Enjoying its 18th year as a conference, Optimization 2020 is arguably the largest digital marketing conference in Russia.
For the most part, the conference goes under the radar in the Western world.
Going virtual this year for the first time since its inception, the conference plays host to some of the best Russian marketers sharing their insights and experiences, as well as representatives from Google and Yandex.
This year, I also spoke at the conference, alongside other “Western” SEO professionals Kevin Indig and Barry Schwartz.
The talks focused both on optimizing for Google as well as Yandex, with a number of unique takes and insights coming from some of the leading Russian SEO professionals.
In this article, I’m going to summarize five of the key takeaways from the conference, including insights from:
- A virtual roundtable featuring a number of leading Russian SEO professionals.
- Key members of the Yandex Search product teams.
1. Ranking Factors: Yandex vs. Google
As part of the modern SEO research track, Mikhail Volovich and Olga Yudina, both of Ashmanov & Partners, gave a presentation on the research they have compiled analyzing the ranking factors for both Yandex and Google, and highlighting their differences.
The key takeaways from their presentation are:
- The ranking factors identified in 2019 remained relevant to 2020.
- The effect of links within Yandex appears to have lessened, whereas it has remained the same within Google.
- Perceived website (and business) quality has become a much stronger factor in both Google and Yandex.
- On mobile, site speed appears to be more important to Google than Yandex, but in Yandex the number of Turbo pages has increased greatly (outside of the top 3 results).
They also predict, based on observed data that:
- Both Google and Yandex will add more weight to establishing website quality (Google’s E-A-T and Yandex’s IKS).
- Mobile search will see an increase in both AMP and Turbo pages.
2. Manipulating User Behavior Factors
While we debate whether or not the number of clicks that results receive in search results impacts ranking performance in Google, we know in Yandex this is a factor taken into account by the algorithm.
Yandex monitors this, and do penalize webmasters looking to cheat the algorithm in this way.
The PF filter – and its fairness – has been long discussed by SEO pros in the forums as the tactic can also be used as a weapon against competitors who then fall under the penalty.
During the Optimization 2020 roundtable, this topic came up and was addressed by Mikhail Slevinsky, the head of Yandex Webmaster tools.
He said that they are seeing good progress in their efforts to combat this type of manipulation.
Yandex’s Elena Pershina also added that in surveys conducted by the search engine, more and more business owners are becoming aware of the risks of using such manipulative tactics.
3. The Dominance of Aggregators in SERPs
Another key talking point during the virtual roundtable was that of the dominance of aggregator websites within Yandex search results.
Much like Amazon can dominate certain search results in the U.K., Russia has its own aggregators like Ozon and Wildberries.
Roundtable members posed the question to the Yandex representatives if this is seen as an issue, and what their take on this was.
In response, Slevinsky gave an initial answer of:
“Any offline store where I buy goods is essentially a marketplace. And as a user, it is more convenient for me to buy meat, fish and fruits in one store than to travel to different points. Online is like offline. In my opinion, the situation here is harmonious, and small businesses can definitely get their audience.”
Slevinsky and Pershina continued that the problem is that smaller businesses are potentially not doing enough to establish a USP or differentiation factor between themselves and other businesses (both small and large).
And that if there is no differentiation for the user, then the search engine will also not see enough difference to discern a prominent ranking position.
They did, however, show that if enough users show examples of where this is negative for users, then they are open to seeing it as a problem for users if one exists.
4. What Makes a Quality Website
In a talk by Elena Pershina, head of B2B Marketing for Non-Advertising services at Yandex, the search engine gave some insight into how webmasters can establish a “quality” website.
Pershina began her talk by noting that the website and business, to Yandex, have become separate entities over the past couple of years.
The website is more of a proxy for the business as a whole and not a sole representation
And that for good ranking positions within Yandex you not only need a good website that is “optimized for SEO”, but also a business that’s generating the right signals for the search engine.
We can draw similarities here with Google, that the business itself needs both reputation and EAT.
In 2018, Yandex applied a quantitative, external-facing metric known as the ICS to webmasters to indicate a website’s quality.
Over the past two years, this metric has been refined to become a trusted metric that some Russian SEO professionals believe is updated on an almost monthly basis.
The ICS score is combined with other measures of business/website quality such as the CLI (Customer Loyalty Index) in Yandex.Directory.
“We thought for a long time how to give a signal to the business that something is wrong with customer service. The user found it once, made a call and never returns. To track such moments, to understand how often the user wants to search for you, we made a customer loyalty index.”
The CLI allows the business to take on feedback from users, and improve, as well as allowing Yandex to actively record user sentiment and satisfaction to the associated products and services.
Pershina also confirmed that Yandex is working harder to better understand user-generated content and reviews in relation to a business.
And to better identify scam businesses or just really bad potential customer experiences.