Most Popular Search Engines in Japan – 2021

Japanese Search Engines – APAC in 3 – Episode 03

Japan is home to 119 million internet users and a staggering USD $82 billion e-commerce market.

A nation of tradition and innovation, Japan is historically collectivist but becoming more individualized and globalized, with younger generations transforming social norms.

People are having fewer children, travelling more, and engaging online in record numbers through Japanese-language games, apps, social media, and search engines.

While distinct in language usage, consumer habits, and cultural practices, Japan’s search engine market share is dominated by familiar faces:

  • Google is the #1 most popular search engine in Japan with a 75.51% market share across desktop, mobile, and tablet.
  • Yahoo! Japan is the #2 most popular search engine in Japan with a 20.97% market share across desktop, mobile, and tablet.

Let’s look at the specific proportions:

Top Search Engines in Japan By Market Share

  • Google: 75.51%
  • Yahoo! Japan: 20.97%
  • bing: 3.14%
  • DuckDuckGo: 0.16%
  • Baidu: 0.1%
  • Yandex.ru: 0.03%
  • Others: 0.09%

Source: StatCounter (as of May 2021)

As we can see, Google occupies just over 75% of Japan’s search market, and Yahoo! Japanwhose search results are powered by Google—occupies just over 20%, while the remaining <4% is subdivided even further by smaller search engines.

So together, Google and Yahoo! Japan are the two most popular search engines in Japan, granting brands unparalleled online access to Japan’s highly developed free-market economy: the third largest in the world by nominal GDP and the fourth-largest by purchasing power parity.

To help you reach this massive market potential, we’ve analyzed the recent trends, market shares, as well as similarities and differences of Google vs Yahoo! Japan so that you can optimize for both and maximize your digital presence in Japan.

For a quick overview, check out episode 3 of APAC in 3 to discover the most popular search engines in Japan and how to connect with one of the world’s most advanced societies. And for a deeper dive, read the full article below.

GOOGLE VS YAHOO! JAPAN: INTRODUCTION TO THE MOST POPULAR SEARCH ENGINES IN JAPAN

WHAT’S UNIQUE ABOUT JAPAN’S SEARCH MARKET?

Unlike most other markets where a single platform generally dominates the entire search engine scene (usually above 90%), Google and Yahoo! Japan are both popular among Japanese internet users.

The search engines’ respective mission statements both target creating a positive user experience:

  • Google’s mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”
  • Yahoo! Japan’s mission is “making Japan more convenient with the power of information technology”

Essentially, while Google aims to create a universal platform for users all over the world to access a global bank of information, Yahoo! Japan leverages that technology to provide the world’s information specifically to Japanese users.

As such, each platform brings a different user experience, allowing Yahoo! Japan to remain competitive against Google in Japan’s search engine market.

Ultimately, however, understanding the Japanese search market requires a deeper understanding of the subtle but critical nuances between the two top search engines in Japan: Google and Yahoo! Japan.

So, let’s dive in!

Jump to a Specific Section

THE ORIGINS OF JAPAN’S SEARCH ENGINE MARKET

The history of Yahoo! Japan kickstarted when Masayoshi Son, the CEO of Softbank, a Japanese-based multinational telecommunications company, invested in developing Yahoo! in Japan. This new partnership launched Yahoo! Japan in 1996—just 1 year after Yahoo! was established in the United States.

Through persistent innovation and product development of hardware like PCs and mobile devices, Yahoo! Japan’s userbase grew significantly within the first few years of launch, especially since it was the default browser for most mobile devices.

Not long after, however, Yahoo! Japan’s market dominance came under fire as global competitors heeded lucrative opportunities in Japan’s thriving digital landscape.

At this time, Google was already ascending as the world’s #1 search engine—for Japan, this was no exception once Google entered the fray in 2000. But rather than compete with Google’s advanced algorithm technology, Yahoo! Japan adopted it in 2010 to drive better search results to its users.

SEARCH ENGINE MARKET SHARE IN JAPAN

When contextualizing search engine popularity in Japan, you’ll notice a variety of data sources that can tell a different story.

In 2019, for instance, Google and Yahoo Japan! had average monthly traffic volumes of 2.76 billion and 2.09 billion, respectively—a smaller gap that stands in stark contrast to the greater disparity between their market shares, as shown below.

1. Japan’s search engine market share (desktop) - From 2016 to 2020 (as of May 2021)

Japan’s search engine market share (desktop): From 2016 to 2020 (as of May 2021)

According to StatCounter, Google attained its largest search engine market share at 77.61% for desktop devices in 2020.

