TLDR; This is the 2022 guide on hosting in mainland China, be patient. It takes time to get it right. Hosting in China is not cheap and is not easy, and we outlined three major steps below for your reference.
As you might already know, China is an incredible market with 1.4 billion domestic consumers, which is 3 times the US market size. However, it is also special and unique at the same time. It is not easy to get into the Chinese market. However, once you get in and follow a good method, you could gain much from it!
Web hosting in China is often misunderstood if you’re new to the topic. This article takes you through everything you need to know about China web hosting, including the concept of China VPN and ICP License. We’ll touch on common questions like internet speed, legality, whether or not you need an ICP License, and whether it’s worth getting it.
Before getting into the Chinese market, you should be aware of a couple of things. Needless to say, you cannot adopt the same strategy as you would in the rest of the world. If you want to host your website in China, you will face some challenges. There are certain rules you need to follow, licenses you need to obtain, and unique digital strategies to adopt.
To be specific, you will have to:
Host your website in an environment that allows for fast loading time, preferably in mainland China, not Hong Kong, Macau, or Taiwan (explained later below)
Make your website mobile-friendly due to the heavy use of mobiles in this market.
Understand and be indexed by China leading search engine Baidu (Not Google, Google is blocked in China) in China.
Access the most used social network in China, WeChat (Not Facebook or Instagram, same reason as above).
There are three main steps to be able to host your website in China:
Step 1: Purchase A Domain Name From One of the Chinese Domain Providers
Technically speaking, anyone can buy a domain name. But things are different here in mainland China. Let’s clear this up, you can only purchase Chinese domain names from Chinese domain providers, major ones include Alibaba Cloud , Huawei Cloud, Tencent Cloud, 21YunBox, Baidu Cloud, etc.
Why? Because, unlike overseas domain providers, these domain providers are legally registered with the Ministry in China. So only domain names purchased from China-registered providers can file for an ICP license, and if your site does not hold a valid ICP Filing, your site is operating in the “grey area” in China technically.
Also, Chinese domain names are only available for Chinese citizens and Chinese enterprises. Foreign individuals are not allowed to buy a Chinese domain name (.CN domain). Same for foreign companies, unless they have a legal entity in China first. To use your domain name, you must provide one of the following: A valid resident ID, temporary resident ID, business license, or organization code certificate from China. You must confirm your identity to the entity from whom you will buy the Chinese domain name.
The short answer is NO.
Anyone can register a Chinese domain name by adding your domain to your cart and checking out at GoDaddy.com or other overseas domain providers. However, activating your Chinese domain names will be impossible.
We recently helped a client who wants to use the domain name purchased from GoDaddy.com, they have to transfer the domain name from GoDaddy.com to one of the Chinese domain providers first. The process took over a month, and extra money got spent as well.
Step 2: Apply for the ICP License
For those who have never heard about the ICP, it would be favorable to have a look at a previous article called “What is an ICP License for China?” but the main points that you have to know about the ICP license are:
There are generally two types of ICP Licenses:
1.ICP Filing non-commercial websites (informational)(ICP Bei An, 非经营性ICP/ICP备案)
Considered the ‘basic’, or first step, of the two - the ICP Filing is for informational websites with no intention of sales. This license does not include direct sales.
2.ICP Commercial License (operational) (经营性ICP)
For more complex sites that require e-commerce functionality and online payment integration, you’ll need to first acquire i) Your ICP Filing, followed by ii) Your Commercial ICP License. This license allows your prospects to do online shopping.
There are various business requirements to apply for an ICP, e.g. business license in China. To understand more about getting an ICP, click here.
While the idea of the Internet is for it to be virtually boundary-free, the Internet in China is so uniquely set up that it is arguably another world of its own.
Sites that are loaded perfectly in the U.S., Europe, and other parts of the world can appear to be broken or even, in some cases, unable to load in China. The main reason is that these sites are built with US library files/components, e.g. Google APIs. And also, there’s latency loaded from U.S. networks.
When a foreign site loads in China, it can easily take upwards of 30 seconds, see samples from our data below.
To have a faster-loading website, you need to get your website host in mainland China and get the China CDN (Content Delivery Network). To be able to do that, an ICP license is legally required by the Chinese government.
ICP License numbers are typically displayed in small print on website footers with a single character representing the Chinese province the license was issued in, then the letters “ICP” followed by the actual ICP number itself. The number can be displayed anywhere, technically, so long as it is clear and visible:
Step 3: Host Your Website in Mainland China
After successfully acquiring your ICP license, now you can buy or rent a local Chinese server to host your domain. It will be the best way to reach and engage your potential customers, access the local social network such as WeChat, and be indexed by the local search engine website such as Baidu.
