Japanese PPC – 10 Principles of a Strong Campaign

Posted By Jim Kersey

Unfortunately, many Japanese PPC campaigns fail to achieve their intended results. And while it’s easy to blame this on the inherent challenges of operating in Japan for the first time, failure often stems from how brands and marketers plan and execute their campaigns.

Those who don’t combine core PPC marketing principles with best practices for reaching Japanese users, risk suffering from low-converting and high cost PPC ads. So to help you make sure your marketing budget is well spent, and that you’re effectively targeting the right audiences (with the right messages), we’ve broken down the 10 most crucial principles of a strong Japanese PPC campaign.

A Robust (but Flexible) PPC Plan

Many make the mistake of thinking their Japanese PPC plans need to be perfect from day one. We believe it’s much better to have a robust, yet flexible, plan in place that allows you to sufficiently test and adapt your process as you go.

Having a well thought-through framework from the beginning is important, but if your approach is too rigid, you could miss out on where the opportunities really lie for your brand. Below are a few ways to make sure your ongoing strategy holds up, as your campaigns evolve.

  • Keep Refining Your Japanese Customer Buyer Persona – Knowing who your customers are shouldn’t be a guessing game. Adjust your initial personas accordingly as you learn new information about what your users like, how they behave, and what motivates them.
  • Re-distribute Budget Wisely – If you’re seeing higher conversions on Instagram than Facebook, or through your Android campaigns compared to your iOS campaigns, redistribute budget to where it counts. Locking your spend into any particular area too early can seriously hold you back.
  • Align PPC Activities with Clear Marketing Goals – There should always be a direct relationship between your current marketing goals and your Japanese PPC activities. If the objectives of your business change, your PPC activities should follow suit. For example, if you’re pushing conversions for a particular sales promotion, adjust your PPC campaigns accordingly.

Learn How to Build a Japanese PPC Campaign from Scratch

Effective Campaign Structuring

Girl enjoying Japanese PPC ads

There are variations between platforms, such as Facebook Ads Manager and Google Ads, but your basic account structure will include some of the following core elements: campaigns, ad groups (or sets), keywords (for Google Ads), ad copy, and visual assets.

By organizing your structure into logical and easy-to-track groups, you will be able to control where your budget goes and see where performance is the strongest. Consider the following questions when planning your PPC campaign structures.

Is Your Targeting Organised Logically?

When our clients first start operating in Japan, they’ll typically start with broad location targets for the whole of Japan. This is a good thing, as it lets you explore where your major customer base resides, but it shouldn’t be permanent. Once you can see which regions are generating more conversions, you can put more focus here to reduce your CPC and improve your CTRs.

Without a clear and logical campaign structure that breaks down your Japanese PPC activities per category, it will be impossible to determine how you can make improvements to your campaign targeting.

For example, Kansai and Osaka are two regions with enormous consumer buying potential, but if you want to test between these locations, or against any others, your campaign structure and naming needs to be appropriately divided so you can compare performance, side-by-side.

The same goes with your audience targeting. If there are specific demographics that you’re testing between, having a logical structure is crucial for being able to collect conclusive data about the audiences that matter the most.

Japan’s Biggest Cities

Name Population
Tokyo 8,336,599
Yokohama 3,574,443
Osaka 2,592,413
Nagoya 2,191,279
Sapporo 1,883,027
Kobe 1,528,478
Kyoto 1,459,640
Fukuoka 1,392,289
Kawasaki 1,306,785
Saitama 1,193,350

*Data sourced from World Population Review.

What Do You Want Your Reports to Look Like?

The way you structure your campaigns can help with reporting on the stats you need to see. Maybe you’re offering two distinct products or service types? If you need to see separate performance reports for each area, or view performance side-by-side, then you need to organise your campaigns suitably.

If your campaign structures are too loose, or lack appropriate naming conventions to represent the different aspects of your strategy, such as audience targeting, ad split-testing and location testing, your Japanese PPC activities can get away from you quickly – especially if you’re running multiple projects across different platforms.

