Why you need to optimize for native mobile web browsers in China (part 2)

2021/04/05 | 5 mins

Let's take a closer look at a few of the most popular mobile browsing platforms in China, along with compatibility and features.

Top 5 Chinese mobile browsers

  1. Chrome
    Chrome currently occupies the top spot in mobile browsing and has a market share of 44.9%. However, some users complain that Google does not understand Chinese browsing habits. For example, Chinese users often like to keep the page they browse open when clicking on a URL, but that doesn't happen in Chrome China.

    Compatibility: Google.com is banned in China, and people use Chrome via other search engines like Shenma, Sogou, or Baidu. All Google IP addresses are blocked, and services are inaccessible directly. Chinese citizens need several workarounds like traffic compression, syncing, and updating over VPNs to get the browser to function or update. Sometimes websites take a long time to work due to JavaScripts for Analytics and Adwords taking a long time.

    What is different:
    • Fewer Popups
    • Less Bloatware
    • Better security
    • Google Translate
    Websites need to be optimized to remove Google resources, libraries, and social media plugins, or they will slow down the entire browsing experience.
  2. UC Browser
    UC Browser made by UC Web, an Alibaba subsidiary, holds a 29.15% market share.

    Compatibility: As an indigenous Chinese browser, UC Browser ranks as one of the best in compatibility metrics.

    What is Different:
    • Customizable – Default backgrounds can be changed with custom wallpapers and has many themes.
    • Excellent Widget Support – UC Browser offers excellent widget support, making it ideal for ecommerce platforms
    • Data Compression – UC Browser has a small app size and excellent data compression features.
    • Compliance – UC Browser has excellent compliance with Chinese internet security controls.
    • More Features – Excellent download speed, cloud syncing, and multi-file format downloads.
    • Regular Updates – The browser updates news, music, and other content at regular intervals.
  3. Safari
    The iPhone's rising popularity in China has secured the Safari browser in its third position with a 12.04% share.

    Compatibility: Like Chrome, there may be problems with the website having external elements that are not async loaded – mainly if Facebook or Google resources are used. These resource compatibility issues can lead to loading issues and cause time-outs. Websites can also take time to load due to the media elements or Great Firewall.

    What is Different:
    • Anti-Phishing features
    • Energy efficient
    • Good reader view and font support
    • Built-in sharing and iCloud Tab Browsing
  4. QQ Browser
    Built by Tencent, QQ has a market share of 10.96%. However, it has had issues with security and transmitting encrypted data in the past.

    Compatibility: The browser is compatible with all platforms like iOS, Android, macOS, Windows, and Linux. The browser uses both WebKit and Trident and can access most websites in China since these are often built with Trident and IE in mind.

    What is Different:
    • Downloaded files can be found conveniently with the Download manager
    • QQ Browser is complementary to Baidu
    • Seamless integration with web apps, for example, Evernote
    • Night mode and private mode
    • Multi-Window management for switching between windows, something chrome lacks
  5. Android Browser and Mobile Specific Browsers
    The Android Browser, based on Webkit, is still popular in China and occupies a market share of 1.58%, along with mobile-specific browsers such as the Vivo Browser or Oppo Browser, developed by the respective smart phone brands.

    Compatibility: The browsers are largely compatible with Chinese websites, but apps require testing and optimization.

    What is Different:
    • Most of these browsers use Baidu search engine
    • Broad reach and the first choice for searches for many

Unoptimized websites: slow, not properly indexed, and missing resources

A slow-running website can cause a great deal of trouble for any organization. Moreover, China presents several unique regulatory and browser ecosystem challenges that make having a rapid loading time hard for international website owners. This fact can especially threaten an eCommerce enterprise. Some reasons for the slow speed include:

  • Limited Peering: Three primary providers (China Telecom, China Mobile and China Unicom) in China cover 95% of the internet traffic. However, these 3 providers are reluctant to open their market for other providers, and thus the amount of IXP or Internet Exchange Point in China is low. Peering with these providers is also expensive in the Asia region due to premium pricing, and hence traffic remains slow.
  • Great Firewall: Deep packet inspection can cause packet loss. In other words, if a portion of the website does not get through the firewall, it can cause a significant slow down of the website. Lost packets like banned Google resources may need to be retransmitted via congested lines, leading to a bad user experience.
  • Browser Elements: China has several native browsers, and unoptimized sites may not work with them. Also, scripts and API calls may need to be modified or removed to make them work in an optimized manner in browsers. Resource scanning may also need to be carried out. All this requires thorough manual testing of the browsers with real users.
  • Blocked Resources: The Great Firewall of China (GFoC) also blocks Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, and Google that provide libraries and apps adopted in most places other than China. For instance, Google Analytics is used by most sites globally, but as Google is blocked, sites with Google Analytics take a longer time to load. Other resources blocked include Google Fonts and APIs.

Unoptimized sites have more issues than just speed. An unoptimized Shopify site, for instance, loads 9.7 times slower in China than speeds worldwide. It also misses 14% of its resources while not being indexed properly on Baidu, Shenma, or Sougou. Moreover, websites not optimized for China can have missing resources like fonts. Thus, websites must be optimized to be fast and tested by real users on different browsers to provide the ideal experience.

Manual testing with major browsers is key

Websites and web app owners can gain significant advantages by optimizing their product for multiple browsers in the Chinese market.
Consider the following facts:

  • 47% of users expect webpages to load in two seconds or less.
  • Around 40% of users will leave a website if it takes more than three seconds to load.
  • The loss of a single second can reduce conversion by 7%.

Contrast it with the fact that most websites that are not "China optimized" take five seconds or more to load. The data shows that faster websites and web apps have a significant advantage over slower ones. In fact, optimization is more of a necessity than a competitive edge. Testing in mainland China using VPNs or automated tools can be problematic, as evident from the following points.

  • Blind Spots: Blocking or performance issues related to the GFoC can leave blind spots in regional areas.
  • Inaccurate: VPNs produce incorrect results by slowing down the speeds.
  • Regional gaps: Given the large expanse of China's territory, different regions can experience vastly different performance results.
  • Not Genuine: Synthetic network testing can only give you a lab-based result and does not account for actual user experience.
  • Impersonal: Testing done from a faraway place makes it difficult to visualize issues at a ground level.

Final thoughts

Manual testing on Chinese browsers from real users is crucial for optimizing websites and providing a smooth user experience. At GoClick China, we provide clear visibility into the Chinese market using real people on real devices spread across the country. By leveraging our data, benchmarks, analytics, and insights, organizations can take one step forward towards thriving in a rapidly-advancing digital Chinese economy.

To learn more about succeeding in the China, check out our other articles.