Japanese SEO is often overlooked by new entrants to the Japanese market, but its impact on your business’ bottom line is undeniable. In fact, Japanese search engine optimization is one of the main factors influencing traffic to your website and is critical to building your online presence. In this article we will take a look at a few Japanese SEO best practices that every business in Japan should keep in mind.
Table of Contents
- 1 Why You Should Care About Japanese SEO
- 2 10 Japanese SEO Best Practices
- 2.1 Choose a Trustworthy Top Level Domain (TLD)
- 2.2 Focus on Google
- 2.3 Choose Japanese SEO Keywords Carefully
- 2.4 Longer Content Performs Better
- 2.5 Use Actual Japanese Writers NOT Machine Translations
- 2.6 Make Good Use of Title and Meta Descriptions
- 2.7 Stick to Latin Characters for URLs
- 2.8 Site Speed is Very Important for Japanese SEO
- 2.9 Pay Attention to UI/UX
- 2.10 Monitor Your Performance and Results
- 3 Japanese SEO Bottom Line
Why You Should Care About Japanese SEO
Japanese SEO is instrumental in developing organic traffic in Japan. While relying on social media or other forms of digital advertising, such as Japanese SEM, can drive traffic to your website, this kind of paid traffic is wholly dependent on you having a sufficient advertising budget to keep the visitors coming.
If you have established good SEO on the other hand you can potentially create a steady stream of organic traffic without a separate media budget. This is because unlike paid forms of digital advertising, such as social media ads or SEM, Japanese SEO is not so much about consistently paying advertising dollars to the various ad-serving platforms as it is about following certain guidelines and best practices to achieve optimal results.
10 Japanese SEO Best Practices
The following list covers some best practices you can look into in order to help improve your Japanese SEO.
Choose a Trustworthy Top Level Domain (TLD)
The concept of trust gets discussed a lot when talking about Japan, and that’s because it’s so important to doing business in the country. Regardless of industry, establishing trust should be one of the first things you set out to do in Japan. The important thing to remember, however, is that trust can vary greatly due to a number of factors. For example, when it comes to your domain itself your choice of top level domain can have a big impact on Japanese consumers’ impression of your brand.
In Japan ccTLDs (country-code Top Level Domains)—in this case, URLs ending in .jp—tend to be preferred because it demonstrates that the brand is specifically catered to a Japanese audience. This might also have something to do with the fact that Japanese usually have a marked preference for local products and services. According to Edelman while 47% of Japanese respondents said they trust businesses, that figure rose to 69% when it came to trust placed in local brands. Having a .jp domain not only signals to Japanese consumers legitimacy it helps build trust regarding your business.
Focus on Google
This next best practice can help save a lot of precious time and energy with your Japanese SEO process. Generally speaking, in Japan you do not have to optimize for specific search engine platforms. This is because optimizing for Google will also optimize for Yahoo, essentially covering 95% of the Japanese market for search. Because Yahoo! JAPAN uses Google’s algorithm to power its search, if you optimize for Google you will also be effectively covering your SEO for Yahoo in the Japanese market as well.
Choose Japanese SEO Keywords Carefully
Keywords play a big role in Japanese SEO. This is due to the fact that the same, exact keyword can be written in many different ways. Take for example the word for mobile phone. In Japanese you would most commonly use the word 携帯電話 (keitaidenwa) to refer to this. However, because written Japanese has 3 native scripts—hiragana, katakana, and kanji—you need to cover all three. This means that for any given keyword you would typically also include the phonetic scripts of hiragana and katakana, in addition to kanji ideograms (like those seen in our example). But not only that, you should also cover shortened versions of a word; similar to how in English we might say “cell” to refer to our mobile phones/cellphones. For the keyword 携帯電話 (keitaidenwa) this would mean also covering the keyword in kanji, 携帯 (keitai), which is often written in katakana (ケイタイ) and to a lesser degree in hiragana (けいたい).
Additionally, for this example, it would be even better if you were to include both the actual word for smartphone, スマートホーン (sumātohōn), as well as its shortened version, スマホ (sumaho), in your Japanese keyword list since smartphones have now become the most prevalent type of mobile phone.
Of course, as seen in the image above, the search volume and competition will be different for each keyword. It really depends on your individual circumstances to determine what’s right for you and your brand.
Longer Content Performs Better
Content marketing, especially blogging, draws heavily on SEO and this close relationship is critical to a successful strategy for developing organic traffic. The basic rule of thumb at play here is that longer, more authoritative pieces of content tend to do better than shorter pieces on the same topic. But this doesn’t mean that a long post will always beat out shorter ones.
