China's IT Infrastructure
Companies hosting content outside of China are confronted with the “Great Firewall of China (GFW)”, which clearly differentiates whether content is hosted inside or outside of China. Since the Chinese IT infrastructure is primarily aimed at Chinese, internet services and platforms in China are also optimized from a user and search engine perspective under the legal framework.
Websites hosted outside of China are therefore either only available with very long loading times or even completely blocked. To enable uncomplicated, fast use for Chinese users, the following 2 factors must be taken into account.
#1 Hosting in China
In order to provide an optimal user experience, website content must be hosted in China. For this, a company needs a business licence and a registered office in China in order to apply to the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) for an “Internet Content Provider (ICP) Filing”. Websites without a valid ICP filing, or on which the corresponding ICP number is not visible, will be blocked. Therefore, all websites hosted in China have such an ICP number and place it visibly in the footer.
Henkel’s official chinese website as an example
The difference between ICP Filing and ICP Licence
ICP filing, is the first level of ICP certification and must be applied for for all websites. Once a company holds a valid ICP filing, it is allowed to host a purely informal website on Mainland China servers.
A commercial ICP licence extends the ICP filing and allows commercial websites such as online shops to be hosted on a Mainland China server.
Especially information- and resource-intensive websites benefit from the purchase of the ICP licence and the hosting on Mainland China, because the fast loading speed and the stable website generate more traffic and lead to a higher ranking in search engine results pages, such as Baidu, sm.cn and 360. Some market-specific sales platforms, such as 1688.com (Chinese equivalent of Alibaba.com) even require an ICP licence.
Companies that do not want to go through the extensive process of acquiring an ICP opt to host their Chinese website in Hong Kong or Singapore. While Hong Kong and also Singapore are outside the GFW, logistically they are the closest possible hosting options without an ICP licence and thus often quicker for Mainland China users to access than websites hosted in Europe or the US.
#2 Domain-Management in China
The choice of domain extension (TLD)
In addition to deciding whether to have an ICP at all or between ICP filing and ICP licence, a company must also make the right choice of domain name or domain extension (TLD= Top-Level Domain). Here, too, it is important to distinguish between the technical and the user perspective:
While Chinese search engines clearly prefer websites with Chinese content hosted in China, this does not automatically apply to the domain extension. China’s official country code TLD is .CN, this domain extension is a sign for all users that this website is optimized for Chinese users. However, a .CN address is not mandatory, with regard to Chinese search engines Baidu.com and sm.cn it can be stated that both .COM and .CN addresses works well in China.
An advice: For search engine optimization (SEO) reasons, however, avoid hosting under non-internationally-known country TLDs, such as the .DE or .NL addresses, or even sponsored TLDs such as .WEB or .INFO.
eTOC white paper “China Digital Marketing Full Guide” for free download: