The Chinese government implemented the firewall as a form of Internet censorship and to protect its citizens. Web property owners and brands need to respect the firewall and understand the restrictions and guidelines as well as monitor and localise their content not just from a language perspective, but also to tailor to the firewall.
Both when crossing the Great Firewall and once inside China, there is a high risk of websites being blocked as content with adult, gambling or deep political views are strictly forbidden. Clothing, jewellery, and fragrance brands must ensure that photography on their websites is tasteful and that models do not bare more skin than deemed necessary. Its also worth noting that online shoppers in China are more likely to seek the opinions of others, so blogs, forums, and ratings are important, although they must be continuously moderated for inappropriate and political comments.
On the positive side, Chinas Ministry of Internet Technology and Ministry of Commerce are finding ways to support and promote foreign investment in eCommerce. Even though China encourages eCommerce investment though, navigating website regulations in China can be daunting.
An extensive list of requirements includes verifying what licenses to procure and where to display them on your website as well as determining acceptable and unacceptable content. Most organisations pay third party consultants and lawyers to help navigate the requirements and ensure compliance. However, without continuous compliance oversight, websites could still be blocked as new content is added and unblocking it is extremely difficult.
Hosting outside of China is also problematic. A typical website hosted in the US or EMEA takes 20 to 40 seconds to load in China. No website users will stick around for that kind of web performance. Even if you host a data centre in Hong Kong and maybe one in Singapore or Tokyo, you still have to go through the Great Firewall , adding ten to 15 seconds. The Network Bench chart shows loading a web object from a data centre located in Hong Kong (red) versus one inside the Great Firewall (green) Hong Kong is 50 per cent slower.
Connections between different areas in China also pose a problem. Not all end users are in the major cities of Beijing and Shanghai. Millions of potential customers reside in tier two and tier three markets. Chinas Internet infrastructure has limited peering points, fragmented network topology, and poor connectivity. Consequently, setting up data centres in major cities is just not enough. Performance will not meet your or your end-users expectations.
So what are you options You could build your own data centres throughout China, which would take years and garner a high price tag in consulting fees and lawyers. You might colocate in China, although this still may not help you reach all of China with consistent performance and, depending on your co-location partner, you may still need to hire a consultant to help with regulations, licensing, and content. For retail brands that only want to dip their toe in China, several online malls exist including Taobao and TMall, however, this is different from establishing your brand and building a market in China.
If you want to build a customer base in China for your application or brand, one effective solution is to work with a content delivery network provider that has points of presence in mainland China and local expertise to help with licensing, advice on content, and keep websites from getting blocked by content governing bodies. They can also provide a service whereby they constantly monitor regulatory changes, from both business and technology perspectives.
Jeff Kim is President and COO of CDNetworks Americas/EMEA.