Internet Marketing in China: Exclusive Interview with Expert Devin Schraff of Nanjing Marketing Group

3D pin domain marker with Chinese flag isolated

Learn about digital marketing to the Mainland China market - Advice from Devin Schraff of Nanjing Marketing Group

Here at KnowledgePower we work on the principle that nobody can claim to be an expert in everything, and it's especially impossible to claim to know all areas of digital marketing, and SUPER especially impossible for general English-speaking-world marketers to know about CHINA internet marketing.

Hence, we went in search of the top experts on this matter and secured this exclusive interview with Devin Schraff. Devin is Marketing Manager at Nanjing Marketing Group, an agency specializing in helping English-language businesses translate and convert their marketing message for a Chinese audience.

If you're interested in what is involved in marketing your business to the Chinese-speaking world and in particular into Mainland China, read on for the text of our interview with Devin...

1. What kind of businesses should be targeting China in their marketing?

Chinese consumers are open to a wide variety of different products and services.  However, the best opportunities exist for businesses that are able to solve problems that are difficult for Chinese firms to solve.

For example, some of the biggest issues faced by Chinese consumers are safety and quality.

Chinese police officers dispose of unsafe baby milk products

[KnowledgePower comments:] In 2008 an estimated 54,000 babies were hospitalized in China after being fed on milk formula deliberately adulterated with melamine. Chinese consumers are highly sensitive to quality and safety issues, perhaps more consciously so because of such mass incidents. More info here:
Image: Daily Mail


Chinese companies are at a disadvantage when it comes to products where safety and quality are very important because so many consumers have trust issues from past incidents. The tainted milk powder scandal a few years ago is an example.

The plethora of counterfeit goods sold every day in China is another.

So if you offer high quality, authentic products that would appeal to a growing middle class, you may want to consider the China market.

Asian students studying and discussing in university

The Chinese value education highly and the growing middle and wealthier classes are more than willing to pay for educational products and services that help their sons and daughters compete.

Education is another popular area, as a huge percentage of Chinese students want to study abroad, and more and more families have the economic resources to make this possible.  Overseas real estate is another.

Overall, it's best to consult an agency with knowledge of the China market to get insight about whether or not your products/services would be a good fit for a Chinese audience.

Should Western startups target China?

I wouldn't really recommend startups or very small businesses to start targeting China yet. It's a highly complicated market and requires a strong degree of commitment to get optimal results.

2. What are the main resources that businesses lack, which a China-specialist agency helps solve?

Businesses outside of China lack an understanding of the China market.

Language and culture are obviously major issues.  So much of digital marketing is rooted in great content, and businesses can't create this without great copywriters with a strong understanding of Chinese consumers.

Even less content-rich forms of marketing like SEM with 1-2 landing pages requires an experienced native Chinese speaker because Baidu and other SEM management platforms are entirely in Chinese, and creating ads and keywords for the account requires an understanding of what people would likely type in for a search.

3D View of a Baidu search results page

Baidu is different from Google in many important respects, and deconstructing its search results is one of the things Nanjing Marketing Group specializes in providing insight on.

Also, in general, getting things done in China is also more difficult.  For example, setting up a Google AdWords account is a piece of cake, but setting up a Baidu SEM account can take 1-2 weeks’ time and requires a good bit of administrative work and communication with parties that it would be difficult for non-Chinese to work with due to language issues.

Setting up a verified WeChat account for your business is the same story.  Thus it’s important to have people on the ground in China that can get all of these various things done for you.

3. Should websites for Chinese audiences always be hosted in China?

We don't think so. This is one of the most common questions we get. In general, as long as the site loads quickly it's not necessary to host in China.  Some people suggest Hong Kong as a hosting alternative, but even that’s not really necessary.  Many of our clients don’t have hosting in China or HK, and have no problems with loading speed.

Dark background world map, outlines of countries and dots and lines representing network connections

You may be surprised to hear that you don't necessarily need web hosting inside China to start up your marketing towards Chinese audiences.
Image: screenshot from Norse IPViking Live

Many people that ask us this question are also concerned that their website will be shut down if it's hosted outside of China. If the Chinese government wants to shut down your site in China, it will do so regardless of where it’s hosted. But there's no reason for it to be shut down as long as your site isn't selling illegal products or services, or overly political.  We’ve never had a client’s site get shut down.

4. Can website materials such as product/service descriptions simply be translated into Chinese, or should they be adapted more deeply for the audience?

Ideally content should be localized for a mainland Chinese audience. It depends on the situation though. Some product and service descriptions are quite basic and don't leave as much room for a highly localized translation.  A fairly basic translation will do in this case.

google translate screenshot

In this example Google translate can't know your context that your "tote" is actually a kind of industrial container: imagine if your business brochure talked about handbags the whole way through! True story courtesy of Grandage Consulting:

But a company should never use something like Google Translate to do this. The translation will come out incredibly awkward and damage credibility.

