Launching your website in Russia? You’ll need to make a new friend: Yandex, the country’s biggest search engine. Here’s how to boost your brand’s visibility on Russian search with Yandex SEO.

Russia is huge – and not just because it’s the largest country in the world.

The country is home to 110 million internet users75% more than in the UK.

That’s a massive potential audience for your brand. And there’s never been a better time to do something about it. 81% of Russians searched online for products last year (up 18% from the year before), with 58% actually buying something (up 12%).

Where to start? It can feel pretty overwhelming. Russian search is completely different from what we’re used to in the West, right?

Yes and no. Yandex is the region’s biggest search engine. Which means you’ll have to master a new tool and build a solid Yandex SEO strategy to be successful. But there’s no need to rethink everything you know – Yandex is more similar to Google than you might imagine. Here’s how to get started.

RUSSIAN SEO: THE BASICS

Before jumping into Yandex SEO, here are three things to bear in mind about the Russian market:

1. Russia has one of the lowest English proficiency levels in Europe. To make headway, you’ll need to translate your site into Russian. This also allows you to expand into countries like Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Georgia.

2. Russia is notoriously conservative. This is reflected in its attitude to internet censorship. Sites that don’t comply with the Russian Internet Restriction Bill are blacklisted.

3. Every form of publicly distributed material receives an age restriction. If you want to target young children or teenagers, you’ll have to tailor your messaging very carefully.

YANDEX SEO: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE

Yandex stands for ‘Yet ANother inDEXer.’ But in Russia, it’s actually been the only kid on the block for many years. It receives 2.6 billion monthly visits. And although Google is beginning to pose more of a threat, Yandex is still responsible for over half of all search queries.

Like Google, Yandex provides many other services – including a browser, email, translator and maps. Unlike Google, it places different emphases on its ranking priorities. You’ll need to learn some new tricks to get your customers clicking. Here are our top tips.

1. GEOTARGETING

Location is a key ranking factor for Yandex. The site categorizes all searches as location-dependent or location-independent. This goes beyond responding to searches like ‘coffee shops near me’ – it can include generic terms like ‘transportation’. Yandex then shows results from that specific region, meaning results in Moscow will look different than in St Petersburg.

This is great news if you’re a local business, but can be tricky if you’re a global brand. To rank for location-dependent searches, you’ll need to use Yandex Business Directory. It’s similar to Google My Business, and lets you publish your business’s name, postcode and telephone number. If you have regional branches, include this information too. And don’t forget to add region-specific keywords to your content and meta data.

Using regional subdomains can also be an effective way of signposting location-dependent content. Of course, check this is compatible with your existing international site structure before trying it out. Subdomains are often avoided from a Google SEO perspective, and you may want to stay consistent with that approach. If you do go down this route for Russia, make sure it’s easy to navigate back to your main site from the regional subdomain.

Lastly, as with Google, it’s a bad idea to hide region-specific content yourself based on user IP address. Yandex does this automatically, but it needs access to every page to crawl your site effectively. Hiding anything could hurt your visibility.

2) USER BEHAVIOUR

Yandex is obsessed with user behaviour. It plays a huge role in Yandex SEO and is much more influential than link building. In 2012, the site started displaying personalized search results based on user behaviour (search history and cookies). So far, so much like Google. But Yandex takes things further.

To rank highly on the search engine, you have to encourage people to click on your site, stay there… and not visit similar sites afterwards. Yandex takes into account user behaviour on your site, and also (quite surprisingly) just after they visit. If a user clicks on a page relating to the same query after visiting, Yandex takes this as a signal that your content did not provide sufficient value. Yandex has also begun penalizing websites with intrusive pop-up windows that harm user experience.

The good news is monitoring all this behaviour is easy – you can analyze your site’s logs on Yandex.Metrica. It’s an analytics tool like Google Analytics. You can check where users are based, how they found your site, which search terms they used, their conversion rate and which platforms they’re using.

3) CONTENT

Yandex cares about content quality. It punishes sites more severely than Google for underhanded tactics and technical mistakes.

