[Updated in Jan 2022]
Internet users in China are accustomed to lightning-fast load times from local websites and mobile apps. If you’re a foreign business looking to win over the Chinese consumer, design and configure a website specifically for the China market. There’s more to building a local website than making your text available in simplified Chinese — everything has to be built to bypass the Great Firewall. From hosting, to browsers, to crowded page layouts, we’ll walk you through all the different ways to improve your load time and performance in China’s lucrative online market.
1. Host locally
Hosting your website within China's borders will improve speed and searchability in the country. By hosting with Chinese hosters located within China, your site will load faster, you've got a lower risk of getting blocked by the Great Firewall, and you're more likely to get ranked on local search engines like Baidu.
You can technically host your website outside of China, but your content can be blocked easier and your website may slow to a crawl due to China’s censored internet ecosystem. The load speed difference between China-hosted websites and their external counterparts is estimated to be 10 seconds — a lifetime for a user.
Before taking your website live in China, you'll need an Internet Content Provider (ICP) registration. This license is administered by the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT). Application for an ICP license is a long convoluted process, making many businesses choose to partner with companies that already have ICP licenses to deliver their web content. For more information on this topic, check out our guide to web hosting in China.
Now, say you’re already hosting in China, you now need to get content across the country’s enormous geography. A China content delivery network (CDN) will shorten the distance that your web content needs to travel to get to the audience in China — resolving major latency issues. A CDN stores content on their high speed network and delivers information to the closest users.
2. Test your website on different browsers
Cross-browser testing is essential for companies wishing to run their websites in China. Local browsers tend to have different features from those designed by companies outside of China (Chrome, Firefox, Safari). This kind of testing is crucial for companies that wish to display video content on their websites because some browsers may support video content, whereas others may support to a lesser degree.
Cross-browser testing thus aims to assess whether your website loading speed is consistent across different browsers when deployed on different operating systems and devices. Indicators and features that are analyzed during cross-browser testing are:
Whether UI/UX design is consistent across different browsers
Different browsers display user interfaces differently depending on their design principles. This applies to both mobile as well as PC browsers in China. 360 browser, for example, often displays website content incorrectly since it was based on the old Internet Explorer. Websites should therefore be put through their paces on Chinese browsers to ensure that their user interfaces (UI) and the user experience (UX) are consistent with the aims of their owners.
How well websites / web apps perform across different devices
Due to different hardware and OS configurations, devices perform differently, and this applies to the speed at which websites and web apps load too. Test your website on different screens particularly those popular among Chinese mobile internet users. Examples of popular device manufacturers in China are Huawei, Oppo, and Vivo. Note that Chinese users access the internet mostly through mobile devices most of the time.
Whether widgets and plugins are compatible across different browsers
Widgets and plugins often malfunction when installed on browsers that they were not specifically designed for. For example, widgets and plugins that were designed for Chrome may not work in Firefox. Since Chinese browsers were specifically designed for Chinese internet users, it is especially common for widgets and browsers designed for popular browsers outside of China to be incompatible with their Chinese counterparts, such as QQ browser and the Wechat Browser.
For a full list of what cross-browser testing can check read our article on cross-browser testing.
3. Link your website to domestic Chinese social media
If you want to stay in touch with page visitors, you'll probably lead them to your company's social media pages. In China, social media is a major news source and a main platform for interaction between the customer and the merchant. We recommend investing time and effort into creating profiles and a presence on China's popular platforms like Weibo and WeChat.
Most popular western social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest are blocked in China and won't load if your customers try to access them from your page, resulting in a poor user experience.
4. Reduce page size
Popular Chinese websites like sina.com and qq.com have simple interfaces with small preview images, and that's not a coincidence. Designers do this so the site loads faster. People in the more rural parts of China may not have fast internet, and crowded web pages with quick loading images cater to this broader audience. A common reason for slow page loading speed is rich content such as images and videos. Reducing page load speed is thus often simply a matter of either compressing or removing unnecessary images, videos, and gifs, and so on, which benefits the performance of your website not only in China but all across the world. Here are some tips:
Choose the right image type
Some image types load faster than others. Generally speaking, jpeg images load the fastest, so it is always good to use this image type whenever possible. If it is necessary to include alpha (transparency) in your web images, png files are the second-fastest image type. Bmp, tiff, and gif images should be avoided whenever possible if the page loading speed is your primary concern.
