Accelerating Your Site for the Chinese Audience

I get asked by companies a lot about how to make “our site run faster in China.” It’s a difficult question to answer.

First, there is the issue of distance: Internet data travels fast, but it’s not instantaneous. Data can travel at almost 125,000 miles per second ( howstuffworks.com ), which means the signal from the origin of your website to anywhere in China would take 200 milliseconds to 300 milliseconds (dotcom-tools.com.) Since Internet communications are two-way (request / response), the total latency is 1/2 second to almost 1 second for the round trip. And, that’s just before you start to download the web page and all associated images and supporting assets. The distance between the origin of your website and the visitor’s computer may be even longer, depending on how it is routed at each intersection point (just as how Google Maps may have different routes to the same destination).

The second challenge with accelerating your website in China is the Great Firewall. In short, China has a system in place to monitor and regulate speech and activities that are considered criminal. This system is the great bottleneck for websites originating outside of China. While one method to address this barrier is to utilize CDN (Content Distribution Network) with POP (Point of Presence) inside China, it’s only effective for static content like images, video, and presentation-layer assets (CSS, JavaScript, HTML, etc).

Both of these challenges culminate in a drastic decrease in speed. In my experience with viewing western websites in China is around a three to four times slower. In a world where every second counts, this can be a contributing factor in losing out to the competition.

So, how can you make your site run faster in China? The surest way is to put your infrastructure inside China. This isn’t as easy as purchasing web hosting from a Chinese company and slapping your website on it; there are government requirements and licenses that must be obtained in order for Chinese hosting companies to host your site. One such license is called ICP (Internet Content Provider) Number. Without this number, no hosting company can sell its service to you.

Remember, ALL infrastructure must be inside China for the site to load quickly. If your DNS (Domain Name System) is managed by GoDaddy, or some other service, and the servers are outside China, it will slow down your site, even if the origin of your website is in China.

Oh, and the idea of building one site to serve the whole world? It just became harder. It can still be done, but it takes a bit of planning. Software architecture, from back end to front (that jQuery library hosted by Google? blocked), and network (CDN, DNS, geo-fencing) architecture all need to be thought out accordingly.

Bottom line: If you want your site to load faster for the visitors in China, there is no silver bullet. You need to plan and architect your site accordingly. Just utilizing a CDN or multicast DNS may not be good enough. You will need to consider how and where to serve the site out of, and your best option may be a custom, locally hosted website for China.

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