Website Development in Hong Kong: Tips to consider before investing in a new site

By Laurent Ross - March 06, 2020

The digital landscape in Hong Kong is one of the few places in the modern world where, comparatively speaking, companies in Hong Kong do not rank well. For a first-tier city with one of the best ratings for internet speed in the world (4th place globally) and one of the highest percentages of online users (91%), Hong Kong is still around 10 years behind the rest of the world when it comes to websites and apps.

What’s considered ‘good’ in Hong Kong is probably ‘below average’ for most other first-tier cities. The biggest reason for this mostly comes down to a lack of competition, with established brands being dominant for so long that they assume they will continue to be without radical change. However, with the digital world rapidly growing, great apps and websites are popping up all over Asia every day and are all vying for a piece of the lucrative market in Hong Kong. In order to stay competitive and not lose your edge, having a strong website presence will go a long way to ensuring your business’s success in the future.

Here are some top things to consider when building a website in Hong Kong or specifically for the Hong Kong market:

Government grants

Since 2015, the Hong Kong government has identified that adoption of technology was not a priority for many local businesses and created the TVP (Technology Voucher Program) in order to incentivise businesses to modernise their systems. While the TVP does specifically say that it is not to be used for marketing purposes like building a website, it can be used for implementing a CRM, marketing or sales automation software, which you should definitely consider if you have more than a few people working at your company. Successful applicants can get up to HK$600,000 in matching grants for up to six projects for updating their tech, which can be useful if you are performing a large database migration or need to build custom integrations between existing systems. If you’re going to redo your website and use a professional option like HubSpot, why not revamp all your systems while you are at it?

Cross-border performance

With the border between Hong Kong and China getting ever blurrier, many local businesses are seeking to find more customers in the bigger Chinese market over the border. While it may seem like an easy decision to have a second version of the website in Mandarin to attract Chinese customers, the reality is much more complicated.

  • Websites hosted in Hong Kong do not load as fast in China and can be blocked by the Chinese firewall without warning (even if you are using a Hong Kong AliCloud hosting service, this can happen). Hosting a website outside of China will also affect your search ranking in Chinese search engines.
  • Your website must be in Mandarin Chinese and not Traditional Chinese (the script of Hong Kong).
  • If you want to advertise in China via your website, chances are you will need an ICP (Internet Content Provider) license in order to start advertising. This requires that you have a legal presence in China.
  • Inbound marketing does not work well in China, with the majority of Baidu search clicks going to paid advertising.
  • The Chinese market prefers a very different design style and is much less interested in reading content. What makes a good performing website in Hong Kong may not work for China.
  • China is very conversion-focused and expect live chat through WeChat with a salesperson immediately. If you cannot facilitate this, your conversion rates will be low.

While building a website for both markets is difficult – it’s far from impossible and many local businesses have found success through investing the time and resources in doing things properly.

Social CRM integrations

Running a website, social media, advertising, email and other campaigns simultaneously can be a real challenge. Investing in technology that can simplify and centralise your information will go a long way in understating your marketing/sales performance and how to improve both. While it is possible to save money by using a combination of specialised systems, the end result is a complicated network of tools that do not speak to each other, causing your teams to spend days on custom reporting each month. Implementing a more user-friendly system such as HubSpot is perfect for small businesses through to large enterprises that focus mainly on the international or local Hong Kong market. If you require integrations with WeChat and a system that has an interface in Mandarin for your China team, it might be worth looking into solutions like JING Digital, Parllay or Knight CRM.

Finding a good agency 

While some big companies might be capable of building a website using their internal marketing and IT teams, this is not recommended as it is often something that they are not specialised in, and the project can drag on for many months longer than intended. International agencies are an option, but between the time differences for meetings and the cultural differences for content, an easy project can become very difficult. Hiring through freelancing websites is another option but can be very hit-or-miss, especially if you’re looking for cheaper freelancers and smaller agencies.

Find a local partner with a good portfolio and plenty of testimonials or case studies with real data on how they’ve successfully completed other projects. Don’t ask for mockups of the website in the proposal as usually the only agencies to agree to this are the ones that churn out websites from a large database of templates and aren’t going to put time into making something custom for your visitors. Aim for quality and pay for quality, which will ensure that you have something that performs well for a long time and won’t need re-coding 6 months down the line.

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About the Author

Laurent Ross

11+ years of work in client and project management in China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand - Laurent is uniquely qualified to manage campaigns which require a deep knowledge of both Western and Chinese digital systems.

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