You’re not obligated to host your website in China. You can have it running from outside the country, then add a translation service. However, websites that run outside China tend to load slower compared to those within the Great Firewall — an all-encompassing expression of the legislative mandates and technological tools that aim to regulate China’s domestic Internet usage. The load speed difference between internally-hosted websites and their external counterparts is estimated to be 10 seconds or more. However, the average consumer is not as patient as you might imagine. The lag is strong enough to put a dent in your conversion rates.
Pros of hosting in China, inside the Great Firewall China include:
1. Faster loading speed.
Hosting your site abroad or offshore (near China, such as Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, and Singapore) can slow down loading speed, which will turn off most visitors. Also, Your SERPs on Baidu will be significantly impacted by your site speed inside China (near your customers in China).
The concept of the Great Firewall generally plays a role in making sites hosted overseas load slowly. You can get a Free China Speed Report of your site by our staff inside the Firewall, and typically if you do not have someone in China (within the Great Firewall), it’s not obvious to see how your site performs.
2. Lower risks of getting blocked China regulates what users can access within the country.
As a result, most people assume that keeping off illegal or politically sensitive topics is enough to keep their website running. However, you may not be in control as much as you might assume. Hosting outside may mean your website shares the same server as another site banned by the government. The Chinese government has outlined five obligations that companies must follow when hosting their websites go live. There have been different cases where “innocent” websites got banned because they were on a blacklisted server. Such risks do not occur if you are hosted in China because of the close monitoring of local ISPs.
3. Higher ranking on Baidu (China’s leading search engine)
With Google banned in mainland China, Baidu is now China’s leading search engine. Suppose you want to increase your organic traffic in China for your business in China or China SEO optimization. In that case, it’s better to understand how Baidu might rank your content in China, and it’s obvious it’s not the same as Google.
Tip: You might need to check the Top-level domain Available for China ICP Filing as well. For example, the popular domain suffix .io, domains are not available for ICP Filing in China.
4. Access the most used social network WeChat
With Facebook and Instagram banned in mainland China, the Chinese have a strong preference for WeChat. With over 1.2 billion monthly active users, it is not only the most used social network in China but also becoming one of the largest search entries. If your website is not hosted in mainland China or have an ICP license, when users try to visit your site from WeChat, it will appear like this, saying “Access Denied”:
If you want to tap into the mainland China market, the short answer is NO.
It’s important to understand that, Hong Kong exists as a Special Administrative Region controlled by The People’s Republic of China and enjoys its limited autonomy as defined by the Basic Law. The principle of “one country, two systems” allows for the coexistence of socialism and capitalism under “one country”. Hong Kong also has its own legal and judicial systems (including a proprietary police force), district organizations (with no political power), and public servants, broadly based on the British common law model.
As a result, Hong Kong and mainland China are two very different markets. In terms of the market size, Hong Kong has a population approximately of 7.4 million, while mainland China has more than 1.4 billion people.
However, it is not about reaching the market, but more about the Great Firewall.
Just as the Great Wall once protected China from the Mongol hordes, the Great Firewall now ‘protects’ Chinese netizens from the perils of foreign influence. Any website operating in mainland China must be subject to Chinese government oversight and censorship, and the only way the CCP can ensure this is if those websites are hosted on Chinese servers. Any website operating from servers outside mainland China cannot be ordered to do or change or remove anything by the CCP, so their solution is the Great Firewall – that is, they simply block things they don’t like and track any users attempting to distribute or access such data.
This is why, as you might know, websites like Google, Youtube, Facebook, etc. are not accessible in mainland China, unless you use a VPN. They are freely accessible in Hong Kong and Macau SARs though.
Thus, websites hosted “outside the greater wall”, which means outside mainland China, tend to be slower than the ones hosted the mainland China. Or even worse, they can be unable to visit.
If you want your website in China to be fast and accessible to all Chinese people at all times, your best bet is a mainland server, yes, for this reason. Mainland servers have to obey strict laws, go through the whole ICP application process, and so are less likely to be shut down for any reason.
What Are the Next Steps?
As you can see, it is not easy to host a website in China. If you are interested in this subject and need more information, we will be glad to help you tackle this amazing market. Do not hesitate to contact us and schedule a call with one of our experts!
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