Japanese SEO is more straightforward than in other countries. But there’s still plenty of opportunity to differentiate yourself. Learn how to rise to the top of the rankings.

Good news for digital marketers looking to break into Japan: you don’t need to learn how to use a new search engine.

That’s because Google and Yahoo! Japan are both popular, serving 70% and 24% of queries respectively. Even better, Yahoo! Japan uses the same search engine algorithm as Google. So although you’ll need to measure traffic from each site, SEO considerations for both are the same.

Since Japan is also one of the most mobile friendly nations in the world, creating content and optimizing your website specifically for mobile devices is crucial for reaching your target audience.

Here are some things to consider when optimizing your site for Japan.

SITE STRUCTURE FOR JAPANESE SEO

Your site structure can greatly impact your SEO performance. Using a top-level domain name will help you rank higher on Japanese search engines – as will hosting your site in Japan.

Inbound links are also important. Japanese crawlers treat inbound links from affiliate advertising sites and blogs differently than in the US. That’s why if you search the same term on google.co.jp and google.com, you’ll get different results. Don’t go overboard with your links, though, because Google penalizes sites that have too many.

CONTENT LOCALIZATION

English proficiency is low in Japan. In fact, only 8.7% of participants in a Rakuten survey felt confident using the language. If you want your audience to engage with your brand, you’ll have to speak their language, unless you’re using English as a stylistic feature like Starbucks.

It’s best to avoid literal or machine translations when localizing content. Without local insight, you could miss the cultural significance of certain symbols. For example, the number four is unlucky because it sounds like “shi” in Japanese, meaning “death.” A simple translation won’t take a nuance like this into account – and getting it wrong could harm your brand image.

Quality localization will also account for Japanese layouts. For example, you should invert contact details as follows:

[Post Code]

[Prefecture]

[City]

[Street Address]

[Family Name] [Given Name]

And you should decide whether you want to use vertical or horizontal typography.

Translating Japanese content also presents other challenges. The three character sets in Japanese (Kanji, Hiragana and Katakana) are used depending on the situation and audience, so there are several ways to say the same thing.

For example, if you’re searching for “sushi” on Google, you can choose from any of the following options: すし, 寿司, 鮨, 鮓, 寿し, スシ or ずし.   Each term will rank differently, so you’ll need to carry out extensive keyword research to make sure you’re optimizing for the terms your target audience uses.

WEB DESIGN

Japanese websites look different from those in the US. There’s often a lot more “noise” since clean styles are considered “sabishii,” or desolate. Rakuten provides a classic example of this cultural difference:

www.rakuten.com

www.rakuten.co.jp

However, some brands like Muji have deliberately gone against the usual busyness with a simpler look. Whatever you decide, make sure it fits with the image you’re trying to convey.

Using manga or anime characters can also help your brand look and feel more Japanese. These characters are incredibly popular and influential in Japan, so they can be used to boost awareness, generate buzz and promote events. According to a study by Manga Plus, cartoon material can even improve your website’s performance. The study found that including manga:

  • Increases the average visit duration by 1 minute 12 seconds.
  • Decreases bounce rates from 78% to 62%.
  • Increases conversion rates from 0.36% to 0.87%.

FINAL THOUGHT

Although Japanese SEO appears simple, you shouldn’t bank on your achievements. Putting in the hard work to properly adapt and optimize your site will work wonders for your brand.