It wasn’t long ago when Yahoo! Japan closed the gap in 2016, likely due to the implementation of Google algorithms on new Yahoo! properties like Yahoo! Loco and Yahoo! News.

Since 2019, however, Google has enlarged its slice of the pie as more Japanese workplaces have gradually adopted Chrome as their default desktop browser.

2. Japan’s search engine market share (mobile) - From 2016 to 2021 (as of May 2021)Japan’s search engine market share (mobile): From 2016 to 2021 (as of May 2021)

As you can see, the search market share figures for 2020 point towards Google as the standout search engine in Japan, especially among desktop users.

However, as the default browser on popular mobile devices, Yahoo! Japan has consistently occupied between one quarter to a third of the market share for mobile search engines in Japan over the last 5 years, even amidst the rapid development of Android, Google’s mobile operating system.

TOP SEARCH ENGINES IN JAPAN: SIMILARITIES BETWEEN GOOGLE VS YAHOO! JAPAN

There are key similarities between Google and Yahoo! Japan, the two top Japanese search engines. Let’s look at their parallels in ranking, structure, snippets, and paid display.

GOOGLE VS YAHOO! JAPAN: SERP RANKINGS

Since Google and Yahoo! Japan use the same algorithms, the search results on their SERPs are mostly identical on the first few pages.

Take the search term “海外旅行” (overseas travel) for example. The top three results from both SERPs are from the same domains.3. Google’s SERP (left) vs. Yahoo! Japan’s SERP (right) - “海外旅行” (overseas travel)

Google’s SERP (left) vs. Yahoo! Japan’s SERP (right): 海外旅行 (overseas travel)

GOOGLE VS YAHOO! JAPAN: SERP STRUCTURE

To maximize landing page load speed and improve user experience, both Google and Yahoo! Japan display up to 10 organic results per page by default.

The screenshot below highlights how the SERPs for both search engines are structured:

  • Organic search results, which are very similar across both SERPs, are outlined in red
  • Paid search ads are outlined in green
  • Vertical search results (based on topicality, media type, and content genre) are outlined in blue

4. Google’s SERP (left) vs. Yahoo! Japan’s SERP (right) - “旅行” (travels)

Google’s SERP (left) vs. Yahoo! Japan’s SERP (right): 旅行 (travels)

Important note: Google currently lets users change the default settings to display up to 100 results on the SERP. And while this function was previously available on Yahoo! Japan, it is now no longer available.

GOOGLE VS YAHOO! JAPAN: SERP SNIPPETS

On SERPs, organic results generally feature a landing page URL, then a title tag in blue, and then a simplified meta description with information about that page’s content.

As you can see below, Google and Yahoo! Japan have similar organic listings on their SERPs. On both, the search term (the example below shows “H&M” as the search term) is bolded to indicate the relevance of the page’s content to the search query.

And while Yahoo! Japan bolds both the title tag and meta description, Google only bolds the latter.

5. Organic search result on Google’s SERPOrganic search result on Google’s SERP

6. Organic search result on Yahoo! Japan’s SERPOrganic search result on Yahoo! Japan’s SERP

GOOGLE VS YAHOO! JAPAN: PAID SEARCH DISPLAY

Both Google and Yahoo! Japan have an ad section that appears on their SERPs, featuring up to 4 ads above and below the organic results.

Google Ads and Yahoo! Japan Promotional Ads generate similar listings, such as the same maximum word count for titles and descriptions.

Nevertheless, there are also myriad differences in the online ad space across both platforms. So, if you’re interested to learn more, check out our article that covers all ad options in Japan for Google Ads and Yahoo! Japan Promotional Ads.

Google Ads (right) and Yahoo! Japan Promotional Ads (left)

TOP SEARCH ENGINES IN JAPAN: DIFFERENCES BETWEEN GOOGLE VS YAHOO! JAPAN

GOOGLE VS YAHOO! JAPAN: KEYWORD RANKING DATA

Keyword research and targeting are critical to a successful SEO strategy and strong ROI.

And while both Google and Yahoo! Japan can show what’s trending in organic search on their respective platforms by category, they diverge in that Google Trends allows you to pull reports at any time on the top search terms whereas Yahoo! Japan announces annually through its Yahoo! Japan Search Awards its top search results.

Essentially, Google allows you to track and report at-will on what users enter when searching, while Yahoo! Japan reveals its highest ranked pages in an annual announcement.

Thus, from a keyword research perspective, you can curate a list of target keywords from Google Trends to understand the highest search volumes for a given category or term and use that keyword list to optimize your site for two of Japan’s most popular search engines: Google and Yahoo! Japan.

