Japanese Digital Marketing Landscape

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This article is a collaborative effort between Marcus Pentzek and Issey Morita, a Japan-based marketing freelancer. With a rich professional background in food and outdoor gear marketing, Issey has since transitioned to freelancing, aiding both Japanese and international companies in their SEO strategies. His experience encompasses 15 years in SEO, over 100 diverse clients, and the creation of more than 1000 SEO-optimized web pages. His primary focus is on Japanese keyword research, localized SEO, and content SEO for Japan. Want to hire him? Find his website here: https://en.design-bureau.yokohama/

japan digital marketing landscape

With the convergence of rich cultural heritage and an enthusiastic embrace of cutting-edge technology, Japan presents a unique panorama in the digital marketing landscape of Asia. Home to over 125.3 million people, Japan prides itself on its technological prowess and a thriving internet culture, making it a fertile ground for brands willing to engage with a digitally-savvy audience.

Source: https://www.stat.go.jp/data/jinsui/new.html

An intriguing aspect of Japan’s demographic profile lies in its age distribution. The latest data reveals some stark trends that are reshaping the country’s social and economic landscapes. The segment of the population aged under 15 has reached a historical low, with just 12.1% or 15.21 million people falling into this category. This decrease extends to those aged 15 to 64, comprising 59.5% or 75.07 million of the population, also the lowest percentage ever recorded.

The percentage of people aged 65 and over has hit an all-time high of 28.4%, amounting to 35.85 million individuals. This upward trend intensifies in the cohort aged 75 and over, which now makes up a record 14.7% of the population, numbering 18.49 million people.

These figures underscore the demographic transition that Japan is currently experiencing, characterized by an increasingly aging population and a shrinking youth demographic. It also suggests the need for brands to tailor their digital marketing strategies to accommodate this demographic shift, by appealing to an older, but still tech-savvy, audience.

Source: https://www.stat.go.jp/data/jinsui/2019np/index.html

With a remarkable Internet usage rate of 89.8% recorded in 2019, Japan has a large, tech-literate audience who are well-versed in the digital world. Intriguingly, age is not a strong deterrent in Japan when it comes to online access. For those between the ages of 13 and 69, the online penetration exceeds 90%. Notably, even among those 70-79 and 80 years and above, internet usage is fairly high, at 74.2% and 57.5% respectively. This means the vast majority of the Japanese population is online and engaged, creating a vibrant and varied digital marketplace that continues to grow and evolve.

Source: https://www.soumu.go.jp/johotsusintokei/whitepaper/ja/r02/html/nd252120.html

When it comes to online activities, there are some fascinating trends. Regardless of age, sending and receiving emails remains the most common use of the internet among Japanese users. However, the use of video-sharing platforms and online games varies significantly across different age groups. The adoption of social media services has seen an upward trend among all age categories. The Japanese also demonstrate a strong inclination for information searching, browsing, and posting on websites, utilizing free call applications, and online shopping.

Source: https://www.soumu.go.jp/johotsusintokei/whitepaper/ja/r02/html/nd252120.html

As for device preference, Japan shows a clear shift towards mobility. With 63.3% of users preferring mobile devices to access the internet, mobile usage outnumbers desktop usage, which stands at 50.4%. This trend mirrors the global shift towards mobile-centric internet use and suggests the need for brands to optimize their online presence for mobile platforms.

Change of Mobile usage from 2018 to 2019

Source: https://www.soumu.go.jp/johotsusintokei/whitepaper/ja/r02/html/nd252120.html

These figures present a rich, complex picture of the Japanese internet user — savvy, engaged, mobile-focused, and growing in number. Brands looking to make inroads into the Japanese market must take into account these user trends, tailoring their digital marketing strategies to reach an audience that is as diverse as it is sophisticated.

Search Engines in Japan

In the world of search engines in Japan, Google unmistakably holds the reins. The tech giant dominates the desktop search engine market with an impressive 76.3% share, far ahead of Yahoo! Japan’s 15.51% and Bing’s 7.43%. The story doesn’t change much when it comes to mobile, where Google retains its leadership with a 74.3% market share.

