Do Chinese People Really Like ‘Chinese Style’ Websites?

Mon, 02/27/2012 - 16:13
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When entering the Chinese market, one of the first things you’ll need is a website. Perhaps you already have an English website, or perhaps you’re planning on creating a completely new website for the Chinese market, but either way you’ll have to answer the same questions: How can I better tailor my website to the habits of Chinese Internet users? How can I make them like us? How can I make them want to buy our products? These are essential questions to ask yourself at the beginning of the website localization process.

Western marketers that we speak to at NMG often ask us what type of website style and layout Chinese Internet users prefer. Both Chinese and non-Chinese marketers probably have an idea about what Chinese Internet users like – huge pages, tons of links, ads everywhere, floating boxes, scrolling text, etc.

As an example, let’s take a look at the foreign real estate website http://www.bon-top.com/. It looks like a very ‘Chinese style’ website, doesn’t it?

 
A screenshot of bon-top.com, a Chinese-language website about non-Chinese real estate.
 

We can see some of the clearly ‘Chinese’ characteristics on the homepage:

  • It almost looks like they’re trying to fit their whole website on one page. The page is extremely long.
  • Lots of ads.
  • Several online chat boxes. There’s one on the left, three on the right and one pops up right in the middle as you browse.
  • The page is extremely crowded.
  • The navigation structure isn’t very clear.
  • Little focus.
  • Bright, diverse colour scheme.

I’ve noticed that a lot of marketers think that it’s a good idea to design Chinese websites like other Chinese websites. But in my opinion, this type of website is a mess! I don’t want to rely on my opinion alone though so I surveyed a bunch of Chinese Internet users about their opinions on two websites. The first website is the Bon Top site I just mentioned, and the second site is one of NMG’s client websites: www.goldenroofproperty.com. Both websites are in the foreign real estate niche.

 
A screenshot of Golden Roof Property, a Chinese-language website for a group of London real estate consultants
 

The Survey

My survey questions were as follows:

Of the two websites, which style do you prefer?

  1. 45 respondents chose http://www.goldenroofproperty.com/
  2. 5 respondents chose http://www.bon-top.com/

Why did you choose http://www.goldenroofproperty.com/ over http://www.bon-top.com/?

  1. “Golden Roof has a nice design. The colours and layout make it very clear. It’s easy to use.” – Xin (Copywriter)
  2. “Bon Top is too messy, I couldn’t tell what it is that I’m supposed to be looking at. At first, I didn’t even know what this website was about.” – Jiang (Event Planner)
  3. “Bon Top has too much on it. I didn’t know where to start. But Golden Roof clearly emphasizes their service. It guides you. I know where to find the information I want.” Red (Website Editor)

Why did you choose http://www.bon-top.com/ over http://www.goldenroofproperty.com/?

  1. “Bontop has more content on the homepage, looks like there’s lots of information. And the other website looks too simple. I don’t find Golden Roof to be as attractive. Plus, the contact method isn’t as obvious.” Fang Yuan (Civil Servant)
  2. “Golden Roof looks too simple. From the homepage, it looks like there isn’t that much info. Also, I’d like it if it had an online chat feature so I could interact with them.” – Vivie (Legal Counsel)

What do you think a good website should look like?

  1. “It has to have a good design, that’s how to gain my trust. The pages shouldn’t be too messy because that looks unprofessional. The navigation should be clear so that I can find what I’m looking for right away!” Zhou (Real Estate Agent)
  2. “It should make me want to learn more after I see the homepage! B (Civil Servant)
  3. “It should be simple and tasteful, easy to read and have clear categories.” Yanzi (Editor)

What is a Good Website for Chinese Visitors?

I didn’t do this survey to determine which of these two websites is definitively better. Everybody has their own tastes and preferences. Also, design aside, these websites are both quite different, so this is not necessarily comparing apples to apples. My goal with the survey was to sum up some of the preferences of Chinese Internet users to help guide the web design process for Chinese-language websites.

In my experience as a website user and Chinese copywriter, the typical, electric Chinese homepage is usually not the ideal design in the eyes of Chinese Internet users. This type of design may be useful for some types of websites and some user demographics, but in general this type of super busy style is used much too much in China. A great number of Chinese Internet users welcome designs that are clean, simple and elegant.

Of all the response I received for this survey, there is a clear preference for websites that have the following:

  1. A delightful, simple design. Design and layout matters.

  2. A clear topic and clear navigation. An appropriate website title, page headers and navigation will help draw visitors further into the site. A well-organized, hierarchical structure makes it easy to navigate the site.

