Alessio has reported security vulnerabilities to Google and Apple. He also has a past as a web developer and web server administrator.
The Chinese Web: An Opportunity to Broaden Your Audience
China is one of the largest countries in the world. Many underestimate the opportunity to reach a large Chinese audience on the web because of the difficulties in writing in Chinese and because the internet in China is entirely different from the one we commonly use.
On the Chinese Web, Everything Is Different
For bloggers and web publishers, the difference between targeting readers in the US and European countries is not significant. You will deal with services like Google, Facebook, and hosting platforms with familiar names, such as GoDaddy, Amazon Web Services, or BlueHost.
In China, however, starting a blog means dealing with different players than you already know. There's no Google Analytics in China, and no need to understand how to rank on Google: your audience on Instagram or Facebook will also not matter.
Are you thinking of associating a YouTube channel with your blog? Think twice. Even TikTok in China is an entirely different app than the one released internationally.
When starting your new Chinese blog, your mission will be to climb Baidu search results and get followers on social media platforms like Weibo or QQ. If you like to create videos, in addition to blog posts, you will deal with platforms like Youku and Bilibili.
Not Everyone Can Afford to Rely on a Marketing Agency
Many international businesses that want to conquer the Chinese market do not care about this topic. They usually rely on marketing agencies and intermediaries that specialize in starting a web presence in China and do all the work for them.
The story is different for an amateur who wants to start a blog in China because of a particular passion or just because he wants to do to try something new and cannot hire an agency just for this.
If you feel ready to write a blog in Chinese or have a native friend who will help you, this article will provide you with the steps you should take to run your new website in China.
3 Steps to Starting a Blog in China
- Host Your Blog in China
- Rank Your Blog in Chinese Search Engines
- Start a Video Channel for Your Blog
1. Host Your Blog in China
One big difference between the internet in China and outside the country is that tendency is to use free services provided by big corporations. In the U.S., most bloggers tend to buy hosting and install their copy of WordPress; in China, it is more common to start blogging on free services provided by companies such as Baidu or Sina.
If you want to go this route, you will find yourself blogging in a way that looks more similar to writing long posts on a social network rather than managing a whole website.
Registering through these platforms is as simple as creating a Google or Facebook account here, provided that you can fully understand the Chinese language.
If you prefer to start a self-hosted blog, this article will explain how you can proceed.
Not Everyone Can Host Their Website in China
To host a website in Mainland China, you must obtain an ICP filing license. It is a certification that establishes you meet the requirements to legally run your blog, e-commerce, personal, or business page on a web server in mainland China.
Obtaining this license is not easy, as one of the basic requirements is to have a fixed residence in China. It means an international blogger who wants to host a new website within Mainland China cannot do it.
Luckily, there is still a Chinese city where you can host your website without needing an ICP: Hong Kong. Starting a blog and hosting it within this region is, in fact, the most effective solution for a simple amateur who does not live in China or run a business with an established presence in the country.
Choose a Reliable Hosting Service
The first step is choosing a reliable hosting provider with data centers in China. If you need to save the most, you can also host your blog on a shared service provided by any leading international hosting providers, maybe by choosing a data center in Asia (usually Singapore). Still, to get the best performances, cloud hosting is one of the best alternatives you may consider.
Almost all global cloud providers have data centers in Hong Kong, but not in other areas of China. Still, if you want to choose the services that are already the first choices among people who run websites targeting Chinese users, you may want to stick with the most famous players in the Chinese cloud computing market: Alibaba, Tencent, or Baidu. These have data centers in several Chinese regions.
After you have chosen a cloud provider, you can create a new WordPress account through your management console. Below is an example of how you can do it on Alibaba Cloud:
- Sign up for a new account;
- Open the Simple Application Server Console and click the button "Create Simple Application Server";
- Select a cloud region (if you can't obtain an ICP Filing license, you should choose the "China - Hong Kong" data center);
- Select the WordPress image;
- Set the disk size you need for your blog and the instance you think suits your needs better.
After you have bought the WordPress instance, you can proceed with registering a domain name through the service to associate it with your new hosting plan quickly.
2. Rank Your Blog in Chinese Search Engines
After you have created your new blog, it is time to get indexed on search engines. Google is not available in China, so you will focus on ranking on Baidu, the leading search engine in the country. Just as with Google and search engines outside China, you need to get links to your blog so Baidu can discover and crawl it. In addition, you can manage your listing on the search engine with a tool that is the Chinese counterpart of Google Search Console: Baidu Ziyuan.
Baidu Ziyuan is a series of webmaster tools that allow you to tweak any aspect of the performance of your blog on Baidu. Verifying your website on Ziyuan will also make Baidu aware of its existence from the first day you publish your website.
The interface is in Chinese: If you cannot understand it, you should use the Google Chrome browser with the translation feature enabled so that you will be able to understand. Below are the steps to claim your website on Ziyuan:
- Create a new Baidu account through this registration form, which also enables verification with non-Chinese phone numbers for overseas;
- Open Baidu Ziyuan and proceed with adding your website.
To verify ownership of the website you are adding, you will need to add a CNAME record to your DNS, an HTML tag on your pages, or download a file on your server, exactly like you would do with Google Search Console.
With Ziyuan, you can submit your website for indexing, track your indexed pages, get reports on backlinks, and much more. The tool also generates a certificate enabling HTTPS and keeps track of visits and conversions (think of a counterpart of Google Analytics but directly embedded within the webmaster tools).
3. Start a Video Channel for Your Blog
After you have launched your blog, you may decide if start a video channel too. If you like to make videos, in addition to writing posts, you may consider creating a video channel your readers can follow to get further news.
Of course, there is no YouTube in China, but you can join two other popular services: Youku and Bilibili. The first is China's leading video hosting service, while the latter is growing, and, especially among Gen Z, it is one of the most used video services.
As you have seen with Baidu services, you should remember two things before signing up for one of the two services:
- You need to register with your phone number. With both Youku and Bilibili, you can register your overseas phone number with no issues.
- The interface in both services is all in Chinese, so you may consider using Google Chrome's translation feature if you need to use an English interface.
Using these two leading video services is intuitive, and someone with experience with YouTybe would not have particular difficulties making videos for Bilibili or Youku.
Starting a blog in China is not difficult, at least if you want to host your website in Hong Kong, which may be your only choice if you don't have a fixed residence in China (one of the requirements to apply for the ICP Filing license). Also, signing up for a video hosting service like Youku or Bilibili is a simple task.
Finally, with Google Chrome's translation feature, it will be easy to use Chinese interfaces for people who have never studied the language.
Your biggest challenge will be producing good content for the Chinese market; that is why you should start a blog and video channels in China only if you are fluent in Chinese or have Chinese friends ready to support you, proofread your articles, or speak in your videos.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2022 Alessio Ganci