Online in China – Developing a Chinese Website

Online in China – Developing a Chinese Website

Topic | Working Digitally In China

Tutorial 51

Online in China Developing a Chinese Website

This tutorial explains the differences between websites in China and Western

markets. It outlines considerations that need to be taken into account when

developing a website suitable for the market including design, hosting and


Reading time: 20 minutes

Prerequisite: Website topics, Tutorials 8-18

Online in China - Introduction

Online in China Developing a Chinese Website

1. Assessing the need for a Chinese Website

Tourism Australia’s recent research (see

Building_the_Foundations-Online-version2.pdf) confirms that the Internet plays an important

role in planning and researching holidays in China, but that most of Australia’s target customers

(who prefer group travel) rely on travel agents to book offline. Online travel agents also play a

role in the Chinese travel distribution system (mainly servicing independent travellers), although

this sector is relatively small (but growing).

So to meet this demand for online research and planning is it worth investing in a Chinese


Firstly, consider the fact that the likelihood a Chinese Internet user will use an English site is very

low. Good English language skills are the exception rather than the rule so this is a big issue and

the site would also be difficult to find given English sites are not favoured by Chinese search

engines. So if you are hoping to have potential Chinese visitors use your website, it is important

to develop a Chinese version. Note however that it won’t hit the mark if it’s simply a translation

of your current site the content needs to be relevant to the market.

Benefits of a Chinese Website

A Chinese website gives a company a ‘home’, where people can get more information about

products and services. For the operator, it is an important way to build relationships and capture

data, which can be used for e-newsletters and campaigns, especially to reduce advertising cost.


Chinese Internet users prefer to research their information on comprehensive platforms which

offer more information than just one particular business or site. Travel information research is

also strongly based on social media and user generated content. This results in most users

remaining on those platforms they already commonly use, where they connect with fellow

travellers through special dedicated travel sections, which many of the large Chinese social

media platforms provide.

So the chances a Chinese Internet user will visit your Chinese website after an initial search for

your type of product/service using a search engine (as they might in Australia) would be small.

But if you have a substantial online presence in China (for example active on social media

platforms, undertake search engine advertising and are sold through online travel agents) then

these things would help to feed people through to your site.

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Online in China Developing a Chinese Website

Developing a Chinese website is not in itself an effective online strategy. It needs to be part of

an overall online presence in China, linking in with search engine marketing and social media. A

stand-alone site without these other things will not generate much, if at any, traffic.

Online Bookings

As mentioned, Australia’s current target market in China prefers group travel and the majority of

travel bookings to Australia are made through travel agents. Tourism Australia reports that the

Chinese travel distribution system is still a very traditional model, with Inbound Tour Operators,

Wholesalers and Retail Travel Agents. Many Chinese travel to Australia as part of an organised

tour group and these are quite heavily regulated by the Chinese government. One requirement

is that their travel arrangements are made by an authorised agent (see for more information).

Also, apart from these requirements, credit cards that are widely accepted in Australia (such as

Visa) are not common in China. They are becoming more prevalent but for now alternate

payment methods are required (e.g. China UnionPay).

So while you can communicate and influence Chinese consumers online, the key to securing

their bookings is to ensure your product is available through the distribution system (both offline

and online).

If you decide that having a Chinese website is the right thing for your business there are things

you will need to be aware of.

2. Key Considerations in Developing a Website for the Chinese Market

Developing a Chinese website, it is critical that the content will not merely be a translated

version of the website you use in your home market. Your new website needs to be created from

scratch; completely customised to your company with full Chinese language, design and Chinese

SEO. Websites that Western companies attempt to translate directly into Chinese rarely function

as intended due to cultural and linguistic differences. You will need to arrange a full cultural

translation of the relevant search terms to ensure the site is optimised with terms that Chinese

people are using to search for a given product or service. Due to the importance of in

the Chinese market, your website must be predominantly optimised for Baidu, though the SEO

will also be beneficial for other search engines, including and PPC services

(i.e. paid listings) are also available for these search engines.

When developing a Chinese website, the following things are important to consider:

Chinese language website optimised for search engines

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Online in China Developing a Chinese Website

Native Chinese website design

Content written for relevance and not a straight translation

Chinese social media integration (not Facebook, Twitter, YouTube links and logos)

Chinese domain (subject to status)

Own Chinese ICP (Internet Content Provider) licence - issued by the Chinese Ministry of

Industry and Information Technology

Hosting in mainland China (not Hong Kong) for the Chinese market

A truly successful Chinese website has to be hosted in China for speed and search engine

rankings. Also, a simple direct translation of existing web site content into Chinese won’t do the

trick. Content needs to be written for user relevance and with search engines in mind. Content

gaps in the Chinese version (with English pieces in between the Chinese due to global templates)

must be avoided just as links to non-Chinese websites should be avoided too. Key content for

travel related sites such as DMOs (destination marketing organisations) includes information on

visas, availability of Chinese restaurants, plentiful destination information with distance to China,

maps in relation to china, information regarding safety and so on. Links to foreign social

networks should also be avoided and replaced with the Chinese ones respectively.

