This Article is About
chinese search engines
search engines google
mainland china
google yahoo
professional translator
western languages
decision 1
external factors
physical location
Building A Chinese Website, Not As Easy As You Think!
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Building A Chinese Website, Not As Easy As You Think!

I run a couple of successful discount car rental websites. Currently in English and Spanish. Recently I added Russian and Chinese language versions to the group of websites. I thought I would share my experiences of the Chinese website process in case anyone else wants to do the same.

This article is not about the “techie” part of the website development but about external factors, some of which may seem obvious but others not so. It is from a business website perspective. Some of the points may vary for a non-commercial website.

First I had to make an important decision

1. Who is the site for?

Chinese people in China or Chinese people outside of China. When considering our Spanish site this was easy, it did not matter! With China of course they have a population of over 1 billion in China and a considerable but much smaller population outside of China. However, due to their very different language and culture adding the site to google, yahoo and bing will simply not work in mainland China when compared to most other non English languages. The reasons are not just down to language.

I discovered that the physical location of your site and your domain will determine many factors with your site ranking “domestically in China”.

2. The language

On a practical level spotting many errors with a multi-lingual site is quite easy in Western languages. Unless you understand Chinese you have no chance so clearly a specialist professional translator is required not only to translate but also to proof read. You need two different people to ensure a good unbiased result. Do not entertain using the google translate or equivalent free online services.

3. Chinese search engines

Baidu com is the giant of China’s search engines. Google and others are there too but minor players. But here is the problem. Chinese sites hosted in China automatically rank higher than sites hosted outside of China. So adding your Chinese language site to a sub-section of your existing site will leave you at an immediate disadvantage, you must host on a Chinese located server and that means a new domain.

4. Hosting your site

This is where the issues start. If you want to host your Chinese website in China you need an ICP licence issued by the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information. For a non Chinese business this will cost at least “5 figures” and can potentially be revoked if you do or say the wrong thing. If revoked your Chinese hosting company is obliged to take your site offline – and they will!

Of course the “catch-22” here is that if you do not host your site in China your search engine ranking may be seriously penalised.

Our business does not have the sort of money to do this so the next best solution we found was to host our site with a Hong Kong located hosting company run by a Chinese business. This apparently gives our site sufficient credibility without being overly penalised by the search engines and yet does not need an ICP license. When we can we will upgrade in the future.

5. Domain

Most domains use the same “ASCII” characters for the majority of languages. This applies to English, Spanish, German, French etc. However, when registering a Chinese domain you have a choice of something called “pinyin” or “native Chinese”. We opted for a .cn domain in native Chinese format as this is considered the “best” and most “respectful” domain structure when considering Chinese culture. The puzzling thing for me was the fact that most Chinese website domains are in “pinyin” format. That means they are using ASCII characters that non-Chinese recognise but are “foreign” to the vast majority of Chinese that only read native Chinese.

For example our domain is 机场汽车租赁 cn the pinyin equivalent is jichangqichezulin cn. Both translations are the equivalent of “airport car rental”.

Having followed advice and registered our native Chinese language domain version (with US based marcaria com) I then discovered that this presents various technical challenges which tied our techies up in knots as all servers are happy in “pinyin” format but behave differently when presented with native Chinese. This is not just relevant to “our” Chinese server but also a factor when registering and verifying the domain with Google, Bing, Yandex and others.

To give you an idea of how unusual it is to use a native Chinese domain our Chinese hosting company which bent over backwards to help me, advised that my site was the only native Chinese site they had launched. They host thousands of websites!

So far we have successfully completed everything we wanted just be warned it may take longer than expected and potentially cost you more.

6. Social networks

Our sites are all the same but have different language translations and graphics where required. Each one has its own Twitter and Facebook accounts and we use addthis com to manage our “connetions”. Both Facebook and Twitter are unwelcome by the Chinese authorities and after much consideration we decided our Chinese website should be “Chinese” and we removed Facebook and replaced with Weibo the Chinese equivalent for both.

7. Things which help

Google Chrome browser has an auto translate function so when using Chinese websites (for example when registering with the Weibo search engine) I was able to complete most processes unaided by my Chinese business partner.

8. Is it worth it

It is only a few weeks since the site went live and already pages are being spidered by search engines and we are generating traffic. So far, everything is going well and from our point of view a success although too early to decide from a commercial view point.

Time will tell!

Street Talk

I'm sure hosting and running a Chinese website has many major challenges. And you are right about needing two separate, unrelated translators to check each others work. At one time I had considered doing a Chinese version of my website, but never went through with the project.

  about 9 years ago

The Chinese market is large, very commercial and also inexperienced with regards to using the Internet so I think it could be a good opportunity for you. Theoretically it is for my business and we are just a "consumer service" business.

  about 9 years ago
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