Despite Google’s global origins, its algorithms have proven highly effective in delivering reliable search results in the Japanese language, making it a trusted choice among Japanese internet users. Notably, Yahoo! Japan, although a separate entity from its global counterpart, uses Google’s search algorithms for its search functionality. This means that Google’s influence permeates more than 90% of both desktop and mobile searches in Japan.

While marketers aiming for search engine optimization (SEO) would benefit significantly by focusing mainly on Google, they shouldn’t disregard the advertising potential of platforms like Yahoo! Japan. Despite utilizing Google’s search algorithms, Yahoo! Japan offers its own unique advertising opportunities, which marketers can leverage to reach a wider audience.

So, while Google may be the juggernaut in the search engine landscape, Yahoo! Japan holds its own significance. There’s an exciting dynamic at play where the global and local meld, making the Japanese search engine market a captivating space for marketers to navigate.

Source: https://gc-seo.jp/journal/searchengine-share/

The Japanese Language in Online Marketing

Language and its nuances play a pivotal role in online marketing, and Japan, with its rich tapestry of dialects, is no exception. Though the country boasts more than 47 major dialects, when it comes to online searches, the preference leans heavily towards standard Japanese. This uniformity means that dialects have minimal, if any, impact on SEO efforts. If you’re optimizing your online content for the Japanese audience, focusing on standard Japanese will suffice.

However, delve a little deeper into the world of advertising, and the story changes. Dialects are not just about language in Japan; they’re a cultural expression, reflecting regional identities and local pride. Companies often leverage these dialects in advertisements to evoke feelings of familiarity and nostalgia. The Kansai dialect, for instance, has become synonymous with humor, thanks to its widespread use by comedians on national television. Advertisers often employ the Kansai dialect to infuse a touch of humor and warmth into their campaigns.

For brands keen on forging a deeper connection with the Japanese audience, it’s worth considering how dialects can be incorporated into marketing strategies, particularly in advertisements. While SEO may not demand regional linguistic nuances, the broader realm of online marketing can benefit from a sprinkle of local dialects, offering a touch of authenticity and regional flavor that resonates with audiences.

The Publishing Industry in Japan

Japan’s publishing industry, with its rich tapestry of information sources, presents a nuanced media landscape. While the nation’s digital journey has witnessed significant evolution, traditional media outlets, particularly television and newspapers, remain the primary sources of news and information for the Japanese populace. Search engines, while impactful, frequently echo the news stories disseminated by these trusted outlets. Magazines and radio still have their niche, serving audiences albeit in smaller percentages.

Diving into the world of advertising, the Japanese market once heavily leaned on the four pillars: television, newspapers, magazines, and radio. However, in a striking testament to the digital era’s unstoppable momentum, Internet advertising expenditures have overtaken those of these traditional media giants. Source: https://www.dentsu.co.jp/knowledge/ad_cost/2020/

When it comes to television, a handful of broadcasters reign supreme. The likes of NHK, NTV, TBS, TV Asahi, and Fuji TV are household names, consistently offering quality content.

Newspapers, deeply ingrained in the country’s daily routine, offer a blend of national and economic news. Publications such as Asahi, Yomiuri, Mainichi, Sankei, and the economically-focused Nikkei provide comprehensive coverage. Meanwhile, companies like Kyodo and Jiji, akin to global giants Reuters and Bloomberg, feed the news ecosystem with their in-depth reporting.

But it’s not all about tradition. Online hubs, notably Yahoo News and Google News, have capitalized on the digital shift, becoming go-to sources for the tech-savvy demographic seeking their daily news fix.

Japanese Yahoo News Homepage

For the auditory inclined, the digital age hasn’t left you behind. Websites like Radiko allow users to tune into Japanese radio from anywhere, ensuring the age-old medium still resonates in today’s fast-paced world.

Japanese Radio Stations Online on Radiko

Lastly, for businesses and brands aiming to make a splash, PRTimes stands out as a prominent press release wiring service, ensuring your stories reach the right ears and eyes.

In essence, Japan’s publishing scene is a captivating mix of the old and new, offering something for everyone, and highlighting the intricate balance between tradition and innovation that the nation is renowned for.