3. The Right Chinese Language Version

China is a huge country with a large variety of different dialects across many different regions.

Spoken Chinese

Standard Putonghua Mandarin Chinese (as spoken in Beijing), is by far the most commonly

understood (as this is what is taught in school). Mandarin is the main language not only in

mainland China but also in Taiwan.

Cantonese is spoken in southern mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.

Written Chinese

Simplified is used in mainland China.

Traditional is used in Taiwan and Hong Kong (could also be Hong Kong colloquial which is

basically Cantonese written in traditional Chinese characters).

The best way to start is a simplified Mandarin version of a website, but other varieties might be

considered depending on the geographical target market.

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Online in China Developing a Chinese Website

4. Chinese vs. Western Web Design

While simple and clean looking websites are very much in fashion in many parts of the world,

China is different. A large number of Chinese websites follows a ‘click more, type less’ approach,

which usually means larger, heavier (often fully visible) navigations and a lot of information (in

text or animations) on homepages. This allows an easy way of displaying large amounts of

content to users who then can quickly scroll through and move on with a click without the need

for typing in order to find the right information. In Asian languages which use characters it is a

much easier way to navigate through a website to click through than to type a search query.

Consequently page layouts that are often perceived by Westerners as very crowded make sense

and work very well for Chinese Internet users.

Here are some differences between Chinese and Western websites, and the reasons why they

matter so much:

Page Layout

Animated / Flashing Graphics

Animated graphics are extremely common on

Chinese websites. To Western eyes this may seem

distracting, but it suits Chinese users.

Interestingly, Western Internet behaviour studies

have shown that users now actively screen out

page elements like animated graphics as they have

similar characteristics to adverts. Whether this

eventually becomes the case in China remains to

be seen.

In China, the preference is for presenting huge amounts

of information on the landing page rather than have the

user navigate to relevant content.

Chinese Internet users are used to this format, so are less

susceptible to information overload than Western users.

Although this content-heavy approach might cause

Western users to leave a site, in China the reverse is true;

if a landing page doesn't contain enough information

they are more likely to think the site has little value and

dismiss it.

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Bright Colour Schemes

Scrolling Text

Use of colour on Chinese websites can be a little less

conservative than on their Western equivalents. Use of

strong colours, often in contrasting schemes, is


Bright colours are a chief tool in attracting visitor attention.

Unfortunately, it means usability is frequently sacrificed in

Chinese websites, with text that can be difficult to read.

The range of palettes used also reflects the lower average

age of Internet users in China.

Although scrolling website text is no longer common on western websites, in China the practice

is still immensely popular. Not only is it an excuse to get some more movement on the page, it is

a valuable means of displaying more information in the same space useful considering the

Chinese preference for lots of page information.

Decorative Java / Flash

It’s common to see many decorative design features used in Chinese

websites. Whether the site belongs to a teenage blogger or a large

corporate company, Flash or Java Script elements that have a purely

decorative purpose are popular.

Examples might include background music, falling snowflakes and

trailing cursors. Again, these would not be received well on a

Western site but are the norm in China.

Chinese website design

Although these are possibly the most obvious, there are also many other nuances you must take

into account when creating a website for a Chinese audience. For instance, using language and

concepts acceptable to both Chinese culture and law are vitally important, as is a design that will

help your site rank highly in Chinese search engine results.

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Design with the mobile user in mind

With a large number of Chinese Internet users being mobile-only internet users (around 200

million of the current total of 538 million), web design for the Chinese market should especially

focus on mobile usability, giving common issues like contrast, colours, list and form elements

(dropdowns, field-types, auto completion) as well as responsive design special attention.

5. Chinese Domain Names

Domain name extensions (.cn, .com, .net etc.) are also an important consideration for any new

website. Although the country code domain extension for Chinese websites is .cn, many Chinese

companies opt for a .com extension for international recognition. Non-Chinese companies

mainly tend to prefer a .cn extension for their Chinese websites as this indicates that the site is

designed exclusively for this market (demonstrating commitment) and because .cn domains rank

more highly in search engine results.

Chinese .cn domains were once freely available for anyone to buy but they are now restricted to

those with a legal presence in China. In light of this, it is important to work with a company with

a legal presence in China to secure a Chinese domain name.

