Not only does China have the largest population in the world, it now also has the most internet users in the world. China has so embraced online technology that a whopping 338 million Chinese people are internet users (according to the China Internet Network Information Center ).
To be able to understand such a huge number, note that this is 35 million more people than live in the United States and 16 times the number of people living in Australia. The number, while huge, is only 25% of the Chinese population, so of course there is a lot more room for expansion. The USA has an internet penetration of around 70%, which means China still has a long way to go.
Internet use in China is always under scrutiny – their ‘Great Firewall’ aims to suppress sensitive information, and since the riots in Western China a couple of weeks ago, Facebook has been blocked across the country. The recent Chinese Government bid to include censoring software in all PCs sold in China was met with condemnation from around the world. Years ago, Google copped abused for operating in China under the Government’s restrictive rules, but I think any Chinese person would agree with me that restricted Google is better than no Google at all.
Google isn’t the leader in the search market in China, unlike most other places. That honour goes to Baidu, and is probably due in part to the difficulty Google has in dealing with deciphering the Chinese character as much as national pride. In China, colleagues and friends advise that Google is used for more ‘serious’ searching, while Baidu is used for entertainment, such as downloading music, movies and games.
With this burgeoning internet audience comes the desire of marketers to appeal to them, and so digital marketing in China is becoming a bigger and more competitive industry with agencies springing up every day and conferences scheduled throughout the year. Optimising websites in China raises a lot of new concerns such as Baidu including ‘paid’ ads in their natural results and the Chinese love of flash and interaction. However, cracking the Chinese online market will expose you to the largest online market in the world – so I pretty much think it is worth the trouble!