About three years after opening its Shanghai office in 2008, US health and life insurance company Aetna translated its international business website into Chinese. The company serves 400,000 customers globally, and says the website is just one of its strategies for building a customer base in China.

But many foreign companies in China do not translate their websites into Chinese, and some experts say they may be losing business because of it. Roughly one-third of Fortune 500 companies operating in China, or 146 companies, offer a Chinese-language website, according to a report by One Hour Translation, a professional translation company.

“A company that doesn’t [localize] their corporate or consumer-facing website … is losing sales and investment opportunities,” says Ofer Shoshan, CEO and co-founder of the company. A March 2012 report by management consultancy Common Sense Advisories said that companies that translated their websites to engage their employees and business partners were two-to-three times more likely to see an increase in company revenues.

Aetna’s Chinese-language website generates about 1,200 visitors a month, and Aetna’s Regional General Manager for the Asia Pacific Michael Elliot says he believes the number of Chinese visitors will continue to grow. The majority of current Asia-Pacific Aetna customers are expats who wouldn’t necessarily visit the Chinese site. But for the customers Aetna is trying to capture next in China—local executives, high-net-worth individuals, and white-collar workers—Elliot says the website, combined with Aetna’s brand, could be a competitive differentiator.

Elliot says the company is also working on translating its mobile apps and health insurance provider directories into Chinese.

Jennifer Sun

Posted by US-China

The China Business Review (CBR), published since 1974 by the US-China Business Council, and online since 1997, is the leading voice on commercial relations with China.