How Does SEO Differ in Japan?

Getting a website to rank at the top of search engine results involves generally the same tasks no matter what language the site is in or which country it targets. Nevertheless, there are differences that should be taken into account.

This website is aimed at English-speaking webmasters and internet marketers who find themselves in the position of trying to improve the ranking of a Japanese language website. I am assuming that someone on the team can read and write Japanese.

Summary of the process

The following is an A-to-Z summary of the process of developing a website, with notes on how the SEO process differs in Japan

  1. Keyword research. Although in reality a team developing a website may start with content ideas, we’ll take a hard-core SEO approach and start with keyword research. For your website to attain its goal people need to find it, and for people to find it, it must rank on the top page of the search engines for the keywords that your potential customers are searching for. Keywords influence the content and structure of your website. Keyword research is how you discover those keywords. In Japan keyword research proceeds mostly on the same lines as in English-speaking countries
  2. Domain name selection. Domain names can be either branding oriented or keyword oriented. Brandable names create strong recognition and loyalty, as well as a competitive barrier, once developed, but increase initial marketing costs. Domains that contain keywords can initially rank higher with a smaller budget, and can be good choices for small to medium businesses. In Japan it’s best to choose a domain ending in .jp, but keywords play less of a role in selecting a domain in Japan because the Japanese language does not use roman letters.
  3. Selecting an ISP to host your site. Server hosting companies, or ISPs, are chosen on the basis of their reputation for service and up-time, the operating systems that they support, and cost. In Japan many small companies use overseas hosting services, so if you don’t have a Japanese-speaking server administrator to interface with the ISP, using a U.S.-based ISP is probably best; but using a Japanese ISP might give you a very slight advantage in the rankings.
  4. Creating content. Server hosting companies, or ISPs, are chosen on the basis of their reputation for service and up-time, the operating systems that they support, and cost. For a Japanese website you will at least need the services of a native speaker of Japanese with good writing and organizational skills, who knows how to weave your keywords into the content; these days finding contractors who can fill that role is easier than ever with U.S.-based online virtual staffing websites, but the more adventurous can also take advantage of Japanese websites where writers promote their services.
  5. Soft launch the website. As soon as you have a domain name, a server and some content, it’s a good idea to put it online, and submit it to Google and Yahoo or point a couple of links at it. In fact, even before the initial content is finished, it’s a good idea to find some excuse to put the domain online with a page full of your keywords (a “glossary” site is a clever way to accomplish this). There is nothing particularly different here about Japanese websites other than the analytics software you use should be able to handle Japanse characters.
  6. Register the site in directores. Paid directories cost money, but are an easy and quick way to get some valuable links. Free directories don’t help your rankings as much, but don’t cost anything either. In Japan there are a small number of pricey and prestigious paid directories, but it’s well worth the expense of registering in at least one or two of them. There are hundreds of free directories. And there are industry-specific and local paid and free directories to be considered.
  7. Create links with link bait, blogs, social networks and articles. Get links to your website by motivating others to link to you, or by taking matters in your own hands and creating content or links to your website from other websites. In Japan there are SEO companies that do this kind of thing, but if you want to hire contractors to help you do it yourself, there are fewer marketplaces to hire them from.
  8. Buy and trade links. Although paid links and link trading can get you in trouble if overdone, there’s little risk if you combine them with a sufficient number of legitimately obtained links. In Japan it’s harder to contact webmasters to offer to pay for links because of privacy concerns, but mutual linking networks are common.
  9. All the while refining your website’s content. Watch your logs and your competition and iterate your website’s content accordingly. Japan is no different here.

The links in the left-hand column lead to more detailed information about these steps and to various additional reference material.