Domain Selection

Top-Level Domains

There is no real problem with ranking a .com/.net/.org domain in Google Japan, but nevertheless there may be a slight advantage from an SEO standpoint in using a dot-jp domain for sites targeting the Japanese market, although at least one experienced Japan SEO consultant, Motoko Hunt, doesn’t think it really matters. I think her perspective is from the point of view of working with clients with already well-established .com domains entering the Japanese market, rather than from the point of view of a new site targeting Japan from day one.

There are two options here. The older .co.jp domains convey a sense of stability and trustworthiness, but require a Japanese company or branch office (at least in paper company form), require paperwork, and cost more. You would think that the .jp domains would be at a disadvantage to .co.jp, but there is no indication that the domains are docked in any way that I am aware of. This is probably because:

  • The domains are popular because they are simpler, the Japanese version of the simple “.com.”
  • Many respected companies use .jp domains rather than .co.jp, which raises their respectability.
  • Old-timers remember that at the dawn of the commercial use of the internet in Japan, the .jp domain was the most exclusive of all Japanese domains, used by only four of the most respected organizations in Japan: NTT (ntt.jp), KDD (kdd.jp), Sony (sony.jp) and the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization (kek.jp). The authorities forced these organizatons to conform to .co.jp and .or.jp when they were introduced. Ironically, .jp was later reintroduced .

Kanji Top Level Domains Proposal

So in general I recommend a .jp domain for Japanese websites: You get a Japanese domain, but it’s still simple to register and relatively inexpensive. If you can deal with the hassle, and your company name is already taken in the .jp space, go for the .co.jp domain.

Finally, in the future things may become even more complicated: The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications was considering some harebrained proposals for kanji top-level domains a couple of years ago. After a flurry of meetings things seemed to have cooled off, but if these proposals get traction you would have the additional choice of the kanji (or katakana, in one proposal) version for Japan as a top level domain, or local city and regional names.

Exact Match Domains in Japan

Exact match domains, for the United States Google, are domain names that meet the following qualifications:

  • The domain has a top-level domain of .com, .net., or .org
  • The part to the left of the dot consists of one, two or perhaps three words, closed up without a hyphen or underscore
  • The words that compose the part to the left of the dot is a keyword phrase for the site hosted on the domain
  • The site’s keyword profile is such that it gets or will potentially get a large proportion of its traffic from searches for that keyword phrase; in other words, instead of getting traffic for many varying “long-tail” keyword variations, by its nature the site’s topic tends to encourage searchers to disproportionately search for the one, consistent keyword phrase.

SEO professionals have noticed that exact match domains make ranking a site on the top page of the Google search results for that keyword phrase much easier. Google gives a boost to such sites. Thus, this site is using a domain optimized for the search “japan seo.” Even if a domain is owned by a squatter, the money spent acquiring it can be worth it because the marketing and SEO expenses necessary to get the same Google boost might very well be more expensive.

How about in Japan? I have not tested this, and I can’t really say for sure, but I doubt that the exact match domain trick will work with Japanese websites. Here is my reasoning:

  • Japanese uses mostly kanji and kana as its writing system. Although you can procure internationalized domains that use kanji and kana, I wonder if Google has localized its ranking algorithms to support internationalized domains for the exact match bonus, especially since this is only one of a couple of hundred ranking factors and it’s not officially announced or supported even in English.
  • Internationalized domain names at root are still in Roman letters, the prefix “xn--” followed by the Punycode representation of the kanji and kana. The kanji and kana representation is created by the browser. Google could do the conversion on its end for ranking, but again, for a small and unofficial boost, I don’t think they are.
  • Very few Japanese companies and website use internationalized domains, so it’s not a level playing field and Google would probably conclude that giving a boost to exact match domains would result in rankings with a poorer, rather than a better, relevancy. Most companies just register internationalized domains to keep them out of the hands of spammers. And even companies that use internationalized domains for marketing purposes, like with ビックカメラ.com (xn--lckh3d1ctd3b.com/), end up using the roman character domain for their actual site, sometimes doing a 301 redirect from the internationalized domain to the roman domain.
  • What about romanized exact match domains? First, no Japanese internet user searches for Japanese terms using unconverted roman letters. They may input the terms on a roman keyboard, but they do the henkan conversion before submitting the search. So search engines won’t receive searches such as “bikkukamera.” Secondly, there are different ways to romanize Japanese into roman letters. Is it “tokyo,” “toukyou,” or “tookyoo”? Japanese tend towards the Nipponshiki method, non Japanese towards the Hepburn system. Is Google going to wade into this rat’s nest? Probably not.
  • It seems that .com, .net and .org are favored because they (along with .gov and .mil) are the “main” domains in the United States, and other top-level domains are on average used by less important and authoritative websites. If you really are serious about a website, you tend to buy a .com, .net or .org domain. If you’re a spammer setting up a quickie affiliate site, you go with some other top-level domain. So Google favors .com, .net and .org for exact match domains (and perhaps for other ranking considerations). But in Japan you have prestigious websites using .co.jp and .jp as well as .com (but rarely .org or .net). Would Google rejigger its exact match domain algorithm to take account of this, or just decide there are too many problems with an exact match domain bonus in Japan and jettison the whole concept. I think the latter.

So compared to the United States there is no reason to avoid domains that are more “branding” oriented, such as “blekko.jp” as opposed to “searchengine.jp.”

How to Register a Japanese Domain

On my to-do list is a page describing in detail how to register a Japanese domain.