Launching Your Brand’s Online Presence in China?

Read these FAQs first! You’ve probably heard a few horror stories about foreign companies expanding into China.

They start with the best of intentions, only to have their websites blocked with nowhere to turn for answers. If your company or client is looking to expand into China, fear not. In this article, we’ll answer our clients’ most frequently asked questions when preparing web launches or new campaigns for the Chinese marketplace.

Q: How do I make sure my website doesn’t get blocked in China?

A: Get an ICP registration and opt for local hosting.

Choosing the right hosting provider and properly registering your website is essential. If you qualify for an ICP license (Internet Content Provider), get one. An ICP license is a state-issued registration number that enables you to host your website on a mainland China server.

Here’s the big question: Do you have a business entity in China or a company employee living in China who is a Chinese national?

If the answer is “Yes”, then that’s great news. Getting an ICP license will be a straight-forward process and once you obtain the credential, you can get local hosting through several different providers. If you don’t violate any Chinese content rules (more on that later), then you shouldn’t have any trouble keeping your website live.

To put it simply, without an ICP, you will not be able to host your website locally in mainland China.  But there’s still some good news!  Even if you do not qualify for an ICP, you can host your website in nearby locales such as Hong Kong or Japan. Your site visitors will have to put up with slower load times and perhaps a lesser user experience, but your website should still be accessible to your target audience.

A reminder: Chinese firewalls will always block political messaging, pornography, and gambling content. There’s more on the list of taboos, too – so talk to an expansion specialist before setting up your virtual shop.


Image by © Imaginechina/Corbis


Q: How do I get my message across to a Chinese audience?


A: Know your target market and use professional translators who employ the appropriate localization strategy.

There are over 1.2 billion people on this planet who speak some form of Chinese as their first language. You need to nail down exactly which version of Chinese your target market speaks. In all likelihood, your target audience is based in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, or Malaysia – or some combination of these territories. We cannot stress enough how important it is that you truly understand your target customers and how to properly choose the correct mix of languages to ensure you reach them.

Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese are the written forms of the language.  Mandarin and Cantonese are the two main spoken forms of the language.  People who only understand either Mandarin or Cantonese can often communicate with each other through writing, as both spoken languages use the same written characters with a few exceptions.

Here’s a quick little reference:

Mainland China (PRC) = Simplified Chinese / Mandarin

Hong Kong / Macau = Traditional Chinese / Cantonese

Taiwan = Traditional Chinese / Mandarin

Singapore / Malaysia = Simplified Chinese / Mandarin

Everything about adapting content into Chinese is nuanced. This is not a job for Google Translate. You will throw away your money – and then some – on poorly translated Chinese content. And if you’re really serious about growing your business in China, you should consider hiring native copywriters for your content marketing efforts.


Q: Can I use all the apps and add-ons I use here in U.S. in China?


A: No, not really. Find the appropriate Chinese equivalents.

Most Western companies accept money via PayPal, use YouTube to stream videos, and engage with their target audiences via Facebook, Twitter, and other popular apps and platforms. Most of these popular technologies either don’t exist or don’t work in China. Make sure you connect your Chinese website only with apps and platforms that work and aren’t blocked.  If you link to any blocked technologies, your website is likely to be blocked in China.

Consider this reference guide for popular apps and their Chinese equivalents:

Search Engine and SEO tools = Baidu (not Google)

Payments = Alipay or WeChatPay (not PayPal)

Social = WeChat, Renren, Weibo (not Facebook or Twitter)

Video = Youku, Souhu, Tudoe (not YouTube)

B2C Marketplaces = Tmall, Jingdong, Taobao (not Amazon or eBay)

There are many common websites and tools that still work in China which we’ve come to rely on, including Skype, Linked-In, Reddit, and Quora.  Which Western websites do and don’t work seem to change on a near-weekly basis, so do your research and seek help to establish relationships with the right Chinese partners.


Q: What’s the go-to social media platform in China?


A: Everyone loves WeChat!

WeChat is the most popular app in China, and the most dominant platform for communication both personally and commercially in the region. If you want to successfully target audiences in China, you absolutely must have a strong presence on WeChat. Make sure to connect your Chinese website to your WeChat account, and vice versa.

The app features a well-devised blend of social media, communication, and content marketing.

WeChat is a very powerful platform for content marketing. Like how many social apps work in the U.S., companies gain followers and publish relevant content to keep those followers engaged and interested. Businesses have taken notice, and are tapping into WeChat’s nearly 900 million active users. Companies can also gain access to WeChat’s advertising services, although advertising works differently in China.

Although common in the U.S., it’s rare in China these days to exchange a business card. It’s even more uncommon to prominently display your URL in ads and promotions. Enter WeChat QR codes. Every WeChat account comes with a QR code that’s used to promote your business and exchange contact information. You’re going to display this everywhere. QR codes never really caught on in the U.S., but don’t be so quick to dismiss them in China

China is a rapidly-evolving economy with changing technologies. Understand the challenges you will face in this market, but don’t let them stop you from entering the race. Do your research and build the right relationships to set yourself up for success.
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