Monitoring reports for Japanese PPC campaigns

How to Label Your Ads

Here’s an example of things you might consider including in your Social and Google Ads campaigns:

Search Ads

Campaign Level Campaign Target
Product Category
Product Subcategory
Sales Season / Event
Country / Region / City
LanguageExample: NonBrand-Bags-WomenHandbags-20%OffSale-Tokyo
Ad Group Level Target
Keyword Matching
Product Category
Product Name
Product Details
Sales Season / EventExample: Brand-BMM-Eyewear-Sunglasses-Men-Promotion

Social Ads

Campaign Level Platform
Product Category
Sales Season / EventExample: FB-Conversions(AppInstalls)-App-GooglePlay-Promotion
Ad Set Level Targeting
Specific Targeting
Interest / Behaviour
Country / Region / City
LanguageExample: FB-Manual-Cars/ElectronicsInterest-Japan-M-1850-Feeds/Stories-Japanese
Ad Level Format
VariationExample: Video-GooglePlayAPP-LifestyleOriented

Strong Japanese PPC Support

One of the most fundamental parts of a successful Japanese PPC campaign is having a dedicated team to manage your activities on the ground. And when we say manage, we mean everything from research, strategy, optimizations, localizations, content planning, and reporting. If your prospective, or current, marketing partner is lacking in these areas, you’re not going to get the results you really want.

Finding success in Japan often involves thinking on your feet, finding creative solutions, and presenting your brand in the best possible light for Japanese consumers — even if this is wildly different from what you’re used to in your home market.

If you simply rely on agencies that solely ‘account manage’ and lack proactive energy, or experience adapting brands and marketing initiatives for Japan, you’ll be disadvantaged from the beginning. A strong Japanese PPC partner or digital marketing agency should offer:

  • Flawless localization of your brand messaging, ads, and processes
  • Long-term strategic thinking that will help you scale your PPC activities confidently
  • Clear, transparent, and useful reporting to give you an accurate picture of your progress
  • Constant testing, exploring, and optimizing of your ads for the greatest impact
  • A blend of creativity and data to drive your PPC campaigns forward
  • Strong technical support for all things ad-related, including contacts with relevant ad channels
  • A willingness to understand your goals and help you achieve them

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Effective Keyword Planning and Management

How many hours have you invested in your keyword research activities? Though keyword research for PPC can be incredibly time-consuming, it’s one of the most important components if you’re operating on Google Ads, which is entirely built around your keywords.

If you only perform an initial round of keyword research at the start of your campaigns, you’ll probably miss out on hundreds of valuable long-tail, highly relevant and low-cost keywords. Successful Japanese PPC marketers constantly grow and refine their keyword lists, with careful management, and implementation.

Keyword Targeting Options

Understanding keyword match types will you control which searches you appear on through Google. Below are the targeting options you should strategically implement into your Japanese PPC campaigns.

Match Type Special Symbol Example Description
Broad Match (BM) none men’s jackets Variations of the keyword, related searches, and other relevant variations.
Broad Match Modifier (BMM) +keyword +men’s
All the terms designated with a + sign (or close variations of those terms) in any order and terms with the same meaning.
Phrase Match “keyword” “men’s jackets” Matches of the phrase (or close variations of the phrase) with additional words before or after.
Exact Match [keyword] [men’s jackets] Exact matches of the term or close variations of that exact term with the same meaning.
Negative Match -keyword -men’s waterproofs Searches will not show up for this keyword

High Converting Keywords

To achieve higher CTRs and effective CPCs, you need to make sure your keywords are closely related to your product and service offerings. Doing this will ensure you’re not paying for traffic that doesn’t directly benefit your core marketing goals in some way.

With the help of Japanese native speakers with experience in the local market, you’ll need to gather a combination of the most popular and frequently searched terms in your niche, as well as a healthy amount of transactional and long-tail keyword terms that will bring qualified and likely-to-convert traffic.

We would also recommend applying another round of Japanese keyword curation to make sure that your target keywords are less competitive and will yield lower CPCs, bringing down your total Japanese PPC costs while improving your click-throughs.

Remove Weak Performers

Good PPC keyword management also requires cutting away weak performers. You can do this by removing ineffective keywords with high impressions but low CTRs, for example. These can be labeled as ‘negative keywords’, and added to your campaigns as keywords that your ads won’t show up for — streamlining your budget to be more effective.

You should also phase out broad match keywords past a certain point. Although having your ads appear on relevant variations of your keywords is a good thing when you’re starting off, running this approach for too long will waste your budget. By shifting toward effective exact match keywords that have proven to yield better results, you can increase your overall conversion rates across your campaigns.

Make sure your campaigns have been running long enough to acquire conclusive data before you remove any keywords. If a keyword has only been running for a few days, it may not have accrued enough data to justify pausing it yet.

