucial, a difficult endeavour as a non-Chinese speaker. Either way, if you want a serious web presence in China, you will need an ICP License!

Different types of ICP

ICP’s vary depending on the type of company you are, and the sort of website you are looking to host. There are two types of ICP: a commercial and a non-commercial ICP. The former allows a website to engage in online selling and payment integration.

Obtaining an ICP license is a business imperative for any aspiring business in China that plans to have its own website or operate some kind of online sales on a server located in China.

Other considerations

When looking to set up a website to serve the Chinese population, there are a variety of other considerations, other than the legal and regulation side of things. When looking to expand into China, the infrastructure of your website will most certainly need to be altered. Western website infrastructure varies dramatically from Chinese. Chinese consumers have different requirements for websites when compared with the West, and their requirements can be very specific. For example, they expect the website to contain a range of features, such as UX (user experience), payment methods, and social logins, and you need to hit all these targets in order to build a website that converts in China.

As a result, it is essential to ensure that your site appeals to Chinese consumers. When you look at Chinese websites, the design and formatting is dramatically different to western websites. Western websites are generally far more simplistic with less functionality; they are typically more cleanly and simple. On the other hand, Chinese sites are overloaded with links, information and are very colourful, with things like animations, flashing text and banners. For example, the images below show a comparison of Taobao and JD.com with its Western equivalents (Amazon and Ebay).

Taobao vs Ebay

Issues to consider

As mentioned, hosting a website in China from abroad will result in a very slow website, however there are an array of other reasons that may result in a slow website, even if you do in fact host in mainland China and do have an ICP licence. These issues are based on the websites infrastructure.

A clear example of this is the features the website contains, such as the website plug-ins. Given that google is blocked in China, then certain plugins and features of the site, that will prevent the page from loading or will result in a slow site. Examples include things such as Google Fonts, Google Maps, Twitter, Facebook, etc. and each of these will prevent the page from loading. Other consideration s include needing to optimise the images on your website.

In addition to this, the coding of your website is very important. A poorly coded website means a slow website, so using the best coding practices will result in an effective, and speed optimised website. In addition to this, the coding should ensure that your site is compatible with Chinese apps. For example, on WeChat links can be posted in your official account, and you need to ensure that these will appear properly and function correctly. Thus your website must be compatible with Chinese social media and this will ensure that you can effectively access the large Chinese market.

Overall, in order to ensure your site will work effectively, it is important to consider each of these options which will ensure your site will provide a website speed that will meet Chinese consumers’ needs. It is also crucial to test your site rigorously, in order to ensure your website will deliver and appeal to the Chinese market.

Getting Chinese website and SEO

Each of the above considerations when setting up a Chinese website, will improve organic SEO, but there are some other considerations to make when setting up a website to target the Chinese market that can also affect SEO.

Getting the right domain name helps with SEO, with the .cn domain name making your brand more Baidu friendly, furthermore single domains are the best way to go, rather than using sub-domains. For example, using name.cn rather than name.xyz.cn, as this allows you to rank more highly on Baidu. In addition to this, getting Chinese hosting increases your likelihood of being ranked more highly on Baidu.

Furthermore, another consideration that you will need to make is the need for a Chinese physical address, this does not necessarily have to be an office, but perhaps an agent with a permanent address in China, where mail can be delivered to, this is because Baidu favours sites that have a presence in its home country.

Furthermore, you will need to produce content in Chinese characters, preferably simplified Chinese rather than traditional, this is because Baidu prefers simplified Chinese. In fact, Baidu won’t index content in Chinese dialects, such as Cantonese, nor in any Western language.

Thus, if you want to outrank your competitors in China, you’ll need to optimise your website, provide content in simplified Chinese and have a Chinese mailing address. All of this will allow you to increase your SEO and access the mass Chinese market.

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