Nearly 1.2 billion people — approximately 16% of the world’s population — speak Chinese as their first language. And they are online. China has the largest number of Internet users in the world (over one fifth of the world’s online population), and their Internet penetration is still on the rise. This is a significant market for ecommerce, yet adapting web content for Chinese-speaking audiences can pose challenges due to the culture, political sensitivities, and unique nature of the language.
Simplified or Traditional
Chinese is not written using a Roman alphabet. Instead, it has thousands of characters, each consisting of anywhere from one to dozens of strokes. The characters form single- and multiple-character words, which in turn form sentences.
Chinese has two written forms — Simplified and Traditional. The difference between the two is how approximately 500 of these characters are written. Simplified Chinese is typically used when translating material for mainland China, Singapore, and international organizations such as the United Nations and the World Bank. When targeting audiences in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau, and international immigrant communities, Traditional Chinese is appropriate.
Outside of Asia, the predominant forms have been determined by immigration patterns. For example, the default written version in the U.S. is Traditional Chinese. However, the U.S., along with numerous other countries, has seen an influx of new Chinese immigrants. The only real way to ensure your message resonates with all Chinese speakers is to have your site translated into both Traditional and Simplified Chinese.
It is important to design your pages in a manner that fits the expectations of the Chinese audiences. Look at some of the top Chinese websites: www.sohu.com, www.weibo.com, or www.sina.com. Compare these to the most popular website in the U.S.: www.google.com. The difference is striking. The Chinese audience prefers what Americans might consider a cluttered aesthetic, in contrast to the more minimal, clean interface preferred by the U.S. or western European audiences. Chinese sites are bright and colorful, with a lot of information packed into one page, while sites for American audiences tend to use a more hierarchical presentation of information.
When designing for Chinese audiences, consider multiple images and animation, rather than a single hero image that might be appropriate for your U.S. homepage. More information and less categorization create a user experience more familiar to Chinese Internet users. Also, be aware that Chinese characters take up much less space than English text, so be prepared to adjust the layout of your pages accordingly.
Chinese culture places value on symbols, rituals, and contextual elements, and the language is very heavy on idiomatic expressions. While it is usually best to avoid the use of proverbs and idioms when adapting content for other cultures, Chinese advertising is filled with such expressions. Be aware that a literal approach to translation may not be effective, and developing your message for this audience may require a creative approach.
Political sensitivities abound in China and other Chinese-speaking countries. Be aware of potentially sensitive issues in the content you develop for these markets, and also consider the ways in which political restrictions impact web usage. China has many of their own forms of social media, search engines, and apps. It is important to understand the way your target demographic is using the Internet and digital tools so you can be strategic in the way you promote your brand and the tactics you use to support your SEO efforts.