Japanese SEO is a great example of SEO for a language associated with just one country. If we look at Spanish, for example, it is the national language of several countries. This makes choosing a ccTLD (Country Code Top Level Domain) difficult.
In the case of Japan SEO, there is only one language and one TLD. This makes things much easier. But before you come to the conclusion that SEO Japan is an easy task, consider this; there are three different Japanese alphabets.
Hiragana is a set of 46 characters representing the phonetic sounds of the Japanese language. Hiragana is used to represent native Japanese words. Often, these characters are added above or below Kanji to indicate how the Kanji should be pronounced. In this case, Hiragana is known as “Furigana” – phonetics of the Kanji.
Katakana is also a set of 46 characters used to represent the same phonetic sounds as Hiragana. So what’s the difference? Katakana is used to represent foreign words most of the time, whereas Hiragana is used for the native Japanese words. Katakana is also sometimes used for emphasis.
Kanji consists of over 8000 characters imported from China. Each character is a word. Kanji is used to represent nouns, adjectives, verbs, abstract concepts and names.
Japanese sentences typically consist of Kanji and Hiragana with Katakana sometimes mixed in. One more thing you need to know. Some words are written in English. For example, VoIP could be written in English or Katakana. Oh, and one more thing—some words can be combinations of more than one script.
How does this impact Japanese SEO? It impacts the keywords. Since some words may be written in each of the different alphabets, in this case, it is important that the text and meta tags are optimized for all of the options. Let’s look at the keyword Tokyo: the proper form is written in Kanji 東京, however, it may also be written in Hiragana とうきょうand Katakana トウキョウ. The key to Japanese SEO is to determine what percentage of the time a word will be written in each script. You can then decide which form to emphasize and if it is worthwhile to optimize for additional forms.
For example, after typing 東京 (Tokyo) in the search bar at www.google.co.jp, we can see that Wikipedia has the traditional Kanji, in yellow and the Hiragana, in green.
It’s important that Japanese SEO marketers recognize Japan’s cultural attributes. Merely translating is not enough. Here’s an example of a story I heard on the radio. An investment banker from the United States was sent to Japan to manage a branch that wasn’t doing so well. After closely reviewing the situation, he told his Japanese Assistant Manager that two employees have to be let go from a department of four. Out of these four people, two were great workers and two were not. When the investment banker came back from his meeting, he asked the Assistant Manager which two men he let go. To his surprise, he fired the two great employees.
When asked why, the Japanese assistant said that the two men he fired would have no trouble finding another job, but nobody else would hire the incompetents, so he kept them.