SEO vs PPC in Japan – What’s More Important When Entering the Japanese Market?

Posted By Jim Kersey

Making the decision to enter Japan as a foreign business is an incredibly exciting moment for any company. And if you have a great brand, product, or service you think will do well here, then you’ve probably already pictured the kind of success that you can achieve. Unfortunately, no matter how revolutionary your product is, you’re going to need to invest some significant time and resources into effective ways to reach as many new target users as possible.

When faced with this challenge and the need to generate traffic and sales for your Japanese enterprise, the two most popular and effective methods businesses look to are Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Pay-Per-Click (PPC). Both come with significant merits and both are ways you can get your products in front of more people.

Choosing between these approaches when you’re dealing with finite resources to get your venture off to a good start can be difficult. Especially if you’re not completely familiar with what both routes entail. So to help you with this important choice, we’ve explored what each of these two great acquisition strategies are and how they can help you gain traction in Japan.

Key Attributes

Pros Cons
  • Minimal upfront fees
  • Delivers long-term ROI
  • Helps to enhance the user experience and online journey through a focus on good content
  • Drives relevant, targeted traffic
  • Lends itself to high click-through rates
  • Takes longer to see results
  • Requires ongoing maintenance and consistent content output for best results
  • Content development can be time intensive
  • Sales resulting from SEO can be harder to quantify
  • Pay as you go offers greater control over your marketing budget
  • Offers maximum visibility in search results
  • Helps you achieve immediate results with short-term ROI
  • High time efficiency
  • Traffic potential is limited by your budget
  • Benefits end when you stop paying
  • Some searchers are deterred by ad placements
  • Costs will add up considerably over time
  • Requires modest understanding of PPC management

What is SEO?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an important way of building your presence on Google. By building up the content on your site, optimizing for keywords on which to rank, and other best practices for SEO, you can increase your rank in search results and improve your online visibility and domain authority. And if done correctly, this will lead to greater traffic to your site and more conversions.

What Does SEO Look Like?

Example of SEO in Japan

How Does SEO in Japan Work?

Cornerstone SEO activities, whether you’re operating in Japan or not, are blogging and other content related campaigns, link building strategies, and on-page optimizations. These are designed to improve the quality of your presence online and establish yourself as somewhere Google should be sending search traffic.

Beyond this, there are several ways to optimize your website and move up in search rankings using SEO, and success often requires a long-term plan. Choosing the right title and H1 tags, making sure your images are formatted correctly and contain alt text, and adding relevant keywords to the content across your whole site, are all ways to achieve SEO success.

By making these changes, and publishing new content on your site that features important keywords, Google will be better able to crawl your content and make the decision that you are a reputable source, subsequently giving you a higher position in search results.

For more information about how to improve your website’s presence through SEO, take a look at our blog post: Quick Tips for SEO in Japanese – How to Improve Your Website’s Presence.

HB Pro Tip: When starting out, be careful you’re not making some crucial SEO errors like filling your content with the first high search volume keywords you find. To really get consistent results (and not fleeting gains) with SEO, a great deal of effort needs to be put into the keyword research process, and finding the most relevant terms that will actually benefit your business. To do this, it’s always best to implement long-term SEO strategies with the help of professionals who have experience in Japan.

What is Content Marketing?

SEO doesn’t work without great content. And that’s why content marketing and SEO go hand in hand. In fact, we believe that you simply can’t benefit from the kind of significant returns SEO can offer unless you have a solid content marketing plan in place.

As the Japanese digital landscape continues to shift, it’s also increasingly important for all businesses operating here to be engaged in some form of content marketing strategy to match the changing user expectations of consumers.

Blogging, for example, is a simple and powerful method of increasing customer engagement, building trust, and achieving a better rank on Google. Without new content that’s rich with keywords and tailored especially for your users and their needs, your SEO potential will be seriously compromised.

Unless you have something original and valuable to showcase, it’s unlikely that people will be spending much time on your site, or that other domains will want to offer you those all-important backlinks that are so crucial to your SEO gains.

HB Pro Tip: Although the general objective with SEO is to get more exposure and online traffic for your business, more traffic doesn’t necessarily mean better traffic. As your ranking increases and greater volumes of people encounter your content, you might also see your ‘bounce rate’ increase, as well as your ‘pages per session’ and ‘time on page’ metrics go down. Ultimately, your content won’t be perfect for everyone, but good SEO planning is all about creating the right content, with the right keywords, to attract the right kind of traffic. The better you become at doing this, the more your SEO rankings and content will actually benefit your business by encouraging your ideal target audience to land on your site.

Want to Learn More About SEO in Japan?

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What is PPC?

Flags representing,first, second, and third place on Google using SEO and PPC in Japan

PPC, or pay-per-click, is another form of search engine marketing (SEM) where you pay a publisher every time a user clicks on one of your online ads. This model, most commonly used on platforms like Google and Facebook, allows you to buy traffic to your site, rather than earning those visits organically. If your ads are not clicked, then you don’t pay anything.

