Google Blogoscoped

Monday, July 28, 2008

Motoko Hunt on Search Engine Optimization in Japan

Motoko Hunt is originally from Japan and has been doing business in the US and Japan for two decades. She founded her company in 1998 and provides Japanese search marketing services in the US, Europe and Asia. She’s also the co-chair of the upcoming Search Engine Strategies Tokyo conference and will be speaking at the SES in San Jose. Motoko loves scuba diving, heavy metal music and Guinness.


By your estimate, what are the most popular search engines in Japan?

Yahoo has been the most popular search portal in Japan for years, but Google has been catching up. Right now, while Yahoo still is the #1 property in Japan, Google and Yahoo share the search market almost 50/50.

What are some of the things that can go wrong when a website owner merely translates their English content into Japanese?

There are many issues that I know of, but the keyword placement would be the most important issue with website localization.

Translators usually have no knowledge of SEO/SEM [search engine optimization/ search engine marketing]. Good translation doesn’t mean that the translators used the keywords that have the most search demands in Japan. You should always conduct the Japanese keyword research first, and give a list of important words that you’d want the translator to use.

Another big problem is when English text is translated into Japanese, often times it doesn’t sound naturally to Japanese. Grammatically, a Japanese sentence is structured almost backward of an English sentence. The keyword may be pushed to the end of the sentence or the paragraph after it’s translated, which could have an negative impact on the ranking.

Also, Japanese don’t speak as direct as Americans do, and Japanese audiences may react differently to your messages on the website. I always review and re-write my clients PPC ads instead of just translating them from English to Japanese.

Are there any layout pitfalls when creating a website that is supposed to work in Japan too? Like when it comes to fonts, colors and so on?

Since Japanese characters are double byte characters, if you don’t adjust the font size on Japanese pages, it would appear way too big. Many site owners forget to change the character settings and font settings as well as the country code setting on Japanese site. Japanese don’t like too much of [bright] colors on web site. Many American businesses who are successful in Japan use different color scheme – more calming colors – on their Japanese websites.

Are there crucial differences in Japanese searching when compared with search behavior in other countries?

Japanese are searching just about everything online, too. The search has become the number 1 source of information, and everyone goes online to research products and services that they consider purchasing. Perhaps the biggest difference would be that many Japanese use mobile search.

How big is mobile search in Japan, and do you think websites should have a special mobile version to be popular in Japan?

Very big, and we have a long history of mobile Internet in Japan. It’s not something just came up in past a few years. If your target market is 25 and younger, I highly recommend that you go after the mobile market in Japan. If your target market is female 25 and younger, you should create a mobile site sooner than later.

Do Japanese searchers on average search a lot in English, too, or relatively little? What about other foreign languages?

Japanese search using Japanese characters in most cases. Even the brand names such as Sony and Panasonic, more Japanese type them in Japanese characters.
If they are looking for French site, they may type French keywords to find French sites. If they want white paper in English, they’d use English keywords.

What are some of the important things to understand about Japanese language in terms of search, search engine optimization, and building an accessible website?

Unlike other languages, we use 4 sets of letters and characters to write in Japanese, and we use all of them together. Some words may be written in using any of these letters and characters each with spelling variations, but one of them would have the most search demand. Finding the right keyword (letters/characters & spelling) is one of the key elements in conducting successful SEO/SEM campaigns.
Since Japanese use double byte characters, once English file is translated into Japanese, the file size could double, which may slows down the page download time.

What can you tell us about message boards like 2channel and Futaba Channel? How important are these boards in the overall Japanese online world, and are they important to make a website known in Japan?

While blogs and SNS sites are very popular in Japan, it haven’t quite replaced these popular BBS sites. People go to BBS sites to exchange information, gossip and just chit-chat with others often times [anonymously]. Many Japanese business owners keep an eye on these sites to see what people are talking about their services and products. Many word-of-mouth information started to flow from these sites.

These sites could make a huge impact on your business in Japan, don’t try to market or to communicate with people as a business there. It takes an art form of how to participate in these sites especially if you are on the corporate side. If you don’t know exactly how to dance there, you’ll definitely get hurt.

Other than message boards, could you name some highly popular websites in Japan?

mixi is the most popular SNS sites, which can be accessed from both PC and mobile, and Mobaga-Town is one of the biggest gaming-SNS portal mobile sites. Yahoo Shopping is very popular as it’s the number 1 reason why people go to Yahoo Japan site, and Rakuten is the biggest e-commerce sites in Japan. They are #3 biggest site by property in Japan.

What are some of Japan’s social news [sites] which let you upvote stories, the kind like or Reddit? How popular are they?

We have many popular social news/bookmarking sites such as Hatena, Yahoo bookmark, FC2 bookmark and Livedoor Clip. They are very popular, but haven’t seen many Japanese businesses using these services to push or to communicate with customers.

What are the first things you look for when you try to search engine optimize a site for the Japanese market?

Placing the right keywords in right places.

Is search engine optimization as big in Japan as it is in some other countries? And is Japanese search engine spam as much of a problem as it is in other countries?

Every businesses know that SEO is important regardless of the size of the business, but the average skill level of agencies and the average knowledge level of clients in Japan are not as sophisticated as in US and Europe. For example, many people are still wasting time in creating a link-farm, and many clients don’t know that their agency stuffed keywords and added links to agency’s other client sites on their website.

Are there any popular stereotypes about the Japanese online world which you’d like to debunk?

Yahoo is not dominating Japanese search market any longer!

[Thanks to Byron and SES for helping set up this email interview!]


Blog  |  Forum     more >> Archive | Feed | Google's blogs | About


This site unofficially covers Google™ and more with some rights reserved. Join our forum!