E-commerce sites, beware. Avoid hosting separate pages for variations of the same product (e.g. different colours or sizes). Just like the Google Panda update, Yandex’s duplicate content filter can punish you for it.

Yandex also takes black hat SEO seriously, so don’t try to game the system. Instead, focus on making great content users want to read.

4) AUTHORITY

Yandex may prioritize user behaviour over link-building, but don’t ignore backlinking completely.

That being said, it’s about quality over quantity. Links that are actually used are much more important than having hundreds of unclicked links on your site. Yandex may not even honour the link until it directs traffic to your site. (Although this doesn’t apply to websites without the Yandex.Metrica tool installed.)

5) E-COMMERCE

For e-commerce sites, Yandex introduced ‘commercial relevance’ as a ranking signal in 2014. This provides more accurate results to searches with commercial intent. It ties into your relevance, trustworthiness, usability, user experience, quality of service and site design.

To boost your commercial relevance, provide detailed product descriptions, include regional information and earn backlinks from trusted authorities. Good customer service also helps. Consider localizing your post-sales support to improve user experience.

6) DOMAIN AGE

You may not buy into the maxim ‘older and wiser’, but Yandex does. It sees your domain age as proof of trustworthiness – especially in areas like law, medicine, e-commerce and retail.

Yandex has made it easier for newer, better quality domains to rank more highly, but it can take time. Don’t be discouraged if your site isn’t ranking for organic search – just be patient.

That’s not the only reason you’ll need to play the waiting game on Yandex. It takes longer to crawl and index changes to your site than Google. The Yandex crawler visits static pages several times a month, and blogs a few times a day. Which means changes to your content can take longer to affect your ranking on Yandex than on Google.

To index your website more efficiently, submit your sitemaps using Yandex.Webmaster. Yandex’s crawling capabilities are growing stronger too – they can now work with JavaScript and CSS.

7) META DATA

Yandex is much stricter than Google when it comes to meta data. Take the time to be thorough and take Yandex’s peculiarities into account:

Title tag and meta description
Yandex allows up to 70 characters for your title tag – longer than Google best practice guidelines. However it’s worth keeping the title below 60 characters so it correctly displays on both search engines. Keep meta descriptions below 160 characters and don’t forget to include your keywords, and a call to action.

Meta keywords
Meta keywords are still important on Yandex, so include a couple per page.

URL
Although Yandex understands both Cyrillic and Latin characters, stick with a Cyrillic URL. It’s what Russian-speaking users prefer.

Canonical Tags
These help you to avoid penalties for duplicate content on similar pages. Be warned: just like Google, Yandex can ignore them. This usually happens if the page can’t be indexed, if the canonical address refers to a different domain or subdomain, or if there are several canonical addresses on one page.

8) MOBILE

In Russia, Yandex rules mobile search just as much as desktop.

Since Yandex’s 2016 Vladivostok update, mobile-optimized sites have been ranking more highly. Around the same time, Yandex released Turbo pages to speed up page load time on mobile. They’re similar to Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages, and mean fewer people bounce off your site due to load speed.

Yandex also benefited from a ruling by the Russian Antimonopoly Service that Google’s default Android OS was too restrictive. As a result, Google were forced to make a widget allowing Android users to switch their default search engine to Yandex.

All this means that you should optimize your Russian site for mobile. Don’t forget to take font size into account. Anything smaller than 12 px can make Cyrillic characters more difficult to read, as they begin to clot. This impacts user experience, so it may also affect your rankings.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Optimizing your site for Russian search is hard work, but it’s worth the effort. The key to success is building a strong Yandex SEO strategy. Focus on building an excellent user experience with high quality, relevant content. You’ll soon be rewarded in the rankings.

Need help optimizing your website for Russia? Our expert digital team is here to help – get in touch today.

Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

ABOUT Gary Reilly

Originally from Sydney, I'm an international digital marketer with over seven years' experience. I help global brands achieve their goals with integrated digital solutions. And I'm passionate about deciphering user intent to create relevant content that's accessible, visible and delivers ROI.

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