How to Build a Winning Japanese PPC Strategy

Posted By Jim Kersey

As Japan’s national advertising expenditure for TV, radio, magazines, and newspapers has decreased year-on-year for five consecutive years, spend for Internet advertising has increased significantly over this same period.

Although many businesses operating here are still learning how digital marketing, and specifically PPC, can empower their brand and improve their effectiveness at targeting their desired markets, others have already made huge headway — mastering the ability to harness the inherent data-driven, higher yield, and measurable characteristics of digital marketing.

Today, among those benefiting from a robust PPC strategy are a fleet of international businesses who have combined global PPC best practices, with a comprehensive understanding of local consumer culture. In this article, we aim to show you exactly how you can do this with your own winning Japanese PPC strategy.

Digital Marketing in Japan – Key Facts

  • Total advertising expenditure for the Digital Advertising market in Japan is around US$16,465m
  • Japan’s largest segment of digital advertising is Search Advertising, with a market volume of around US$6,425m
  • Over 118.9 million people (over 94%) in Japan use the Internet
  • Japan’s smartphone population was predicted to be just over 70 million in 2018
  • Japanese adults (ages 18+) spend over 3 hours per day on digital media

Planning and Research

Planning, researching, and setting your goals are key steps to creating an effective PPC workflow. Before implementing your plan, take the time to step back and reflect on your intended business goals and how your allocated PPC campaigns and budget will help you achieve them.

Align PPC Activities with Marketing Goals

When building your Japanese PPC strategy, map each one of your PPC marketing activities with an intended impact on one of your core commercial goals. It’s easy to get lost in a whole new landscape of consumer demographics and media channels in Japan, so doing this will help keep you grounded.

For example, if you’re focusing on generating conversions from new customers, whether its installations of your app or purchases of your product from one of Japanese ecommerce platforms such as Rakuten or Amazon Japan, this should be a fundamental part of your planning process so that you can build suitable marketing funnels that actually help you achieve high-click through rates and strong ROI.

Alternatively, if you’re looking to boost brand awareness at an early stage of your Japan market entry process, focus on long-term amplification of your brand using the most relevant digital platforms in Japan, such as LINE, as well as a complementary organic SEO approach. Whatever you decide, your strategy will be stronger if you set clearly defined and achievable goals at the start. And measuring the success of your efforts will be so much easier.

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Understand Your Market Competition

Japan has a competitive beverage and Japanese PPC market

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: market competition in Japan is real. While there is huge potential here for international brands, going in with a half baked idea that your product is “perfect for the market” is foolish, to put in bluntly.

You may well have a great service or product offering that appeals to Japanese consumers, but make sure you diligently analyse the market for competitors first. Japan has one of the fiercest ‘first-mover’ landscapes and very strong customer loyalty levels, where brands who are second or third to market will have a much harder time breaking in.

Extensive market research initiatives can be commissioned for in-depth knowledge, but a great deal of competitor research can actually be done using online keyword research tools. If you’re working with a partner agency in Japan, they’ll be able to handle this for you, but if not, you can use keyword monitoring tools like SEM Rush to check who else is making PPC moves on your core keyword targets on Google, for example.

This will give you an immediate sense of what you’re up against in your endeavour to entice Japanese customers with your PPC tactics. It should also give you a few ideas on keyword opportunities and gaps in the market you can take advantage of when building your keyword strategy.

Japanese Keyword Research and Implementation

Translating keyword list for Japanese PPC strategy

To expand on the above, every PPC campaign needs a strong keyword strategy and process. Furthermore, it needs to be performed in Japanese. You’ll likely have experience with keyword research and PPC planning for your home market, however, some serious adjustments will need to be made before you can start operating in Japan to good effect.

Everything from your initial brainstorming sessions to your keyword list development stage needs to be performed with the support of native Japanese speakers. There’s so much you could miss, such as colloquialisms or slang terminology opportunities, if you’re simply porting your international keyword approach to Japan.

For example, the word ‘mansion’ in Japanese is used to describe apartments and condominiums, but not very large and impressive properties, like in English. With over 100,000 searches per month, a real estate firm would be in trouble without this adapted word in their strategy. If you’re not careful, core pillars of your seed keyword list could be missing before you’ve even started exploring variations and permutations of your keyword list!

The Japanese language also uses multiple alphabets, including Chinese characters, meaning it’s certainly not seamlessly translatable with English and without proper attention, you run the risk of missing out on some serious keyword gems with high conversion rates for your target market.

