7 Reasons Why You’d Never Succeed at SEO in Japan

Are you a SEO practitioner looking to enter the Japanese market or already working with Japanese clients?

Then take note, you need to read this article to find out what’s stopping you from success!   

1. You don’t focus enough on mobile

Japan has a high internet penetration of 86%, and a mobile penetration of 122%! This means that on average, each person owns more than one mobile device.

Many searches take place on mobile. And majority of the people who use social media use it on mobile as well as desktops.

Are you making mobile the focus of your SEO strategy?


Source: We Are Social


2. You are not using the most popular Japanese search engines

Two search engines (Google and Yahoo) control nearly 97% of the market share. Yahoo used to be the dominant search engine until mid 2011, when Google took over.

That said, Yahoo still accounts for almost 40% of the search market. Are you optimizing your website for Yahoo SERPs?   

036Source: Global Analysts  


3. You ignore the top Japanese social media networks

If you have Japanese friends, you’d know that Line is the Japanese Facebook in terms of market dominance. Line is a mobile platform with approx 54m users in its home market of Japan.

It’s especially popular with the ladies because of its cute characters. Young people often swap Line IDs the way they swap phone numbers a few years ago.

Below is an overall ranking of the most popular social media networks and messaging apps in Japan for all ages. The results are based on a survey published in 2014.

Facebook has been growing in popularity, but its growth has not been as fast as Line’s over the past years. The key reason being it’s not a service born on mobile.


When you segment the different age groups (by decade, from people in their teens to those in their 60s), the results look very different.

  • Those in their 20s are the most avid social media users across the board.
  • Twitter is disproportionately popular among Japanese teens.
  • Facebook is more popular with millennials and less popular with teens.
  • Millennials still use mixi but teens don’t really anymore.
  • Line is the most popular social media network across the board except for seniors in their 60s.

Source: 2014 Institute for Information and Communications Policy

In another study, people were polled and asked “Out of Facebook, Twitter, and Line, which would present the most trouble if it were suddenly taken away from you?”


Source: 2014 Fast Ask

Almost half of respondents (49.0%) chose Line as their most essential service, with the rest of the respondents split between Twitter, Facebook, and “I don’t know.”


Are you using the right social media networks for your target age groups?

4. You don’t use local domain and hosting

Search engines give more value to websites hosted on local web servers. Hosting your website locally, as well as having local ccTLDs will give you a significant advantage to rank in Japan.

Using local domain and hosting is an important geo-targeting indicator of trust and local authority to search engines.


Source: Ginza Metrics


Google understands Japanese characters and displays them properly in SERPs if they have been correctly encoded. You want to ensure that your URLs are UTF-8 encoded.

You can also consider using Japanese character keywords in subfolders if they draw search volumes. For example, “yourwebsite.co.jp/folder/ここにキーワード.html”.

This will give you a better chance of ranking for your target keywords.

As Japanese users see trust as an important element of an online presence, consider placing your brand name at the end of the title tag.

This will help to raise brand awareness and create a good click-through rate for users who are familiar with your brand.

Are you using local domain and hosting?


5. You don’t localize your websites or have a Japan-specific content strategy   

Unlike the Western mantra of “less is more,” Japanese users expect to see lots of information. To them, more is better.

You need to adapt global templates to Japanese visual aesthetics and UI preferences.

Here’s a screenshot of Rakuten, Japan’s biggest ecommerce site. It might look busy and cluttered to Western eyes. But to Japanese people, the huge amount of content builds trust.


Don’t just (Google) translate existing English content, Japanese users will know. Create content specifically for the Japanese user.

Highlight local management (if any) to build trust. Japanese consumers value quality and brand recognition.

The “About” page is particularly important for foreign companies so display your achievements and experience.

Localize forms, especially for dates, credit card input, names and addresses. For example, don’t insist on having users fill in “zip codes.” This American term is not familiar to Japanese users.

Avoid the typical multi-racial corporate imagery common in the West. Instead, show Japanese people who are fashionably and smartly dressed.  

Are you localizing your websites based on Japanese sensibilities?  

6. You don’t optimize your keyword strategy for Japanese characters

There are 4 character sets to optimize for in Japan–kanji, hiragana, katakana and romaji. And spacing matters, there’s a difference in search volumes between single byte and double byte.

Additionally, Japanese grammar rarely matches how searches are formatted. Japanese tend to search in the infinitive, which can be hard to naturally work into the copy.

Are you optimizing your keyword strategy for the various Japanese character sets?

7. You build links to/from non-Japanese sites

Search engines value links originating from Japanese IP addresses and sites with Japanese content. Japanese anchor text is essential, back links with English anchor text are not ideal.

Yahoo Chiebukuro (Q&A) is a great place to engage users and build back links. You can create a brand ambassador who answers product, service or brand questions.


Also, Pay Per Post back linking programs on top blog networks and directory listings are popular in Japan. Japanese users are not turned off by sponsored blogging the way Americans tend to be.  

Are you building links to/from Japanese sites?


If you take care of these 7 points above, you’d have a fighting chance to make it in the SEO world in Japan. Good luck!

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