Japanese SEO Trap

Localizing your Website to Japanese? Beware of this SEO Trap

Let’s say you are a hot new startup or successful foreign company, and your service is doing really well online. Your website is highly optimized for SEO in English, and it generates lots of organic traffic. A good percentage of those visitors to your website turn into paying customers. Your English business is doing really well.

Entering the Japanese Market

Now you want to go global and enter the Japanese market. So you hire an expert translation house. They translate all your pages and contents for you. You even swap out images of western looking people with images of trendy looking Asian looking people. You show it to some of your Japanese friends or coworkers. And they all say “it’s OK”. You publish the site. And wait for those Japanese leads or customers to come flowing in.

You get minimal visitors to your site.

You say WTF? You know enough Japanese to copy the slogan of what your company does in Japanese, you paste it into Google, and you are happy to see it on page 1 of Google. So you wait a few more weeks and check your analytics again.

You still get minimal visitors to your site.

Choosing the Right Japanese Keyword

You may have a situation where your website is optimized around the wrong keyword. The translator translated it to an unpopular keyword, and users are not finding your site.

Consider the case for translating “Digital Marketing” into Japanese. Most translators will translate every word on your site to デジタルマーケティング. However, look at Google Keyword Planner, you will also see 2 alternative keywords for “web marketing”.

Keyword In English Monthly Active Searches
デジタルマーケティング Digital Marketing 6,600
webマーケティング Web Marketing 5,400
ウェブマーケティング Web Marketing 1,600

Add the 2 variations of “web marketing” together and you get more searches than “digital marketing”. If your site is only optimized for just for “digital marketing” in Japanese, chances are you are missing out on more traffic with the 2 “web marketing” variations.

The problem dates back to how translations are typically handled. Most large companies outsource the translation to a translation house. These translation houses will use CAT tools and TM tools to accurately translate the content. These tools typically work by extracting the text that needs to be translated and then putting the English side by side with the language that needs to be translated. The tools will often machine translate, or provide previously translated content for the translator. With the tools, the translator can minimize his/her time, and just focus on the accuracy of the content.

SEO Problems with Japanese Translation

But here is the problem with this process. The translator rarely has good knowledge of your business, or even worse, a poor understanding of Digital Marketing practices. They may not know which keywords are most popular for describing your business.

For a recent client we had at Zo Digital, their specialty is Workflow Automation. In Japanese, this keyword was translated as ワークフロー自動化, or “wakufuro- jidoka”. So when our client launched their site in Japanese, they focused on this keyword in Japanese. This was OK for people searching for this phrase. However, after we did our keyword research in Japanese and ran a campaign, we noticed an almost equivalent set of people were searching for a similar 2nd keyword, “business flow automation”, or 業務フロー (gyomu furo-).

The translators were never aware that this second keyword was very popular in Japanese, almost as popular as the first. As a result, there was not one mention of this 2nd keyword phrase in their website. And by not optimizing for this second keyword phrase, our client was essentially throwing away half their visitors. Even though we ran PPC ads targeting this 2nd keyword, Google was slapping us with a low-Quality Score because the keyword was not shown on the landing pages. And it was tough to make our ads appear at all, and when they did, we had to pay a premium. The final result is we had to pay extra money for paid advertising, and we received zero organic traffic from the search engines.

Moving Toward SEO Friendly Translations

How can your company avoid this problem in the future?

The 1st thing to keep in mind is that translators are just focused on accurately translating the text and reasonable price. And you cannot fault them for doing their jobs. So in addition to translating content, you also need to go back and do Keyword Research (again) in the target language, to see what terms are most popular for your topic. In many cases, the most popular keyword is not the term the translator selected. By doing your keyword research first, before asking the translators to do their work, you can give them the tools to more effectively do their job.

Also, we recommend running an introductory Paid Search Campaign in Japanese or your target language. You need to look at the “Search Terms”, or the actual text that users type into the search engine to find your product or service. The information you get back can prove invaluable and can give you insight on how to appeal to online customers in Japan. In many cases, we have changed client’s sales copy (catch copy) on their website based on the results of pay-per-click campaigns.

Need more help for SEO in Japan, please go our SEO PAGE for more info.

About the Author Jeff Crawford

Jeff Crawford is a Digital Marketing expert, technologist and Manager. He has worked for technology companies in Silicon Valley such as Apple, WebTV and Microsoft. He has lived in Tokyo Japan since 2004, working for companies such as Microsoft KK and Adobe Systems Japan. Jeff is founder of Zo Digital Japan, an SEO and Digital Marketing agency based in Tokyo. Jeff started the Tokyo Digital Marketers Meetup in 2016, which now has over 2000 members. He has also presented about Digital Marketing at such events as Ad-Tech Tokyo, WordCamp Tokyo, Japan Market Expansion Competition (JMEC), and the Japan Association of Translators (JAT).

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