Our firm has since built and managed several multi-lingual websites in WordPress and Drupal targeted at China and Asia. We also maintain strategic partnerships with China-based SEO and SEM companies with strong ties to Baidu, Tencent, Sina, Bing, Google and Facebook to aid our clients in their marketing initiatives in China. We’re sharing this article to help you navigate through the decision-making process if you’re considering building a multi-lingual site targeted at specifically the Chinese audience from China. We understand that this step can be fairly intense so we’re here to help!

What to Consider When Building a New Website Targeted at the Chinese in Mainland China?
Our clients ask this of us all the time. What domain name should I get? Should it be .cn? Should the website be hosted in China? How would our SEO and SEM strategy look like? What languages should the multi-lingual site be in? How should we design a site to attract the Chinese audience?

Well fret no further, we’ve tried to summarize most of it into this post. Note that from time to time, we’ll be updating this blog post as and when new developments arise.

1. Do you need a .cn domain?
Based on our experience, by picking a .cn domain name, it’s highly likely that your audience (particularly Chinese people) may perceive your brand as legit or having a legit presence in China.

According to CNNIC (Chinese Internet Network Information Center) .cn domain extensions are more secure, since .cn is recognized as an international top level domain under the administration of China. CNNIC registers all .cn domain names, and to get a .cn domain for registration to CNNIC, companies have to purchase from accredited domestic or international registrars depending on where the site will be hosted. Here’s a list of the accredited CNNIC international domain registrars.

2. Does your website need to be hosted in China?
Not necessarily. International sites are filtered with a Chinese censorship program often referred to as GFW (Great Firewall of China) so technically all international websites accessible to the Mainland China audience will be regulated through this “firewall”.

The main goal of the GWF is to regulate Internet censorship in China. These regulations include criminalizing certain online speech and activities, blocking from viewing selected websites and filtering key words out of searches initiated from computers located in Mainland China. Sites can be banned based on IP addresses and domains. It has been reported that the Chinese government (which is controlled by the Communist Party of China, CPC) can ban any site at any time for any reason or no reason at all. VPN (Virtual Private Network) access can be an alternate way of bypassing the GFW, however, it is too much of a hassle and most Chinese will not be resorting to taking the elaborate steps needed to bypass the GFW.

In addition, due to the added layer of filtering out foreign content and sites, speedy access to foreign sites from China may be significantly reduced. Websites hosted on servers in the Western Europe or Eastern US states may load slower when accessed from China. On the other hand, websites hosted in the west coast of the US, Singapore, Japan, etc. may load comparatively faster.

We recommend you look for a hosting company focused on hosting foreign companies targeting China, and offer servers in Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea. This will ensure faster access from various regions within China.

Sino Hosting and Kowloon Hosting  are the two of the most popular hosting companies that provide reliable access to China.

3. What about optimizing your site for search engines? Does Google work for the Mainland China Audience?
China has one of the highest density of internet users in the world. Just Baidu alone, China’s most popular search engine with nearly 80% marketshare, handles over five billion search queries per day. Getting your website indexed by search engines used by the Chinese will be extremely beneficial. English sites rarely show up on Baidu and may get overshadowed by Chinese sites, so we suggest that you create your multi-lingual site with a Chinese version so that it can easily be found by Chinese search engines.

In the last decade or so, Google’s relationship with China has been highly controversial. Google has had a history of being blocked in China mainly because the Chinese government would like to control information within the Chinese network. However, as of late, Google.com appears to be accessible via the GFW, but not Google.cn which is a subsidiary of Google based in China. Google.cn has since been moved to Hong Kong (google.hk) where it still ranks as one of the top 5 search engines of China after Baidu which remains at the top.

But as far as search engine optimization or SEO, it would be to your benefit if you first aim to get found on Baidu. As for Google, it may not be significant enough to be worth the trouble. Since Baidu is China’s main search engine, optimizing for Google can be your secondary strategy to target non China-based Chinese such as those residing in Hong Kong. If the Chinese in China is your main audience, then try marketing to popular Chinese blogging and hosting services like Sina Weibo (Sina Visitor System), Tencent Weibo (腾讯微博_你的心声,世界的回声), Baidu’s forum Tieba (http://tieba.baidu.com), 豆瓣, 天涯社区_全球华人网上家园, 网易博客-网易 etc., because these Chinese web services are far more likely to show up on Baidu compared to your webpage that may not be hosted in China.

When it comes to security and regulations, you’ll need to know that Baidu has a pretty strict regulatory system as well. You’ll need a business permit before you could have your website indexed and available via Baidu. Your website should not have any sexual and offensive content and have at least a single page written in Mandarin.

4. What about email marketing? Will MailChimp or other popular email management software work in Chinese?
Definitely use opt-in email marketing strategies to connect with your Chinese audience. However, as of today (Nov 28, 2016), we regret to say that MailChimp is currently blocked in China.

However, there are alternatives to MailChimp that work just as well and are approved by China. Here are 2 other popular email management programs that are WordPress compatible:
Pepipost has a free plan that will allow you to send up to 25,000 emails each month. However, there’s a limitation to email file sizes, so not a good idea if you want to include attachments in your email. Pepipost charges per email so there’s no limit to the subscribers you can have.
SendPulse allows you send up to 15,000 emails for free if you have less than 2.5K subscribers in your mailing list.

Building websites that targets China or Chinese people definitely requires a different mindset and strategy than most due to Chinese regulations. However, with most business endeavors, knowing how to best connect with your target audience is part of that strategic business planning process. This is no different. We hope that we’ve answered most of your questions when it comes to starting a new site aimed at marketing to the Chinese in China. If we’ve left out some important considerations, please write us as we’d love to include those and continue to update this post. If you need further assistance with building out your new site, or simply would like to share your experience, do connect with our team at AZENCE as we’re just an email, chat or phone call away.