China’s 1 billion mobile subscribers are rapidly taking up the mobile Web. The number of mobile Web users is rapidly approaching 400 million users, according to CNNIC, while the Chinese operators report that they have more than 200m 3G (i.e. fast internet) subscribers.
In the second of two posts on doing business in China via mobile, Mark Tanner, founder of China Skinny, a company that helps businesses better understand Chinese consumers, share his top tips on mobile Web in China.
In case you missed the first installment, see: The year nothing but mobile matters for any business selling in China
The dos and don’ts of building and marketing your mobile site in China
You need to spend time in China to realize just how different a market it can be. Ensuring that your site is optimized for Chinese consumers is really important if you want to stand a chance in the fiercely competitive market. Here are nine pointers that will help you get started:
Q1. Translating your content
Your Website needs to be properly translated into Chinese by a human. Obvious as this might seem, it is amazing to how often you find Websites using Google Translate – this isn’t an acceptable practice for any business that wants to be taken seriously in China. It’s imperative you have a native mainland Chinese speaker who understands the nuances of both Chinese and English to get the right messages across. Sites that are badly translated by a human are almost as bad as sites that are badly translated by machines – and you find plenty of examples of those also.
Although there are many different dialects spoken throughout China, simplified Chinese characters are standard across Mainland China on all Websites.
Things are different in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Malaysia (which has a large Chinese minority) where traditional characters are used. Although different languages are spoken – Mandarin in Taiwan and parts of Malaysia and Cantonese in Hong Kong and other parts of Malaysia – the traditional Chinese characters used in the written language are fundamentally the same, with a few variations for slang. Although these populations are considerably smaller than mainland China, they should certainly not be dismissed – collectively they account for a bigger market than Australia.
The differences between Mandarin and Cantonese and traditional and simplified Chinese are explained here by a Chinese blogger.
Q2. Making your Chinese site usable
There is more to localizing your site than just translating the content. China’s education system is considerably different to those of Western countries – this means that Chinese people will often solve problems and make decisions differently than a Westerner. Web navigation that might be intuitive to a Western visitor could well be confusing to a Chinese visitor, so it is essential to test both the layout and navigation thoroughly on native Chinese people.
To understand what Chinese consumers are used to seeing on their mobile sites, check out some of China’s most popular mobile sites: m.taobao.com; qq.com; m.youku.com; weibo.cn.
Chinese desktop sites are usually a lot busier and more crowded than Western sites – rather like everything in China. This difference is less pronounced, though still evident, on mobile sites. Mobile sites are restricted by the smaller display area and the requirement for bigger buttons for clumsy fingers which both help keep Chinese mobile layouts are less busy than their online equivalents.
Q3. A Chinese domain or not?
Generally speaking you don’t need a ‘.cn’ or ‘.com.cn’ domain. Plenty of the biggest local sites (see Q2 above) use .com instead of a Chinese domain. However, if you do decide to go native with the domain, you will require a business license and photo ID to register a Chinese domain.
Arguably more important is to host the site in China – this doesn’t require a Chinese domain, but does require an ICP (Internet Content Provider) license… which means more paperwork. Hosting in China should improve load times, and proudly displaying your ICP number helps to give potential visitors the impression that you are serious about China.
Q4. Handset and browser compatibility
China is a country of innumerable Web-enabled handsets and mobile Internet browsers, many of which are different to those found in Western countries. In the past two years, 280m smartphones have been sold in China (IDC), and while smartphone sales are growing rapidly, it still means the majority of the 1 billion plus mobile subscribers do not have a smartphone. So it is imperative that your mobile site works with Web-enabled feature phones as well as smartphones.
When it comes to smartphones, the Android operating system is dominant, accounting for 90.1 percent of smartphone sales in Q3 2012, according to Analysys International. However, Android alone covers an array of devices, from many different manufacturers, many of them Chinese, with a much larger variety of price points (even sub US$100) and much larger variety of capabilities than are typically found in Western countries.
Despite the small market share of iOS, the relative expense of Apple devices, compared with Android devices (3.25 times higher on average, according to Analysys), means that the client base is likely to be a wealthy demographic, which, if this is the company’s target market, may justify optimizing the site for iOS as well as Android.
In China, as in most countries, it is common for users to download third-party Web browsers to their mobile device, many from local providers, little known outside China. A recent survey from CNNIC found that the most commonly-used browser was UC (used by 54.1 percent of respondents), followed by two browsers from QQ (Tencent) and Go Browser, while 47.2 percent said they used the default browser on the handset.
Market leader UC, which works on a wide variety of handsets, claims to have 340m users in mainland China (and 60m outside mainland china).
Q5. Integrating your mobile and Web sites
In China more people access the Internet from mobiles than desktops and an increasing number of these are mobile-only – currently estimated to be 15.3 percent by CNNIC. But the majority of Web users access the Internet though both desktop and mobile channels, which makes it important to maintain consistency of content and message between the mobile and desktop versions of the company site. CNNIC’s research also suggests that the non-PC, mobile-only users tend to be younger and less-well educated and are employed in non-office-based jobs, which may not be every company’s target market.
Q6. Have content that appeals to Chinese consumers
The top Chinese mobile activity is instant messaging (IM). Research from CNNIC suggests that 83 percent of Chinese mobile users engage in IM. While most IM is between friends, family and colleagues, this collaboration may include product advice and recommendations. Messaging is also a common way to ask a business a question – so consider including a chat facility on your site. Mobile search is the next most popular activity, making both mobile search engine optimization (SEO) and search advertising important for all sites (see Q9 below). As people will often be searching for information about businesses and products on the fly, it is important to have the relevant content easy-to-access on the site and calls to action prepared to convert searchers to customers.
