Alternatives to YouTube, Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager and other services
Posted by , Last modified by Marc Füßlein on 17 February 2023 09:02
Measures to improve website performance in China
Not only the special requirements for hosting a website domestically in China are a challenge for Western companies that want to bring their website to China. Finally having the appropriate ICP license, and thus being permitted to host your own website in China, it is still not guaranteed that your website will load quickly for users in China. Even when operating on the most powerful web server in China, Chinese users can still struggle with load times anywhere between 10 and 40 seconds. Likewise if you do not operate your website in China directly and are using our weber.cloud China direct connection, you may be facing the same issue.
In many cases, this is down to the fact that your website includes external resources and uses Western services or Content Delivery Networks that are either very slow in China or outright blocked. To goal of using a CDN is to reduce the load times for users – in China, however, it can lead to the complete opposite. Contrary to what one might intuitively assume, a blocked service can have an extremely negative impact on the performance of your website:
While modern browsers can handle a certain amount of requests in parallel, dependencies within your website's architecture may require certain external resources to be fully loaded before the download of your website can proceed. Even as little as one external file can increase the load time of your website by 10 to 40 seconds. In case that included service is not blocked in China, it can still take a very long time for the response to reach the user in China through the Chinese firewall, because almost no Western service operates servers directly in China, consequently not being accessible quickly in China. If you use several third-party services on your website at the same time, the resulting delay adds up, which can actually lead to minutes of load time for your website in China.
Below we go over the most common services used on western websites and list possible tweaks or alternative Chinese services. If you use other services on your China website and are not sure whether they are easily accessible in China or what alternatives there are, you can simply leave us a comment and we will answer you as soon as possible.
User tracking: Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, eTracker
You would certainly like to keep an overview of the number of hits and the behavior of your Chinese website visitors. However, it is not possible to use Google Analytics or Google Tag Manager in China, as both services are blocked by the Chinese firewall. Being a popular alternative to Google Analytics, eTracker is also very slow in China.
The Chinese counterpart to Google Analytics is called Baidu Tongji (百度统计). It offers similar analytical tools to what we know from Google Analytics. However, certain functions, such as evaluating website speed, are only included in the paid version. The biggest hurdle for switching to Baidu Tongji is the language: the interface is exclusively in Chinese. We therefore only recommend using Baidu Tongji if your Chinese-speaking employees will work directly with the tool.
Local tracking tools are another alternative. The use of Matomo is very popular among Western companies. However, it should be noted that operating Matomo as a cloud solution is not suitable for your Chinese website, as the Matomo Cloud can only be reached very slowly from China. Matomo must be used in China as an on-premise solution. While Matomo's interface is available in dozens of languages, including English and Chinese, there are certain costs associated with using Matomo. On the one hand, the associated Matomo instance must be operated on a web server in China in order for the tool to be fast in China. On the other hand, the continuous updates are absolutely necessary to ensure the security of the application.
Embedding Videos from YouTube and Vimeo
The integration of videos is becoming increasingly important on modern websites. YouTube and Vimeo are used particularly often in the west for this purpose. Both services – and virtually all other western video platforms – are blocked by the Chinese firewall. There are several platforms in China where you can upload your videos, including: Youku (优酷), Tudou (土豆網), Tencent Video (腾讯视频), iQIYI (爱奇艺), and bilibili (哔哩哔哩).
Youku is already known to many Western companies and is therefore often the first choice. One argument for using Youku is the pricing model with regard to advertising: On YouTube, users can avoid being shown advertisements by having a premium subscription. On Youku, however, companies can use a premium service to disable any form of advertisements on their videos – for a certain compensation, of course, which depends on the number of clicks your videos will generate.
Google Fonts and other fonts
Nowadays, having one or even several web fonts on a modern website is pretty normal – at least in the West. However, there are several aspects to be considered when using web fonts in China.