Japanese Social Media Landscape

The social media landscape in Japan, while echoing global trends in certain aspects, also showcases its unique characteristics. The homegrown application “LINE” dominates the market with a stunning usage rate of over 77%. The app has transcended its original purpose as a chat service to evolve into a comprehensive platform that encompasses phone and video calls, news dissemination, advertising, and even the popular cultural aspect of stamps (stickers). The global platform Twitter trails behind in second place, yet still maintains a strong presence.

Here is a snapshot of the social media usage rate in Japan:

  1. LINE – 77.4%
  2. Twitter – 38.5%
  3. Instagram – 35.7%
  4. YouTube – 23.2%
  5. Facebook – 21.7%
  6. TikTok – 8.1%

Japan’s social media usage pattern deviates from the English-speaking world’s preference, as seen in the dominance of LINE. Also, unlike other Asian countries, Japanese users do not widely use applications like WeChat and Douyin, making the nation’s social media landscape uniquely its own.

Slogan of the Japanese Social Media App “Line”: Life on LINE, LINE – always at your side.

When it comes to User-Generated Content (UGC) knowledge websites, Wikipedia indeed has a presence in Japan. However, it’s not the only player in the field. A variety of niche UGC knowledge platforms exist, catering to a range of interests from reviews, recipes, games, and anime, to English learning, education, music, and movies. These platforms, although specific in their offerings, contribute to the diversity of the UGC scene, enriching the digital experience for users in Japan.

Japanese E-Commerce

Navigating the e-commerce landscape in Japan is a fascinating journey. While eBay might not hold much significance, Amazon reigns supreme, usually topping the sales charts in the country. However, Amazon is not the lone contender in Japan’s bustling e-commerce scene.

The homegrown giants, Rakuten and Yahoo! Shopping, along with au Pay Market, are power players in the field, consistently competing with Amazon for the top spot. If your interests lie in specific categories, ZOZOTOWN is a go-to platform for fashion, and for electronics, Yodobashi and Biccamera lead the way.

Source: https://www.makeshop.jp/main/know-how/knowledge/ec-site-ranking.html

If you’re considering launching your own online shop in Japan, here’s a pro-tip: the success hinges on the uniqueness of your product or brand. If you can offer something that isn’t available in Japan or can compete with local products, your own online shop might be the right way forward. However, understand that establishing a competitive presence in the Japanese market isn’t a cakewalk – the challenges range from logistics and customer support to SEO and cultural nuances.

Regarding e-commerce trends from China, the impact is somewhat limited in Japan. Although Japan imports a considerable amount of Chinese products, the influence on Japan’s e-commerce practices remains muted. Additionally, a certain level of skepticism towards Chinese products exists among Japanese consumers, making it difficult for Chinese businesses to find firm footing in Japan.

Amplified through the Covid-19 Pandemic, Japan’s e-commerce were witnessing a massive uptick. The market is growing denser with new online stores sprouting up from both established companies and entrepreneurial individuals.

Mobile shopping is also experiencing a significant surge, as is the intertwining of social networks and e-commerce. Big-name companies are making significant strides in omnichannel and O2O (Online to Offline) marketing.

Platforms like Shopify, Base, and stores.jp are enabling even small businesses and individuals to dip their toes into the online retail space.

Despite being ardent supporters of local brands, Japanese consumers harbor a distinct fondness for overseas products. If you’re a foreign brand eyeing the Japanese market, remember – having a well-designed Japanese website and providing top-notch customer support can make or break your venture. In Japan, language matters. A foreign website with awkward or incorrect Japanese might not find favor with local consumers.

B2B Online Landscape in Japan

The B2B sector in Japan is not just an important part of the economy – it’s monumental. With small and medium-sized businesses making up more than 99% of all companies in Japan, a well-crafted strategy targeting these SMBs can be the key to successful B2B endeavors.

Source: https://www.chusho.meti.go.jp/koukai/chousa/chushoKigyouZentai9wari.pdf

One cultural aspect to keep in mind is that, in Japan, face-to-face communication still reigns supreme. While the digital wave has transformed many aspects of business, the importance of direct interactions can’t be overstated in the Japanese B2B landscape.

As for the potential of German and US brands in Japan – the future looks promising. Many foreign companies have already made their mark in Japan, and the list of successful entrants is quite long.