6. Local Hosting Providers

If you are serious about targeting Chinese Internet users, securing a good web hosting provider

in the region is essential; money spent on Chinese search engine optimisation and website

design can be wasted if your website hosting is not set up correctly.

The effects of Internet regulation in China sometimes known as the 'Great Firewall' - mean that

unless your Chinese website is hosted in China your website may:

be blocked altogether

be blocked some of the time

be extremely slow loading

not get indexed by local search engines

result in a longer process to secure an account for search engine campaigns (PPC) on


The government managed firewall, officially termed the Golden Shield Project, is designed to

monitor and control the content viewed by Chinese Internet users. If a website contains any

content deemed inappropriate by the Chinese government it faces being blocked.

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Worse still, if another site hosted on your server is banned, the whole server - your site included

- is likely to be blocked. If you are hosted on a shared server outside the Chinese firewall, the

very real potential for your site to be banned at any time might be beyond your control.

You can check to see if a site is blocked using the following sites and

Ensuring your hosting is suitable for the Chinese market is vital to provide visitors in China with

good access to your site. Sites hosted outside China risk being inaccessible, or are likely to load

so slowly that Chinese users will give up and go elsewhere; it is equivalent to a two-tier Internet,

where Chinese sites are ultra-fast and many of those outside are rendered so slow loading as to

make them useless. SEO in Chinese has little chance of benefiting your company if your Chinese

website cannot be accessed properly - by the search engines and by visitors.

Chinese search engines, such as Baidu, also favour websites hosted in China and give higher

rankings to these sites. At least part of the reason for Baidu's success is that they give priority in

their search results for fast loading, Chinese hosted sites, producing a better experience for their

users. The implications for good Chinese SEO are obvious.

It would be difficult for an average Australian tourism operator to find and do business with a

Chinese hosting company. It would be better to engage the services of a reputable digital

marketing firm with a strong technology background that has existing relationships with secure

hosting providers in China.

Chinese Website Hosting - Restrictions

In order to host a website in mainland China, you must first have an Internet Content Provider

(ICP) licence, which is issued by China's Ministry of Information Industry (MII). In turn, to get an

ICP licence you need to have a legal presence in China. Having your own ICP licence will allow

you to host your website legally in China and eliminate the problems associated with licence

sharing. There are companies in China that will act as your agent, hosting and taking care of

government registrations, including ICP filings for your own licence.

Sharing an ICP Licence

Several companies have attempted to share ICP licences with Chinese partners, leading to

problems with the regulators. In 2006, Google's Chinese service got into trouble after MII took

issue with their sharing of local firm,'s licence - the rules are strictly enforced

regardless of whether you are an SME or a multi-billion dollar multinational.

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Sharing an ICP licence like this is against government rules, meaning the provider (and the

websites hosted with them) could be shut down at any time, without any notice whatsoever.

Also, if you share an ICP licence like this then your entire online presence in China - your website,

its hosting and the domain name itself - is owned and controlled by another company who may

go bust or simply choose to pull the plug at any time, leaving you with little or no legal recourse.

So you need to engage the services of a reputable agency that will essentially be your legal

representative in China and arrange your own ICP licence, not just share theirs.

7. Alternatives to developing a Chinese website

The ideal may be to have a Chinese website that has localized content, is hosted in China, has

Chinese social media integration, and is designed specific to Chinese cultural nuances. However,

not every operator has the funds to develop, maintain, and market a Chinese website. In this

case it is important to be creative and look at other options.

One way is to investigate opportunities to partner with your state/territory tourism organisation

or regional marketing organisation (e.g. get involved in campaigns, support relevant Chinese


Another way is to develop a presence on key social media platforms so people can at least find

information on your company if they are looking for it. Consider a Weibo Pages app, which is

essentially a mini-site on Sina Weibo (similar to Facebook pages). This is a fairly low-cost way to

get a mini-website in China. See Online in China Social Media tutorial for more information.

A supporting activity that will also help your overall online presence in China is to partner with

online travel agents such as Ctrip and eLong. A presence on these and other such sites will

greatly increase exposure.

8. Key learning outcomes

Having a Chinese website is an important part of an overall online strategy for China but

it is a significant ongoing commitment of resources so ensure you are fully prepared.

Developing a website for the Chinese market entails more than just translating your

current site.

Chinese domain names (.cn) are important as is hosting the site in China.

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9. Related material

a) Related tutorials

Online in China Introduction

Online in China Search Engines

Online in China Social Media

b) Related websites

Essential China Travel Trends Booklet - Dragon Edition 2012 (free)

Latest trends & developments in the Chinese travel market

Portal about the latest travel and tourism trends in China (free)

c) Recommended videos

Michael Anti: Behind the Great Firewall of China

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