Andrew Howitt Head of Brand and Communications Strategy
Andrew Howitt Head of Brand and Communications Strategy
Do you want to make it easier for potential customers to find your website? It’s odd, but it seems to us that a lot of companies in Japan don’t …
We’ve observed that many small and medium-sized businesses in Japan, and even some larger, well-established firms, don’t pay enough — or any — attention to search engine optimization (SEO) for their websites. And it’s not just Japanese businesses. During our SEO audits, we see that companies from overseas trying to make it in Japan sometimes fail to effectively localize their SEO strategy for the market here.
By ignoring SEO, you are essentially shrugging at potential business opportunities.
Everyone in business today should be interested in increasing their website’s visibility online and improving organic traffic. So, you should really start paying more attention to SEO.
If you aren’t familiar with SEO, it’s the process of increasing a website’s visibility in search engines. Just so you know, in Japan, Google is the search engine with the largest market share, at more than 75%, according to Statcounter (as of July 2023). But Yahoo is still a big(ish) player, with 13.5%. And Bing has 10%.
SEO can help your website to build trust and authority with search engines. When you get the technical aspects right, you show Google and others that your site is safe and can be trusted. They, in turn, raise your site in the search engine results pages.
Also, by improving SEO factors on the individual pages of your website, you can more effectively tell the search engines (and users) what exactly your website is all about. When you give search engines a clear understanding of the content of each page of your site — about your business, your brand, your products, your services — they will be increasingly more willing to send users your way when they type in relevant keywords.
Google’s algorithm actually considers more than 200 factors when ranking pages. You can learn about all of them at the incredible Backlinko.
Technical SEO and on-page SEO factors are equally important. If your website has a lot of errors, it won’t move up in the search results pages. If your website doesn’t have a user-friendly experience coupled with relevant, informative, and engaging content, users will bounce away from your site, pushing it further down in the rankings.
When you do SEO right, your website will start climbing up the rankings in the search results pages. And this can translate into more people visiting your site and, hopefully, more business.
Sometimes we see the backend of a website that has been completely neglected. Maybe you entrusted your website development and management or your content creation to firms or freelancers that don’t consider SEO factors. Maybe they see SEO as out of scope. They may not even have done the SEO basics for you. This is a huge, missed opportunity that may be preventing more people from finding out about your company.
At Paradigm, we offer SEO audits of English and Japanese websites. There are two components to our SEO audits. First, we look for technical issues using advanced SEO tools. Based on their findings, we put together a report telling you about any errors or warnings on your site and how to address them. Second, we conduct a content and usability audit. We review the quality of the content and the user experience on the main pages of your site. Then we give suggestions about how to improve in these on-page areas.
In addition to listing problems and opportunities for improvement, our report identifies the most important keywords that you should be using on your website. We can also show you what your competitors are ranking for (so you can compete against them for their high-ranking terms) and what they aren’t (so you can identify untapped topics and relevant keywords they may have overlooked).
Competition online for certain keywords can be fierce. So, your website’s ability to climb up the rankings is also partially determined by your industry and the kind of keywords you’re targeting. Our report aims to identify the keywords that have the most potential to bring your site increased traffic.
Whatever industry your firm is in, our web developers and content writers are well equipped to implement the actions we recommend if you need help.
If you haven’t thought about SEO since your website launched, or if you’ve never thought about SEO, there’s a chance issues have developed on your site that could be affecting its performance and search engine ranking.
Each website is unique. Some are sprawling and some are simple. Some have been built well and some haven’t. But some of the same issues affect many of them.
Here are four technical SEO issues and four on-page SEO mistakes we regularly see during our SEO audits of websites for Japan-based businesses — and how to address them.
Links are important for SEO. Internal links (that take users to other pages on your site) improve user experience and help to keep visitors on your site for longer. External links (that take users to other trustworthy sites) show search engines that your content is useful and can help to build your website’s authority.
But when users click on a link to a page that no longer exists or has been moved, the link is said to be broken and users are shown an error page. This can have an impact on user experience and, of greater concern, on your site’s authority score.
Fix broken links by removing them or updating the link. You should make this a high priority.
If you have a website with two or more languages, you need to be able to tell search engines that one page is the same as another but that it is in a different language. Then they know which page to show users according to their language settings or the region where they live. To do this, you need to use something called hreflang tags on all the pages of your site to give each one a different language value. This tells Google which pages are, for example, in English and which are in Japanese.
When you don’t do this correctly, the search engines may show the wrong page in the search results, which can affect visibility and traffic. Google can also penalize your site. And this is a very common error we see.
This one’s a bit tricky. You may need a developer to fix hreflang errors, depending on how your website was built. So, if you have these issues on your site, we are here to help.
People today don’t have a lot of patience. Most users expect a page to load in two to three seconds or less. Every extra second it takes, you lose more visitors. So, page load time is a ranking factor for Google, meaning pages that load slowly are given a lower ranking. There are a number of reasons for slow loading speeds, and it is important to your business that you deal with these.
The problem we see most often is unoptimized images. It’s great to have high-resolution images on your site, but if they haven’t been optimized users have to wait for the large images to open. Full screen images should be less than 200KB, and preferably in jpg format instead of gif or png, which tend to be heavier.
Poor server response time can also increase the load time of your pages. This can happen if the server is located far from your audience, if you have a shared hosting plan with many other websites running on a low spec server, or if there are incorrect software configurations (if you didn’t know, we do website hosting at Paradigm, too, and we custom-build our servers; we love fast-loading pages!).