As well as the many other benefits of PPC marketing, this approach can help you to quickly get your ads in front of new potential customers. If you don’t have the online presence to get people to your site organically, PPC advertising in Japan can help you to be seen in competitive markets that are otherwise crowded and hard to gain traction through SEO.

What Does PPC Look Like?

Example of PPC in Japan

How Does PPC in Japan Work?

A great deal goes into building a winning PPC campaign for Japan, from researching and selecting the right keywords to use in your campaigns and crafting enticing ad copy, to organizing your campaign structure and creating landing pages that are optimized for conversions.

While PPC is inherently less content reliant than SEO, this doesn’t mean you can get away with a shoddy website or landing pages that are not tailor made for the Japanese market. You will still need to ensure that the pages you are driving traffic to through your ads are relevant and engaging, creating a strong connection between your ads and what users are actually looking for when they’re searching online.

If you can do this, Google will reward you with lower costs per click. And when you combine this with strong conversion funnels that lead your potential customers to an eventual sale, you’ll be able to achieve good ROI with PPC in Japan.

Want to Know How to Build a Winning PPC Strategy?

Popular SNS Platforms in Japan for PPC

PPC for Social Networking Services (SNS) and media platforms like Facebook or Youtube isn’t much different to PPC for search engines like Google or Yahoo!, in principle. It is simply a form of digital advertising solely for paid placements on the relevant platform in question.

Rather than using keywords as the foundation for targeting users, social PPC campaigns are targeted to groups of users based on demographics, interest in topics, or other data gathered by the platform. Your ads will then appear in a users feed, story, timeline, or suggested watch list, within the platform itself.

The reason social PPC is so important in Japan, is its ability to create deeper connections with users and foster increased engagement. This is crucial when you’re a newcomer and trying to convince people that you’re someone worth paying attention to.

While users might not be actively searching for products or services like they would on Google, the advanced targeting methods on platforms like Facebook will let you reach people who have a genuine interest in your brand.

On top of this, almost every person in Japan has internet access and uses a smartphone. And Japan’s social media penetration is among the highest in the world, with almost 2 in 3 Japanese being active on some kind of social platform. If that’s not enough reason for you to consider social media PPC marketing in Japan, then we don’t know what is.

Source: Insta Lab

HB Pro Tip: Many businesses will launch their ads and simply wait for the results to come in, thinking their job is done. However, the true potential of PPC lies in the constant testing of messaging and targeting, and calibrating those factors constantly. Also, businesses are often discouraged by poor initial PPC performance and fail to apply the sufficient analysis and optimizations to achieve stronger results. As much as paid ads have the potential to yield immediate results, the process still requires constant attention from those who know what they’re doing if you want to satisfy your ROI targets.

Learn More About the SNS Landscape in Japan

SEO vs PPC – What Does the Data Say?

Marketer looking at data for SEO and PPC in Japan

Often, and especially in the world of digital marketing, data is the easiest way to come to a decision about what you should or shouldn’t be doing. Here are a few of our favourite stats about the effectiveness of both SEO and PPC.

SEO Statistics

Organic search is one of the most effective user acquisition channels available to you. It is often the first point of contact potential customers have with your company, and these interactions form an important part of the user journey towards conversion.

The truly magical part about SEO in opinion is that your ROI will accumulate over time as your brand establishes authority and online visibility. If you’re in it for the long-haul, you’ll see SEO consistency and quality rewarded by gradually higher ranks and more traffic to your website.

  • Nearly 80% of users ignore paid ads in search results in favour of organic results.
  • Google has almost 80% of the Japanese search engine market
  • Companies who engage in blogging receive 97% more backlinks to their site
  • 94% of clicks in the SERPs go to organic results
  • Users visit 3-3.5 pages additional on average every time they land on a website from search
  • Progress doesn’t need to be slow! In the first month of launching a strategy around keyword-targeting blogs and optimizing the website for SEO, we helped Housing Japan achieve an 17.8% increase in organic traffic in the first month.

Organic traffic increase for PPC in Japan

PPC Statistics

Being on the first page of Google will always be important, and the first few places get the vast majority of clicks. This is due to the ease of use for users who land on SERPs as well as the likeliness that you have what they’re looking for.

Admittedly, an organic result in the same position might enjoy greater traffic, but if there’s no way of getting there through SEO in the short-term, PPC is a great option for any business.

  • The top three links on a search engine results page (SERP) capture almost half of all traffic for any given keyword.
  • Search ads can increase brand awareness by 80% according to Google
  • 75% say it’s easier to find what they’re looking for from paid ads
  • We’ve helped to increase CTR as much as 176% for Google Search Ads for our clients

CTR increase using SEO and PPC in Japan

Major Differences between SEO and PPC

Growth of website presence through SEO and PPC in Japan represented by small plant

One of the fundamental differences between SEO and PPC is that PPC doesn’t benefit your company’s long-term ranking on search engines. Without the same content substance that SEO requires, PPC is simply a form of advertising that helps you drive immediate traffic to your site. Never forget that none of this is organic and whatever gains you make managing your PPC activities in Japan will quickly cease when you stop paying for your ads to be shown.

