Blog Post

Doing Digital Business in China

China presents a set of unique technical obstacles that makes doing business in it especially difficult. Here we offer some tips on building a business strategy.

Breaking into any new geographical market isn’t easy, but China presents a set of unique technical obstacles that makes this especially difficult. In a previous post, we provided an overview of the Chinese market and discussed the need for a different business strategy based on the Golden Shield Project, aka The Great Firewall of China. Here, we offer some tips on building that strategy.

Obtaining an ICP License

To reach Chinese users, you must obtain an Internetnet Content Provider (ICP) number or certificate from the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, and this number must be listed on every page of the website. The consequences of not doing so include your site getting shut down without notice.

Much of the paperwork involved in obtaining an ICP license requires you to file in person and in Chinese. Therefore, finding a local partner to help establish a local presence and help with the filing, while CDNs and hosting providers can be of assistance. In August 2016, Alibaba introduced a service to help international companies enter China’s market through various cloud initiatives. AliLauch and the Global Technology Partner program was designed to help international firms overcome obstacles related to technology and scalability when setting up business in China.

Be Aware of Censorship

Because of strict censorship guidelines, most companies can’t simply put an exact replica of their site on a .CN domain. Many sites today include tags or links to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, all of which blocked in China. Eliminate all third-party tags or feeds that will result in your site being blocked. LinkedIn is the only western social media platform not blocked in China.

It’s not just domains that are blocked, either; popular content management systems like WordPress are also blocked. If your site is built on one of these, you will need to find a new platform.

The content on every website is scanned to check for keywords according to the censorship laws.  This includes everything in the HTML – even comments and user-generated content is checked for banned keywords. If your site includes any text or images with a banned keyword, the page or entire site could be blocked. To prevent being blocked due to a user content, consider disabling comments.

Think of China as a ‘Second Internet.’

Start from scratch – don’t just put a replica of your existing site on a .CN domain. Buy new root domains to be served from China and use separate IP blocks. If the main site does get blocked with a separate root domain and IP, the China site will remain up and running.

Given the censorship in China, it is a good idea to modularize your content. Host your blog or login page on a different URL than your main site. This can help prevent the entire site getting shut down if there is a problem on one.

Deploy infrastructure in China by setting up a datacenter, DNS, or CDN on the mainland. Setting up DNS on the mainland can help improve the performance of the site. DNS is an often overlooked aspect of performance, and hosting the content within China but keeping DNS resolution outside of China can lead to performance issues and site failures. Hosting DNS within mainland China is a good step to avoid potential problems, but it is important to know where the DNS is hosted given the size of mainland China. Some companies have DNS in multiple locations because optimizing the DNS location may help to improve overall performance.

Earlier we suggested removing tags for social media sites, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a social media presence in China. Set up accounts with the popular social media sites such as WeChat and Sina Weibo to engage with Chinese users.

If you think of China as a ‘second Internet,’ you will also need a different monitoring strategy for China, which will be covered in our next blog.

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