Recommended tips:

  • Conduct comprehensive keyword brainstorms with native speakers in both English and Japanese
  • Spend time expanding and maturing your keyword list with an awareness of the the Japanese consumer market
  • Look for variations and hidden keyword gems through slang terms and colloquialisms
  • Run an extra round of localization on all your keywords for Japan
  • Always test your keywords for search volume and check if SERPs are relevant to your intended search intent
  • Include a healthy amount of transactional keywords in your final list that will lead to conversions

HB Pro Tip: When planning your Japanese PPC strategy, don’t get hung up on word order like you would in English (with correctly placed subject, verbs, and prepositions) unless the meaning is changed by the different order. The best way to test this out is to use Google to see if there are any major differences in search results.

Localize Your Budget for Japan

As well as your keyword strategy, you’ll also need to localize your advertising budget to some extent, based on your new market. While data suggests that the average CPC in Japan is generally cheaper than in places like the U.S. you’ll find that the average cost per click or cost per install will vary between sectors, so don’t make too many assumptions.

Also, look at which channels your core target market uses the most and distribute heavier weight to these areas accordingly, while also factoring in how costs might differ by region.

Key Consumer Attributes of Japan

Young demographic target market for Japanese PPC strategy

Japan has its own set of unique cultural quirks. To reach Japanese audiences, take into consideration the new landscape you’re operating in and how it will impact your marketing activities.

A Nation of Selective Purchasers

Japanese consumers are known for being much more ‘selective’ in their purchasing choices. Taking longer to scrutinise a product, the brand, and online reviews with careful diligence, is a standard approach for most households.

This buying behaviour is often attributed to a limited amount of living space in Japan, especially in Tokyo, one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Others believe this stems from a more deep rooted cultural attitude to avoid waste, and a history of economic struggles where wages are only spent on essential items.

Whatever the reason, the fact is that a significant amount of pressure is placed on brands to convince consumers of long-term value and superior quality.

When planning your PPC strategy for Japan, keep this in mind and pay extra attention to how you connect with users at different stages of their purchasing journeys to promote this image of ‘value’. Building a relationship, fostering trust, and convincing your target market you’re offering a quality product is all part of a winning PPC strategy in Japan.

Learn More About the Japanese Consumer Market

Quality and Luxury Focused

Perhaps due to the reluctance to buy non-essential or ‘temporary’ products, Japanese consumers have shown a keen interest in high quality and luxury goods, even at extremely high price points. For instance, brands in the home improvements, high-end electronics, and luxury fashion segments do particularly well here.

If your product is in this sector, make sure you emphasise the luxury quality of your brand through your Japanese PPC campaign’s copy and visuals, focusing on every single detail of your product description, aesthetically appropriate design, and photography to convey your ‘class’.

If you’re not in the luxury category, you can still take advantage of this knowledge by emphasising the quality, durability, or heritage characteristics of your products and services. Just keep in mind that Japanese consumers would typically rather purchase fewer, higher quality products and are willing to pay much more for items they think will stand the test of time.

Manage Your Reputation

Be very careful with how you manage your reputation. As a highly valued aspect of Japanese culture, you need to pay appropriate attention to your ‘image’ and brand representation. When planning your Japanese PPC strategy, be mindful that each ad or campaign could have a significant impact on the way you are perceived in the market and among your customer base.

Consumer sentiment and product reviews (whether in person or online) can make or break your reputation. As one of your major touch points, use your PPC to fortify your brand messages and convey your dedication to quality.

Executing Your Japanese PPC Strategy

Marketing team executing Japanese PPC strategy

When it comes to PPC, you’ll likely have Google in the forefront of your mind, but this isn’t the only Japanese PPC network you should consider in your strategy. Different platforms will offer varying advantages for audience targeting and costs. Before investing, make sure you build a campaign structure and PPC workflow based on an understanding of how specific networks can benefit your brand.

Choose the Right PPC Channels and Networks

While Twitter and Instagram have an extensive user base in Japan and come with universal familiarity, the most popular social network here is LINE, with over 80 million people using it. Also, while Google commands the largest market share of all search engines, Yahoo! has considerable presence here. There is also a growing number of other popular Japanese platforms such as TikTok that offer diversity and opportunity to the PPC landscape here.

And there’s absolutely no reason you need to stick to just one platform. The best Japanese PPC strategies are those that apply appropriate budgets to potential opportunities in the market, whether it’s across several networks or just one.