Use a professional translator.  Most China agencies provide this, including ours.

5. Can you provide a couple of examples of products/services which have and have not been easy to transfer into a Chinese marketing message?

Education programs are an example of something that’s easier to market in China than other things.  Education is a strong part of Chinese culture.  It not only boosts one’s economic prospects, but also the respect one receives from peers.  Hence, it’s easier to communicate the value of it to a Chinese audience.

Louis Vuitton handbag and wallets

The Chinese are big spenders on luxury items.
Image via Chinese Wikimedia

Luxury products are another example because Chinese are very status-conscious.

Software products (and other downloadable products/services) can be more challenging to market due to the fact that Chinese are often able to find free versions of these things (generally not legally).  Thus it can be difficult to convince people why they should pay money for the type of thing.

Screenshot from Chinese Wikipedia entry on Windows XP

Microsoft Windows XP has great market penetration in China because of being.... "free", ahem...

6. How do SEO and paid search in Baidu differ to what people are used to in Google?

Google is still smarter than Baidu.  For example, it’s much quicker at indexing content than Baidu is.

Another difference is that Baidu's own content platforms can take up a very large percentage of the organic SERPs, meaning it's harder to see your website, even if it's ranked above all your competitors' sites.  We wrote a blog post about this here.

screenshot of Baidu search results marked up with sections of different types of result content

If you do nothing else from this article, click this image to see the explanation about Baidu search results page contents!

Thus, on Baidu it’s important to focus not just on where your actual website is on the page, but also how much of the overall organic SERP real estate you control.  The more content you post on Baidu’s own content platforms (Baidu Baike, Zhidao, Jingyan, Tieba, etc), the more visibility you’ll have.

Paid search works largely the same on Baidu as with Google.  An account has the same structure and is bid-based.  Again though, Google is still more refined than Baidu.  For example, geographic targeting in China is easy to do with Baidu, but outside of China is another story.

The only options for targeting outside of China are Japan and “other countries.”  Baidu also has its own analytics platform – Baidu Tongji (百度统计).  We actually still prefer Google Analytics though.

7. Should there be adjustments to marketing strategy for targeting Hong Kong?

We focus primarily on mainland China.  However, one thing to keep in mind is that people in Hong Kong have access to multiple platforms that mainland Chinese don't, including Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.  Thus, these can be used for marketing in Hong Kong, along with Chinese platforms.

Also, content [for HK audiences] should be written in Traditional Chinese, and English content is more likely to perform better in HK than in mainland China.

Chinese simplified vs Traditional characters for the word China

In Hong Kong people speak Cantonese and write with Traditional Chinese characters. So your Mandarin Chinese, Simplified Chinese character translation is no good for HK audiences 🙂

8. For a company considering marketing to Chinese audiences, but no experience, what are the first things to think about before taking action?

The company should first decide out how committed it is to the China market.

China offers the potential for great reward, but it takes time to get going.

Testing is a big part of digital marketing, and that means trying different things over a period of time.  We’ve worked with some companies that have a solid product or service to offer, but stop their marketing efforts prematurely, sometimes even after just 1-2 months.  With SEO and social media marketing sustained commitment is particularly important, but even an SEM account takes some time to be optimized and start hitting KPIs.  Commitment is very important.

Map of the Long March 1934-1935

Marketing in China: another Long March

Again, it’s also important to ask what the competitive advantage of your product is in the China market.  I’ve highlighted some examples of that in the first question.  The easiest thing to do is to consult an agency.

Lastly, it’s important to look at the agency you work with as your partner in success.  This means fostering a proactive relationship where both sides have regular communication and are open to new ideas.  Make sure you’re able to make time to setup a call every 3-4 weeks, and carefully read your emails and reports, as your agency will often times provide suggestions for how to improve results.  This sounds obvious, but not everyone does this, whether it’s due to time differences, busyness, etc.

Many thanks from KnowledgePower to Devin for taking the time to share these insights!

Nanjing Marketing Group logo

About Nanjing Marketing Group

  • Based in: Nanjing, China
  • Core services: Chinese SEM, social media marketing, and SEO.
  • Business clients: wide variety of industries, generally small to mid-sized Western-owned businesses.
  • Team: Experts in three main areas: Chinese SEM (our team is Baidu certified), Chinese social media marketing, and SEO.


Devin Schraff, English Marketing Manager


Email: [email protected]

Nanjing Marketing Group
Room 601, Long Tai Guo Ji, No. 198 Zhongshan East Road, Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, China. 210002