Then, Yahoo! Japan’s annual top search results can supplement your competitive analysis by helping you identify the top-performing results for a broader category.

However, with fewer overarching categories compared to Google, Yahoo! Japan’s search result statistics may not be comprehensive for brands from niche markets.

To exemplify the difference, here is a peek at the top search terms from Google Trends and the top search results from Yahoo! Japan Search Awards in 2020.

Google’s Top Search Terms 2020

1. Google’s top 3 search terms (by category) in Japan in 2020

Google’s top 3 search terms (by category) in Japan in 2020 

Yahoo! Japan’s Top Search Results in 2020

2. Yahoo! Japan’s top 3 search results (by category) in 2020

Yahoo! Japan’s top 3 search results (by category) in 2020 

GOOGLE VS YAHOO! JAPAN: SITELINKS

By maximizing SERP real estate and featuring important pages in addition to your homepage, sitelinks can improve your CTR (click-through rate) and drive greater organic traffic deeper into your site.

On Google, meta descriptions feature below each sitelink and are implemented on the backend of the page to tell Google and users what the page is about.

Essentially, while sitelink titles are derived from the anchor or menu text on the homepage, the sitelink snippets are extracted from the meta descriptions of the sitelink pages.

10. Google - Sitelinks for Canon’s Japanese websiteGoogle: Sitelinks for Canon’s Japanese website

Yahoo! Japan, on the other hand, only generates a title for the sitelink page with no meta description.

11. Yahoo! Japan - Sitelinks for Canon’s Japanese websiteYahoo! Japan: Sitelinks for Canon’s Japanese website

Assuming Google tweaked their sitelinks to provide a better user navigational experience, its meta descriptions may yield better traffic and CTR results compared to Yahoo! Japan’s more simple sitelinks.

But without any performance data for sitelinks in the Japanese search market,  it is difficult to conclude whether the absence of meta descriptions on Yahoo! Japan’s sitelinks directly affects the number of clicks on its search results.

And while Google’s algorithm ultimately decides whether or not it provides sitelinks, you can increase your likelihood of qualifying for them on Google and Yahoo Japan! by following these 4 SEO steps:

  1. Ensure your website is crawlable and follows a logical hierarchy
  2. Submit the most updated XML sitemap of your site onto Google Search Console
  3. Build more internal links to establish site hierarchy
  4. Implement schema mark-up in HTML

GOOGLE VS YAHOO! JAPAN: SITELINK SEARCH BOX

12. Google - Sitelink search box for ホンダ (Honda)Google:  Sitelink search box for ホンダ (Honda)

Google’s sitelink search boxes are another SERP snippet that can potentially bring you more traffic, since users can search precisely what they’re looking for without having to navigate through your website.

Yahoo! Japan does not provide this feature.

GOOGLE VS YAHOO! JAPAN: KNOWLEDGE PANEL

From restaurant descriptions to movie plot synopses, knowledge panels offer overviews of information relevant to a search query and are available to both Google and Yahoo! Japan users.

When searching “タイタニック (Titanic), for instance, the SERPs on both search engines feature knowledge panels on the right-hand side showcasing plot summaries, production details, and a cast list from the 1997 movie bearing the same name.

Google - Knowledge panel for “タイタニック” (Titanic)

Google: Knowledge panel for “タイタニック (Titanic)

yahoo japan knowledge panel

Yahoo! Japan: Knowledge panel for “タイタニック (Titanic)

But while Yahoo! Japan indexes and displays videos from authoritative sources on its knowledge panel (outlined in green above), such as the popular on-demand TV streaming service GYAO!,  Google instead displays video results on its main SERP.

Google - Video results on the SERP for “タイタニック” (Titanic)

Google: Video results on the SERP for “タイタニック (Titanic)

WHAT IS THE MOST POPULAR SEARCH ENGINE IN JAPAN?

Google is the #1 most popular search engine in Japan with a 75.51% market share. Yahoo! Japan is the #2 most popular search engine in Japan with a 20.97% market share.

Although Yahoo! Japan shares the same algorithm technology as Google, critical SERP features—like sitelinks —indicate that Google provides more informative, in-depth results.

This makes sense since algorithm updates are implemented on Google first—sometimes even several months before Yahoo! Japan.

Therefore, given its algorithmic advantages and overwhelming popularity and market share, Google dominates the search engine game in Japan.

However, it’s critical to consider—and optimize your site for—both Google and Yahoo! Japan to maximize your brand visibility and extend your brand influence across two of Japan’s most popular search engines and in front of Japan’s captive and massive online audience.

Ready to maximize your digital marketing in Japan?

How Can We Help?

    How Can We Help?