Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Doing Business In China? Check Your Website

China had some 200 million Internet users in 2007, and is expected to have 500 million in 2010. If you do business in China, you need to have a website. Without a website, you don’t exist.

But can they read it in China? I’m not talking translating the website into Chinese (which would be a good idea.) I’m talking: Is your website accessible from China at all?

Again and again, friends and business associates send me the address of their website – and often, it cannot be accessed from China. As far as China is concerned, they don’t exist. The site works fine in the U.S. or Europe. It doesn't work in China.

Why is that?

There is something called the Great Firewall of China that filters out objectionable stuff. Could that be the reason?

"No way," my friends say. The stuff on the sites of my friends is benign. Usually auto parts. No reason to filter it out. The truly paranoid say: "They just want to keep out competition." Not so.

At closer inspection, it turns out that my friends' website is hosted with a cheap hoster. At the hoster, the IP number of the website is shared with many other sites. You can find out by using http://www.myipneighbors.com/ . Now if one of the other sites peddles porn, or sensitive political matters that raise the eyebrows of China’s internet watchdogs, the firewall blocks the IP of the objectionable website – and all the other websites that share that IP are blocked at the same time.

If that happens to you, you are collateral damage.

If you want to do business with China, and if you want your website to be accessible, choose a reputable hoster, best one with a private IP number for your site. Also, have your Chinese friends log into your site frequently to check - another way to drive traffic :)