When deciding on your Japanese PPC channel structure and workflow, below are some important questions to ask yourself:

  • What is the goal of my PPC strategy and which platforms can help me achieve this?
  • Which platforms have the right reach and brand suitability to help me achieve my marketing goals?
  • Who is my audience? And which platforms can help me target the right demographics?
  • Which platforms are more suited to my budget limitations? (Some PPC channels like Google might cost more due to higher competition around specific keywords)

Finally, the power of PPC is best utilized when combined with a strong SEO component of your overall Japanese digital marketing strategy. When integrating SEO and PPC together for a multi-channel approach, you’re giving your brand a better chance of generating qualified, targeted traffic.

Specifically, the better your landing pages and site is optimized for certain SEO keywords, the higher the quality score your ads will have as they target those same keywords. Also, when your paid marketing efforts and your page content is linked, your CPC will decrease as Google registers you’re providing relevant traffic to a relevant and suitable page, saving you money on your ad spend!

Laying Strong Foundations

Building customer persona for Japanese PPC

To lay the foundations of a strong digital marketing and PPC campaign, consider what your brand’s core Unique Value Proposition (UVP) is. This is important in any market, but especially crucial for swaying your new potential Japanese customer’s buying decisions.

For example, rather than relying on your existing customer personas and UVPs, take some time to consider what Japanese audiences will value most from your products or services. It may be that your brand’s more niche qualities are what users will connect with, or perhaps your international brand presence is something that will help you get noticed.

Going through this process will also help your team establish effective messages and creative routes when developing your copy and visual assets, as well as differentiate your brand from your competitors. Some questions to ask yourself during this process are:

  1. Which characteristics of my products and services will Japanese audiences value the most?
  2. Is my international brand presence an advantage I should emphasise?
  3. Does my current UVP translate to Japanese consumer preferences?
  4. Has my customer buying persona changed significantly, and to what extent do I need to adapt my messaging?

A strong Japanese PPC foundation also relies on the forward planning of your campaign structures and predicted optimization routes. By using standardised naming conventions for all your ads (across all your campaigns) from the outset, you will be better placed to evaluate the performance of your strategy more conclusively. And with a planned road map of the different optimizations you might make as a result of your ad testing results, you’ll remove the guesswork from your approach.

Creating Ad Copy and Creative Assets

Once you’ve created a strong foundation for your Japanese PPC campaigns, through keyword planning, budget distribution, and market research, you’ll need to create ads with the greatest potential to connect with your target audience.

Effective content is hard to create in any language, so don’t rush this part of the process and make sure your content is 100% localized. Japanese users, as mentioned above, often look for signs of quality and luxury in their products. Do your best to convey this through your ad copy with carefully chosen phrasing and language.

Also, don’t underestimate the role that visual components have on your click-through and cost per acquisition rates. Whether it’s Google banner ads or Facebook ads, make sure you’ve invested in some high quality graphics or photography to complement your ad copy. And make a note to use Japanese models and scenery when relevant.


Localization should be a recurrent principle throughout your Japanese marketing activities, but it’s especially important when finalizing your ad executions and creating your ad copy. Understanding your audience and knowing how to connect with them is important in any market, and it should be no surprise that it’s also the case in Japan.

There are so many cultural nuances and contextual implications of the Japanese language and having a team of native speakers is really the only way you can make sure you’re building your campaigns within the appropriate context. Strict adherence to rules and social norms, such as using the right categories of politeness, will go a long way in boosting the credibility and effectiveness of your PPC strategy.

HB Pro Tip: Considering Japan’s national holidays and favourite seasons is a good way to frame your annual marketing activities for a number of reasons. Firstly, showing that your brand is conscious of Japanese culture will help to align yourself more closely with local consumers — allowing you to more easily build trust and brand loyalty.

Secondly, many Japanese households will focus their spending around certain holidays, such as Christmas, New Year’s Day, and even Valentine’s Day. Another significant period is Hanami, cherry blossom season, when many brands tap into spring optimism and positivity to drive sales promotions.

Optimizing Your Japanese PPC Strategy

Japanese PPC team planning campaign optimizations

Once your ads are launched, make sure you’re paying very close attention to how they perform. You’ll likely have made certain predictions about how your brand will fare in the Japanese market and on certain platforms, and now is a time to see whether you were right, or if you need to pivot on your approach.

Your core KPIs will be a good place to track performance and help you understand how your Japanese PPC campaign is progressing. For example, if your click through rates and conversions are low and your impressions are high, then there might be something wrong with your ad copy. Maybe another round of localization is necessary?

PPC campaigns are more of an art than a science. While you will want to put more budget into better performing channels and keywords as soon as possible, give your ads enough time to gather conclusive data so your decisions are informed and logical. It might be the case that your ads can be optimized or ‘tweaked’ for greater performance rather than simply removed.