As a general rule, the image resolution of images on websites should be lower than 72dpi. There are countless online tools that can be used to compress images without losing quality. So keep your image resolution in mind when optimizing for speed.
Use Gzip to boost your site's performance
The most popular (and practical) way to accelerate website page loading speed is to Gzip your site's images, audio files, and documents to a compressed state using Gzip. Gzipping makes it possible for your website to load files much faster than would otherwise be possible when it is accessed for the first time.
Group CSS files and selectors together
CSS files can quickly become quite large, and this can lead to slow page load times. An effective way to overcome this problem and significantly improve your page load times is by grouping your CSS files into an XTML page. The same principle can be applied to CSS selectors in the CSS files. By grouping CSS selectors into a single declaration, you can automatically compress them for faster loading times.
Remove HTML whitespace
Despite claims to the contrary, HTML whitespace (the empty space in your HTML code) can lead to slower page load times, especially if pages contain complicated code. Therefore, it is a good practice to minimize the amount of HTML whitespace to increase your page loading times whenever possible.
Whether your site is designed with speed in mind
Another way to reduce page load speed is to design pages with images so that they only load in increments. For example, including a "View more" button to load more images or thumbnails is an excellent way to reduce the initial loading time of pages.
5. Time your testing to local time zones
When testing your website’s loading speed in China, conduct your performance tests and benchmarks at times that correspond to the user traffic you want to take advantage of in China.
For example, if you are a US-based company, you need to conduct your tests at 7:00 am to obtain valuable data on peak user traffic at 7:00 pm in China.
Since tests have to be conducted outside of working hours for businesses in many countries outside of China, particularly in the western hemisphere, it is often not feasible to do this. In such cases, it is often preferable to hire a professional testing company that is geographically located in or near the China time zone (GMT +8).
6. Optimize for native mobile browsers
As mentioned previously, you should test across different browsers. Many Chinese mobile internet users use China-only web browsers such as UC browser and QQ browser. It is therefore essential for companies hoping to increase market awareness of their products and services in China to optimize their websites and web apps for these mobile browsers.
As can be seen from the chart above, UC Browser accounts for 24.42% of mobile browser users in China, coming in second only to Chrome. QQ Browser is the 4th most commonly used native mobile browser in China at 8.71%.
Companies that do not optimize their web content to UC Browser and QQ Browser are thus missing out on a potential market of 33.13% – that’s one-third of the overall potential market in China!
In addition to optimization of websites and web apps for Chinese native mobile browsers, other important aspects are content compatibility and accessibility. This is because different browsers are designed with different usability principles in mind.
7. Monitor performance on real local user devices
Synthetic website testing enables companies to come up with instant solutions for issues, such as broken links, slow page loading times and website unavailability. Efficient synthetic testing strategies should be able to:
- Test your website’s availability from all locations inside China
- Analyze page loading times
- Measure your website’s / web app’s performance
- Send you alerts and notifications when your website is unavailable, or a transaction fails, etc.
GCC’s synthetic testing package includes all the above as well as insight into DNS, CDN and local ISPs, as well as APIs and third-party providers. The service also guarantees that you will get notified via email or SMS immediately if your website experiences any downtime in China.
Internet devices in China have different basic default configurations from those in many other countries and regions, such as the US, the UK and the EU.
In addition, Chinese mobile devices also feature heavily modified operating systems, and Huawei has recently even launched its own operating system, Harmony OS.
For companies wanting to run their websites or web apps in China, it is therefore essential to conduct real device testing on Chinese mobile devices in order to ensure that their content is delivered to users on the mainland as efficiently as possible.
The only realistic way to obtain useful data on how your website or app performs on Chinese devices is to conduct such tests on devices from different manufacturers, such as Huawei, Oppo and Vivo on the ground — in other words, by either hiring someone that has access to Chinese devices in China or by doing it yourself if you have your own resources based on the mainland. It is for this very reason that GoClick China pioneered manual web testing for clients who want the real picture for their web properties in China.
To learn more about succeeding in China, check out our other articles on a wide range topics on doing business in China.
If you want to learn more about testing in China, check out our full suites of solutions.