China is the world’s largest internet market with over 1 billion Internet users (and even more smartphone apps users, as WeChat has 1.26 billion active monthly users). Brands and marketers are often interested in how to optimize their websites for China and Chinese netizens, but there are a lot of misconceptions about what that entails.
In this post, we’ll outline some of the most common misconceptions as well as best practices for optimizing your website for China and Chinese netizens.
- Chinese Language
- Graphic chart
- Live chat & contact info & payment option
- Mobile Friendly
- On-site optimization for Baidu
- CDN/Hosted in China
- Avoid Blocked Elements/foreign API (ex: google font / Gquery)
To create a website that will resonate with Chinese consumers, businesses must first understand their needs and internet scrolling habits as well as the specificities of the Chinese internet. Let’s dive into our best tips for an optimized website that will help you convert more in China!
1. In China, you need a website in Chinese Mandarin to rank in Baidu search engine
This is probably the most important thing to remember while creating a website in China. Chinese people primarily speak Mandarin Chinese and Mainland China uses simplified Chinese to write and read. Even people in Hong Kong, Macau, or Taiwan, that use the traditional writing system, will still understand your website if you use Mandarin Chinese.
Moreover, Baidu, China’s number 1 search engine only supports websites in Mandarin Chinese and will always favor them over foreign websites.
Reminder as to why the Chinese language is key in China
You wouldn’t want to enter the French market with an English-language website and expect results, so why do it in China?
Don’t bother with an English-language website if you want to sell in China. Most visitors will simply close the page as soon as they see that it’s not written in Mandarin, and then look on other sites to do online shopping. For instance, let’s say you are looking for perfume and wind up on a Chinese website with no English language options what would happen? You would most likely close the webpage unable to read the content or think it is an eCommerce website for Chinese consumers, therefore not for you.
In the B2B industry, you’ll have slightly more success with a website in English, but keep in mind that many decision-makers across China don’t understand English well enough and would rather read about your services/products in their native language.
Content Localization for China
Not only does your content has to be in Chinese but it also has to be localized. It means that simply translating your content won’t be enough to break through and convince your Chinese visitors. You may need to tweak your content a bit, create a new one more adapted to your new target audience and ditch some other that is not appropriate for Chinese customers or Chinese laws and regulations for instance (remember that the Chinese internet is censored by Great Firewall).
On top of that, the more localized & precise your content is, the best chances you’ll have to be indexed on your chosen keyword on the Baidu search engine. Remember, Baidu only exists in Chinese and its algorithm has become super precise and specialized in Chinese Mandarin, making it crucial to master the language if you want any chances to rank at all.
2. Follow a graphic chart & UX design that appeals to Chinese netizens
Chinese people generally like more colorful websites with a lot of graphics and pop-ups, opposite to minimalistic designs popular in the West. The site should be practical, with all the important pages and sites available to the visitors’ eyes. And never forget about featuring your social media and other contact info in a visible place on the homepage.
Chinese typography web design rules
In order to guarantee the visibility of Chinese characters on websites, it is indispensable to use a font of at least 12 px because there is no space between the characters. Why?
The Chinese characters are divided into strokes but the number of them can vary between 1 and 60 strokes. It can quickly become unreadable if the font is too small or too intricate.
The Layout of a Chinese website is not cluttered but taylored to the Chinese language & culture
Chinese Websites and Internal Links
In the early stage of the Internet, search bars were not so well adapted to the Chinese language, the way to go around was to add as many links as possible to guide visitors through many levels of content. Although the search bar has evolved quite a bit, the habits are now ingrained. In short, web pages are designed for clicking instead of searching.
Newer sites are trying to stray away from this system to make it easier for their users, however, as you can see in the picture of a major Chinese website below (or above on the ICBC Website both desktop and mobile version), the fight for fewer links is not over.
Complex layout & menu
Chinese readers are also used to complex “architecture” through their writing system, and what looks complex to you looks very natural to Chinese users (you can actually find similar website buildings in Japan).
The filling of white space on the website reflates the Chinese urban landscape quite well as well where each inch of space has a purpose. White spaces are not necessarily seen negatively (although it could be seen as your company has not much to show) but as a waste of opportunity. Instead of being blank, a site can feature important information.
In China, less is definitely not more, if you do not believe me, visit some of their most popular websites to see for yourself.
