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One of my clients just had an odd thing happen. For a period of about 20 hours, excite.co.jp was their top referrer -- beating even Yahoo directory, even beating a paid banner ad.
Now here's the weird thing -- the search phrase that delivered those hits to my client's modest craft site was the single word "Yahoo". That word is nowhere on the site, so this must have been a digital hiccup of some kind.
Needless to say, I don't think this untargetted traffic generated one sale. I checked out the referring page, but it's all in Japanese, so I was at a loss. Then, thankfully, it just stopped.
Luckily total bandwidth was not enough to bring extra charges. But the "what if" situations I can think up make me shudder.
I just looked at your user profile and noticed that you are living in Osaka. Do you know if Excite has done any major advertising in Japan?
The same question applies for msn.co.jp which is currently number four in referrals to my site and was number three last month.
Lycos had a huge campaign that began the end of last year and I still see occassionally on TV. They had 1/2 hour info-mercials telling people what a search engine was, and how to use it. They even get the girls with short skirts to hand out info packages in the electronics district. They're the most visible, but all this promotion doesn't seem to transfer to a lot of traffic for my sites.
MSN, like AOL, never really caught on here as an ISP. I haven't seen too much from them in the form of advertising campaigns beyond the standard print ads. MSN tries to focus on the general public, so I see things in newspapers and subways sometimes, but that's for the ISP, not the search engine.
Do you have any advice for a site who feels they appeal to a Japanese market? Is Japanese content essential?
This very same client is getting as high as 5% traffic from .jp domains and considering how to invite the Japanese buyer. One step they are taking is to add the JCB card and also include shipping charges that are calculated explicitly for Japan, rather than "outside US". But the translating job is more than they want to go for at this time.
The other approach is to go about it basically the way you are. Make things easier for the Japanese buyer, but not necessarily in their own language. Most Japanese have studied English to some degree in school, so many of them can read some elementary English. However, don't assume your visitors can understand very much. Sometimes they might be using Japanese/English online machine translation (Like AltaVista's babelfish, but with Japanese).
Since you don't want to go for a translated site, I'd suggest using VERY SIMPLE English, lots of pictures, and a simple ordering process. Make the site easy enough for anybody to understand, forgo the marketing-speak, and make the site utilitarian. Don't use colloquial language. Do this and you'll make it easier for your Japanese visitors who are adventurous enough to wander outside the confines of their limited local internet.
Your advice sounds right on to me. In general, this site's visitors are very "down-home" so I already did a good bit of beta-testing for the navigation and ordering interface to make sure that total newbies could use it. It's a very right brained site already, but I will consider how to move that way even more. No market speak -- it would be anathema to the feel of the place anyway.
When I was working in bricks and mortar retail, our company had several locations in tourist areas of Boston that attracted Japanese visitors. We noticed that adding the JCB card and running one Japanese ad in the airport's tourist guide made all the difference. Instead of watching Japanese visitors walking past our shops, we greeted them as they walked in.
I don't want to stereotype too much, but in my experience the Japanese culture is extremely polite socially, and greatly prefers to feel "invited" before they come in, even into a public store. So I'm looking for ways to issue that invitation online.
Thanks for the info about search engine advertising in Japan. For the first half of this year I had a lot of traffic from lycos.co.jp but it has been overtaken by search.msn.co.jp and excite.co.jp
Being an inbound tour operator, specializing in the Japanese market, I have a lot of experience in dealing with Japanese people and I agree with Bill. Keep the English very simple and basic. Accepting JCB Cards is a good idea because it gives potential Japanese customers the impression that they are welcome. This is especially important in web based marketing.
I think 5% .jp visitors is very good for a site without Japanese language. My site ranks in the top five in both English and Japanese search engines and my percentage of Japanese visitors through English search engines is around 1%. These figures tend to suggest that Japanese prefer to search in their own language.