Hosting website in China can be quite beneficial to a business in several respects. First of all, and most importantly, local web hosting in China will significantly reduce website’s loading time. This will both improve ranking in Chinese search engines, such as Baidu, as well as improve visitors’ overall experience.
Unfortunately, many websites that are hosted abroad still have a dismal loading time. This, undoubtedly, is adversely impacting their business in the Mainland. In addition, there is always a risk of getting banned and losing Chinese traffic completely if a website has been unlucky enough to share a server with a site that has been blacklisted by Chinese authorities for whatever reason.
On the other hand, hosting website in China is not as easy as it would have been in case of most countries.
What are the Challenges of Hosting Website in China?
First of all, every website that is physically hosted in China must obtain ICP (Internet Content Provider) license from Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
ICP licenses are issued on provincial level and, currently, only Chinese registered businesses are eligible to obtain them. In the past, there was a pilot program in Shanghai that allowed issuing ICP license to some foreign enterprises but, so far, we haven’t heard of anyone getting one.
This policy is unlikely to change in near future as Chinese government seems to be tightening its control over internet rather than loosening it.
On the other hand, registering WOFE (Wholly Foreign Owned Enterprise) type of company in China is becoming much easier and significantly cheaper than it was in the past. Some jurisdictions, such as Shenzhen or Shanghai, have streamlined their process in recent years, significantly simplifying business registration in China.
As an alternative to web hosting in China, doing it in Hong Kong could be considered as a half way solution. The loading speed will most likely improve, although it will still fall short of what it would have been in case of physically hosting website in China.
If you would like to test your website’s performance in China, you could use the tools that we discussed in our post on how to test website loading speed.
The next challenge is related to communication with the hosting company and the tech support. Unfortunately, very few Mainland based web hosting providers offer English control panel or any support in English. Those that do, charge premium for that. So, picking a good Chinese web hosting provider with all the required qualifications could be tricky. Many web hosting companies just don’t see selling hosting plan to individual sites as a particularly profitable business and prefer to focus on large enterprise solutions instead. As a result, there is a major lack of options to host a regular site with the provider that also offers English tech support.
Finally, hosting website in China may still not work as smooth as one would expect. The main reason behind it is the problematic infrastructure of Chinese internet in general that often creates major traffic bottlenecks. The root of the problem is the fact that China’s core internet access is largely controlled by just two ISPs: China Telecom and China Unicom.
Here is the technical explanation from the recent blog by Cloudflare, one of the largest CDN (content delivery network) providers:
“…China Telecom operates many distinct networks across several provinces, many of which operate independently of one another. The interconnection points between these networks, and the ISPs themselves, are also candidates for congestion, with too much traffic paired with too little capacity. The connectivity between different ISPs in different provinces can become so fraught that it is sometimes more efficient to route traffic outside the country, across a third party network, and then back in.”
In fact, in the same article, Cloudflare has announced its partnership with Baidu that will allow them to setup 17 data centers in Mainland China. This can, potentially, become another alternative for physical web hosting in China. Cloudflare even claims to be able to automatically process ICP license applications on behalf of their clients.