Our latest infographic shows the most recent stats and trends from the country.
China’s internet habits are rapidly evolving. This is a country with an appetite for mobile, social and ecommerce – in fact, not very different from the UK! With over 600m internet users, China is an online force.
Our infographic looks at the latest trends
However, there are key differences when approaching digital marketing in China. Language is an important consideration as the predominant internet language is Chinese, which is also making it one of the fastest growing online. Pǔtōnghuà (Standard Chinese/Mandarin) with Simplified Characters is the official language. Any content for the market must be in Chinese and be accurately translated.
The Great China Firewall
This is the unofficial name for the Golden Shield Project, which censors and monitors internet activity in China. It blocks IP addresses and domain names – the most famous ones are Google, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. However, the new business centre in Shanghai is exempt from the firewall.
There are more Chinese people on Facebook than the UK’s total population.
This block gives the misleading perception that Chinese users are having a lesser internet experience because they can’t access the same websites we do or because it is more insular. China has developed its own social networks and search engines that are tailor-made to the Chinese market and language. But we also know that millions of Chinese people have found ways around the firewall. There are more Chinese people on Facebook than the UK’s total population.
The firewall also gives the impression that Chinese websites themselves may be inaccessible. This is not the case – many companies have English language versions of their website and are open for business.
While broadband reaches around 25-30% of the population, it is mobile that drives internet usage and experience.
Samsung has a decent market share (over 18%) but the majority of the market is spread across a number of native brands such as Lenovo, Yuong and Xiaomi. Apple entered the market this year, partnering with China Mobile (中国移动通信集团公司) to launch the iPhone 5. The jury is out as to whether the iPhone will be able to gain a significant hold in China the way it has done in the rest of the world.
Baidu is the leading search engine with over 60% market share.
Android is the dominant OS and is mainly developed through ASOP (Android Open Source Platform), which uses local app stores and doesn’t link to Google.
2014 will be a big year as China Mobile rolls out its 4G network, which will be the biggest in the world. Faster data downloads encourages more mobile browsing and smartphone adoption - expect China to become the world leader for both of these.
The most popular search engine is Baidu (百度), with over 60% market share. It is currently being challenged by Qihoo and Sogou (搜狗) but Baidu has a more developed mobile strategy and platform.
Chinese users tend to take longer to scan results – this is due mostly to the page layout, which has a wider focus and therefore takes longer to read. Users are also more likely to trust paid-for ads whereas Westerners tend to be suspicious of them. As Search Engine Journal points out the Chinese “believe that if brands are willing to pay for their presence on the first page of a search engine, they must have something worth checking out.”
A successful SEO strategy in China will need to include paid-for advertising and you cannot expect the techniques and strategies you use for Google, Yahoo or Bing to have the same affect for Baidu, Qihoo or Sogou.
This is one of the most exciting areas in the Chinese digital landscape. The main networks are:
- Qzone (QQ空间) has 600+ million registered users – they can write blog and diaries, send photos and watch videos.
- Sina Weibo (新浪微博) has 500 million registered users – a hybrid of Twitter and Facebook, it limits posts to 140 characters.
- WeChat (微信) has 236 million registered users – a mobile text and voice messaging service. Users can share a wide variety of media and information.
- Tencent Weibo (腾讯微博) has 220 million registered users – similar to Twitter. Users can share statuses, photos etc. up to 140 characters.
Chinese users spend a significant amount of time on social networks – over 40% of online time. Networks are censored and monitored for blacklisted keywords and politically censored topics, and users can be imprisoned for “inaccurate” messages if they are seen by over 5,000 users or reposted over 500 times. Despite this censorship, social network growth continues, particularly WeChat which is also available across Europe. This may be the year we see greater connections between networks in China and the West.
Facebook, Twitter and Google+ all have healthy user numbers despite being banned. However, they are dwarfed by the main networks.
One network not banned is LinkedIn, though it competes with the more popular Tianji. Online business social networks are not as popular and have significantly less users (Tijani has around 8-14 million). This is due to guānxì (关系), your personal network of influence where connections and relationships allow you to call on favours and services. Face-to-face networking is important and obviously not something that online profiles can replicate. Successful business in China must be done in person.
China’s online buying was set to exceed that of the USA’s in 2013 and forecast to grow to $543bn by 2015. It has increased by 70% year-on-year since 2009. Tencent and Alibaba, the largest ecommerce company in China, run the two most popular payment systems. Both companies have social media interests – combining this with China’s love of mobile is making it an online buying powerhouse.
What Chinese online buyers love most is a bargain. They want the best price and will look for it. Alibaba runs “11.11”, the largest one-day sale in the country. In 2013, $5.78bn was spent, more than double what Americans spent on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
You cannot take what you are currently doing and apply it to China
So will China’s ecommerce habits start to affect the West? It is hard to believe that they won’t – firstly, there is the attractive buying power of the country but this will require retailers to adapt for the Chinese market. Secondly, companies that are successful in China will look to roll-out that model to the rest of the world.
Creating a digital strategy for China
You cannot take what you are currently doing and apply it to China. A dedicated strategy and resource is required to be successful. You will need to consider:
- Language requirements – using native speakers to write and communicate on social networks.
- Website – make sure it is optimised for mobile (and translated). You may find that an app will work better (or that you need both). There are some differences in web design that should be taken into account.
- Search – budget for paid advertising and to optimise your website.
- Building relationships – this should be done in person. You cannot rely on online profiles and messaging to create good connections.
Note: The infographic and article were updated on 20th February after feedback from Activ Hub - China Digital Intelligence Marketing. Thank you to them for the corrections!