Like Westerners, Chinese mobile users appreciate easy navigation and bite-sized information on mobile sites. Make it easy for customers to contact you via click-to-call, click-to-email, IM and social media (see Q8 below), and to find your physical location with directions and maps. If you’re using maps on your site, local navigation site Autonavi is huge, recently announcing 100m users.
Other popular activities on the mobile Web include reading news, listening to music, reading literature and playing games. This puts companies that provide such services on their sites in pole position, particularly for attracting the China’s hundreds of millions of commuters as they look for entertainment as they travel to and from work.
Chinese consumers are keen users of mobile coupons and gift cards. A survey from KPMG found that 50 percent of respondents used their smartphones at retail outlets to access coupons and mobile gift cards, much more so than in other countries.
Q7. Stay on the right side of the censors
The Chinese Government has an army of censors, and all the major search engines and social media sites strictly comply with Government regulations and guidelines on what they can show and what should be removed. It isn’t difficult to play by the rules.
As long as you avoid publishing content criticizing the Government, supporting anti-government movements from Tibet, Taiwan or Tiananmen, or broadcasting tips on staging uprisings, and steer clear of pornography and gambling, it’s unlikely your site will run into difficulty.
Until recently, Google was not prepared to follow these rules and although Google Search is still live in Mainland China, as it now operates out of Hong Kong rather than Mainland China, it often runs so slowly that most Chinese people use local search engines instead. It now appears, from The Telegraph, that Google has dropped this stance against censorship in China.
Q8. Integrate social media in your site
As mentioned in part one, social media is becoming increasingly important in China – this can’t be underestimated. Western social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have no place on a Chinese mobile site – they’re all blocked. Integrate the top Chinese social-media giants into your site, where you can, using the services’ APIs. The social media you should use is dependent on your target market, but the main ones to consider are:
• Sina Weibo is the leading micro-blogging site – it’s a cross between Twitter and Facebook – with 400m registered users, of which 288m access via mobile (according to Want China Times). Demographically, Sina is most likely to align with high income, educated urbanites.
• Weixin (known outside China as WeChat), is the fastest growing messaging provider in China with around 300m mobile users (according to Tech in Asia).
• Renren is China’s equivalent of Facebook and holds appeal with younger Chinese.
• Tencent Weibo is a rival to Sina, but is more popular in smaller cities in China.
• Kaixin is a social network with a strong focus on social gaming.
• Qzone popular for blogging, diaries, photos and music.
• Douban is network focused on book, movie and music reviews.
Q9. Promoting your mobile site
The average Shanghai consumer is subjected to three times more advertising than their British equivalent. Advertising is everywhere, so there is no easy way to ensure your site will be noticed. You’ll increase your chances significantly if you’ve got a good social media presence. If a game, site or app strikes a chord with Chinese users, it will spread quickly via social media.
• Mobile adverting:
The Chinese mobile advertising market is beginning to take off in China, though analysts estimates for how large the expenditure might be have been in 2012 vary considerably from $196m (eMarketer) to $890mn (iResearch). There are options for companies to promote their site via mobile search advertising and mobile display advertising on mobile sites and within mobile apps, via ad networks. The dominant ad network for in-app advertising is believed to be Google’s AdMob, according to iResearch.
When optimizing your site for search engines, Baidu is the dominant player (though it is not as dominant as it in the online search market), accounting for about 50 percent of the mobile search market in China, according to Morningstar Research. 80 percent of Android smartphones in China ship with Baidu, rather than Google, as the default search engine. Note that optimizing for Baidu is different to Google. The most notable difference is that Baidu places more emphasis on quantity of links/backlinks from to the site than Google, whereas Google places more emphasis on quality of links. The distinction between advertisements (paid-for search results) and natural search results is less obvious on Baidu than Google; and ads account for many top rankings. So, some experts argue, it’s easier to buy a high ranking on Baidu. While the Baidu dashboard will look fairly familiar to search marketers used to purchasing search ads on Google, and much of the same SEM logic applies, it is still important to enlist the help of a Chinese expert.
Other ways to promote your mobile site:
• SMS – There are fewer controls on SMS-based promotions in China than in the West and it is used by many businesses, whether or not the recipient’s mobile number is obtained through legitimate means.
• Quick response – QR codes are common in a lot of advertising around China and are particularly popular for giving people a quick link to a business’s social media pages on Sina Weibo or Weixin.
• Near-field communications – NFC won’t be a significant marketing tool any time soon, but the China Mobile, the world’s largest operator, does have ambitious plans. It will be launching NFC services in 12 Chinese provinces in February 2013, reports NFC World.
No one says China is easy, but if you can get it right, it can be a very rewarding market. If you ensure your mobile site follows these tips, you will be off to a good start. However, be aware that the rate of change in China is unlike anywhere else, so the rules of engagement that apply today could have changed entirely by 2014.
• Mark Tanner, founder of China Skinny, a company that helps businesses better understand Chinese consumers, has been involved in mobile and Web marketing since 1998 in Europe, North America, Australasia, and most recently China. China Skinny provides a free, weekly newsletter giving insights into Chinese consumers.
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