  3. Fresh, professional content. Great, fresh content makes the site look alive, useful and trustworthy.

  4. Easy access to the website staff. To make it easy to gain more information or make a purchase, a contact page is necessary. For sales-enabled websites, it’s best to have an online chat feature on the site.

Of these factors, the more you can meet, the greater the number of visitors that convert. Don’t be scared to design a website for Chinese visitors that doesn’t look like the stereotypical ‘Chinese style’ websites of your competitors.

 

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Comments

Apart from the language issue (my Chinese isn't very good and my simplified Chinese is even worse), just looking at a Chinese website is *painful* for me. There's about 1000% more stuff (I hesitate to call it "content") than my poor brain can handle.

I assumed that website designers were catering to local preferences, but your (admittedly informal) survey seems to indicate the opposite.

So why do they do it? Will they change?

(Another peeve of mine re Chinese websites: every action, click, search whatever, seems to open a *new* page/tab/window, instead of just using the existing page/tab/window. Does that serve some preference of Chinese web users?)

Hi GALESL, Thanks for reading! I think why people made websites that "we don't like" is because of many Chinese people pay attention on content more than the design, they might just use an existing template or something, and the designers didn't realize the customer experience is actual the soul of a website. I think it will change soon, since now people know that the "service" is as important as "product" itself, they care the customer experience much more than before, as we know, some new Chinese websites are more "simple, clean and guided". And about the "new page/tab/window, VS existing page/tab/window", I myself like to open a new one, because I don't want to go back and find the info on the last page again, I'm not sure about what other people would prefer. Maybe we can a little survey to find out what Chinese people like more:) Thanks again!

re new tab, I prefer to be in control of my web browsing experience. I can very easily *choose* to open a link in a new tab *if I want to*. But with e.g. search buttons on Chinese websites, I have *no* choice: I click search and the results open in a new tab, whether I wanted that or not. That alienates me as a user. Sites that do that lose my goodwill.

Let me give a scenario.

I arrive at the front page of a Chinese website. It is the usual nightmare of sensory overload. I do a search to try and find what I want. Now I have two tabs open, the useless front page and the search results. Now maybe I try one of the search results. Now I have three tabs open. After seeing the result, I realize I want to try a different search. Now I have 4 tabs open. I try one of the new results. I now have 5 tabs open. 3 of them are completely useless to me. 1 might be useful. And only 1 is absolutely necessary. And that's after just 1 minute of using the website! Imagine after a few more minutes! I have to start going through all these tabs to see which ones to close. It's almost as bad as forcing pop-ups on me.

Going back to the front page sensory overload issue, I wanted to give my students a link to the jobs site Monster. Monster asks for your location and serves different sites accordingly, and it's a *great* example of this issue. Compare:
http://www.monster.co.uk/
http://www.chinahr.com/index.htm

The UK site is centred on two search boxes, with just a few other articles to jump off from (about 6 images). The China site has almost *100* banners/linked images (trust me I counted) for different companies.

Yes I agree with GALESL, tradtional Chinese websites ( such as real estate or agroprocessing firms) lool like too much confuses for non Chinese , and probably for some Chinese according to you experience.

I have a Chinese friend saying to me that Chinese websites lack of mordern design , what do you think about it ? I do think Chinese websites focus more on the content than on the design, but a clear design ( with no pop-ups displaying everywhere) will, im my opinion, drive the consumer more directly to the content, which will be easier to access .

I can't help noticing that people, who commented on the western-style website positively were all professional. Is it possible that the participant were not exactly randomly selected? Also the margin of error for 45 participants would be as high as 15%. The case may be that the "professionals" made their choice from their professional point of view, but all the "normal" people just noticed the lack of something important for them (and they were accustomed to having it by their fingertips on chinese websites). That doesn't necessarily mean they like all the mess there.

I'd like to do a more comprehensive survey. Perhaps a survey with 200-500 participants and a comparison of several different websites. The problem is, it's likely that a survey like this would still attract a certain type of person. That person is likely to be interested in web design, digital marketing, etc., which is different than the casual web user. If we could pay users to do a survey, I think that would improve the demographic a bit...but that would be expensive.

This is a nice article. I have been to many different Chinese web sites and many of them are hard to use. Job sites, Real estate and news sites often use the crowded style and I can't stand it. It would be interesting if you wrote a post on why they use this style.

Thanks Miguel. Yeah, I hope to revisit this topic soon. :) It is interesting.

Perhaps its the competition factor, as businesses are trying to get more traffic, they are trying to include as much content as possible on pages, hoping they become more popular and visible on the baidu.

thanks for the information.

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