Meta descriptions are the blurbs that summarize what a page is about. They are displayed in the search results page and help search engines index the pages of your site.
In our SEO audits, we sometimes see meta description tags that are missing or duplicated. So, first, make sure each page has a meta description and that it clearly summarizes what the page is about. Second, you should provide distinct, relevant meta description text on every page of your site. Don’t, for example, copy the meta description text that’s on your homepage and use it for other pages. Duplicate meta descriptions make it hard for search engines to differentiate between pages, and they could confuse users about what a page is about.
This point is a bit of a cheat because Google doesn’t actually consider keywords in meta descriptions as a ranking factor. But click through rate is a key ranking factor — it shows search engines that users want to visit your site. So, if your meta description text is clear, eye-catching, and easy to scan, it will encourage people to click on your site in the search results page, further helping to boost your place in the rankings.
Your content needs to clearly state what your business does. Website content should not be an outlet for poetic expression. It happens too often, but we are still always surprised to see that some firms’ homepages or About Us pages fail to say in a straightforward way what the company does or that they don’t even include some of the most basic keywords about the business.
If, for example, people are looking to work with a creative agency in Tokyo, they will likely type “creative agency in Tokyo” into the search bar. But if our agency doesn’t have the phrase “creative agency in Tokyo” on our website, we’re not going to rank for that — fundamentally important — keyword. (We do, though.)
It’s just as important to consider this when you’re localizing your English site for Japan or creating a global site in English for your Japan-based business. Don’t just machine translate your content and expect keywords to be rendered in Japanese or English in a way that native speakers would search for them in a search engine. You know how easy it is to spot a sub-par translation, so use professional writers who are native speakers of the language to ensure your content is natural and contains meaningful keywords. (Also, remember that Japanese people care a lot about quality, and this extends to the content they read on websites.)
You need to have the right keywords on your site — in all the languages of your site — if you want to rank in the search engines for those keywords.
We’ve already said it, but we’ll say it again (because it’s really important): your content needs to be relevant, useful, informative, and engaging to keep users on your page. People looking for something on Google need to have their expectations met by the pages that Google presents. If a page’s content is deemed thin — if it’s fluff, of little relevance to the user, and doesn’t meet their expectations, or if it’s too short to be sufficiently meaningful — then Google won’t want to show it to users and will push it down in the rankings.
So, as a rule of thumb to help writers avoid thin content, some SEO experts suggest a minimum of 300 words on a page. Others say, at the very least, 500 words.
That said, content that exceeds this minimum requirement but that is repetitive or generic will have users quickly bouncing away from your site. So, what’s most important is to focus on writing good content.
First heading tags (H1 tags) are one of the most important ways you can let search engines know about the topic of a page. And we regularly see that H1 tags are missing from pages, that lots have been used, or that they are being used for unimportant information.
If you aren’t using H1 tags on your website, you’re missing out on an important way to communicate the content of your site to search engines. Or, if you’re using an H1 tag for a heading that isn’t describing what the page is about, it gives search engines the wrong idea about what’s on the page.
Use only one H1 tag per page. More than one confuses the search engines about what the page is about, or else they may think you are trying to over-optimize your site, which comes with a penalty. Also, H1 tags work well when they are the title of the page. So, make sure your titles give a clear idea about the content of the page and that they contain the most relevant keyword.
Call-to-action buttons (CTAs) are prompts that tell users to take a specific action. They’re not a factor that helps you rank in the search engines. But clear CTAs help to improve users’ on-page experience. And this can increase their dwell time on the site — an SEO factor. They are also fundamental to ensuring you boost conversions on your site. Finding more clients and building your business is what this exercise is all about, right?
During our content and usability audits, we often encounter problems relating to CTAs. The one we see the most is that some CTAs don’t look clickable. It’s just a word or phrase without a box around it. It only looks like a button when you hover over it with a cursor and it changes color. But in today’s mobile-first world, if it doesn’t look like it can be clicked, people won’t click on it.
So, make CTAs look like clickable buttons and keep the look of your primary CTAs (the ones indicating the action you most want users to take) consistent across your site.
We also regularly see several competing CTAs on a single screen, all screaming at users with the same bright color, “Click me!” This shows you haven’t established a clear hierarchy about what’s most important on a page and how you most want to encourage visitors to act. This isn’t good for business. When the user is faced with several different choices of seemingly equal importance, there’s a chance they’ll just leave your website.
Don’t overwhelm visitors to your site with too many possible actions at once. Instead, clearly organize the content on your site so that it follows a logical progression and give users one clear next step in each section and at the end of your pages.
As long as there are search engines (AI hasn’t done away with them quite yet), SEO will be an important tool in helping you to grow your business. So, consider getting in touch so we can help you identify issues on your website and put you on a path towards moving up in the search results pages.
Bear in mind that it takes time for SEO to take effect because it takes time for pages to be indexed by Google. So, the sooner you can identify issues and opportunities, the sooner you can implement meaningful changes, and the sooner you can see a bump in traffic to your site.
(You should also know that there’s a quick route to page one in the search results pages and that’s pay per click. It’s something worth considering, and potentially a good investment, as you wait for organic search to grow after you’ve worked on improving your website’s SEO. It can also help you test your user experience and your CTAs)
After the audit, we are, of course, available to help you to implement the changes we have proposed.
Thanks so much for reading this far. If you’re interested in an SEO audit of your site, let’s talk.