Launching a web site in China or Australia?

A partner agency was recently tasked with building and launching a series of country-specific web sites for a client that produces anti-microbial products. They hired me to assist with strategy and management for this fast-moving project. Over several weeks we built and deployed sites in the US, New Zealand, Australia and China. The latter two sites presented challenges that anyone planning to launch sites within those countries should know about.

What you should know about launching a site for Australia

Deploying a site for Australia doesn’t present unusual technical challenges, although it’s advisable to use a hosting company with a data center or content delivery network (CDN) that are positioned to serve Australian audiences, so downloads aren’t unnecessarily slow.

The one possible complication is in securing an Australian domain name. To prevent cybersquatting, the .au Domain Administration requires registrants to have a “close and substantial connection” to the commercial domain name they wish to register. To prove this, businesses must be a valid commercial entity and have either an Australian Company Number (ACN) or Australian Business Number (ABN). Each has its own application requirements, and you should consult with an attorney and accountant if you have questions about whether is more appropriate for your business.

Whether you choose to apply for an ACN or ABN, you will need to have these on file before starting the domain registration process.

What you should know about launching a site for China

China presents additional challenges to companies wanting to launch a web site for audiences within that country, from expectations about design, to hosting and administration. None of these are insurmountable, but having business relationships in China, Hong Kong or Singapore will accelerate the process.

Registering a Chinese domain (in this case, .cn or is possible for businesses in or outside China. Businesses registered in China will need provide their domain registrar with documentation about the Chinese business entity and proof of identity from a company agent. Companies not located in China are required to provide similar documentation; we submitted documentation from a company agent who is a citizen in Singapore, and the approval process was reasonably quick. Unlike registering domains in Australia, I was able to provisionally register Chinese domains then submit the necessary documentation. Once the domains were approved by Chinese authorities I received certificates confirming they were accepted.

We presented the client with three options for hosting their site. I’ve noted the pros and cons of each.

  1. Use their existing US-based web host. The advantage is convenience and quick site deployment. The disadvantages are significant, from the site being unavailable to audiences in China thanks to the Great Firewall, to painfully slow load times for Chinese audiences. I include this option only to emphasize that you don’t want to choose it.
  2. Use a host with China-based data centers. You’ll need to have a business presence in China, or an agent or partnership that can facilitate it. And, you’ll need to apply for an ICP license and display it on your site. Advantages: Reliable, fast availability to audiences. And, the cost can be very reasonable. Disadvantages: If you depend on a partner, the quality of and trust in that relationship is everything. You are essentially outsourcing your presence in the country to a third party. And, the application and approval process for an ICP license can be time-consuming.
  3. Choose a Hong Kong or Singapore hosting company that has a fast telecommunications connection to mainland China. Advantages: Site availability and speed can be almost as good as that for sites hosting in China, and you’ll be able to avoid applying for an ICP license. Costs for this type of hosting can be very reasonable. Disadvantages: None that are significant. This is the option we chose.

Site design and content are the next major consideration. Western preferences for design – lots of white space, few colors, ads bordering main content – aren’t applicable to sites optimized for audiences in China. They expect pages with dense, link-rich content, and won’t object to ad placements that might cause western audiences to reach for the back button. While it’s possible to insert translated content into a western design, it isn’t ideal.

Language translations are the final consideration and fortunately your choices are straightforward. For audiences in mainland China, simplified Chinese is the written translation. Hong Kong and Taiwan audiences will require traditional Chinese translation. Our project included both, with simplified Chinese as the default.

If you have questions about developing and deploying web sites for China and other international markets, please contact me. I’m happy to answer questions or direct you to the right resources.