Making a foreign site click in China – a game of technical and commercial issues
Website performance, particularly site speed, is an area of opportunity for foreign operators to consider. ChinaTravelNews assesses how foreign entities can improve upon their respective websites.
ChinaTravelNews - Garnering attention of a prospective traveler early in the booking funnel and converting them on the brand-owned website itself is the major objective of any travel e-commerce player. Brands, be it for suppliers or intermediaries, can’t afford to slip on the conversion rate, especially considering the competition for traffic in the online travel sector.
But China, as a market, poses a significant challenge to foreign travel companies in this context as a website’s performance can be impacted owing to local restrictions and localization requirements.
A major factor that foreign websites need to ascertain is the extent to which Google services are blocked in China. For instance, few months ago, developers spoke about Google’s free font service easy installation, but with it being blocked in China it doesn’t work in the local version of the site. Other than font service, some of the common pointers that obstruct the loading of sites and need to be understood are jQuery from Google’s CDN as well as Facebook, Google, Twitter APIs. Importantly, all of this adversely affects a site’s performance.
Acknowledging such hurdles, Jun Lai, general manager, Greater China, Booking.com, says, “We see that some 3rd party content slow down or stop the site loading hence we remove them so our website are quickly accessible by Chinese customers.”
Website accessibility is indeed a major issue in China and user experience needs to be monitored.
Lai says, “I believe website performance, particularly site speed, is an area of opportunity for foreign operators to consider. We carefully review this issue relating to the locations of the servers, the server speed, the richness of content, the way the website is constructed for different SEMs, to ensure the performance of our website is optimized for the Chinese bookers.”
An experienced China-based e-commerce executive, working with a leading international hotel chain, mentioned that several factors needs to be taken care of while working on the local version of foreign websites. Language, time zone, user-experience design such as basic date and time formats etc. all need to be sorted out. Also, what sort of services to source locally, and how to coordinate with the team working from headquarters outside China are generally key issues. The team of hotel managers at the property level/ corporate office, designers, engineers, e-commerce specialists etc. all need to work cohesively. Developers need to know major differences for applications developed to be hosted in China. Global companies need to make a balance of centralization and decentralization.
Also, it needs to be contemplated whether local websites in China offer comparable features to Google with their own APIs. It is shared that not all is replaceable, so developers need to find their way out. As Microsoft admits, for features that are extended China, there is operating divergence. This essentially refers to the fact that if publicly available English content worked out for global service is to be used, then one has to tailor relevant sample code and steps.
So how can a foreign travel e-commerce ensure its direct business isn’t getting affected or at least what needs to curb down the negative repercussions?
“We look at this both from technical perspective and commercial considerations,” says Lai. He points out two aspects:
- Speed: “We employ various technology to ensure our site speed is optimized so Chinese customers can easily access our products in China and around the world; this includes the locations of our servers and the support from our network partners for faster page loads,” he said.
- Content/ Functionality: The team at Booking.com content-wise constantly experiments and ensures any blocked content is removed. “Commercially we work daily to improve localization based on the experiment results from our Chinese users. One example is we change our search box to display clickable selections of the most popular destinations, instead of typing in,” he said.
Still the going isn’t easy.
A travel meta-search player last year pointed out that other than the Great Firewall slowing down the Internet access speed into and out of China, another hurdle was intricate Internet connection within mainland China which slowed down the average loading speed of site for the mainland Chinese users. “Overcoming this was a relatively slow process that involved purchasing additional CDN services dedicated to the market and ensuring that we complied with all the local regulations. As a result we are now confident that we have improved the service for Chinese travelers who can quickly and easily compare hotel prices from all major travel sites,” shared the executive.
Lai says, “Site speed is impacted by many factors, including the location of the servers, the server speed, the richness of content, etc., and not to mention the local connection from an user’s end to the local network. We monitor our site performance very closely, based on our own user studies and also the monitoring services by third party companies. It is our aim to provide a website and other user interfaces such as apps and mobile sites that are fast and reliable to both our end user customers as well as our property partners.”
Travel marketers make sure they don’t miss out on the bandwagon and they generally partner local sites. For instance, foreign hotel organizations look at meta-search and OTAs as their key partners. So even as a brand isn’t left with any option and has to broaden its distribution mix, it ensures that improvement isn’t ruled out to ensure stronger control in the long-run.
“We constantly monitor the performance our website. In a recent case we removed a blocked content and it resulted in a much faster extranet for our property partners,” says Lai.
By testing and focusing on sustained improvement, foreign travel brands can learn faster and execute plans more efficiently. As Lai explains, the team looks into all possible means and experiments (content, server speed, locations of servers, etc.) to optimize the site’s performance.
“The tests have seen that our page load speed is as fast as some local players,” said Lai, indicating the proficiency of approach taken towards combating unique challenges faced in China. (Report by Ritesh Gupta)