Some of the most common questions I hear from website owners that are considering entering the Chinese market are about hosting and domain names. Questions like “Do I need to host my site in China?”, “Should I use a .cn, .com.cn or something else?” and “Will my site get blocked?”
Unfortunately, I’ve seen a TON of bad advice for these questions online. I think this is a case of the Bad Advice Echo Chamber at work. That is, some time ago, a person or two spread some advice about these issues. And that advice has been repetitively bounced back and forth ever since, like an echo.
Below are 5 myths I’ve come across regarding this issue.
Myth #1: If your site is hosted outside of China, it might get blocked by the Chinese government.
The truth: If the Chinese government wants to block your site, they can do it. It doesn’t matter where it’s hosted.
But why would they block your site anyways? If you aren’t promoting something prohibited, like porn, gambling or political content, it won’t be blocked. There’s room to debate why some sites have been blocked and some haven’t, but hosting location doesn’t have anything to do with it.
Myth #2: Baidu will rank my site higher if it’s located in China.
If you hear somebody who claims to be an SEO expert say this, ask them what evidence they have. If the only evidence they have is from the Echo Chamber, you might as well do your own SEO.
Baidu will temporarily remove sites from its index if they aren’t accessible – this is according to their official webmaster FAQ. It would even be reasonable to assume that Baidu considers site performance in their ranking algorithm. However, that doesn’t mean the site has to be located in China – it just means the site has to load well for Chinese users, including Baidu.
Myth #3: It is best to use a .cn or .com.cn rather than a .com domain.
I can see why people might think this, but I generally recommend that International businesses use a .com domain.
Based on a survey we did before, Chinese users much prefer .com domains over .cn domains. It was only a survey of 34 Internet users, so there is room for more research. However, the results were just as I would expect. As I often say: There’s nobody Chinese people trust less than Chinese people.
Finally, .cn and .com.cn domains are only legally available to people that are either Chinese citizens or have a Chinese business entity. So, for many small businesses this factor alone would put the brakes on any plans for a .cn domain.
Myth #4: But, I can buy a .cn with such-and-such company.
Update: Non-Chinese individuals and businesses can register .cn domain names now apparently. See this post for more up-to-date info.
Based on Chinese government rules, you need to be Chinese or have a Chinese business entity to own a .cn domain or any domain ending in .cn.
There are companies that will register a .cn domain name, then give you access to manage it. In other words, they own the domain, and have an agreement with you that states you own it…or perhaps the statement simply states that you can use it. As far as I know, these companies work as a proxy, allowing you access to a .cn domain name that they buy.
If you ‘buy’ a .cn through one of these companies, what would happen if your business became highly valuable? Would your contract with that domain registration proxy company hold up? I really don’t know… I certainly wouldn’t try one of these out though.
Myth #5: I’ll just sign up for a hosting account like the one I have in USA (or other Western country). Piece of cake.
Wow, this is one I believed in myself earlier. Boy, was I in for a surprise. Hosting companies in China tend to do things differently. They tend to provide a lot less bang per buck than US hosting companies too.
I’m no hosting expert, and I don’t want to have to become one in order to get a website setup. So, moving away from hosting companies I trust like FullHost.com and HostGator.com can be a big risk. For that matter, it’s always a risk switching from one host to another, regardless of where the new hosting company is located.
So, just keep in mind that there’s a cost to setting up new hosting in terms of time, money and risk. This cost is even greater when looking for hosting in a new country, with different industries standards and a different language.
There are valid reasons to host a site in China, just as there are valid reasons to use a .cn domain name as well. I just hope people don’t do it for the wrong reasons.