China Marketing Blog

Chinese Domain Name Preferences Not What You Think

Tait Lawton — Thu, 02/23/2012 - 11:22

When entering the Chinese market, choice of domain name is often one of the first decisions that will need to be made. It’s a decision that shouldn’t be made lightly. Choose right, and you’ll have a more memorable, easily pronounceable, trustworthy domain name. Choose wrong and you may miss out on type-in traffic or end up with a domain that doesn’t inspire enough trust in the minds of your potential customers.

We recently held a survey to answer a few simple questions about domain name selection for the Chinese market. We received responses from 34 Chinese Internet users.

We asked three questions about 16 different domain pairs. The domain pairs were broken into four groups to test four different variables. The questions are translated as follows.

  • Of the following two domain names, which do you believe belongs to a more trustworthy website?
  • Of the following two domain names, which do you find easier to remember?
  • Of the following two domain names, which do you find easier to pronounce?

.com Strongly Preferred Over .cn

Not only did respondents feel that .com domains were more trustworthy, they also found them to be more memorable and pronounceable. It seems that .com is seen as the international standard in China.

 
.com
.cn
No Difference
Trustworthy
64%
29%
8%
Memorable
67%
20%
10%
Pronounceable
68%
17%
12%

Domain variants tested:

  • ralano.com/ralano.cn
  • lawton.com/lawton.cn
  • fengshui.com/fengshui.cn
  • liuxue.com/liuxue.cn

For the foreign-sounding domain names, Ralano and Lawton, the results were even further skewed towards a preference to .com. For example, 89% of respondents thought ralano.com was more pronounceable and 75% felt it was more trustworthy.

Interestingly, even for the Chinese practice of fengshui, the .com was still preferred, although not by quite as much. 53% of respondents felt fengshui.com was more trustworthy, while 33% preferred fengshui.cn.

English Preferred Over Pinyin

Respondents generally preferred English domain names over pinyin domain names.

 
Pinyin
English
No Difference
Trustworthy
22%
67%
8%
Memorable
32%
56%
9%
Pronounceable
28%
59%
17%

Domain variants tested:

  • ribenfangchan.com/japanrealestate.com
  • englishlessons.com/yingyupeixun.com
  • luoshanji.com/losangeles.com
  • pianyijipiao.com/cheapflights.com

Respondents were split over the Japanese real estate domain names. Although most felt the pinyin version was easier to remember, most also felt that the English version was more trustworthy.

Respondents very strongly preferred the English versions of the English lessons domain and Los Angeles domain, presumably because these are distinctly Western topics.

Hyphenation Preferred For Longer English-Language Domains

Respondents preferred the use of hyphens, when used in longer domains written in English.

 
Hyphen
No Hyphen
No Difference
Trustworthy
43%
42%
10%
Memorable
44%
45%
6%
Pronounceable
35%
44%
17%

Domain variants tested:

  • uk-language-school.com/uklanguageschool.com
  • zhongguodaoyou.com/zhongguo-daoyou.com
  • cheap-brands.com/cheapbrands.com
  • vancouver-hotels.com/vancouverhotels.com

For both the Vancouver hotels and uk language school domains, respondents favoured hyphens. Being especially long, 64% of respondents felt uk-language-school.com was easier to remember than uklanguageschool.com, while only 28% felt the opposite.

Overall, the results were split on this topic. I would recommend using a hyphenated domain name only for English language domains that contain three or more English words, or English words that are longer or more complex.

Singular Preferred Over Plural

Respondents preferred the use of the singular form over plural.

 
Singular
Plural
No Difference
Trustworthy
48%
37%
10%
Memorable
58%
32%
5%
Pronounceable
52%
34%
9%

Domain variants tested:

  • russiatour.com/russiatours.com
  • dogtoy.com/dogtoys.com
  • buyhouses.com/buyhouse.com
  • thailand.com/thailands.com

The table above shows the results for three of the domain pairs, not including thailand.com/thailands.com. This was a trick question to see if respondents would prefer an “s” at the end even if it didn’t make sense. They didn’t. Respondents found thailand.com more memorable, easier to pronounce and more trustworthy than thailands.com by 3 to 1.

Respondents were split down the middle for dogtoy.com vs. dogtoys.com.

In my experience watching Chinese people use the Internet, they very often forget the plurality of a domain name, so I always recommend getting both the plural and singular version.

Whether to make the singular or plural version the default domain is a tough choice as Chinese Internet users may not feel the same about plurality as you do.

Summary

Non-Chinese businesses should typically use a .com English-language domain. Although not tested in this survey, I always believe shorter domains are always better. If you use several English words, placing hyphens in between words will make it easier for Chinese Internet users to remember.

Singular words are generally preferred to plural, but it depends on the topic.

Same as with domains for English readers, it’s wise to buy common variants of your domain name. Buying the .cn, non-hyphenated and plural versions of the domain will help you avoid losing type-in traffic.

More?

If you have general questions about domain names, we’re glad to answer.

If you want a killer domain name for your business, we can help you create one as part of our Chinese brand name creation service.

In the future, I’d love to do a test where we actually test respondents’ ability to remember a domain name, rather than just ask them if they feel it’s memorable.

 

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Comments

This is such a great comparable table, very informative. Would you say Baidu would rank you slightly better with a local domain vs. a .com?

My guess would be that a .com would rank slightly higher. And, within that guess, it's important to note a few things:
- I'm not saying that actual .com sites, on average, rank higher than .cn sites. I'm saying that, all things equal, a .com should rank higher.
- The reason is that I believe it could attract more links.
- This rule may not apply to sites that provide a product/service that is local in nature.
- This is not easily testable. Correlational analysis of search results wouldn't work because of so many other differences.

The people that say that a .cn or .com.cn is needed to rank highly on Baidu are certainly wrong. We've done it without. Unfortunately, a lot of people that do SEO, or even call themselves experts and write about it, treat it like witchcraft. Anyways, I have never seen the question of whether or not a local domain will gain a slight rankings boost in relation to a local domain with Baidu been authoritatively answered anywhere.

I have experienced that as well. For strong keywords, obviously depending on the keyword, one can see even local .co.uk domains ranking really well on Baidu, and incredibly, the same domains have really low domain and page authorities, which proves a point, that the logic and mechanics behind baidu is completely different to google and other mainstream western engines.

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