Best Practices for Japanese SEO

I've had the pleasure of working with a wide range of global businesses and helping them enter the Japan market online. Japan has unique traditions and cultures, and that's true for online activities as well.


Of course the general rules of international SEO apply - use hreflang annotations and locale-specific URLs. But there are also some specific best practices for Japanese SEO.


Japanese Search Engine

If you're coming from English SEO, the good news is that you probably don't need to learn a new search engine. The main search engine used in Japan is Google or Yahoo. These days, Google is more popular, and generally young and tech-savvy people are using it. From a Japanese SEO perspective, you can just focus on optimizing for Google, because Yahoo is also powered by Google's algorithm.


Title and Meta Description for Japanese SEO

Google counts pixel length, not number of characters. Regardless of the language, the maximum title length is 560px, and meta description is 990px. You might know that for English, that's approximately 60 characters for the title and 160 characters for the meta description.


All Japanese characters are 20 pixels, so the maximum title length is 28 characters, and meta description is 49.5 characters, assuming you are only using full-width Japanese characters.


It's common to use the LEN function in Excel to make sure your title and meta description aren't too long, but I'd recommend using LENB instead. LENB counts the byte length of text in cells. Alphanumeric characters are single byte, and full width Japanese characters are double bytes. The maximum LENB for Japanese SEO titles is 60, and meta description is 135.


Top-Level Domain for Japanese SEO

The best top-level domains for Japanese sites are .co.jp and .jp.


.co.jp is available for companies registered in Japan, so it indicates that the business is legitimate and trustworthy.


But if you're already a global company with an online presence, I would recommend keeping your site and adding a Japanese version, so for example www.example.com/ja/


If you use a generic top-level domain (.com, .net, .info, etc.) you can use the country targeting tool in Google Search Console to tell Google that you are targeting to Japan.


URL Structure for Japanese SEO

From an SEO perspective it's fine to use either Japanese characters or Roman alphabets. I would recommend using Roman alphabets though, because it's easier to share the link via email or social media. URLs that use Japanese characters could have encoding issues when they are copied and shared.


You can include Japanese keywords in the URL with Romaji (Roman alphabets to spell Japanese words).


For more information about non-English URLs, Google Search Central's John Mueller gives his answer in this video.


Japanese SEO Tools

As far as I know, there isn't really a Japanese equivalent to the well-loved tools like ahrefs and SEMrush. There is one called mieru-ca but even the cheapest plan is around $1,000 monthly.


Some Japanese marketers prefer mieru-ca because the UI/UX is favorable for Japanese users. ahrefs and SEMrush are available in Japanese but the translation and localization are pretty bad.


However, that's just a problem about Japanese UI/UX of ahrefs and SEMrush, not related to the accuracy of SEO data. So you can still use ahrefs and SEMrush English version, for Japanese keyword research. It's not quite as accurate as English SEO data but it's good enough. I've found ahrefs to be more reliable with search volume, and if you have a Google Ads account, you can use keyword planner to double check. SEMrush is generally better for technical and competitive metrics for Japanese sites.


On-Page Japanese SEO

Written Japanese uses a mix of 3 different alphabets (hiragana, katakana, and kanji) so there's multiple ways of writing the same search query. Usually there's one that looks and sounds the most natural to a native speaker, and that one will have the highest search volume, while the other variations will have little to no search volume.


Link Building

I've seen my colleagues working on English achieve some success with cold outreach for backlink exchanges, but unfortunately it's not a common practice for Japanese. For link building, you can start small with some blogging platform like note or Qiita. Note is kind of like a Japanese version of Medium, and Qiita is another platform that engineers often use. If you have the resources, you can use digital PR such as feature articles or interviews in online media.


Should You Use a Japanese Hosting Server?

There isn't a definitive answer to this question among SEO professionals, but one thing to keep in mind is that the server location can affect page speed, so it can indirectly affect SEO that way.


According to Google Search Central in 2007, the web server's IP address is a factor for search results. If you are targeting Japanese SEO, you might have an advantage if you use a rental hosting server located in Japan.


In 2015, Google's John Mueller gave a slightly different statement in the webmasters forum.


For search, specifically for geotargeting, the server's location plays a very small role, in many cases it's irrelevant. If you use a ccTLD or a gTLD together with Webmaster Tools, then we'll mainly use the geotargeting from there, regardless of where your server is located. You definitely don't need to host your website in any specific geographic location -- use what works best for you, and give us that information via a ccTLD or Webmaster Tools.


Other Considerations for Japanese SEO

There are many other considerations for Japanese SEO that I haven't discussed above, for example, website design, translation quality, backlinks, and competitive metrics. These will depend largely on your industry and overall marketing goals and strategy.


Japanese business culture has traditionally valued in-person and phone interactions, and in some industries, it's still uncommon for companies to have sophisticated digital marketing. So in some cases, it's possible for foreigners to have an advantage over the local competition for Japanese SEO.