Delivering a successful website performance experience for an audience located inside China is a nightmare. It’s well documented that certain features and functions, like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and objects of Google, are blocked but it’s actually much more complicated than this.

This is my first entry in a series of posts that will walk you through how to uncover performance issues and navigate the country’s unpredictable and inconsistent Internet rule book, so you can serve up a strong user experience.

I’ll start at the beginning – a perspective from a marketer, and how I discovered our own performance problems with Synthetic Monitoring and later User Experience Monitoring.

Broken Marketo pages

I first noticed we had an issue with our own website performance in China when our local team complained of broken Marketo forms.

You can see in the images below that people within China were being served up a blank screen. For those of us outside China the pages appeared to be loading normally.

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Pinpoint Website performance problems instantly using Synthetic Monitoring

Our synthetic testing instantly discovered numerous failing components, poor availability and slow response times.

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Good site performance doesn’t look like this. There were two major problems:

PROBLEM #1: We had a DNS look up time of more than 6.7 seconds.

You can see in the screenshot below that an incorrectly configured DNS creates a big time lag in China. For a user this is almost certain abandonment. In our case, the DNS looked like it was not being served via Hong Kong which is common practice for users coming from China.

DNS fail China

Working with our CDN provider, we quickly re-configured, and fixed to serve it from Hong Kong. Consequently, you can see below that the look-up time was reduced dramatically from 7 seconds down to a mere 200ms.

PROBLEM #2: Third-party failings

Despite this being a relatively simple landing page, we were using a raft of third-party components requiring external round trips to servers outside of China. Using synthetic monitoring we could determine which ones were blocked:

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  • Fonts.google.com
  • Marketo JavaScript
  • Google Doubleclick
  • Google API

These are all common third parties used in site and landing page development, which is why so many digital marketing efforts fail inside for Chinese visitors. And yet the problems aren’t visible when we check from an external perspective.

Diving deeper into the actual user experience

It’s important to translate performance data into actual user experience insights. So, with the help of our development team, we installed User Experience Monitoring (UEM) into our Marketo template. This gave me a real-time view of all our landing pages.

The user experience index you can see below takes into account response time, errors on page, and network speeds. In an instant I could see our China users were just “tolerating” our performance issues or were outright “frustrated”. (Note: Red area in map below does not indicate the whole of China, but instead, highlights the geographic area with the highest concentration of users “frustrated” by the website experience.)

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 Part 1 – Key learnings

There is so much to learn about marketing and website performance in China.  This is just part 1 of my series.  To summarise:

  • We had massive issues in China of which both Marketing and IT were blissfully unaware.
  • Synthetic monitoring is great at uncovering performance issues within China (when you test from China!)
  • CDN configuration is crucial.
  • Failing 3rd parties meant our pages were completely broken.

Coming up in Part 2

Next time I’ll share insights around:

  • How you can drill down with User Experience Monitoring to gain an even deeper understanding of the user experience, failing components, and what you can do about them.
  • Why you can’t rely on Google Analytics to turn up website performance problems in China.
  • My research into the website performance failings of major global airlines, tourist destinations and technology companies – all of whom see China as a key market.

Additional Resources

Finally, if you’d like to read about one of our customers who successfully navigated China’s challenging web environment then take a look at the REA Group Case Study or the article in Marketing magazine

You can also test your own site, selecting our Chinese testing locations

If you have questions or comments please leave them below, and I look forward to sharing the next post very soon.