Blog / Does Contentful work in China?

Does Contentful work in China?

TLDR; Contentful doesn’t work in China well. On average, Contentful sites take 47.3 seconds to load* in China. This is 3.6x slower than how Contentful sites load outside of China. In terms of web content delivered, Contentful websites experience an average of 30% packet loss in web resources when delivering a website to visitors in China.

This article explains the most common reasons for poor China web performance and compares solutions on how to resolve them.

*Defined by Full Load.


What is Contentful?

Contentful is an enterprise, headless content & infrastructure management platform. Companies use their tools to manage content across multiple mediums (or “presentation-layers” in Contentful terminology) such as mobile apps and websites. These presentation-layers include websites, mobile apps,

Contentful differentiates itself from other web content management platforms (CMS) by highlighting its RESTful API-first and presentation-layer agnostic approach.

Source: Contentful

Their tools are enterprise-focused, designed to enable cross-team collaboration and agile content deployment important to organisations of scale.

It is also noteworthy to highlight that Contentful assumes its brands are global and as a result, have tools that enable workflows across languages and regional teams.


Who uses Contentful?

Contentful is most popularly used to support global marketing localisation in some of the world's biggest brands.

Gucci, Shiseido, Spotify, and Leica are among its 2,000 users.

Source: Contentful


For these companies, Contentful has demonstrated its ability to greatly reduce content deployment time from weeks down to minutes.

Ease of use, check. Fast deployment, check.

…and what about web performance?


Contentful’s Performance

Contentful boasts 99.99% uptime with an infrastructure that stands the test of time – or more precisely on Black Friday.

Contentful also powers its content delivery with not one but two of the world’s best CDNs – Fastly and AWS CloudFront.

Contentful’s stack is as close to as one might say downtime-proof.

That is, except for in China.


Contentful’s Web Performance in China

We’ve taken a random sample of four Contentful websites and run them side by side in China and California, U.S..

Here’s how they perform:

Contentful website loads in 47.3 seconds in China

Mind the gap. (Source: Chinafy Visual Speed Test)


Contentful websites are “broken” in China, 
with ~30% resources missing

The closer to 100%, the better. (Source: Chinafy Visual Speed Test)


Why Contentful websites don’t work well in China

It’s not just Contentful. All CMS face both i) infrastructure and ii)code-based incompatibility in China.

i) Infrastructural issues

Unless hosted or delivered in China, most sites do not have China-friendly infrastructure.

Key variables that affect China performance are hosting location and CDN providers.

Foreign companies tend to favour hosting their site close to where their core team is (that’d be in the U.S. in most cases). This practice means that China-based visitors take longer than others accessing foreign sites due to increased latency and reduced throughput.

For illustration, a U.S.-hosted website takes longer to deliver to China visitors than those in Canada (see graph below).

Developers can add a CDN or rehost the site closer to the end user to resolve these issues - but unfortunately that won’t do for China.

For one, not all CDNs are the same. When it comes to China, the performance gaps are stark.

As mentioned, Contentful uses Fastly and CloudFront.

Let’s see how Fastly and CloudFront Global CDN performs against other CDNs in China below.

See Fastly in teal blue & CloudFront in red

Y-axis: Bandwidth (in kbps) | X-axis: Averaged over 20-periods (Source: China CDN Considerations)

The next immediate solution would be to use a China CDN that’s better and faster. Sounds straightforward enough…

But this is when you’ll need to involve your compliance team in China.

The reality is you must register yourself as an Internet Content Provider (ICP) with China authorities to host online information onshore. Acquiring a CDN service within China is no exception.

The ICP process takes anywhere from 4 to 6 months or longer, not to mention, your site may still be broken (albeit faster). More on this below..

What is an ICP?


ii) Code-based incompatibility & 3rd-party resources

You’d probably know Facebook or YouTube are made inaccessible in China – but what you might not is that they also don’t work as supporting resources on any other sites, including Contentful websites.

Watch out for these “culprits”!

- Facebook
: connect.facebook.com
Vimeo: player.vimeo.com
Google Map: maps.google.com
Google Translate: translate.googleapis.com

What happens when China visitors attempt to access these sites is that their browsers will return a partially loaded version of the site, if anything loads at all.

See a waterfall chart of visitors attempting to load past “connect.facebook.com” below:

At about 35s+, resources after Facebook are only able to load.

While developers are free to remove them from Contentful websites, >90% of websites cannot do – and should not have to – do without these “blocked” resources.


Can Contentful work well in China?

Contentful can absolutely benefit from technical optimization to load fast and fully in China. Let’s evaluate some options below.

i) Host your Contentful site in China

When it comes to regional hosting, the steps are usually to -

build a new localised site

get a local server, and

host the new site there

The case for China is, however, much different (more below).


i) The fully onshore route

To host sites in China, you’re first legally required to become a licensed internet content provider which is easily a half-year process.

Hosting your site in China also comes with an average 3-4 months website development period.

After launching the new site, you’ll need to manage a list of blocked resources and find China-friendly alternatives on an ongoing basis to evolve your site for the sake of performance.

A fully onshore approach costs between $42K to $100K just to hit the ground, not to mention additional recurring costs and time needed to keep it running.

You can take the onshore route – but perhaps not when there's something easier (more on this below).

Already have an ICP? Want to host websites in China? 
Let us help make the next steps easier.


ii) Use a China CDN

China CDN can definitely deliver some forms of acceleration in China, but…

All CDNs, including China CDNs, are limited in that they don’t resolve code-based incompatibility issues. YouTube embedded videos, Facebook trackers on Contentful websites will still be inaccessible.

Chinafy vs CDN - which one do you need?


iii) Chinafy

Chinafy optimises Contentful websites to achieve near-native performance with a offshore set-up^.

Chinafy configures Contentful websites to generate a China-friendly version of the sites powered by best-in-class CDN for China delivery.

The outcome is an optimised, fully-managed version of Contentful sites that’s 6-8x faster in China.

Chinafy proudly works with ZujuGP to achieve 6x acceleration in China.

(👉 Or better yet – test Chinafy for ZujuGP in real time)


Using Chinafy also means that website owners can -

Launch in China only takes an average of ~1.5-2 weeks

Deliver VPN-free visitor experience in China

Optimise what you have without a separate site, local licences, or onshore hosting

Continue to manage content from Contentful APIs as you normally would


Do you use Contentful?
Test Contentful in China with Chinafy Visual Speed Test!


^Note: Chinafy also provides onshore CDN options via our industry-leading partners for companies who fulfil onshore hosting requirements

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