First of all, you need to ensure that the web fonts are not obtained from any third-party services. Google Fonts are generally blocked in China. Embedding icon fonts, such as Font Awesome, via a CDN or other fonts from services like typenetwork.com and typekit.net will also lead to a very slow user experience in China. Most font licenses, including Google Fonts, allow you to place the font files directly on your system, and the providers usually allow you to download a complete web font package to achieve this. Nevertheless, you should always check the license to avoid violating its terms.
In certain cases, local delivery of the fonts is allowed, but an external tracking pixel must still be integrated, allowing the provider to track the number of accesses to the font. This is the case, for example, when purchasing fonts from myfonts.com. Even such a tracking pixel can drastically degrade the performance of your Chinese website.
What are the alternatives if the font may not be operated locally?
The performance of your Chinese website should never suffer at the expense of a web font. Hardly any web font even includes Chinese characters. Instead, a system font such as Microsoft YaHei or MS Gothic is commonly used. Consequently, your web font will only be used for non-Chinese characters, especially for proper names and numbers. Therefore, if in doubt, you should switch to an alternative font for your China website, which you are allowed to store locally.
We also advise against using a Chinese web font on your website. For one thing, the selection of web fonts that include Chinese characters is minimal. For another, the associated font files are incredibly large due to the extremely high number of Chinese language characters, so they have a negative impact on the load time of your Chinese website due to their file size.
Google Maps and OpenStreetMap
The collection of geographic data and the associated creation of maps is heavily regulated in China. Only a few companies and institutions are allowed to create maps of mainland China at all. And even then, in order to improve national security, the geodata must be distorted in some way, so a China map is never a one hundred percent accurate representation. This is one of the reasons why Western map services such as Google Maps and OpenStreetMap are banned in China.
It is therefore a good idea to first weigh up how significant the map will be for users in Mainland China and if it can be replaced in some way. The presentation of worldwide locations or international sales partners naturally shows the size of your company. Nevertheless, a Chinese user will always turn to the contacts in China.
In fact, Google reCAPTCHA is one of the few Google services available in China – at least after a small adjustment to its integration. Since google.com is blocked in China, reCAPTCHA cannot be obtained from this domain. Instead, the integration must be done via recaptcha.net. The necessary changes can be found in the Google reCAPTCHA documentation.
Since you usually use a separate Chinese domain for your website in China, you should also ensure that it has been added as a valid domain to the reCAPTCHA configuration.
Google Play Store and Apple App Store
Provided you make your apps available for download on your website, there is good news and bad news. For iOS devices, you can link to the Chinese version of the Apple App Store, as it is licensed and accessible in China.
The situation is quite different for Android devices, because the Google Play Store is not available in China. Instead, there are dozens of providers where Android apps can be listed, with no clear market leader. Therefore, it can take a lot of time to upload your app to the app stores that are relevant to you. Moreover, the process as well as the information and documents required for this is different for each provider.
The larger Android app stores in China include:
Usercentrics, Cookiebot and other cookie consent solutions
Thanks to the GDPR, when visiting a western website, you will first be asked for your cookie preferences. To minimize the effort involved in implementing such a cookie consent solution, services such as Usercentrics and Cookiebot are often used for this purpose. While these are not outright blocked in China, they will still impair the performance of your website in China significantly.
Based on our experience, Chinese law does not require the integration of such cookie notices. Accordingly, there are no providers for similar cookie solutions in China. After consulting with your data protection officer, you can therefore remove the cookie service from your Chinese website. If you are concerned about this and want to continue using a cookie hint, you would have to switch to a solution that is run locally on your system and does not require any external services. Most content management systems and shop systems offer corresponding solutions or modules, but these have to be set up individually.
Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others
Linking to your company's social media profiles is quite common on websites these days. While having these links on your website has no negative impact on its performance in China, Western social media platforms are not accessible for users in China. Even LinkedIn, of which the Chinese version was available in China for a long time, was discontinued by Microsoft at the end of 2021.
The most important social media channel in China is WeChat. WeChat is omnipresent in China and you should not miss out on putting the QR code of your WeChat profile onto your Chinese website. If you do not yet have a WeChat company account, you are welcome to read about the registration process. In addition to WeChat, you can also link your Chinese video channel or your Weibo blog, if available.