10 Mistakes to Avoid When Using SEO Marketing in Japan

Posted By Jim Kersey

The good news for foreign brands and marketers trying to break into Japan is that you don’t need to learn how to use an entirely new search engine. Google and Yahoo! Japan are the two most popular platforms and together they serve around 95% of the population.

Also, because Yahoo uses the same algorithm as Google for reviewing and indexing pages in search results, you can keep using industry best practices from your home market when it comes to SEO marketing in Japan.

Having said this, we find that many companies use this as an excuse to simply use exactly the same SEO strategy as they do back home without making necessary adjustments for the local market.

As well as a few other mistakes, we’ll outline how this lack of localization is one of the biggest errors you can make when trying to rank on Google and drive good volumes of relevant traffic to your site.

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Using Google Translate and Not Localizing Your Content

By far the most common and troublesome error new businesses make with their Japanese SEO strategy is thinking that fundamentals like keyword lists and content can simply be translated.

As SEO success relies so much on the way people behave online, what their mindset is when searching online, and their general preferences, everything must be adapted and localized for your new Japanese audience.
The terms used to find certain information online or the names of product categories can be un-translatable and you could be missing out on huge volumes of traffic simply because your keywords are wrong.

Content must also be created to serve the unique needs of Japanese consumers. A translated blog or article, even though it has performed well in your English markets, has no guarantee of doing well in Japan.

To avoid all this, and other traps that present themselves when translating instead of localizing, you should ideally build your SEO strategy from scratch with the help of native Japanese creatives and marketers, or otherwise, work hard to audit and adapt your existing strategy so that it still has relevance to your new market.

To learn more about the Japanese localization process, take a look at our blog: Japanese Website Localization – Do I Need to Reinvent My Brand?

Not Investing in the Japanese Keyword Research Process

Marketing executive conducting keyword research for SEO marketing in Japan

If you’ve spent any significant amount of time performing SEO keyword research, keyword GAP analysis, and brainstorming the best keyword variations that can make a difference to your online traffic, you’ll know that it takes a combination of creativity, strategy and diligence to turn a large bank of potential words into a refined and targeted keyword cluster strategy.

The same is true when engaging in Japanese SEO. There’s no quick route to producing a strong keyword list that will help you to frame your online content and send the right signals to Google.

You might have a foundational list of terms you think can be easily translated to Japanese, but there are so many more opportunities and areas to explore when searching for the right terms.

For instance, the Japanese language has many terms that simply aren’t translatable into English as well as many slang and colloquial terms that Google won’t recognise.

HB Pro Tip: There are also many English-loanwords and adaptations of English terms that are incredibly popular in Japan, but won’t come to mind for a non-native Japanese speaker looking for suitable keyword variations. The Japanese lexicon is complex and brands that want to do well must invest time and resources into the keyword research process.

Learn About Our Japanese Keyword Research Process

Not Knowing Your Japanese Audience Well Enough

It’s fundamental to know your audience well to find success with your SEO strategy. The only way you’re going to be able to personalize content for your target market is to know your customers at a granular level. While this might take time, initial market research and analysis can help you understand the basics of user preferences and motivations.

You can’t effectively match SEO content (product pages, blogs etc.) to user search intent if you don’t have a full understanding of your audience’s overall likes, dislikes, behavioral tendencies, purchasing habits and general attitude to foreign brands.

If you’re new to the country and want to learn more about the mindset of Japanese consumers, we try to cover the basics in this blog: Marketing in Japan? 10 Important things You Need to Know About Japanese Consumers

Ignoring Search Intent for SEO Marketing in Japan

Woman on phone searching for product and representing buyer search intent for SEO marketing in Japan

Google favors content and websites that satisfy the search intent for a given query. It has become increasingly sophisticated in understanding the ultimate motivation behind a user’s search. And it’s still surprising how many brands aren’t fully accepting of this.

You may have identified a selection of keywords you think will benefit your brand when proliferating them through your web content and blogs, but Google isn’t going to rank you high in search results unless the content you produce is 100% matched to the user intent of searchers.

Having a good understanding of the purpose of your keywords within the buying journey will help you to create content that will receive a good position on Google.

Trying to Buy Your Backlinks

We’re entirely sympathetic to brands who feel the frustration of not being able to achieve many backlinks in Japan, despite great efforts to source them and reach out to various publishers and website owners. However, it would be a mistake to think that you can overcome this problem by simply paying for backlinks.