We recommend looking at the following areas as key targets of optimization:

  • Ad messaging and creative copy
  • Budget distribution between your chosen platforms
  • Ad visuals and graphics
  • Audience targeting parameters
  • Keyword targets

When focusing on the above for our clients at Humble Bunny, we’ve seen important KPIs massively improved from national averages. For example, with smart and effective Japanese optimizations, we’ve been able to help businesses in the Fashion industry achieve an average Cost per Mille (CPM) — the cost an advertiser pays for one thousand views — of $3.20, compared to the industry average of $7+.

Measure and Report

The only way to truly understand your success is to accurately benchmark your performance by regularly measuring and reporting on your Japanese PPC activities. You might have an agency who handles this aspect for you, or you may be diving into data analytics yourself to track your digital marketing gains.

The important thing is that you are able to record and reference the various changes and optimizations you make, looking especially for positive and negative performance trends. Once your PPC campaign is matured, you’ll have a wealth of knowledge you can tap into for the future, such as seasonality trends, demographic potential, and which platforms your brand does and doesn’t work well on in Japan.

Landing Pages and Japanese PPC Strategy

Landing pages are a cornerstone of many digital marketing and PPC campaigns, and for good reason. They’re a great way of capturing the key value and selling points of your brand and directing your users to conversion, or the next stage of their purchasing journey. It’s no different when operating in Japan. The closer you’re able to match your landing page content and search intent of your ads and targeting, the higher your conversion rates will be.

Avoid using generic pages as part of your PPC flow, and adapt each landing page to closely relate with your ad copy, so that users know they’ve been taken to somewhere personalised for their purchasing experience. This will also improve how Google measures the quality of your ads, placing more focus on relevant ads and landing pages with low bounce rates.

In terms or presentation and layout, keep the design and feel of your landing pages informative and user-friendly. While you might be tempted to reduce your content to the bare minimum, through the kind of straight-forward and concise layout you’re used to, be aware that Japanese users generally prefer to have access to more information in one place.

As such, you’ll see most Japanese landing pages will contain much more information and content than your average landing page from the U.S. or other parts of the world. Understanding these slight differences is all part of making sure your web design and landing page development is fully localized for Japanese audiences.

Finding the Right Japanese PPC Marketing Partner

International company working with Japanese PPC marketing team

Speak to any business who has effectively entered Japan and you’ll likely hear how a local partner was vital in helping them gain traction here. However, choosing a PPC marketing agency can be hard, and going with the wrong one for your brand could destroy your chances of success in Japan before you’ve even started.

While you’ll have to gauge each potential marketing partner on an individual basis, there are certain things you can look out for when making your decision.

  • Experts in Japan – they may have great international credibility or success in your home market, but this is worth nothing if they haven’t succeeded in Japan.
  • Experience with your preferred PPC networks – many agencies will have experience with Google Ads, but how many will be able to handle your LINE or Yahoo! PPC campaign too?
  • Specialized in your industry / sector – whether it’s mobile apps or online e-commerce, check your agency has the ability to handle PPC for your sector.
  • Strong success rate – how successful has the agency been in handling Japanese PPC campaigns for international businesses entering japan?
  • Multilingual language services – can they effectively handle client relations in English while fully localizing your Japanese PPC campaigns across multiple platforms?
  • A concrete process – is there a tangible and concrete process in place to facilitate your Japan marketing activities, including planning, execution and approval stages?
  • Diligent reporting – can they guarantee visibility and timely updates on your core Japanese PPC KPIs and support your ongoing strategy process through reporting?
  • Mutual trust and good feeling – trust and good feeling goes a long way when you’re relying on a partner to help you make your Japanese expansion dreams come true!

HB Pro Tip: If your brand offers products or services from a specialist sector, such as financial services, medical, property or fashion, having an agency with existing expertise in this field can help you tap into their existing market knowledge and experience, while helping you to navigate potential regulatory requirements specific to Japan.

Final Takeaways

The growth of PPC in Japan has removed the high cost of traditional advertising and lowered the barrier to entry for brands and services — evening out the playing field. But with this also comes increased market competition.

To give yourself the best chance of success here, it’s important that you carefully balance a data-driven, performance-oriented approach, with just the right amount of creativity and “fun”, to connect with your new Japanese target market through effective messaging.

We understand a new Japanese PPC campaign might seem challenging, but with the right team and framework in place, and through comprehensive testing and ambitious optimizing of your PPC ads, finding your sweet spot in the Japanese market is a rewarding venture!


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