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How to Localize Your Website For China

Inevitably whenever a foreign company approaches us for help with their China marketing, they always ask us to help them with “localization of their website” first. And, of course, localization of your brand should be the first step in your initiative to market to China.

However, while the idea of localization is simple and straight forward, the process can be quick tricky.

Is it as simple as translating their website? Or do they need to revamp their website to look and feel more like an average Chinese website? Or maybe they need a mobile only strategy?

To make things worse, many foreign companies have been told that to localize their website for China, they need to make it look busier. That desktop websites in China are completely different, and Chinese users rather like to have a busy looking website with a lot of links and text and images.

This is not entirely true of course, if it were to be true then both WeChat and Alipay would be considered as failures. Just look at Alipay’s Chinese website and WeChat’s website, both are simple, clean and user experience focused.

The truth is… it depends. It depends on your overarching China marketing strategy, and certainly just because you made your website to look and feel like an average Chinese website it doesn’t mean you’ll succeed in China.

And for this reason, in this article, I’m going to show you exactly what aspects you’ll need to pay attentions to when localizing your digital marketing for China.

Chinese websites seem to defy the law of usability

“Don’t Make Me Think” is probably the holy bible of website design and usability. Any respectable designer would have read it at least once.

The book basically says all websites and computer software interface should be designed for human, and the users should not be bogged down with unnecessary thinking to get to what they are looking for on your website.

Naturally, most people would agree with Steve’s philosophy. After all, the other Steve, “Steve Jobs” that is, has created one of the world’s most valuable and successful company in centuries based on the philosophy of user centric design.

So, who would argue with that? Of course, a website should be designed for human visitors, and of course, a website should be designed to enchant the user experience as much as possible.

Nope, not in China…

In fact, in China, most websites seem to defy the law of usability.

One of the key visual difference you’ll notice is Chinese websites are busy, extremely busy. Just look at this Hao123.com website.

Hao123.com is one of the most popular websites in China, but Hao123 is by far not the busiest Chinese website out there. Compare to Yorkbbs, Hao123 is actually very clean. I mean just look at all those ads and text on its homepage.

This topic has actually been debated numerous times,  while no one has reached a definitive answer. I’m going to share with you the 3 reasons why I believe Chinese websites are so busy.

3 Reasons why Chinese websites are so busy

#1 Mobile only and Outdated website design practice

In the west, you’ve probably heard of the terms “responsive website” or “mobile first design” being tossed around by your design department but in China, these terms don’t exist. In China website are not build responsive or mobile friendly. Just go on Baidu and make a few searches you’ll find that most websites in China even the extremely popular ones like Hao123.com are not mobile responsive at all.

This is kind of odd, considering that in 2010 Nielsen reported that “mobile consumers in China have surpassed their American counterparts when it comes to using the devices to access the Internet.”

Actually, this is not odd at all, China simply skipped the phase of using the desktop to browse the internet. For this reason, many business and corporations in China have abundant their focus on improving their desktop experience, instead, they begin to create an experience that is purely for mobile users.

They begin to create experience such as H5 Campaign which stands for HTML5 campaigns. These campaigns are literally single Mobile Only web page filled with animations and call to actions.

And their desktop design has remained in the time of the early 2000s. Here is BBC news website in 1999 and as you can see many Chinese websites has retained this layout and structure with a lot of text.

#2 Chinese characters vs Latin alphabets

The second reason and one that most people overlook is actually pretty simple. Chinese characters have a lot more strokes than the English alphabet. So, when you put a lot of Chinese character on a single web page it looks very busy.

I know this sounds simplistic but it is, in my opinion, one of the biggest reason why Chinese website looks so busy. People overlook this because they’re focused on the design aspects of the website and forgot about the fact that the Chinese language is vastly different.

#2 The want to sell more ad spaces

Some Chinese website simply doesn’t care about usability and user experience. They’re in it to profit and the more spaces they can slap an ad on the more profit they can make. For example, if you look at YorkBBS.ca the example we showed early, it is literally filled with ads.

And because of the “Mobile Only” and “Outdated Website Design Practices”, most Chinese people are used to desktop websites being super busy and filled with ads. They have nothing else to compare to, so their expectation has never changed either.

Even if more and more Chinese users begin to get exposure to a western website where user experience and usability is emphasized, it doesn’t matter. In the mind of a Chinese browser, they’ve separated their exaptation of a western website and a Chinese website.

5 Chinese website localization techniques that you should know

Page Load Speed

Page load speed should be the number one priority when it comes to localizing your website for China because if your page loads slowly in China the rest doesn’t matter. Yet, I’m still amazed at how few foreign companies pay any attention to their Chinese website load speed.

They forget to remove unnecessary WordPress plugins, Google fonts, Google tag manager, Amazon S3 services, CDNs that are blocked in China, and never configure their Google Analytics to work in China. As a result, these scripts and resources will fail to load and slow down their website load speed dramatically. In some extreme cases, we have even seen their website taking 5 minutes to load in China because of part of their website block by China’s firewall.

Note: you can use Google Analytics in China, you just need to set it up right. Here are detail instructions on how.

Use QR Code on Your Website

QR Codes (Quick Response Code) is basically barcodes that are two-dimensional. Originally these two- dimensional barcodes were developed for the automotive industry in Japan to help the factory robots to track different car parts faster and better.