Chinese users care about the features, usability, and user experience of the site and not about how the site’s layout looks. Some may not like this busy layout, but that is what all major websites and eCommerce (Tmall/JD) platforms use in China.
These platforms are so big, that they do and undo China UX rules. The good news for those of you that prefer minimalistic design is that Tmall and JD seem to be moving away from the ultra cluttered layout for more breathing design.
3. Live chat & contact info & payment option for online shopping
Website in China is rarely the place where consumers will convert but more an obligatory passage to check the authenticity of your brand/company and/or get the necessary information to go further into the potential transaction.
Having a live chat available is something we suggest any business with a website in China. Chinese consumers appreciate getting instant answers to their questions. In fact, they are used to it, I would almost dare say spoiled by the biggest platforms that all offer instant messaging services to their users. Getting a live chat function on your website in China is a game-changer and can often make the difference between winning a customer or losing the attention of a visitor.
In the same vein, have your contact information visible and easy to access. Your website in China will most time be an intermediate step in your customer’s journey. Visitors will expect to find contact info such as your company address and phone number, as well as your WeChat account (and other Chinese social media). There is no point of linking your site to Facebook or Twitter, as in China those services are blocked by Great Firewall.
If you have a shop or sell services directly through your site (additionally a WeChat mini-program would be preferable) make sure to have your customers favored methods of payment available: WeChat pay and Alipay. This will smoothen the transaction and make visitors less reluctant to convert.
4. A mobile-friendly website is a must
The vast majority of Chinese scroll the net on their phones and if your website in China is not optimized for smartphone usage, you will be losing a significant part of the business.
Obviously, if you are doing B2B, and most leads contact you through desktop then the loss won’t be as terrible but keep in mind that just like Google, Baidu now favors mobile-friendly sites. When you design your website in China, just have done well, offering services for both desktop and mobile devices users.
5. You need a China Internet-compatible website
Many of our clients ask us to simply translate their website and create a subdomain (often cn.com) so they can keep everything in the same place. And we understand why they do not want to spend resources on designing a new website just for China. However, most time it doesn’t work and the reason is simple, your global website is built using an API that is blocked in China.
There is a simpler solution to designing a whole new website. Make a copy of your existing website, migrate it to a server in China (or close to China, preferably Hong Kong), and modify the copy to make it work with China’s internet regulations. Don’t worry, each foreign API that is blocked here, all have a Chinese alternative!
Loading Speed Optimization
- CDN: CDN stands for Content Delivery Network. It’s a set of web servers deployed throughout the world, all pointed at one site that help deliver content very quickly and increase download speed for anyone no matter where they are in the world.
- You could also have a website Hosted in China or a nearby place (Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan). The only “downside” with hosting your website in China, is that you need an ICP license that is only obtainable for companies registered in China. But it would get you a .cn domain.
Avoid Blocked Elements such as Google API
This one seems pretty straightforward but if we refer to the number of people contacting to simply duplicate their global website into Chinese and publish it as it is for the Chinese market, it appears it is not. Google is blocked in China, and so are google API and many other western developer tools that you are used to in your country.
To give you a few examples, you’ll have to find alternatives to:
- Google Font
- Google Map
- Youtube Videos and many more
Not only avoiding using any blocked content in China will make sure that your website does not appear broken to your visitors but will also help with loading speed.
We can also mention tracking tools – although this won’t impact your website loading speed, not being to track properly your traffic, for instance, can be an issue.
Need to build a responsive website for China?
Contact us, we have solutions for you! We’ve assisted hundreds of companies designing whole new sites, localizing their website to be more appealing to China users or even just simply migrating servers or registering for an ICP License.
We offer web-design services and translation services for your website in China, as well as whole marketing strategies to enter the Chinese market. With over 10 years of experience and more than 1000 satisfied customers, we can assure you that we will take the best care of your brand in China.
Here are our web-design services:
And one of your website in China case studies:
Don’t hesitate to leave us a comment or contact us to discuss your project in China!
Nice post Olivier, Do the Chinese enjoy reading blogs? Is it a big thing in china?
Thanks for your compliment.
While Chinese do read blogs indeed, it is not what they like most. They are far more likely to read content shared and posted on social network. When it comes to websites they will prefer to get to the point : expert views about a product they want to buy, price, reviews.
Can you please share an info on website builders where I can create a site in cina?