Establishing an Online Presence in China
China’s online landscape is becoming increasingly complex, as new trends, technologies, and platforms pose a wide array of challenges for foreign companies seeking to make an impact. At the same time, an increasingly strict regulatory environment surrounding cybersecurity and data protection is raising the bar for regulatory compliance and posing significant legal risks to foreign companies.
China’s mature and well-developed online landscape and internet-savvy population mean that maintaining an online presence is more important than ever. Knowing which channels and platforms to use and understanding how Chinese users navigate the internet is crucial to standing out in an extremely competitive and crowded space.
Cybersecurity and data protection in China
Having an online presence and conducting business on China’s internet has become more complicated over the past few years. Since 2017 when the country’s first major piece of legislation governing the digital world was implemented in the form of the Cybersecurity Law, China has been actively building its legal framework to improve cybersecurity and data protection.
One of the most significant pieces of legislation to be released in the past few years was the Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL), which came into effect in 2021. This law, which was partially based on Europe’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), was China’s first piece of legislation that codified the responsibilities of companies and other entities to protect the personal information (PI) collected from subjects in China.
These responsibilities include obtaining explicit and informed consent from users to process their PI for various purposes, implementation of the “principle of least privilege”, which limits employees’ access to the PI that is strictly required to complete a given task, and the implementation of specific protection mechanisms and risk assessment procedures.
One of the important introductions in the PIPL is the limitations placed on the export PI collected from subjects in China. Under this provision, companies must undergo various legal procedures to be able to transfer the PI of people in China to an overseas destination, depending on the volume and sensitivity level of the PI being transferred.
This requirement poses significant challenges to foreign companies and multinationals, who regularly have to transfer data between different offices and subsidiaries located in different countries or allow overseas employees to access PI that is stored in China. Moreover, given the very broad definition of PI in the PIPL, the regulations affect virtually every type of company, and many different departments within companies, from HR and payroll to sales to client services.
Due to the compliance risks associated with the data protection requirements, it is essential that companies operating with an online presence in China understand their legal obligations to protect PI.
Establishing an internet presence in China
Beyond regulatory compliance, one of the major challenges for foreign companies establishing an online presence in China is being noticed. Given the highly sophisticated nature of China’s digital space and high levels of internet usage, companies are expected to have a strong internet presence if they are to find success.
Setting up a Chinese website is not always as simple as translating the contents of an overseas web page into Chinese. Full localization, not only of language but also of processes, format, and style, is important to creating a seamless experience that caters to Chinese users’ habits and, crucially, their bandwidths.
China’s internet has a higher degree of separation from the rest of the world than other markets, due to the strict regulatory landscape. For this reason, many of the tools and platforms that are used in most of the world are not available in China – chief among them being Google and its suite of services – and foreign companies must therefore adapt to the Chinese digital tools and platforms.
China’s go-to search engine is Baidu, which currently holds over 70 percent of the market. Due to its dominant position, Chinese websites must be findable on Baidu, and ideally rank highly on its search results, if they are to receive a steady flow of traffic.
Foreign companies are often on the back foot when it comes to their online presence as they have less experience optimizing their content for Chinese platforms and audiences.
Conducting good SEO on Baidu will require a different strategy than running SEO on Google. In addition to understanding the types of Chinese keywords and phrases that perform well on Baidu, marketers must also be cognizant of Chinese audiences’ preferred formats and preferences.
As with Google, Baidu derives the majority of its revenue from advertising and therefore offers a suite of ad services to companies wishing to promote their products or services more prominently on the site. Baidu’s pay-per-click (PPC) services can be an effective way to boost the visibility of a Chinese website, but marketers must also be aware of the techniques and strategies for successfully using this tool, as well as setting KPIs and measuring success.
In our upcoming webinar, Director, and Founder of Regroup China Scott Muir will share valuable insights into establishing a Chinese web presence, which will include looking at the benefits of having a Chinese website and practical tips on how to ensure speedy access throughout mainland China.
In addition, he will discuss SEO protocols with an emphasis on Baidu, and explain the crucial aspects of PPC, its key differences from Google paid search, and why it’s important for foreign investors to use Baidu’s paid search to increase the visibility of their website.
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