Take German businesses for instance. From automobile giants like Daimler, Volkswagen, and Audi, to sports brands like Adidas and Puma, and tech companies like SAP, German brands have found solid ground in Japan. Other big names include the global logistics provider, DHL, and the industrial conglomerate, Siemens.

This trend is a testament to the fact that foreign brands can indeed carve out a successful path in Japan. However, it’s essential to understand and adapt to the unique business practices, consumer behavior, and cultural nuances of the country. It’s this understanding that makes the difference between just another foreign entrant and a foreign brand that’s embraced as part of the local landscape.

SEO and Link-Building in Japan

In the bustling digital marketplace of Japan, techniques like cheap link building and guest blog posting that are often employed in the Western world are not very common. In fact, many foreign companies that have attempted these strategies have often found them to be ineffective. Serious, long-term businesses in Japan generally refrain from using these methods.

This is not because Japanese business owners are uninformed. Quite the contrary. Japanese businesses have evolved their own unique strategies to thrive online, prioritizing quality over quantity. The focus is less on generating backlinks, but more on creating valuable content, leveraging online advertising, conducting public relations, and utilizing influencer marketing. The backlink culture here is more subdued, with fewer websites offering external links as a service, and those that do often charge a hefty price, which doesn’t always justify the return on investment.

That’s not to say that Japanese people don’t have their digital platforms. Similar to their counterparts in Europe and the US, the Japanese are free to run blogs or websites under their own domain names. There’s a vibrant blogging community with popular platforms like Ameba blog, Livedoor blog, and “note”.

As for link building trends in Japan, there aren’t many that follow the traditional sense. Instead, you’ll find a heavier reliance on paid media, particularly in the B2B sector. As with any market, understanding the distinct characteristics and trends of Japan’s online landscape is critical for successfully navigating and capitalizing on it.

With the rapid advancements in technology and changing consumer behavior, online marketing trends in Japan have evolved. More and more companies, whether they’re B2B or B2C, are now focusing on SEO and content marketing. The use of paid advertising like Google Ads, Yahoo Ads, Twitter Ads, LINE Ads, Facebook Ads, and Instagram Ads is also on the rise.

When it comes to SEO trends, Japanese companies are emphasizing user-centric design and content. While specific SEO techniques may vary and evolve, the underlying principle of delivering quality user experience remains. This approach is believed to naturally improve search rankings in the long run.

SEO practitioners in Japan use a variety of tools and services, both free and paid, depending on their needs. Some of these include

Others like

are also popular.

To keep abreast of the latest trends and insights in the Japanese SEO industry, following certain blogs can be incredibly useful.

For instance, Kenichi Suzuki’s blog (https://www.suzukikenichi.com/blog/), a former Google employee, offers the latest SEO information.

Other notable blogs include

each of them known for their unique insights and authoritative information on SEO practices and trends.

Final Thoughts about Digital Marketing in Japan

Japan’s digital landscape presents an interesting fusion of local and global dynamics, a fact that’s just as true for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) as it is for any other aspect of online marketing. One standout feature is the importance of language in the world of SEO. Japan’s unique tri-script language system, made up of hiragana, katakana, and kanji, can add a layer of complexity to keyword selection. There may be multiple translations for a single word, so when localizing your content, make sure to select the translation with the highest search volume to optimize your visibility.

In terms of crucial platforms across various sectors, a few noteworthy sites that we haven’t touched on yet include YouTube, nicovideo.jp, and kakaku.com. In recent times, YouTube has seen a significant surge in traffic in Japan, marking it as an essential platform for engagement. Nicovideo.jp is another high-traffic video-sharing site, while kakaku.com offers price comparisons and is popular among savvy online shoppers (Source: former https://www.alexa.com/topsites/countries/JP).

A unique feature about the Japanese digital market is that despite having the world’s second-fastest Internet speed, increasing website speed isn’t necessarily a high-priority SEO strategy. My experience working with global companies in Japan has shown that boosting website speed doesn’t drastically impact SEO results, a trend that could be unique to the country due to its superior internet infrastructure.

Finally, it’s important to note that Japan’s digital transformation is just getting started, opening up vast growth potential for the future. The Japanese government is actively promoting digital education, incorporating devices like tablets into school curricula. This strategy promises a generation of digitally fluent consumers in the future, making it an exciting time to delve into the Japanese market with a solid SEO strategy

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