Group of youths enjoying Japanese PPC ads

Expand and Refine

Finally, you should be constantly expanding and refining your keyword list with the help of your Japanese PPC team. Creating a predictable process for this within your workflow is the best way to achieve this, whether it’s weekly checks and optimization sessions, or promoting a general attitude of exploration and improvement.

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Ad Quality and Relevance

People want to see ads that are relevant to them. If you’re able to do this, whether it’s through your Social or Google Ad campaigns, you’ll undoubtedly achieve better marketing and commercial outcomes. We recommend considering this as a core pillar throughout your whole Japanese PPC process.

Ad Quality Score

For Google Ads, the relevancy of your ads is important for generating high Click Through Rates (CTR), as well as determining your Quality Score. Ads that are more relevant also cost less. This relevancy is established by how your targeted keywords and ads relate to your landing pages, and how useful the experience is for users who engage with your brand.

The score is calculated for every search that matches your keywords with a maximum Quality Score of 10. As well as lowering your cost, a higher quality score will allow your Japanese PPC ads to perform better at ad auctions.

To show up on first position on the first page for your keywords and achieve strong positioning in relation to user intent and search relevance, we recommend the following:

  • Structure campaigns into narrower, targeted ad groups to improve relevance between the search query and your ads
  • Optimize keyword ad copy so that it is closely tailored to your keywords
  • Always choose relevant landing pages designed to contain content that uses your targeted keywords for each ad group

Ad Relevance Diagnostics

Similarly, ads on other social platforms will be evaluated for their relevance to your users. For example, Facebook’s ad relevance diagnostics will assess your ads in terms of how relevant they are to the audience you’re trying to reach, and will compare your ads with those of your competitors who are also targeting the same audience.

Taking into consideration your audience targeting, engagement levels, and creative assets, your relevance will be judged accordingly. But it’s not all about pleasing the algorithms. This is also a good measure of how your ads will achieve the kind of results you expect from your Japanese PPC activities, whether it is click-throughs to your landing pages, or immediate downloads of your app through App Store Connect or Google Play. Facebook’s relevance criteria include:

  • How well your ads meet the needs of your users compared to other advertisers targeting the same audience
  • The level of engagement your users are showing your ads
  • How well your ads are converting your audience in relation to your intended goals

Sufficient Testing Capabilities

Testing is an essential part of any Japanese PPC strategy. Without fully knowing how the Japanese market will react to your brand, you’ll need to keep an open mind and consider testing between a number of elements, such as your core ad messaging pillars, your creative assets, your audience targeting parameters, and even the platforms that you choose to use. Some key aspects to test as you get to know your new market are:

  • The headline
  • The body text
  • The CTA
  • The link
  • The keywords the ad displays for
  • The visual asset
  • The audience
  • The platform (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LINE, Google Ads)

Take a look at our guide to Japan’s social media networks to start testing the advertising potential of different Japanese PPC platforms.

Before/After Tests

These tests are a good way of using your growing knowledge of your market to hypothesise potential outcomes, and test them. If you’re seeing strong results in certain areas of your campaign, develop a new control group to isolate these specific components and assess whether there’s been an uplift in performance.

For example, if you find that the majority of your conversions are coming from the 18-25 age bracket, rather than 25-40, you may want to know if you can considerably reduce your CPC and improve your CTR by duplicating your ads and introducing a narrower age targeting. To analyse the results, compare your core KPIs before and after the change.

Split Testing

Split testing between creative options for Japanese PPC ads

Split testing involves creating multiple sets (variations) of your ads, with different headlines, ad copy, messaging, delivery format or visual assets. Each set should offer a different strength and might appeal to your audience for a different reason. By directly comparing these elements, you can gather proven data about which choice is the best for your Japanese PPC campaign.

You may want to test whether Western looking models or Japanese models get the most clicks, conversions or engagement when used in ads. Similarly, you may also want to test how ads can be paired with different landing pages to deliver better or worse results. With the data you discover through split testing, you can find this information out and pause the ads that aren’t working well for you.

But don’t fall into the trap many advertisers do, of drawing large scale conclusions too quickly. With any significant changes that might be rolled out across your campaigns, we recommend running a repeat test with variations to the copy or assets, to make sure results have not been biased by more compelling creative quality in any particular area.

For example, your ads featuring Western models may have performed better, but is that just because your accompanying ad copy was superior?

