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Yandex SEO: An Interview with the Yandex Search Team

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Yandex SEO: An Interview with the Yandex Search Team

It’s not common for Google to not be the dominant search engine in a given territory. But in the case of Russia, Yandex holds around 52% of the total market share, with Google holding 46%.

What’s also uncommon is that this data is made publicly available by Yandex, by aggregating data from Yandex Metrika (Yandex’s version of Google Analytics) into the Yandex.Radar Tool.

A lot has happened in the Russian search market over the past couple of years, starting with a FAS (Federal Antimonopoly Service) ruling against Google in 2017.

The ruling meant that Google had to open up the Android operating system more, allowing users to easily change default search engine away from Google.

This has had a significant impact on Yandex’s Android penetration.

Yandex SEO: An Interview with the Yandex Search TeamYandex.Radar showing the swing in Android dominance between Yandex and Google.

Further to my interview with Seznam, I’ve worked with Yandex on getting insight into the changes that have happened in Russia over the past two years, as well as answers to some common Yandex questions.

I’d like to thank Melissa McDonald, Elena Pershina and Anastasia Nazarenko for their time and cooperation in making this interview happen.

Since the 2017 FAS ruling against Google, meaning they had to open up Android to competition, third-party data sources have shown Yandex’s market share continuing to rise against Google. What do Yandex estimate to be the state of play in Russia in terms of market share now in 2019?

In August 2017, Google introduced a choice screen on Android that provided over 55 million users in Russia with the option to select their preferred search engine. The choice screen offers an option for users to choose Yandex, Google, or mail.ru as the default search engine for Chrome mobile.

This change opened up the Android platform, and users have been selecting the option that works best for them. Since this change, we have seen a significant impact on our mobile search market share.

Yandex’s search market share on Android devices has increased by approximately 12% from 40% in August 2017 to 52% in June 2019.

Overall, Yandex’s market share in Russia is 56%, and our mobile search market share in Russia is continuing to grow, most recently reaching 49%, up from 39% in August 2017.

How capable is Yandex in terms of processing JavaScript websites?

We started testing with JavaScripts and CSS in 2015 (in Russian), and it has dramatically increased since then.

We, therefore, suggest webmasters open their sites in robots.txt for the indexing robot. This also helps ensure that there are no problems with the load on the site server when the robot calls for these files.

Does Yandex give any preference to URLs that contain Cyrillic versus Latin characters?

Yandex does not give any preferences for URLs containing Cyrillic or Latin. However, we recommend webmasters use a clear structure and human-readable URLs on their sites.

How big of a factor is mobile usability in Yandex’s ranking determinations?

Mobile loading speed and user-friendliness are extremely important to Yandex search rankings.

Yandex has been taking significant steps to lead efforts for the growing mobile audience in Russia – recently mobile traffic overtook desktop traffic for the first time.

In February 2016, we launched the Vladivostok algorithm, which takes into account the mobile-friendliness of pages, including the size of webpage content, vertical scrolling, and accessibility on mobile devices.

In November 2017, we opened up our Turbo-pages technology for publishers that allows publishers to create light versions of pages that open quickly on mobile even with a slow connection.

Turbo-pages load about 15 times faster than regular pages and the speed is achieved by optimizing layout, storing page content on Yandex servers, and using our own content delivery network.

From the launch of Turbo-pages to the end of 2018, more than 10,000 websites created Turbo versions and Turbo-pages appeared in more than 45% of the search results for queries from mobile devices.

In 2018, there were over 10 billion visits to Turbo-pages and tens of millions of unique users selected Turbo-pages.

Turbo-pages bring several benefits, namely saving time – we calculated that last year Turbo-pages saved 317 years that would have been spent by website visitors waiting for pages to download.

Does Yandex have any issues in processing websites that utilize CDNs?

No, we have no issues processing websites that utilize CDNs or even special recommendations for it.

We always support technologies that help users to more efficiently navigate sites.

How much of an impact have you seen voice search have on the Russian market?

Voice search is still in the early stages compared to Western markets but it is continuing to gain wide adoption.

Yandex introduced the Russian market to voice search in October 2017 with the launch of our intelligent assistant, Alice, in our search app.

Today, approximately 20% of queries in the Yandex search application are voice queries to Alice.

Alice has over 35 million monthly active users across multiple platforms that range from our smart speaker, Yandex.Station, to our in-car infotainment system, Yandex.Auto.

