Running a successful SaaS (Software as a Service) website in China is challenging due to China's strict internet laws and prohibition of certain types of content. To improve the performance of your SaaS in China, it is necessary to know what makes SaaS slow in general, how these tie in with the Chinese market, and what solutions are available to you.
The SaaS market size in China has risen from 3.49 billion yuan in 2013 to nearly 50 billion yuan in 2020. But the internal SaaS market is reportedly fragmented in China, providing an excellent opportunity for new players to enter the scene and win if they do it right.
Main causes of SaaS problems
A number of SaaS issues are not within the SaaS platform's control, such as:
- The user
- The user's device
- The user's ISP
Although little can be done about these issues, a lot can be done about the following ones:
Although it is not possible to control what DNS server an ISP uses, the matter is controllable in China to some degree from a SaaS perspective. We will talk about this in the solutions section below.
China has a limited number of ISPs. If your site is hosted outside of China, those ISPs might have failures in their DNS lookups, preventing your SaaS site from being accessed from inside China.
Hosting Provider and CDN
Poor hosting can destroy a SaaS platform due to slow performance or outright unavailability. The same is true of selecting the wrong CDN.
The problem is particularly relevant in the Chinese market due to China's Great Firewall of China which blocks many external services, websites, IP addresses, and web hosts.
Hosting a website on a server located far outside of China often leads to either complete non-access or extremely slow loading times for users inside of China.
It is best to host on servers close to China.
The potential problems of non-optimized websites are numerous. They range from websites that are too slow to those with bugs that bring the entire site down.
Optimizing a website requires testing thoroughly and then fixing up the code base. Speed improvements might require using a CDN or better hosting solution, so this dovetails with the earlier point on hosting.
Resolving SaaS problems in China
Here is how to solve SaaS issues in China:
How to resolve DNS issues
A continuous testing solution that simulates users visiting DNS servers in China can provide much-needed and actionable insight to determine what a DNS server's status is. Based on this data, action can be taken to resolve the issue in the best possible way to ensure that your SaaS platform can be accessed by the maximum number of people in China.
Having a company that can advise you on the best possible hosting for your SaaS platform in China is your best defense against DNS issues.
Hosting inside or outside China?
To host inside China, you would need an Internet Content Provider (ICP) license. To obtain the license, you must apply to the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).
Applying for an ICP is a complicated process for entities that are not based in China. Only local companies, or joint ventures with at least a 50% domestic stake, can obtain the license.
In most cases, we do not recommend this.
Hosting outside of China has its challenges but it is entirely possible if done properly. It is only necessary to host on a nearby server and monitor the SaaS platform constantly. There are also direct peering agreements between certain Chinese hosts and foreign networks. This means that traffic can be passed from those external hosts directly to the Chinese ISPs without going through all the regulatory checks. Hosting on one of these external networks that participate in direct peering means you get the benefits of hosting as if you were inside China without the hassles of obtaining an ICP license.
You can then bolster your site's performance by using a local CDN (inside China). To set up the optimum hosting solution, it is recommended to contact a local consultant such as GoClick China who can assist you in determining the best strategy.
Particularities of website optimization for China
Besides the usual website optimization techniques at a developer's disposal—optimizing the code, speeding up the site, using local CDNs, etc.—China's website optimization process also requires extensively automated and on-the-ground testing.
All manual user testing must be conducted inside China. We conducted experiments to determine if VPN testing is effective for testing websites inside China and found that it is not. Results of manual tests were quite different between a VPN and on-the-ground testers. This could be due to bandwidth and path differences which make VPN tests unreliable.
VPNs also skew resource load times to the slower side. This paints an inaccurate picture of what local users might be experiencing and could tax the development team to try and speed up a site that is, in fact, already performing at an optimal level.
Optimizing with CDNs
Part of optimizing a SaaS website in China is to decide which CDN to use. CDNs located outside of China are less effective than those located inside. Even top CDN servers close to the Chinese border often don't compete well enough with local ones. It's best to think of the local Chinese internet more like an intranet where traffic functions so long as it is internal but starts to clog up when external. The same is true of CDN servers.
Avoid siloed observability
It's important to obtain an overview of all aspects of the SaaS platform's delivery chain, from end-user to cloud services to the website itself. In today's world of fragmented services, it is important to invest in a global monitoring system that can give visibility to all aspects of the SaaS's delivery chain.
GoClick China can help improve your SaaS performance
GoClick China offers the full gamut of services required to get your SaaS platform operating successfully in China, providing essential visibility across the delivery chain. We help companies obtain an ICP license, perform extensive on-the-ground website testing, advise and assist with hosting and CDN choice, and offer consulting services for anyone wanting to host a SaaS platform in China.