Google looks comprehensively at sites’ articles or blog posts and chooses those that best answer users’ search queries when making their ranking decisions. This is the same trend we see in western markets and English-language search, so if you want to increase your chances of showing in the top results for a given keyword or search term, investing in long-form content can greatly improve your chances.
Use Actual Japanese Writers NOT Machine Translations
In our previous point we talked about how long-form content tends to perform better. But the number of words alone is not enough to rank in Japanese search. The old adage of “quality over quantity” definitely comes into play.
As Google’s algorithm and natural language processing capabilities have improved, it’s clear that well-written, original content has a distinct performance advantage over poorly written content. When it comes to content, the absolute bottom-of-the-barrel, in terms of quality, is hands down something that has been run through google translate.
Native speakers of a language can always tell translation quality right away. It’s obvious because non-native speakers make grammatical errors or have a tendency to make strange decisions with regard to word choice.
The best rule of thumb to apply here is that if you would not be satisfied with poor quality in your own language, then don’t expect Japanese speakers to be any different. In fact, you should expect even more scrutiny given Japanese consumers’ high expectations about quality.
If investing in content marketing, low-cost and low-quality articles are simply not worth it in our experience. Furthermore, machine translations should be avoided at all costs if going from English to Japanese (or vice versa) as what comes out is usually gibberish.
For Japanese content marketing this means not only should you be using a real native speaker, but someone who can actually write compelling articles that users would give high marks. In recent years Google has gotten much better at identifying good content in order to provide results that best answer user’s queries. So rather than waste time and money on articles that won’t perform well among both Google AND Japanese users, it’s better to invest in quality.
Make Good Use of Title and Meta Descriptions
Your title and meta descriptions should be utilized to the fullest extent possible. This means making titles and meta descriptions that will catch the attention of people conducting a search. Especially when it comes to organic search optimizing your titles and meta descriptions can help increase your click-through-rates (CTR), which in turn leads to more traffic to your website. Be aware, however, that character limits are different for both title and meta description tags. Additionally, these character limits will also differ between desktop and mobile.
Stick to Latin Characters for URLs
Even though we now have the option to use non-English characters in URLs, or slugs, there isn’t really any SEO benefit in doing so. In fact, Japanese characters (hiragana,katakana, and kanji) will end up being changed to numbers when you copy and paste, in many cases, so it’s better to stick to romanization, the English spellings of Japanese words.
Site Speed is Very Important for Japanese SEO
Site speed is one of the ranking factors that the Google algorithm takes into consideration when ranking your page. Site speed can be affected by server location, but also things like image size and processes running in the background. Heavy sites with high resolution images or cool visual effects that take a long time to load, may look great, but Google prioritizes performance over aesthetics or branding. It’s a fine line to tread, but in most cases we would recommend focusing on what enables you to rank higher in the SERPs (search engine result pages).
Pay Attention to UI/UX
User experience, UI/UX, can be somewhat esoteric when it comes to its relation to SEO, but it’s worth mentioning because of what signals Google draws from it. If you have a high bounce rate, for example, Google may infer there is a problem with your site due to content not matching the searcher’s original query or, it could be something related to your site that made them leave. In either case Google’s appraisal of your site (i.e. your ranking) will be effected because of this kind of user behavior. If it gets too bad Google may deem your site not good enough for that keyword or search term, and you will continue to fall in the SERP rankings. Without the ability to look at things from a Japanese user’s viewpoint, you are likely never to know what about your UI/UX is not working for the market.
Monitor Your Performance and Results
Google is constantly delivering updates to its algorithm. Your competition is constantly upping their game. This is why you need to regularly monitor your performance and results. For Japanese SEO, this primarily means checking Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools). In addition to giving you an overview of your site’s performance, Google Search Console also provides numerous suggestions for how you can improve your site. As it is Google’s algorithm that is primarily responsible for ranking your site, it’s a good idea to take these suggestions to heart and implement as many of these suggestions as you can.
Japanese SEO Bottom Line
When entering the Japanese market there are sure to be a large number of items on your to-do list, but Japanese SEO should not go overlooked because of its crucial role in driving organic traffic to your website. Language definitely presents the biggest obstacle for non-Japanese companies both in terms of keyword selection and content, however, other elements relating to on-page SEO, off-page SEO, and technical SEO, should not be ignored either. Search engine optimization can be tricky for those unfamiliar with the subject, but the Japanese SEO best practices we outlined above, while not an exhaustive list, should provide an excellent starting point for any type of business.
If you’re looking to grow your business in Japan and require assistance with Japanese SEO or any other element of your digital strategy, contact us to see how we can help.