How Should You Localize Your Website for the Chinese Market?
In short, manually translate all key pages into Mandarin Chinese written in Simplified Chinese script, the universal language used across the mainland. Make sure your language is concise and persuasive – good copy matters just as much in China as it does in the West!
Besides just translating, make sure to adjust the content of your website for Chinese users. Learn what they want, then add or edit content that addresses their concerns.
There is a range of effort you can put into localizing your website for China, so choose depending on the size of the opportunity and cost. We’ll start with the basics and move into more detail from there.
Should you use Google Translate?
Never use an automated translation tool to create text for your website! The resulting translation will be awkward at best.
Intellectually, pretty much every experienced marketer agrees that words matter a lot. They will put a lot of effort getting their English landing pages and ads written just perfectly. Yet, when they get the opportunity to run a campaign in China, somehow this logic often gets thrown out the window.
It’s hard to say why this is. Perhaps most people rely on their own feelings, and if they can’t understand a language, they neglect it. That is likely the reason for Chinglish signs across China written for tourists, and for Justin Bieber’s Chinese tattoo.
If that’s not enough, consider this one last bit – Chinese Internet users have access to translation tools of their own, so giving them machine-translated text doesn’t do anything they can’t. There’s no benefit.
Which content should you translate?
While it’s important to have a real live human translate the text of your website, it’s also expensive. So just how much content should be translated?
We recommend that you translate all the content that is essential for helping Chinese readers understand your business and then take the next step. That next step may be a purchase on-site, contacting you via a lead form, following your WeChat account, etc.
To start, all you need to do is create a list. Just ask yourself these three questions:
- Which of your English pages are relevant to Chinese readers?
- Have your customers often asked you questions that aren’t well-addressed on your website?
- Do your Chinese competitors offer additional information that you are missing?
We’ll also offer a list of some common pages to translate:
- The homepage, of course.
- The “About Us” page. Especially for service businesses, people will check this page to get a sense of the strength of your team and your company personality.
- An FAQ. You can build this up over time in response to visitors’ questions.
- The “Contact Us” page.
- Steps in any conversion processes – payments, subscriptions, registrations, etc.
- Landing pages that you are driving paid traffic into.
- Key products/services or categories. This is usually where there might be a ton of content, but start with the most essential parts.
After you have a general idea of what you want translated, you can move on to the next steps – choose who to do it and the details of how to get it on your site.
Who should do the translation?
Human translations are leaps and bounds above machine translation, but you still need to decide on the final quality level you need, and who can deliver that.
The first option is the Chinese-speaking staff within your company. This is a good choice for small and simple sites and may be free (if they have some free time). However, if they don’t have experience with translation or writing, it might take them a relatively long time to create each page, and the quality is likely to be so-so.
A professional translation company is also a good option. Quality will vary. Translation companies are often under a lot of pressure to do work quickly and for low-cost. There is a trade-off between quality, speed and price, so be careful.
A bi-cultural marketing company is the best option, but also the most expensive. A marketing company should be able to provide content that is written to drive results such as our company does. Our process is more thorough than a translation agency, and our goal isn’t just to translate content accurately but to meet business objectives – such as to get more leads or increase a website’s sales revenue.
Compared to a great bi-cultural marketing agency, a great translation agency is faster and cheaper. For that reason, we recommend using a marketing agency for key pages and then using a translation agency to work on the bulk, such as on sites with hundreds or thousands of pages.
Costs for Chinese website translation and Chinese content writing
Translation agencies often charge between $0.08 to $0.15 per source word.
Our costs are higher. Basic content creation is $0.15 per Chinese character. However, we often invest more effort crafting the homepage, landing pages and/or other key pages, so we charge $500 to $2,000 per page.
That’s a larger investment, but in the range of what strong marketing agencies would charge you for writing English content.
Localizing a Website into Chinese does not require a complicated process
Here’s the super simple process that we recommend:
- Make a draft list of the content you think should be translated/created for China.
- Contact somebody to help you – co-worker, translation agency or marketing company. Talk to them and finish the list.
- Get a quote. Create a contract and invoice.
- You might have the content provided to you bit-by-bit, or all at once.
- Upload it to your website.
- Have them double-check to make sure it works alright.
That’s about it. There are some additional steps for the agency to handle – for example, agencies will normally have proofreaders review the content before providing it to their client. Those specific processes are outside the scope of this post though.
Using Chinese content to get ‘SEO’ traffic from Baidu
Baidu is the Chinese search engine with the biggest market share and having Chinese content on your website will majorly affect your traffic potential from it. In fact, Baidu often doesn’t even index websites if they don’t have Chinese content.
It’s important to understand which keywords people might use to search on Baidu. Choose keywords that are relevant to your business and integrate those into key spots on the page. But, always write for people first and search engines second, do not write spammy content just for SEO purposes.
Should English and Chinese be on the same website or two separate websites?
A website hosted in mainland China will usually be more reliable for users in mainland China.
However – the benefit may not be worth the cost. There are several costs to consider, including:
- Fees for hosting, ICP license and domain name.
- Software development costs for maintaining two websites.
- Extra hassle of maintaining the content on two separate websites.
Getting the Chinese content on your website
Almost all websites nowadays are setup on a content management system such as Wordpress. These systems have plugins available that will (hopefully) allow you to easily add multi-language functionality to the website.
Then somebody just needs to go on your site and add the content.
It is often that simple, but not always. To know for sure: ask your web developer.
One tip we can provide is that it is easier for the translator/writer to ensure quality if they can login to the website on their own and make the edits. If they were to submit Word files to somebody else to upload to the site, it often results in errors or delays.
Should the Chinese website design be different than the English website?
Website design in China can be quite different, and usually not for the best.
In 9/10 cases we recommend keeping the design consistent across English and Chinese versions of a website.
It’s common for Chinese businesses to create overly complex websites. When you ask them why, they say “because it’s what everybody in China does.” That’s a bad reason.
We are here to tell you that we recommend simple, useful websites. All our prior experience shows that that type of design creates a better experience for users and a higher conversion rate.
There are some minor changes to make however.
- Provide Chinese users with instant communication options. De-emphasize email contact.
- A WeChat account to contact, including a QR code.
- A live chat box.
- A phone number.
- Make it clear that you accept a common Chinese payment option.
- Remove social icons that won’t be used (Facebook, Twitter, etc).
- Put your products that are popular with Chinese consumers up-front.
- Use standard Chinese fonts, and make sure the font is large enough to be readable. If you need some extra flair, you may need to add images with Chinese writing, because Chinese font files can be very large.
These types of changes can generally be made without the need for any changes to the website theme/template.
Test and improve over time
Once your beautiful Chinese website is active, make sure to analyze the performance over time and make improvements.
Ask some of your Chinese customers to give their opinions on your content. We advise that you don’t ask them how the quality is, because they might not know. Instead, ask questions about their experience, like this:
- Were you able to find the information you were looking for?
- Was the site easy to read?
- Did you find the site entertaining?
- Would you make a purchase on our website? Why or why not?
Use analysis tools like Google Analytics, Baidu Webmaster Tools and Baidu Tongji. This will help you see how people behave on your website, how they found your website and even which keywords they searched for to find you.