Not only have more users started to regularly rely on voice search but more smart products are being developed for the Russian market and other search providers have since launched their own voice search capabilities in Russia.

How do you see the use of voice search developing within Russia in the coming years?

We believe that voice search together with smart devices will continue to increase in popularity.

Over the coming years, as the technology improves, the integration into smart devices from home appliances to connected cars will spread the use of voice search.

We envision voice search to become as ubiquitous as the use of Wi-Fi. Anywhere there is connectivity, there will likely be some form of an intelligent assistant to help users with their queries and commands.

How big a role does the Alice virtual assistant have to play in the future of virtual assistants?

Yandex has been leading the way for the future of intelligent assistants in Russia.

We have combined our search, machine learning, and speech recognition technologies to build an ecosystem around Alice to the benefit of users and businesses.

Yandex aims to play a major role in the future of virtual assistants by building on our current progress to continue to advance the technology and infrastructure.

Yandex built Alice with advanced conversational skills and an understanding of context giving it an ability to both chat with users and to manage a range of tasks such as checking the weather or traffic conditions or finding a restaurant through Yandex services.

We then added Yandex.Dialogues, a skills platform for third-party developers, which led to businesses introducing tens of thousands of new skills such as ordering pizza from Papa John’s, or exercising with Reebok.

At the same time, we also put out our first smart speaker, Yandex.Station, and added Alice to multiple other platforms that expanded its usability from Yandex.Navigator to Yandex Browser.

Alice is also on third-party devices such as the LG XBOOM speaker, which exclusively integrates Alice in Russia.

Most recently, Yandex unveiled Russia’s first smart home ecosystem powered by Alice. Alice can now turn on lights, adjust a thermostat, control a TV, or even make coffee.

Leading manufacturers such as Philips, Xiaomi, Samsung, and Redmond will offer Yandex smart home compatible products, including smart bulbs, plugs, and appliances.

Yandex’s smart home system runs on an open API, enabling third-party manufacturers to integrate their smart devices.

We are committed to ensuring Alice continues to offer high-quality user experience and an even more advanced ecosystem.

How often does Yandex update its ranking criteria/algorithms?

We regularly update our algorithms. We update our algorithms so frequently that we do not make separate announcements for most of them.

We typically announce and provide official names of algorithms that are significant updates and change the general approach to the layout of search results.

For example, Vladivostok, the mobile page ranking algorithm that we mentioned earlier, which was named in honor of the capital of the Russian Far East region because it has the largest share of mobile Internet users in Russia.

Moving away from search for a moment, how popular are Yandex’s other assets (such as Direct, YaBrowser, Maps, Metro, Taxi, etc.)?

Yandex is the market leader in almost all of the product segments you mentioned.

After more than two decades of building intelligent products and services powered by machine learning, we have come to offer Russian users an entire ecosystem that helps them better navigate both the online and offline world.

Today, millions of users turn to Yandex for a range of needs, while advertisers turn to Yandex to reach the Russian internet audience.

Yandex maintains 53% of the Russian digital advertising market, according to IAB Russia.

The Yandex.Direct ad platform offers search and display advertising across Yandex services and the Yandex Advertising Network (YAN) that has thousands of websites and over 4 billion daily impressions.

According to a recent study by ROIStat that surveyed advertisers who use both Yandex.Direct and Google AdWords, when comparing the ROI of search ads on the two platforms, 60% of respondents said their ROI was better on Yandex.Direct.

In the same study, 70% of display advertisers responded that their ROI was better on the Yandex Advertising Network.

How popular are services such as Maps in comparison to their Google counterparts?

Yandex services remain the most popular among Russian users.

Yandex.Maps, for instance, has long helped Russian users get from point A to point B, as the leading mapping service in Russia.

Today, the service helps tens of millions of users also find points of interest, check transport schedules, and get directions, among other features such as checking business hours and directly booking reservations from the search results.

The service, which Yandex built for the local market, is especially well known for having highly relevant and accurate results.

Google provides strong services in Russia that bring competition to the market and help drive innovation.

Our most recently, we added the “Good Place” feature, which awards certificates and distinctive stickers to the best organizations in their categories.

The Yandex ratings and reviews of organizations are an important consideration for users as they choose how they select points of interest in Russia.

More Resources:


Image Credits

Screenshot taken by author, July 2019

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Dan Taylor

SEO Account Director at SALT.agency

I'm a senior technical SEO consultant and account director at SALT.agency, a bespoke technical SEO consultancy with offices in the ... [Read full bio]

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