What Western universities should know about Chinese website design

If you’re a Western university seeking to market your academic offer to Chinese students, then there are two key challenges to overcome; 1) ensuring your institution can be found online by your target audience and 2) building brand awareness and trust.

These challenges can be met with the right integrated marketing strategy, which will begin with the creation of a Chinese language website, tailored for your target audience (and typically, encompassing both Chinese students and parents alike).

In this blog, we’re going to look at the steps Western universities should take to successfully create a Chinese language website.

Do Western universities really need a separate Chinese language website?

In the past, some universities would simply choose to offer a language translation option on their English language website. This was primarily because of the time and expense involved to create websites a decade ago.

However, a simple translation option misses a trick. Firstly, Western website content is targeted for Western readers and doesn’t take into account the unique content needs of a Chinese audience. Secondly, it tends to offer a poor user experience. Chinese digital users are highly sophisticated and expect to see content that is targeted to their locality, with appropriate storytelling, symbolism, nuance, cultural appreciation and engaging, relevant content – as well as the right language!

The easiest and best way to deliver this is through the creation of a bespoke Chinese website, tailored to the needs of the audience. So what is the process to getting Chinese website design right?

1. Start with research

You already know that your Chinese website design needs to be optimised for mobile, with over 98% of the 772 million internet users in China preferring their smartphones. Did you also know though that Chinese branding for your institution is well worth the investment, to help localise your website and make it more relevant to your audience? Remember that names are highly significant with Chinese consumers, and a carefully chosen Chinese brand and name helps to add value, provide engagement and connection, and supports brand awareness – whilst allowing you to differentiate from the competition. It’s always worth bearing the key principles of close personal relationships (Guanxi) and trust (Xin) in mind when seeking to market to this audience.

2. Plan your localised Chinese website

This means considering content, design, coding and user journeys. Every aspect should be considered with in-depth knowledge of your market. For example, when planning your content you must ensure that it is:

– accurately translated, both in terms of concept and idiom as well as vocabulary
– of the right length, as Chinese characters can lead to a 25% text length shrinkage from English and have a knock-on effect on graphics, tables and more.
– correctly formatted, with simplified Chinese characters and traditional Chinese characters being preferred in different parts of China.

It is also important to remember that the Chinese like to carry out plenty of research as consumers. They also value the recommendations of their peer networks, are naturally risk-averse and value quality Western universities. Case studies, trust marks and accreditations, employment prospects, university partners, trusted recommendations from Chinese alumni… all of these are examples of content that can be leveraged effectively for a Chinese audience.

3. Register the .cn domain

Register your Chinese domain extension (.cn or .com.cn). This will support your digital marketing efforts and give your website credibility. There is a fairly complex administration process required to do this, but Market Me China can assist with the registration certificate, ID requirements and other documentation needed by the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), and manage the process end to end for you.

4. Organise hosting in Mainland China or Hong Kong

Again, this takes some administration, as universities with a business licence in China can host their websites within the country to get around the Chinese firewall, but they must get a corporate ICP licence from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. This takes around 20 days if the process is followed accurately. If your institution doesn’t have a Chinese business licence, it is best to maximise accessibility by hosting your Chinese website in Hong Kong.

5. Build and test on your audience

User journeys in China differ from the West. For example, Chinese users like to be able to access important information from the homepage and appreciate long-form content. They expect to see social media integrated at all turns and value symbols of trust. Tailoring of content is essential, any translation must be done carefully and expertly, and – of course – content remains king! Chinese users love useful, engaging, trustable content that adds genuine value. Additionally, if you need to integrate a payment platform for any kind of booking or purchase, then you should also ensure that your Chinese website is integrated with AliPay, WeChatPay or UnionPay.

6. Integrate with social platforms and online advertising

Successful Chinese websites will invariably have links to social platforms such as Weibo and WeChat, allowing brands to maximise the reach and shareability of their content, and to extract the maximum value of content repurposing across channels. You should also ensure that your landing pages are correctly linked with any online advertising campaigns you are planning in China.

7. Assess and improve

At Market Me China, we use a three-tier benchmark to assess Chinese websites. This weighs up cultural customisation, Chinese UX and translation quality. By combining this approach with analytics and user feedback, we can help our clients to continually improve and refine their Chinese marketing efforts for the best possible results.

Find out more

Market Me China works on a partnership basis with Western academic institutions to deliver the Chinese-focused marketing strategies they need. From the creation of an impactful website that meets the unique needs of the Chinese audience, through to delivering effective content marketing and Baidu PPC campaigns, our team have the skillsets and knowledge that you require. We also make the process easy by taking on the hard work for you – translating your needs into actions and measurable results. Please contact us for a no obligation chat and to find out more about how we can help you.