The Chinese market holds enormous potential for US-based companies. It’s a growing market, with more than 300 million consumers making purchases online with an appetite for luxury goods. However, China comes with a unique set of technical considerations for operating online that can be difficult for companies outside of the country to navigate.
Serving China from outside the Great Firewall can result in extremely poor performance and reduced reliability. Many standard web applications, such as Google APIs and YouTube embedded videos, simply do not work. In order to operate successfully, companies need to keep web traffic local, and house as much content as possible within mainland China.
Below, eight tips to help companies get (and stay) online in China, and perfect their Internet presence to tap into the country’s market.
1. Work with a local partner.
The Chinese Firewall is extremely complex, and many DNS and IP addresses may be blocked by the system. And once you’re blocked, you’re blocked -- there is no public support address to direct your questions in an effort to locate and solve the issue. To avoid these difficulties, it’s important to partner with companies based in China. Those businesses often have a government affairs office or longstanding relationships they can leverage to help you discern your problems and get your site back up and running. Chinese partners can help you obtain an ICP License. It’s required in China, and without this license your hosting provider and CDNs can’t deliver content to or in China.
2. Use a DNS provider with a presence in the country.
Your DNS provider should have a presence in mainland China. Without one, DNS lookups fail and people cannot access your website. By using a DNS service that's entirely within mainland China, DNS requests are routed within the country. Similar to hosting content within the country, it improves performance and the reliability of these requests.
3. Pay attention to cultural preferences and norms.
Many companies believe translating content is enough to render their site China-friendly. But it’s also important to pay attention to different cultural norms. Long site pages are preferred in China. Chinese consumers often use different payment methods. Review products using the correct unit of measure. Give your site a full sweep to make sure it’s compatible with what Chinese consumers prefer, featuring products specifically tailored to the Chinese market and meeting the standards of other sites successfully operating within the country.
4. Be extra careful with user-generated content.
The Chinese Firewall isn’t the only issue that could interrupt your content from reaching the end-user. Local policies could ban certain URLs or keywords, which would render your entire site inaccessible. One of the often-forgotten places where this may be an issue: user-generated content. Any site with user-generated content, like comments or reviews, could hold a sensitive keyword or URL that your team overlooked. Watch out for are embedded YouTube videos, which don’t work within the Firewall.
5. Use a dedicated .cn domain name.
Anything ending in .com or .net could prevent your site from being accessed because tunnels to foreign origins are illegal within the Firewall. Using a dedicated China domain name ending in .cn for your China-facing site could help navigate these issues. This greatly improves performance and reliability for this site when accessed by visitors within mainland China. But, having a .cn name alone, won’t fully protect your site. You also must be mindful of the other local restrictions and regulations around third-party requests and suitable content.
Related: How to Do Business in China
6. Understand that content may take longer to load.
Websites are typically built with a system that requires all content to load in a predetermined amount of time (often 30 seconds), before the server times out. But in China, it may take longer for content to load than it does in other countries, as sites must navigate the complexity of the Firewall. This problem is exacerbated when the content entering the country is coming from outside of China. To combat this issue and prevent servers from timing out before everything on your site loads, make sure to extend HTTP server keep-alive times by 10-15 seconds.
7. Use multiple data centers.
China is extremely large. In fact, it’s almost the same size as mainland United States. Therefore, it’s not enough to have one data center to serve the Chinese market. That would be like setting up a data center in New York City and expecting it to serve the entire US population. Use multiple data centers positioned throughout China, and don’t underestimate the size of the country and scale of the population.
8. Take inventory of third-party requests.
What are your third-party requests in China? You can do everything right and have your content based within the country, but if you're pulling tons of third-party assets for your site as well, it will slow things down. This becomes an issue because the third-party assets are not necessarily coming from within the Firewall themselves. There are a lot of cases where the assets required to load a page (images, references to APIs, CSS and more) are coming from outside the country, or coming from a site with banned content itself. In these cases, long delays are all but inevitable.