Losing Chinese Business Because of 2 Simple Mistakes

This is not an article about the market condition in China but more of a practical reality that I think most people and businesses have not considered. If you read the news you’ll feel the first impediment to business in China is going to be regulations or that your website may be blocked by the GFW (Great Firewall of China). However in practical terms this is something you’ll almost never encounter. There are however 2 simple but huge, crucial and critical mistakes that most businesses make when trying to attract prospective Chinese customers for overseas or cross-border e-Commerce.

#1 Common Mistake That Guarantees No Customers From China Will Ever Reach Your Site
Everyone knows Google has extensive reach in various online services and platforms including search but their reach goes farther in a very harmful way for anyone trying to get Chinese visitors to their website. This issue applies to almost any user in China whether they are a local or foreigner and whether you are hosting in China, Hong Kong or anywhere outside. This problem can only be resolved by an experienced web developer or team and is a mistake MOST developers unknowingly make.

This little mistake comes from the fonts specified in CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) that are used to style and/or layout all websites on the internet. CSS itself is not the problem, but what is the problem is that a lot of designers use “Google Font APIs” from googleapis.com. This is a bad idea in my opinion aside from the main reason which is that you rely on a third outside party to make sure your website loads. If the remotely hosted fonts cannot be loaded due to a change in location or the server goes down, your website will not load. In the case of China on virtually all consumer grade connections “googleapis.com” is blocked, this means the third party font server is as good as down and your website WILL not load in China because of it.

Essentially what this means is that any website using Google Font APIs will not work in China no matter where it is hosted. The solution is to edit your CSS code and use alternative fonts, or to manually download the .ttf and edit your .css files.

#2 Hosting your site outside of Mainland China or Hong Kong is too slow
For those who have ever visited China, loading sites abroad such as in the US or even worse in Europe is a very difficult hit and miss experience. While most sites are actually not blocked by the GFW, a good portion of sites and services are unusable due to poor connectivity between China and a lot of ISPs. This can be solved somewhat with premium bandwidth that we use in China but really the best solution is to host your site in Mainland China or Hong Kong.

For those familiar with China, you will know that you need an ICP license from the Ministry of IT. This is not a problem if you have a presence in China or a friend who can help. But really the only legal way is to get a proper ICP license which means based on your business and not a personal ICP (we have seen these revoked for misuse). To make it short, if you don’t have an ICP in China your site will not work and will be blocked. So hosting your website in China is only an option if you have an ICP license.

The next best thing is Premium bandwidth from Hong Kong with direct China connectivity which is almost as good as being in Mainland China. But note the “Premium Bandwidth” and “Direct China Connectivity” because only some providers have this. Bandwidth is very expensive in Hong Kong and the only way providers can save money is by buying non-premium bandwidth that routes all China traffic through the USA. For cost it makes sense for those providers, but for you the end user and business who wants to have Chinese customers it doesn’t make sense unless you have direct China peering/connectivity. If you have a good connection to China from Hong Kong then users can essentially expect your site to perform as if it’s in Mainland China, in fact most users will probably feel it is located in China because of the low latency and fast response. In Hong Kong there is no requirement for an ICP license so this is really the best method for those who can’t the ICP license in China.

Don’t Lose Out
For companies who have targeted the Chinese market and have attempted to drive traffic to their own website or third party portal if you haven’t received the response you’ve expected the above could very well be why you have no Chinese customers. In another blog post I will show a few technical examples of how to fix it and still use Google Font APIs although the easiest, quickest fix is to stop using them.

Being an Expert on China’s Internet And Getting Ahead

After years of offering internet services in China a lot of our customers consider us experts on Chinese internet.  I’ve observed that on top of our typical IT consulting, that we’ve frequently been called on by firms as their consultant for all things internet in China.

In China the first thing people think of is regulations and rules and it often sounds more scary than it is or has to be.  Some firms have needlessly neglected the Chinese market over rules that may not even apply to their usage or simply over the concern of seeking an ICP license for hosting purposes (which is not all that hard if you have a presence in China).  Don’t get me wrong, like any country there are regulations to be followed and understood, but most of these are well-documented knowns.

The biggest challenge aside from the known regulatory issues in China is finding quality and reliable bandwidth, both locally (for within China) and overseas (outside China).  We get a lot of clients switching to us in China because they say our bandwidth is the fastest and most reliable.

A lot of people believe that a certain city or location guarantees their service will be slower or faster, but this is certainly not true whether you are on China Unicom or China Telecom.  There are some things I will agree with, however, which is that Telecom seems to have overall lower ping to most parts of the world.  But ping in China still does not guarantee better speeds for many different reasons and some circuits with higher ping have constantly outperformed to certain parts of the world.

There are many reasons why people have problems with the internet in China and I strongly believe one of the biggest factors is simply congestion.  Even in many parts of North America users can attest that the internet has been slow for them at some point over the years and it becomes obvious during summer months there is more usage.

Now imagine the same thing in China only with a population of nearly 1.4 billion people (2015) compared to all of North America’s 533million.  There is a high population density on most major centers of China and this is why home and office speeds have not been as fast as some other countries in Asia.

This is where I would always advise anyone who says “we want our servers only in Beijing and Shanghai” to think again.  You are going to be dealing with a lot of internet congestion at the local level, more firewall issues and the chance of disaster impacting major metropolitan areas is much higher.

Our course has been different from the start, we avoid congested city centers and find less used fiber and provision our circuits on that basis.  But it’s still not enough to rely on a certain area or even city.  We’ve tested dozens of circuits in some areas and found that at best a handful will have good speeds and many will still only be good within China.

To find the right mix it takes a lot of time, testing and travel in China and is why we’ve been so successful in helping our clients get ahead in China.

Internet in China is a constantly evolving and complex subject to say the least, and what may have been true days, or weeks ago may not be true anymore.  I always advise people that unless you have contacts in all parts of China and are willing to travel you absolutely must find a provider in China that is not restricted to a single area and is familiar with the networks strengths and weaknesses in all areas.

And last but not least, it’s about having the contacts to try and improve routing issues as 9/10 providers in China are not able or willing to respond to network issues on the backbone.

For those who are very serious about China they will often obtain servers with us on multiple Telecom and Unicom circuits in various areas of China.  This has consistently been a winning tactic for our clients for a long time.  The reason most clients want servers on China Telecom and China Unicom is simply not only for redundancy but for better connectivity as often the two providers have issues communicating.

I still feel it is not as entirely bad as some have expressed but it depends on the area.  As far as the backbone goes, usually as long as the Telecom and Unicom server are separated by a great distance things are less problematic.  But of course the issue is that consumer grade Telecom and Unicom is far different and is where the issues really come into play and necessitate the need for both providers, at least if serving the local market in China.

The above is really just some things we have seen in a nutshell but there is enough that goes on that would be enough to write a whole book on.