SEO is SEO, right? When Google indexes your site or your blog, it’s basically the same process whether it’s in Japan or elsewhere. Your quest for the most effective long-tail keywords is also the same whether your language is English or Japanese. Google Keyword Planner, Google Trends, and Google Analytics are valuable tools for you in Japan as they are in other markets. So if you know how to SEO for your home country, does that mean you’re ready for Japan?
Of course not. This is Japan we’re talking about.
1. You need to keep Yahoo! Japan in mind
I mentioned in a previous article that within the social media landscape in Japan, Google accounts for over half the market, yet second-place Yahoo! Japan uses Google’s search algorithm too, so essentially all you need to worry about is Google. This dynamic was shaped in 2010 when Yahoo! dropped its own search engine and selected Bing, while Yahoo! Japan went its own way and chose Google to power its internet searches.
So the crawlers you need to keep in mind will be Google’s whether searches take place at Google Japan, Yahoo! Japan, or at lesser players like goo, Excite, and Infoseek. Among these, Yahoo! Japan is such a major portal that when you gather data to base SEO decisions on, you should measure the traffic you’re getting from Yahoo! Japan in addition to Google Japan. Depending on your content, the other portals also might deserve some attention.
Source: StatCounter. Google and Yahoo! are the strongest in Japan, where they’re actually both driven by Google’s algorithm.
2. There’s Google and then there’s Google
Just as Yahoo! Japan adds a level of complexity, so does Google itself. For example, if you search the same term using Google.com and Google.co.jp, you may get slightly different results. This is because, among other reasons, the US- and Japan-based crawlers treat inbound links differently.
You see, unlike the US and some other countries where content marketing has become the major driver of SEO, Japan isn’t quite there yet. We still see a substantial number of affiliate advertising sites and affiliate blogs, which in turn cause Google to penalize excessive inbound links.
3. There are soooo many ways to say the same keyword
As I illustrated in this article, there are three different character sets in Japanese, and as a result, there are many different ways to say the same thing in that language. What you’ll need to figure out is what’s most preferred by your Japanese target audience.
Take karaage. They’re bite-sized fried chicken pieces. In Japanese, the word karaage can be written as からあげ, から揚げ, から揚, 唐揚げ, 唐揚, 空揚げ, 空揚, or カラアゲ. Each term will result in different site rankings. Doing your due diligence in Google Keyword Planner and Google Trends will pay off, as you will be better able to find the best keywords to link your product or service with Japanese customers.
Other than Google tools, you might get some traction out of these free keyword insight tools too:
- Ubersuggest: https://ubersuggest.io/
- Goodkeyword: http://goodkeyword.net/
- Keyword Tool: http://keywordtool.io/
How you “spell” karaage will affect your visibility unless you go old school (like this flier).
And of course, don’t forget long-tail keywords in this market as well—like 近くのから揚げ屋さん (Karaage shop nearby) or ハワイから来たからあげ屋さん (The Karaage shop from Hawaii). So research how your product is expressed in Japan, or have a trusted partner do it for you.
4. Meta tag keywords have no value…or do they?
When you crawl major Japanese sites using tools like SEO Cheki!, you will find that a good number of them include Meta tag keywords. This is despite the fact that for searches occurring in Japan through Google or Yahoo! Japan, the keywords meta tag is supposed to offer no SEO value. The same goes for Google-driven goo, OCN, and Biglobe searches.
SEO Cheki! screen showing keywords and other info
What, then, happens with this tag in minor players like Bing? Well, according to the Bing blog, “it might have value for contextual ad systems or serve as a signal to bots plying the web looking for topics to target, but as far as search goes, that tag flat lined years ago as a booster.” Regardless, it is still common practice (because old habits die hard?) in Japan—about half of the Japanese corporate sites I checked include Meta keywords.
What’s important is what you should do. Unless you’re concerned with the infinitesimal segment of users in Japan who use Baidu (where the Meta tag keywords are indeed important), you should probably forget about this tag and save your time and effort.
5. Go for a top-level domain
Search engines generally provide a higher level of natural ranking to a site with a country code top-level domain—for Japan that would be .jp. Also, hosting locally within Japan, with a local IP address, can yield better organic search rankings. Knowing these global SEO characteristics encouraged companies like Starbucks to have top-level domains for their local entities (such as starbucks.de, starbucks.es, starbucks.com.cn, starbucks.co.jp).
6. Online aesthetics look busy
From the Zen-rock-garden image you may have of Japan, it’s easy to imagine that Japanese people prefer a minimalistic approach to web design. Nothing could be further from the truth. Japanese users consider “clean” designs to be desolate or sabishii. So https://www.starbucks.com/
…gets a new look for the Japanese market at http://www.starbucks.co.jp/.
Ray Grieselhuber of GinzaMetrics also discusses this phenomenon in his excellent article here.
7. Content in Japanese in every sense
Yahoo! Japan presents its content in the busy style that Japanese people like, and the content itself is also extremely localized for the Japanese audience.
As Yoda would put it, “Made in Japan it is.” But when your company enters Japan, you will probably want to leverage a good amount of your home market’s legacy content, or localize some new content into Japanese. Just keep these things in mind when you do that:
- Make sure your translations are high quality—substandard translations will tarnish your brand image and drive customers away.
- Make sure the content is relevant to Japanese customers.
- Do not expect your Japanese customers to read English—but it’s fine to use it in a way that looks like a design element (like Starbucks does).
- Tweak or reconfigure your templates to match Japanese norms. For example, the usual [First Name] [Last Name] [Street Address] [City] [State] [Zip Code] form fields familiar in the US need to be turned on their head, following the Japanese order [Postal Code] [Prefecture] [City] [Street Address] [Family Name] [Given Name].
But look on the bright side. Despite the quirks and minor eccentricities of Japan, you will not have to worry about government censorship or unfamiliar search engines when dealing with the third largest economy in the world. So think boldly and debut your business in the land of the rising sun.
If you have plans to do business in Japan or with Japan, or would like to see some examples of content localization into Japanese, please check out the Moravia Japan Blog here.