BLOG: Differences between Chinese and Western websites


Our company often organizes seminars about the ins and outs of doing business in China. A while back, we did a presentation for a group of businesses who plan to venture out to the China market. One of the things we like to touch upon in our presentations is the advantage of having a Chinese-language website and being active on Chinese social media. At this business gathering one of the participants posed the following question, “What’s the difference between a Chinese and a Western website?” In truth, we’re often asked this question, so why not point out the most obvious ones and dedicate a blog to this topic?

Chinese websites are busy and might seem complicated
There’s no denying it, Chinese websites tend to be quite busy and a real eyesore sometimes. The reader is usually bombarded with a volley of links, flash adverts, pop-ups, crazy color schemes and more. All of these elements are designed to catch the reader’s attention. But, whereas the Western brain might suffer from information overload, its Chinese counterpart is well used to this setup. However, don’t presume to think that this is what the Chinese reader wants, oftentimes, they complain just as much as we do about the messiness of a typical Chinese website.

The reason why Chinese websites are generally more complicated is quite simple actually: Chinese characters. Chinese characters are obviously much more complex than the letters of the alphabet; furthermore, capitalization of and spacing between words are non-existent in written Chinese, resulting in less breathing room between the characters, which makes for a tight-packed whole. Yet, the Chinese are used to it.

Chinese web design characteristics
Let’s take a closer look at those eye-catching elements, like pop-ups and flash adverts. What could possibly be the benefit? Just like the logical explanation that Chinese characters add to the complexity of a Chinese website, so can the use of pop-ups and flash adverts be explained according to this logic. Because of the number and complexity of Chinese characters, there exist only a limited amount of fonts, as well as a restriction on font sizes.

Consider the following: there are over 50,000 characters in the Chinese language, but whereas an educated person is estimated to know about 8,000 of them, you only need to know 2-3,000 characters to read the newspaper. Still, creating distinctive fonts for two to three thousand characters is no small feat. Thus, the characters you see plastered on flash adverts all have fonts specially designed for the occasion. Furthermore, they only need to create a font for a few characters, not thousands of them.

Another design characteristic of a Chinese website is that links tend to open in a new window or tab. Since in the past Chinese users had to deal with slow internet connection, they looked at one window while the others loaded. However, this is improving fast as telecommunication companies are pushing the envelope to upgrade their cable networks. These last few years many companies have begun installing miles upon miles of fiber optical cables, bringing 100Mbps internet to the masses.

Still, perhaps the most striking design feature that is hardly seen in the West is the incorporation of QR codes on the homepage. In a country where nearly half of the population has access to internet, almost 90% of those 650 million internet users access the web via a mobile device, so you might see why driving mobile integration is so important.

Naturally, all of the differences between Chinese and Western websites cannot possibly be summed up in one simple blog post, if they can be summed up at all. It is true that through thoroughly examining the outer ‘shell’ of a Chinese website, we obtain some clues about where Chinese and Western websites might differ from one another, yet, a website is more than just that. You can try to emulate what you see, but that’s no guarantee that your website will attract many visitors, not unless you understand the psychology behind web design – why websites are designed in a certain way, and why web design differs between cultures. This is why it’s worth considering working with partners who understand this truth, partners like MyChinaWeb, who have more than 20 years of experience in doing business in and with China.