SEO Marketing In Japan – 10 Mistakes to Avoid in 2022

Posted By Jim Kersey

Different countries have unique cultural, linguistic, and contextual factors that influence online search behaviour. Adapting your content to align with local search intent ensures relevance and resonates with users in specific geographic locations.

However, many brands fail to localize their approach when entering the Japanese market—leading to weak SERP performance and ineffective keyword targeting strategies. Below is our list of top 10 mistakes to avoid when engaging in SEO marketing in Japan!

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Key Facts Influencing Japanese SEO in 2022

  • Out of approximately 125 million people, 93% of people are internet users
  • 97.9% of the local population are ethnic Japanese – preferring to read and speak in the Japanese
  • language, which is highly context-based and has three separate writing systems
  • The online preferences of Japanese people are known to differ substantially from those of Western
  • internet users, as well as those in other Asian nations
  • Japan’s smartphone penetration rate is forecasted to reach almost 93 percent by 2026, with many citizens making online searches on their mobiles rather than desktop computers (especially while traveling to and from work each day on the nation’s public transport system)
  • Over 92% of searches take place on Google or Yahoo! Japan — both using very similar algorithms when it comes to ranking online content

Search Engine Market Share in Japan (2022)

Google 76.39%
Yahoo! 16.22%
bing 6.73%
Baidu 0.3%
DuckDuckGo 0.17%

Source: Statcounter

1. Not Catering to Your Japanese Audience

Millennial browsing SEO marketing in Japan in 2022 on Tokyo train

SEO is the most effective when you’re catering to the needs of very specific audiences. Knowing what people are looking for when searching online and the kind of content they enjoy most allows you to target the right keywords that will drive traffic and build great content that ranks well.

All this starts with a good understanding of your Japanese audience and how they differ from the usual groups you’ve targeted in the past. A few things worth keeping in mind when marketing in Japan are:

  • Western doesn’t always mean better. You may think that your brand and products have an edge because they’re foreign and “exotic” but Japanese consumers often look for things that are familiar and reliable.
  • Showcasing that you’re too different or unique may not work as well here as it does in other countries.
    In many cases, more information is better than less. Website homepages, landing pages, blog posts, and product pages that feature too few details and descriptions are sometimes seen as suspicious..
  • Japan has a rapidly aging population and older groups can have very different preferences to younger generations, especially when it comes to online experiences. Learning what each group needs and adapting your website and SEO content is necessary if you want your content to perform well here.

To learn more about Japanese consumers, check out our guide: Marketing in Japan? 10 Important things You Need to Know About Japanese Consumers

2. Not Creating Brand New Japanese SEO Content

If possible, we’d recommend that you build your Japanese SEO content from scratch with the help of local creatives and marketers. The process of translation and localization (even when done with great care) is usually less powerful than creating brand new content that 100% meets the interests and needs of Japanese people.

SEO success relies so much on the way people behave online, what their mindset is when searching online, and their cultural preferences. If you’re always trying to adapt or tweak your content (written for English-speaking audiences), you could be missing out on many opportunities to really connect with your audience through relevant content.

A translated SEO blog post, even though it has performed well in your home market, has no guarantee of doing well in Japan. It’s much better to invest time and energy into creating something new.

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

3. Not Targeting the Right Japanese Keywords

Finding the right keywords requires a combination of creativity and strategy. And simply translating your list of English keywords into Japanese won’t get you very far. It typically takes us several rounds of brainstorming and research (with a clear idea of our target audience in mind) when building a powerful keyword list for our clients in Japan.

For one thing, the Japanese language has many terms that simply aren’t translatable into English. 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.
On top of this, there are specific terms that only certain demographics will use. If you’re trying to get traffic from younger consumers but are using a traditional Japanese word that only older searchers are likely to type into Yahoo! Or Google, obviously this isn’t great!

Ultimately, you must respect that the Japanese lexicon is complex and understand that the keywords people use during searches are going to be heavily influenced by their culture.

Learn About Our Recommended Japanese Keyword Research Process

4. Ignoring Japanese Search Intent

Young Japanese woman searching for product online – SEO marketing in Japan 2022

The search intent of the same keyword in Japanese and English (even if they seem to translate easily) can differ massively. This means that you must check the intent of every single potential SEO keyword you plan to target before confirming its place in your strategy.

We’ve found that even the most simple transactional terms, translated from English to Japanese, yield search results that are completely irrelevant to our client’s businesses in the past.

If you want to target search terms and phrases that are likely to drive the right kind of traffic to your pages, make sure that you’ve audited the specific intent of these searches by checking the current search results that appear on Google or Yahoo!

5. An “Unhealthy” Backlink Acquisition Strategy

Producing excellent Japanese content with rich data and engaging visuals is our recommended approach for acquiring backlinks.

This can then be followed up with a sound digital PR campaign and outreach process, where you promote your content to targeted Japanese websites in the hope of them referencing your content and giving you a backlink.

