China contains an enormous and hungry market for foreign products, especially among the younger generation. Chinese users are also highly active online — so, for a foreign product to compete well with local brands, it must have a solid online presence and an easily accessible website.
Unfortunately, several factors make running a foreign website in China especially challenging,
In this article, we're going to look at the top 3 reasons that foreign websites might not work in China, how to overcome these challenges, and the steps you can take to create a successful foreign website for the Chinese market.
What challenges do foreign websites face in China?
When a user from China tries to access a foreign website, they are often met with two unfortunate circumstances:
- The site is either completely blocked and the user can't access it at all.
- Or the site is so slow as to be completely unusable.
In either case, your company loses a potential sale and the visitor will instead visit either (a) a local brand or (b) a foreign brand whose site does work inside the Chinese mainland.
Fortunately, the reasons foreign sites sometimes don't work in China are simple, and there are solutions to all of them.
Top 3 reasons foreign websites don't function in China
Here are the three major reasons that your foreign website might not be working in China:
Reason #1: The Great Firewall of China (GFoC)
The Great Firewall of China (GFoC) is a massively sophisticated legal and technological framework designed to regulate internet usage within China. The GFoC is run by the government of the People's Republic of China.
Under the umbrella of the GFoC are laws that prohibit external influences from entering China through the internet. These laws are backed by both automated and manual interventions that prevent certain websites from being accessed completely.
You can use our GFoC Block Checking Tool to determine if your w ebsite has been completely blocked by the Great Firewall of China.
Reason #2: Webpage Compatibility Issue
But outright blocking is comparatively rare in China. The more common problem is a compatibility issue that causes the foreign website to load extremely slowly, or parts of it to not work at all.
One of the reasons for this compatibility issue is that a specific resource used on the website is being blocked. For example, embedded YouTube videos, Facebook Like widgets, Google Maps, and other resources from blocked third-party domains will cause your site to be incompatible in China. This doesn't block your site itself but causes it to load very slowly or to not function properly.
Another reason for badly loading sites in China is that a site might be built entirely using a blocked framework, such as sites built using Google's cloud technology. Making these sites work in China is impossible without switching to a different framework altogether.
Some sites also use blocked third-party plugins that don't work well in China, or that haven't been optimized for use in China. For example, Google is blocked in China so referencing any of Google's hosted libraries such as jQuery or CesiumGS would cause breakage.
Referencing these scripts directly from Google has speed advantages outside of China. But inside China, it would cause the scripts to become unusable, breaking the site.
Ajax calls to APIs hosted on blocked websites would likewise not work. Again, calls to Google's APIs would be a major factor. So would calls to Twitter and Facebook APIs.
And then there are the typical errors that can make sites slow both inside and outside of China. Examples of this are images that haven't been compressed properly or additional resources that haven't been minified.
Reason #3: Internet Infrastructure
Finally, matters of internet infrastructure can greatly affect your website's performance inside China. This could be related to where the site is hosted or if it is properly leveraging a CDN.
Hosting outside of China without using China's local CDNs can have several negative impacts on your website. Your website has to bypass the GFoC which can cause a slow loading speed.
Some CDN providers claim to have nodes inside China but these nodes are actually in Hong Kong instead of in mainland China. These nodes would likewise have to bypass the GFoC.
We ran some tests with CDNs outside of China and found that many of them failed to deliver content properly to the Chinese market. So you need to make sure you choose the right CDN provider that actually does have nodes inside China.
The ideal choice would be to host inside China but this is not always possible because your company would require an Internet Content Provider (ICP) license to do so. Obtaining such a license is challenging for foreign operators that don't have a physical presence inside China. If you do have a presence in China, GoClickChain can help you navigate the application process for this license.
If you are a startup targeting China but have no physical presence there, and a tighter budget, then hosting near China with Chinese mainland CDNs is your best choice. GoClickChina can likewise assist here.
You still need to monitor your website
Nothing beats regular manual user testing and monitoring to ensure a website remains compatible and functioning inside China. These tests are best done by people on the ground because we have noticed that VPN tests don't always provide accurate results.
That's why one of the services that GoClickChina offers is manual testing, in addition to regular automated tests, to ensure that your website continues to work inside China.
How to get your foreign website to work in China
GoClickChina believes in data. We do a complete check and verification of your website and provide you with data-driven insights regarding your website situation in China. We then lay out the steps needed to get your site to where you want it to be.
We also offer comprehensive testing methods. These testing methods include synthetic testing, network testing, and manual testing.
After we have provided you with the data, you can decide to take action on your own or to work with our highly experienced team who will guide you through getting your website working optimally inside China.