One topic that is almost always on the agenda during customer meetings these days is the performance (or lack thereof) of websites in China. The companies that I’m meeting with are not newcomers in the world of ecommerce. They are almost all leaders in their market segments (luxury, consumer goods, fashion, automotive) and they have been operating websites across the globe for many years. Yet they all agree, China is different.
So, what makes China so different? We all know about the Great Firewall and the fact that it’s blocking all content from sites like Facebook and Twitter. Still, you would be surprised to see how many sites still go live with calls to these domains, either direct or through third parties. If these calls are made too early on the page, the page will remain blank.
Secondly, not all CDNs are equal. Most global enterprises use a CDN to optimize their performance across the globe. Some of these CDNs tend to focus primarily on their core markets—USA and Europe. They don’t have a presence on mainland China or they simply don’t have enough edge locations to deliver the required performance everywhere. And China is really big.
The third problem that we run into very often is that sites are not optimized for CDNs. So, even if they use a CDN (and pay for it), they still force objects to be loaded from origin. Many sites use their CDN to cache all images, but still load all JS and CSS files from origin. If you have enough of these, performance will degrade significantly.
Most websites use dynamic content management systems these days, very often these are set up to generate the HTML for each individual visitor, even if that is not required. In these cases, HTML is not served from cache but a request goes back to origin resulting in significant delays. Of course, these delays will also occur outside of China but their impact is usually not as negative.
The last big issue is the lack of focus on mobile users. In countries like China, most people don’t have state-of-the-art desktop computer or fiber connections at home (or at work). They use their smart phones for everything and most of them don’t have unlimited data plans. Many sites are using responsive design but a lot of these sites forget to truly optimize their pages for mobile users. They still download all objects on the page and simply scale down images in the browser. This results in unnecessary delays and additional cost for the visitors.
Last but not least, there are a number of smaller, less frequent issues. This includes not using a local DNS. Using third party tags that block page rendering. Not taking into account that a lot of people still use very old browser versions. Scheduling back-ups, anti virus checks or housekeeping at peak business hours in China.
The good news is that Catchpoint has almost 50 nodes in China that can help you optimize the performance of your websites for Chinese customers and we can identify all of the issues we discussed earlier. So, yes, China is different but not impossible.