In contrast, and over the course of several months, your site’s quality should grow and blossom with SEO practices. Google recognizes this growth and will begin sending more and more traffic to your website. What you invest in early on will never be lost, and as long as you’re following best practices for SEO in Japan, you’ll be able to watch your online presence grow exponentially as all your efforts are compounded with time.

That said, not all businesses have the time or resources to plan and implement robust SEO strategies and simply wait for the traffic to arrive, months down the line. This is especially true when entering a new market like Japan for the first time when consistent, short-term revenue is crucial.

By paying for your traffic through PPC ads, you sidestep the need to invest time into content creation and can get people to see your products and offers immediately. With minimal set up time needed, you can enjoy more clicks and conversions in the short-term than you would with SEO.

Key Components of SEO and PPC


Content Development

On-Page Optimizations (Titles, Meta)

Link Building (Internal & External)

Keyword Research

Content Marketing

Editorial Management


Ad Copy Creation

Ad Groups 


Landing Page Development

Keyword Research

Social Media Marketing

Ad Management


Important Questions to Ask Yourself

We understand that there is a lot to consider when deciding between SEO and PPC for Japan. And when you’re betting a significant amount of money on finding success in a competitive market like Japan, the stakes are high.

Ultimately, whichever strategy you choose can be a viable way to grow your business, but we’ve found that a few simple questions are good for framing your thoughts when thinking about what’s best for your business.

  • How fast do I need results?
  • How competitive is the organic search landscape for important keywords related to my business?
  • How much budget can I allocate to digital marketing in Japan? (short and long-term)
  • Who will manage these strategies for me? (In-house / external support)
  • What kind of skills and resources do I have available to me?
  • Is my website actually ready for an increase in traffic?

HB Pro Tip: Getting traffic through SEO or PPC is one thing, but using this traffic to benefit your sales is another. If you want to avoid bottlenecks in your sales funnel, you need to make sure your website’s content is effectively optimized for conversions. Without thinking one step beyond PPC and SEO, you won’t be able to make the most of your success through either method. This means creating content and landing pages that are perfectly tailored to your customer’s interests, preferences, and motivations, as well as your goals as a business.

Having Trouble Answering these Questions Yourself? We Can Help

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An Integrated Approach

Relay baton representing SEO working with PPC in Japan to achieve success in Japanese market

PPC can offer you the kind of short-term gains you need when gaining traction in the Japanese market. But, as you’ll have gathered already if you’ve read this far, this isn’t cost effective in the long-run if you’re constantly paying for your online traffic.

SEO, which is admittedly slower to get rolling initially, allows you to build that all-important brand recognition that Japanese consumers crave. Great SEO executed with consistent quality through content campaigns helps you to develop a loyal and engaged customer base and prove to your new audience that you’re here to stay.

In a nutshell, you shouldn’t be looking at an either-or scenario, you should be looking at ways to balance both methods with the time and resources that you have, with a view to eventually build a fully integrated approach that leverages the benefits of both these amazing acquisition methods.

If you can find a way to make SEO and PPC work together within your overall marketing matrix, you’ll no doubt be able to drive results that are better than each component part can achieve alone. A few more reasons to run both SEO and PPC in Japan synergistically include:

  • The total volume of traffic to your site can be increased by targeting clicks in both paid and organic for high-performing keywords.
  • Fosters increased confidence and awareness by having both strong organic and paid visibility in search results.
  • Keyword and conversion data from PPC can be fed into organic search (SEO).
  • The cost of PPC ads reduces when you have landing pages that are diligently optimized for specific keywords, using your SEO principles to create content that people actually want
  • Remarketing through PPC lets you reach visitors even after initial contact via organic search, opening up the possibility of personalized messages creating a deeper connection with users.

HB Pro Tip: We recommend that businesses beginning their marketing journey in Japan deploy PPC early on, but we also advise you plan how SEO and content marketing are implemented sooner rather than later. SEO should be the foundation of everything you do, so leaving it out will only hinder your long-term success. As your organic traffic builds, PPC can be scaled back and used as a tool to generate more targeted leads and traffic to the areas of your website that matter the most.

Final Note

SEO is a cornerstone of successful online marketing and probably the best way to consistently drive traffic to your site, while PPC, using Google or Social Media, lets you reach customers more immediately, no matter how new you are to the Japanese market, or the size of your business.

It’s up to whether SEO or PPC in Japan should be your priority, but it’s important to remember that they both work in different ways. They can both help you achieve the same goal, and neither one is really a simple substitute for the other.

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