10 Missed Opportunities in Search Engine Marketing in Japan, Part 2

What prevented me for so many years from writing blogs and other columns was my fear that what I said today wouldn’t be good tomorrow, so why bother? Well, that fear was justified after my last article was published. Practically the next day Yahoo Japan announced a partnership with Google.

So before I continue on with the 10 missed search marketing opportunities in Japan, let’s touch on where the Yahoo Japan/Google situation stands, and how it may impact you.

The Yahoo Japan search engine and PPC platform for web, image, video, and mobile products will be affected, and the transition will happen as soon as possible. This doesn’t apply to Softbank Mobile, which will keep Yahoo mobile search and its mobile ad platform. Google will be in the back end; therefore, users won’t notice the difference on the search results page.

(Please see below images on search results page. Note only organic results (blue) and PPC ads (red) will be replaced by those of Google.)

Affected Parts by Change of Search Engine

The contract will last two years and will be renewable every two years thereafter unless Yahoo Japan refuses. If both parties agree, the contract can be further renewed even after the first renewal. This applies to both search engine/PPC and data provision contracts.

It doesn’t look like usability will change for the user, although they may see a better search experience. Google collects data only from crawlers. However, if Yahoo Japan directly provides their data to Google, updated pages will be reflected in the search results more quickly. This will improve the freshness and increase the relevancy of the search results, thereby contributing to users’ better search experience.

Last month, we covered missed opportunities in Japan, including understanding the search engine market, mobile search, landing page design, paid links, and hosting and top-level domains (TLD). Let’s continue by looking at five more missed opportunities, plus a bonus.

Missed Opportunity 6: Translations

As most search marketers rush to Google’s translate tool in order to translate their existing English keyword lists, they might be in for a rude awakening. Although the accuracy level that Google provides is much higher than it was in the past, it’s still riddled with mistakes.

One bad translation is forgivable in the English language, but detrimental to the trust you’re trying to develop with your Japanese audience. If the linguistic theme of your site doesn’t match the linguistic theme of the language or keyword, that too could cause confusion and diminish trust.

So what is the dialect language of choice for most Japanese sites? Standard Tokyo Japanese is the writing system of choice.

Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of relying on auto translation. Hire the correct Japanese translator who is a native and knows their market well. You can’t get away with mistakes in the Japanese market.

Missed Opportunity 7: Keyword Research Issues

What about using Google’s keyword tool for keyword research? If you were to take your newly Google translated words and populate your Google keyword tool to do research, you’d be lucky to find a few relevant terms.

In some cases, the word searched (as in many languages), may not even be the same word the Japanese uses online. There are many other factors to keyword research, including common misspellings (often due to multiple characters per key on a Japanese keyboard), idioms, broken compounds, and dialects.

Appropriate keyword selection is an important difference, in that there are numerous types of writing systems, and you’d have to choose not only the best keywords, but the best writing system for each keyword (Kanji, Hiragana, Katakana, Romaji).

Comparatively simple search behavior is still common, with one- to two-word phrases, and generic words being the norm. It isn’t a place where the long tail reigns; it’s a place where multiple words mean the same thing.

So how does a Japanese specialist go about with keyword research? Most will use Google and/or Yahoo Japan’s keyword tool (don’t count that out, just don’t depend on it as the only source), conversations with their clients, reviewing the client’s site, looking at suggested phrases for evaluations, competitor web pages, and common sense brainstorming. With all of this said, keyword research is best done by local search specialists, not translation agencies or auto translation tools.

Missed Opportunity 8: General SEO Differences

There are many different tactics for Yahoo Japan and Google. Yahoo Japan doesn’t seem to regulate the use of paid links, for example. However, with the switch to Google search results, that’s all going to change.

If you’ve been doing white hat link building in Japan and not participating (or at least not that much) in paid link exchanges, you should see a great deal of competitors falling off the wayside. SEOs who have employed paid link tactics (especially those who were link brokers who called themselves SEO experts) we welcome you to Search Engine Watch, there is much knowledge to be gained on how to do SEO.

So when it comes to the differences between Google Japanese SEO tactics and North American SEO tactics, there’s good news and bad news.

Good news: You’ll find many similarities (e.g., good relevant content and proper link building is still the king). There are some differences, such as localization. Successful sites in search will localize and get a Japanese TLD and a Japanese address.

Bad news: You have to deal with the different language sets and English. The terms and structure can quickly get confusing to both your SERPs and your usability. Aside from this, other issues such as correct HTML coding are critical.

Missed Opportunity 9: Blogs and Social Media

A few years ago, Technorati claimed that the Japanese had more blog posts then everyone in the English language. That’s still believed to be the case today.

They may use one- to three-keyword phrases for searching, but that doesn’t mean the Japanese aren’t social. Statistically, they’re a very social crowd and started social media groups far before we got our first accounts on MySpace. Creating a blog and participating in social media in Japan will give you an important edge to be more like the locals and succeed.

Well known Japanese search marketing expert Motoko Hunt recently wrote an excellent ClickZ article on “Social Media Marketing – The Japanese Way.”

Missed Opportunity 10: Trust And Engagement

Out of every single online marketing tactic, the most important issue in order to succeed in Japan is related to trust. Trust is intertwined in their culture, from business to personal. Trust drives every decision and also makes it your biggest disadvantage if you aren’t local.

The Japanese research so much, not because they are looking for a better price or even quality, but because they want to know whether they can trust the company. It’s all about the honor code.

To build trust online, successful sites have employed the use of site guides on Japanese websites. Besides having local TLDs and a local address, a site guide brings the ability to build trust via dialogue and engagement.

Bonus Missed Opportunity: Analytics

One of the most interesting issues in Japan is the lack of use of good analytics. Many firms employ online advertising programs without looking at statistics.

This is a good missed opportunity for those who have mastered using analytics as a form of deep optimization. Your competitor in Japan may be local, but you can fine tune your program to make it perform to an ROI. Take advantage of this while you can — it won’t last forever.

Japan is a lucrative market and by far the most important market for search marketing in Asia today. It may at first appear to be behind on some things, however they are way ahead of the world when it comes to mobile search and social media. The returns are healthy, the competition is a little behind in terms of analytics/optimization tactics, and now with the power of Google owning search in Japan, it may give us all a little competitive edge.

Stay focused on proper linguistic research and translations, as well as maintaining a level of trust with your consumer, and you’ll surely succeed in the market.

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