What we don’t suggest is trying to purchase all your backlinks in Japan. We’re sympathetic to brands who feel the frustration of not being able to achieve backlinks easily, but caution those considering paying for links from both local and international backlink service providers. This tends to result in too many links from low-authority spammy websites, unrelated to your industry — something Google will penalize you for.

Healthy Tips for Generating Backlinks In 2022

  • Create an original report with unique data and insights that offer real value to people and businesses
  • Launch an event or activation that can be promoted by industry news publishers
  • Develop an online resource or digital/interactive tool that has a wide-reaching application
  • Offer to write guest articles for targeted publishers, showcasing your industry knowledge and thought leadership
  • Offer exclusive interviews about your brand and products — given by your CEO, founders, or company leaders

Want Some Quick and Effective SEO Tips?

6. Not Adapting Your Web UX for Japanese Users in 2022

It’s worth spending some time considering whether you need to adapt your website’s overall UX for Japanese users to support your SEO marketing in Japan. Web design preferences can differ substantially here, compared to the markets you’re used to targeting.

For example, while certain global web design trends are popular with younger demographics, some older Japanese users will be put off by designs that are too minimal, sparse, or interactive in a way they’re not used to. Equally, certain colors and visuals may be more effective for your local audience than the ones you are currently using.

Learn More About Web Design Trends in Japan

Ensure Good Mobile UX

Google prioritizes mobile-friendly websites and a huge amount of Japanese citizens search for products on their mobiles. In fact, the mobile ecommerce market is expected to grow by 16.9% to reach $16,391.9 million in 2022, according to Global Newswire.

7. Not Working with Japanese Copywriters and Marketing Creatives

A team of Japanese creativity brainstorming SEO marketing in Japan 2022

There are many activities that can be handled by English-speaking marketers, creatives, and project managers, however, when it comes to building keyword lists and writing content for Japanese audiences, this should really be done by native Japanese speakers.

When trying to produce content that genuinely corresponds to the questions and needs of your target audience when engaged in SEO marketing in Japan, you need the right Japanese support on board to help you do this, rather than first creating content in English and then translating it, which is a slower and less effective way to get the job done.

8. Not Adjusting Your Meta Data and Technical SEO for Japanese Keywords

Your URLs, title tags, meta descriptions, and all technical SEO components should be fully localized. Search engines are incredibly sophisticated in understanding the meaning of online content and you need to do everything you can to inform them that your content is fit for purpose.

Tips for Writing Powerful Metadata in 2022

Prioritize focus keyword placement – The exact keyword used by a searcher will be highlighted by Google in a search and increase the chance of someone clicking through to your website. Synonyms and similar phrases are recommended too, as long as you’re not “stuffing” too much into a small space.

Keep it concise – When writing meta descriptions in Japanese, they may take up more room than a standard description written in English. Take care to produce meta descriptions that are within the recommended word/character count.

Match metadata to content – Relevance is incredibly important for SEO marketing in Japan – even at the metadata level. Metadata should talk about the content on your page and nothing else.
Don’t leave metadata as an afterthought – Metadata functions as an introduction to your page for potential browsers and customers. As well as being descriptive, you should think about what’s going to compel people to actually click on your search result and not an alternative link on the first page of Google or Yahoo! Japan.

9. Not Supporting Your SEO Gains with Other Strategies

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.

You can save a huge deal of time too, in terms of consolidating your content development and gathering processes so that content can be repurposed for different strategies. Japanese users, like those in other markets, also look for consistency between the different channels of a single brand.

HB Pro Tip: Always promote your published SEO content on social media channels too – driving more traffic to your content and increasing the chance of reshares. This also provides strong social proof for anyone trying to learn more about your brand before they commit to a purchase. Having a decent following and engagement from your followers on places like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can fill prospects with greater confidence about your brand.

10. Not Tracking Content and Keyword Performance Diligently

Marketers tracking performance of SEO marketing in Japan in 2022

You’re probably tracking top-level SEO performance already, but are you measuring the performance of individual pieces of content and the progress of your target keywords over time?

Keeping a close eye on the small things will ultimately help you to achieve the kind of insights that will help your future SEO content perform better. For instance, if you are seeing good traction with specific keyword groups or topic clusters, investing more in these areas can help drive greater traffic to your site sooner, than simply working through a pre-set list of keywords with no logical/strategic order.

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 still make small adjustments to your approach 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
  • High-performing keywords and topics (including those not currently included in your target list of SEO keywords)The search traffic gained from individual Japanese keywords over time

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Final SEO Marketing Tips for 2022

Finally, below are some SEO practices we think you SHOULD be following in 2022:

    • Develop Japanese FAQ pages – these are incredibly effective at quenching the local thirst for knowledge and will show readers that you understand what their concerns and motivations are. The opportunity to integrate important keywords shouldn’t be missed either!
    • Use a cluster keyword strategy – organizing your keywords into topic clusters and then creating pieces of content that function as “pillars” is an effective way to consolidate your SEO gains.
    • Invest in high quality visuals – adapting your photographs and illustrations/graphics for local audiences is an effective way to improve the performance of your SEO content and improve your rankings.

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