In Japan, Yahoo! is very much thought of as the dominant search engine, however, it’s only amongst certain demographics as Google is fast staking a claim within the search landscape.
This is widely down to how different demographics and users search (as an action), and how they access news feeds. Yahoo! is predominantly a portal style website, similar to Goo.ne.jp – so the distinction is that:
- Google is the most popular search engine
- Yahoo! is the most popular internet portal
It’s also important to note that Yahoo (in Japan) utilises Google’s search technology to power it’s search function, and over the past couple of decades has flirted with it on and off, but it’s very much thought that the current relationship status is on.
Yahoo! Chiebukuro (Yahoo! 知恵袋) is also very powerful in Japan, or as we probably know it best – Yahoo! Answers.
Below are some best practice examples of how to succeed in organic search in Japan.
Technical SEO Factors For Japan
Local ccTLD & Hosting
As with most countries, having a ccTLD domain for Japan will bring you some benefits in Japanese organic search. Hosting your website locally will also give you a significant advantage as, like it is in most countries, it’s an important geographic indicator of trust and local authority.
Given how Google operates, in recent years this has become less of an important factor.
In Japan, four writing styles are predominantly used, these are Latin, Kanjo, Hirangana and Katakana. Let’s look at the word ryokou, which is a common keyword, especially in the travel sector.
Now in Latin, this is obviously ryokou, users in Japan typically type in Latin before converting their search query into their preferred writing style. So in Kanji, ryokou would be 旅行, in Hiragana りょこう and in Katakana リョコウ.
If you sell a product, whether it be a physical product or software – I’d recommend using latin characters in your domain, meta data and titles.
HTTP Header Content Type
Given that you’re playing with a different alphabet, and set of browsers, you may need to be aware of the HTTP Header content-type you’re declaring.
Length is not strength.
Make sure that your URLs are UTF-8 encoded, this simply means converting them from text strings in URL format. While the use of Latin is important, Japanese search engines understand Japanese characters if they are formatted correctly and will display them in the SERPs.
URL Sub Folders In Japanese
To help improve localisation, use Japanese characters in your subfolders. Using ryokou as an example (and Kanji), your travel website could look like:
You should follow Google’s best practice for your URL structure, definitely avoid IDs or CGI parameters, ensure they are unique and use hyphens to separate words.
Depth also seems to matter (correlatively), and it may be down to user signals. The best practice is to try and not go more than 3 subfolders deep, but going deeper than this doesn’t mean you won’t rank (or get traffic).
Regardless of which country you’re trying to target, title pages are a fundamental aspect of SEO.
They should be precise, explain the page and be short so that they aren’t truncated in the SERPs. In Japan, trust plays a large part in user search. If you have space, place your brand name at the end of your URL to create brand awareness.
Whilst most of the world has Chrome domination, Japan is very different.
On mobile the dominant browser is Safari, with ~60% versus Chrome’s ~35%.
On desktop, however, normal service resumes with Chrome holding a 60% market share.
Reports are that Brave has made substantial and significant strides in becoming the most popular browser, but given how these market trend tools were – Brave is designed to fly under the radar.
Onpage SEO Factors For Japan
One of the most important aspects of onsite SEO is having good quality content, this doesn’t mean just translating existing content – it means having your content rewritten specifically for your Japanese audience.
This also includes ensuring that the template also caters for Japanese users. Currently in the western world, we want sleak and minimalistic designs, in Japan this is referred to as sibishii which means desolate. If you have a minimalistic website that to the western world is aesthetically pleasing, it won’t go down well in Japan. Japanese users like content, and well, we may describe it as a cluttered feel.
The Japanese are used to seeing a lot of information displayed, so don’t be put off from including lots of content on your pages. It is a different approach to the other side of the world- where less text, more engaging information and straight-to-the-point content are more common.
As always, avoid having thin and duplicated pages. If you must, use canonical tags on duplicated pages to avoid being penalised by the search engines or regarded as spam. Interactive approaches such as videos and infographics are always successful when it comes to engaging visitors to your website.
Other important HTML elements such as H1s, H2s, alt tags and anchor text elements are equally important, as is your page load speed.
Updated August 2020