With more Internet users than the USA and Europe combined, and a 50% share of international e-commerce, China is the market that cannot be ignored. The double-digit growth rate from 2000-2010 that doubled its economy may have slowed, but the initial boom has left the country awash in disposable income, looking for ways to spend it.
Scaling the Great Wall of China, however, presents unique challenges. This market is not like any other. Its economy remains encumbered by strict government controls, especially of the Internet. It maintains a complex culture of spending and saving that requires understanding in order to work successfully within it.
The opportunity, however, is too big to resist. Given proper strategic planning and execution, a business can successfully enter the most dynamic and promising emerging market in the world. The time to start is now.
The window is already closing
Brands and businesses that had the foresight to enter the Chinese market during the boom years are now seeing great rewards for their efforts, particularly in the form of brand loyalty among Chinese consumers, which was a previously foreign concept in China.
Getting in while millions of consumers are discovering their preferred brands is one very good reason to launch a China strategy right away. Another even more compelling reason is that experts predict the window of opportunity could be closing in the next five to ten years. After that, the growth rate of the Chinese economy could shrink significantly and the costs of entering the Chinese market are expected to rise.
Baidu – the key to entering the emerging Chinese market
Whether your business is b2b or b2c, the key to getting noticed starts with a presence on China’s most popular search engine, Baidu, which handles about 70% of all searches for the 720 million Internet users in China. Baidu is often called “the Google of China.”
To get ranked on Baidu, a site needs to be fully translated into Chinese. SEO experts advise the use of Simplified Chinese which can be understood by the widest possible Chinese audience.
Baidu also places heavy emphasis on localized content. Website content that is hosted on foreign servers and uses foreign domains is less likely to rank well on Baidu. Use Chinese domains such as .cn or .com.cn in order to attain a high ranking on Baidu.
Proceed with caution
Establishing a Chinese Internet presence poses unique challenges. An acute awareness of the ever-present Chinese censor (known as “The Great Firewall”) is imperative. There is also an extensive list of blacklisted words that need to be avoided. Tread lightly when mentioning anything political, as entering a censored name (or even a word that is similar to something on the blacklist) can alert Baidu and cause a flagged account.
Also exercise care and employ oversight when linking from your Chinese site to other Chinese sites, potentially as resources or suggestions for further information. If your site links to a censored site, you will earn a Baidu flag and potentially be taken down. You can check here to determine whether or not a link is allowed. To experience exactly how Baidu censors, you can follow the instructions here and attempt to search censored subjects.
Plan ahead with multilingual SEO
Start with strong multilingual SEO that can be adopted to any new market, including China.
Multilingual SEO is the practice of optimizing your content for search engines in multiple regions. It deals with content as well as more technical elements such as domain names and metatags.
In China, employing multilingual SEO is of paramount importance. First, copy written with the Chinese market in mind will conform more readily to Baidu’s requirements. Second, in China, domain names make a huge difference. Choosing the right one from the start can be essential to connecting with consumers and establishing a strong local brand presence.
No Facebook, no problem – social media in China
Baidu is a starting point to establishing your brand presence in China, but reaching the 300 million Chinese social media users is essential to any China strategy. Success depends on thinking globally while acting locally.
Facebook is officially banned, as is Twitter and YouTube. Instead, look for Sina Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter. It’s home to 30% of Chinese Internet users. Baidu also has a host of social platforms and sends traffic to all of them. The most prominent is Baidu Tieba, a discussion site that any business should target to increase buzz about its products.
Learning the Chinese calendar
Prospective businesses entering the Chinese market would be wise to study the Chinese calendar, which is quite different than the Western calendar. Business opportunities related to specific dates, like Black Friday, have no meaning in China. In order to localize properly, it’s important to become familiar with the local holidays, school calendar, etc.
Everything starts with proper translation/localization
The emerging Chinese market remains a significant opportunity for global businesses. But in order to effectively reach Chinese consumers it is vital to speak to them in their language.
Make sure website content, social media, and your entire suite of marketing materials are translated properly into Simplified Chinese (or Traditional Chinese depending on the region you are targeting). Avoid literal translation and focus on localizing your content so that it is culturally relevant and will truly resonate with your target audience.
If you are already investing considerable time and money in entering the Chinese market, make sure that professional translation/localization is part of your strategic plan as well.