While the QR code system gain popularity outside automotive industry due to its fast readability compare to the standard UPC barcodes, it was never used in main stream commercial applications by end consumers with the expectation of China.

In China, QR codes are hugely popular, very successful, and are literally everywhere. It is in TV commercial, flyers, billboards, and of course on pretty much every single website. The reason for such a vast adoption the QR code system in China is largely due to WeChat and Taobao.

Both WeChat and Taobao has built-in cutting edge QR scanners, and people in China will use these scanners to literally do everything from loading a URL, make payments, transfer money to each other’s WeChat Wallet, and even pay their monthly utility bills. On top of all that QR codes are used extensively in all aspects of marketing in China.

For example, a typical advertising camping in China will start with a variety of medians creatives that usually features a QR code that can be scanned. Once the code is scanned it is most likely going to link directly to a WeChat official business account, H5 Campaigns that loads natively on WeChat’s browser, or simply redirects to an e-commerce product page.

Above is an example of how Taobao incorporates both QR as login or email. This kind of login feature is actually extremely common on many Chinese websites.

Phone Numbers Are More Important Than Emails

In the west business and corporation absolutely loves to collect emails.  In China, however, it is not emails that you want to be collecting, but actual mobile phone numbers.

Mobile phone number is extremely important to the Chinese citizens, it is comparable to the social security number in the United States. This is because in China your mobile phone number is going to be your primary credential to access everything from e-commerce accounts, social network accounts, digital wallets, and even their bank accounts.

For this reason, protecting your mobile phone number in China is extremely important, and many people will even officially associate their mobile phone number with their government-issued ID in case of identity theft which actually happens quite often in China.

While having your mobile phone number as the primary identifier for most of your digital life in China is in my personal opinion a questionable method, as it causes a lot of problems with fraud, spam, and even identity theft.

However, this is the reality in China and it is also why most social media and websites in China uses a mobile phone number instead of emails as the primary identifier for account logins.

Let’s use Taobao again, for account recovery Taobao allows the user to use either their Mobile Phone Number, Taobao Account Username, or Email to recover your password.

Chinese Web Typography

Up to this point, everything we’ve talked about from using a mobile phone number to QR codes is all features that can be added when localizing your website for China. But when it comes to Chinese Web Typography it is more of a technical issue.

With English or any other Latin based languages that rely on arrangements of various letters in an alphabet, creating various of web fonts(typography) is not that hard. There is a small number of letters, with English it’s usually 24, so the file size of each font type is usually pretty small.

Making it easy to embed or use external CDN services such as Google Fonts to load various of web fonts to beautify your website.

With the Chinese language, however, there is a huge number of character usually more than 20,000 glyphs in each font file. This means that most Chinese font files will typically range anywhere from 3 to 7mb in size making them way too big to embed on to your own web server as it will dramatically slow down your website load speed.

Because of this, a majority of web designer in China usually uses a mixture of static images created with photoshop for static parts of the website, standard Chinese font supported by Microsoft windows as well as Apple OSX, and more recently Youziku.

Youziku is a Taiwan based Chinese web font CDN kind of like Google Fonts that uses sophisticated algorithm to load only the Chinese character that will be required on your web page. This will dramatically reduce the amount of size of the font file and not slow down your page load speed.

However, because Youziku and other Chinese web font CDNs are still a relatively new technology in China there some flaws you should watch out for. For one, you’ll notice a delay between the time the page loads and when your text renders. And certain small and thin fonts will render poorly in the browser such as Chrome.

I’m sure as China progresses with their technology more and more Chinese web font will become available to all the passionate Website designers and developers. But for now your options are limited, and for those of you who want to learn more of the nitty gritty of Chinese web typography here is an excellent article written by our friend Kandra Schaefer.

H5 Campaigns and Mini Apps

The best way to localize for China is to meet the needs of the 1.3 billion mobile users. Many western companies come to us asking to localize their website, and that is a great start but not the goal. As mention earlier China is completely mobile focus, so the best way to localize for China market is to have a “Mobile Only” strategy using H5 Campaigns and One Page Website (Mini Apps).

H5 Campaigns are usually designed for a single purpose and single message. It is kind of like a landing page in the west. They are made with HTML 5 and uses a lot of animation such as SVG and HTML 5 Canvas. Unlike like the western “Landing Page” which is usually a signal page that can be scrolled, H5 Campaigns or Mini Apps are not really scrollable in the traditional sense.

Each section of an H5 Campaign will take up the entire screen of your mobile phone, and whenever the user swipes it moves on to the next “section” or “slide”. The goal of most H5 Campaign is to either provoke the user to share the campaign or perform a call to action which can vary from a company WeChat account follow to a redirect to product purchasing page.

How to find the right company to localize your Website for China

To wrap up some of you are probably thinking how exactly can I find the right company to localize my Chinese website and marketing. Unfortunately, it isn’t easy, some China agencies will tell you that you need a website that looks busier, and most will completely disregard page load speed.

Very few company will tell if you actually need to localize your website and show you how your website is going to play a row in your China marketing. While we do offer services to help our clients to localize their website it is the case by case scenario. If you’re interested in finding out whether you need to localize your website or you want to ensure your website will load fast in China so you don’t lose out on leads then feel free to drop us an email at info@grizllypandamarketing.com to see if we can help you.

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