Offers from agencies (often who aren’t even based in Japan) to source your backlinks aren’t worth your time or attention. As well as being ineffective, if the sites that link back to you are not related to your brand or services, you may also get penalized by Google.

This is something that most marketers have known for a long time, but somehow forget when performing SEO marketing in Japan are faced with the challenge of sourcing backlinks in a complicated market where relationship building and link building is harder to do.

If you really need links, you’re going to have to invest in ways to produce valuable Japanese content that site’s want to feature.

This could be articles, reports, guides, videos, infographics or other items. And If you don’t have the capacity to create this stuff yourself, pay a reputable SEO agency or Japanese marketing company who can build you a comprehensive strategy for accumulating backlinks for your website.

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Not Seeing Your SEO Strategy as Long-Term

Team of marketing professionals working on long term SEO marketing in Japan

Try not to rush your SEO process as you’ll only limit your long-term potential. The best Japanese SEO strategies take a while to set up. And even once you’re consistently publishing content, optimizing your website, and engaging in SEO backlink acquisition, it can still take a while for you to see results.

However, we’d say that as long as you’re making the right choices and investing enough resources into your SEO projects, you have every chance of driving good amounts of traffic to your website organically.

Until then, PPC marketing with Google Ads or one of Japan’s SNS platforms might be what you need to gain some short-term traction and sales.

Not Working with Japanese Copywriters and Marketing Creatives

Broader SEO strategy tasks can be performed by non-Japanese professionals without much issue. This includes things like timelines, project management and analytics. However, when your primary goal is to produce content that genuinely corresponds to the questions and needs of your target audience in Japan, you need the right Japanese talent on board to help you do this.

With the knowledge that translation doesn’t work, the only way you’re going to achieve all the important things you need to do with your SEO marketing in Japan is if you’re integrating local copywriters and markets into the process.

Even Japanese web designers can bring something special to the table that designers from other markets may not be able to, such as a better understanding of market preferences for UX trends.

Not Adjusting Your Meta Data and Technical SEO for Japanese Keywords

Optimizing your content includes more than including your new Japanese keywords in your articles and service/product pages. Title tags and meta descriptions are essential elements that shouldn’t be forgotten when performing SEO marketing in Japan.

You need to do everything you can to tell search engines what your content is about and how it should be delivered to users. Skipping things like meta descriptions and alt text is a huge missed potential for you to do this, even if the quality of your content is great.

Lack of Integration Across Different Digital Channels

Company owner reviewing multiple digital channels and impact on SEO marketing in Japan

There’s no reason you can’t integrate your SEO activities with other aspects of your marketing matrix. As well as helping you create better synergy between your strategies and pooling content development resources, it’s a way to build the kind of consistency Japanese users need to see when interacting with your brand on multiple channels at once.

Notorious for heavily vetting foreign brands before they feel comfortable buying from them, you should expect that potential customers will review several of your online channels before they make a purchase. Therefore make sure your communications and marketing are integrated and consistent across your website and all social channels.

HB Pro Tip: Integrated strategies offer better performance. Content marketing and SEO go hand in hand, but there’s also plenty of crossover between SEO, PR, PPC, Email marketing, and Social than some brands realize. Planning your projects more holistically and allowing teams (even if they’re external agencies) to collaborate and share resources can elevate your performance and make goals more achievable. For instance, if you are aware of the kind of things that will get good press in Japan from your PR team or agency, your in-house content developers will be better able to produce this kind of content.

Don’t Forget to Track and Analyse

Finally, setting up and regularly reviewing your analytics is essential for knowing if your Japanese SEO strategy is working or not. New businesses to the country will want to keep a close eye on how new users are interacting with their content and the impact that their keyword-optimized content is having on traffic to their sites.

While we wouldn’t recommend changing anything significantly if you’re not seeing results immediately (as SEO takes time to show its true benefits) you can make various adjustments to your approach along the way to make sure you’re integrating new learnings into your approach. Things to look for are:

  • Engagement levels on individual pages and pieces of content
  • Click-through rates to other pieces of content, lead forms or ecommerce product pages
  • Where exactly new users are “dropping off” before making a purchase or completing a lead form
  • The most popular terms used to find your brand online
  • The search traffic gained from individual Japanese keywords over time

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