Ongoing Monitoring and Optimization

Monitoring, reporting, and optimizing should be part of every Japanese PPC strategy. If you don’t plan monitoring activities, your reporting will be less than perfect. And without a clear view of how things are performing through your reports, you won’t be able to make the important optimizations your campaigns need to truly excel.

While you can actually find a great deal of data inside the PPC platforms you use, such as Google Ads or Facebook Ads Manager, and even through platforms like App Store Connect and Google Play, if you’re marketing an app, we recommend building tailored reports and optimization workflows that are specific to your goals.

For instance, what are the most important metrics you need to see month to month? These should be a focal point of your monthly monitoring and the major talking point during your scheduled optimization meetings.

  • Choose the right reporting tools and formats, such as Google Data Studio and relevant add-ons like Supermetrics
  • Ensure the correct tracking pixels and tags are in place from day one
  • Emphasise your most important metrics, such as CPC, CTR, and ROAS
  • Schedule regular performance checks and optimization meetings with your Japanese PPC team
  • Compare performance monthly, as well as annually
  • Leave enough room for creativity and original thinking

Happy friends using smartphones and enjoying Japanese PPC ads

Long-term Custom Audiences

Well-defined audiences are one of the greatest tools you can use when launching Japanese PPC ads. Developing them can also help educate you about your core Japanese buyer persona, adding important details and long-term value to your wider marketing approach.

Types of Custom Audiences

  • Customer Lists – A list of previously gathered emails, contact numbers, or Social accounts that Google or Facebook will use to help you find the audiences that you want your ads to reach by matching them with user information.
  • Website Visitors – You can also build up a list of users who visit your website by attaching relevant tracking codes or pixels to your site. This will let you compile a custom audience from people who have landed on your pages already.
  • Activity-based Audiences – Whether it’s people who have viewed your video ads for a set amount of time, or people who have taken specific actions within your app, you can use this information to build a unique list of users.
  • Engagement – You can create audiences from people who have engaged directly with your ads, whether they’ve shared, commented or liked your ads on platforms like Facebook or Instagram.

Synergy Between Japanese PPC and SEO Strategies

A digital marketing approach that blends PPC with SEO is much better than running either one alone, or separately. When your core goal is to reach more people who will enjoy your content, and eventually consume your product or service, there’s no reason one of these components should be left out.

You might be getting strong results with your current PPC campaign, but wouldn’t it be nice if your page one ad position was flanked by a page one organic result? As well as showing users greater relevance to their search term, you’ll have a chance of pushing out your competition when taking up more real estate on page one. After all, only 0.78% of searchers click on something from Google’s second page! Here are a few more reasons:

  • Greater total traffic and visibility – Using both mediums will give you more exposure on SERPs leading to more traffic and ultimately clicks and conversions.
  • A better quality score – When your keywords and ads line up well with your landing pages, your Quality score will increase and your CPC will go down, due to Google registering the relevance of your ads and service offerings.
  • Your SEO will get a boost – As well as your ads becoming cheaper and more effective, so too will your SEO activities on your blogs and landing pages become better performing. Both paid and organic search results will receive a boost when your overall approach has synergy across keywords and content.
  • Greater brand exposure – When people search for your services and products, and see you appear in search results through both organic and paid positions on Google, you’ll likely register to them as a higher value brand. Sometimes, this strong first impression and increased exposure is what will yield success further down the sales funnel.
  • Greater trust – People are much more likely to connect with engaging and trustworthy content than ads. By blending both SEO and PPC, you can cover all your bases by showing users that you’re an authority in the field, while enticing them with creative and relevant ad content.

Need Help Building a Japanese PPC and SEO Plan?

Marketer planning Japanese PPC schedule

Waste No Time!

Finally, our last pillar of a strong Japanese PPC campaign is effectively using your time. And this means being strict with your internal processes. With some initial structuring to make your workflows, deliverables, and internal activities all aligned and time-effective, you can cut out time loss and use the valuable hours you have where it’s more effective.

Here are some major lessons we’ve learned from juggling several concurrently running PPC and multichannel marketing activities for brands and products entering Japan.

  1. Set regular calendar dates for important monthly PPC activities (brainstorms, internal reviews, optimization sessions etc.)
  2. Invest in the right tools and resources, such as Keyword analysis and project management tools
  3. Assign clear roles to your team for greater accountability and reduced overlap
  4. Identify short-term and long-term goals, and don’t get confused!
  5. Automate data gathering and reporting processes, such as monthly performance updates

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