If you’re launching a website in Russia, you’ll need to become familiar with Yandex, the country’s most popular search engine. Here’s how to boost your brand’s visibility on Russian search with Yandex SEO.

Russia is home to 110 million internet users. In 2018, 81% of Russians searched online for products (up 18% from the year before), with 58% making a purchase (up 12%).

The region represents a massive potential audience for international brands. But Russian search trends differ from markets where Google is the dominant search engine, so a Yandex SEO strategy is essential.

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 keep 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 online content into Russian. Doing this also allows you to reach other Russian-speaking markets like Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Georgia.
  2. Russian internet is highly censored. Sites that don’t comply with the Russian Internet Restriction Bill are blacklisted.
  3. Every form of publicly distributed material receives an age restriction. You’ll need to consider your target demographic when tailoring your in-language messaging.

YANDEX SEO: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE

Yandex stands for “Yet ANother inDEXer.” But in Russia, it’s actually been the only search engine for many years, receiving 2.6 billion visits monthly. And although Google is beginning to gain popularity, Yandex is still responsible for over half of all search queries.

Yandex is like Google in many ways – providing browser, email, translator, and map features. However, it handles ranking differently from Google. Here are some things to consider.

1. SEARCH BEHAVIOR

Like Google, Yandex places great emphasis on user behavior. But Yandex takes things further. Search behavior plays a huge role in Yandex SEO and is far more influential than optimization tactics such as link-building.

In 2012, the site started displaying personalized search results based on user behavior (search history and cookies).

But Yandex also takes into account post-search behavior as well. To rank highly on Yandex, your visitors must click on your site, stay there, and not visit competing sites afterwards. If a user clicks on another search result related to the same query after a site visit, Yandex takes this as a sign that the original content did not provide sufficient value or relevance. Yandex also penalizes websites with intrusive pop-up windows that harm user experience.

The good news is monitoring all this behavior is easy – by analyzing site logs on Yandex.Metrica. Similar to Google Analytics, you can check where users are based, which search terms and platforms they used, conversion rates, etc.

2. CONTENT QUALITY

Yandex puts great emphasis on content quality. It penalizes sites more severely than Google for underhanded tactics and technical errors.

eCommerce sites should avoid hosting separate pages for variations of the same product (e.g. different colors or sizes). Just like the Google Panda update, Yandex’s duplicate content filter can punish you for it.

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

3. BACKLINKS

Yandex may prioritize user behavior over link-building, but backlinking can still be effective.

As with Google, it’s about quality over quantity. Links that are actively used are much more important than having hundreds of unclicked links on your site. Yandex may not even honor external links until they direct traffic to your site. (Although this doesn’t apply to websites without the Yandex.Metrica tool installed.)

4. COMMERCIAL RELEVANCE

For eCommerce sites, Yandex introduced “commercial relevance” as a ranking signal in 2014. This provides more accurate results to searches with commercial intent. It ties into 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.

5. DOMAIN AGE

Yandex sees the domain age of a site as proof of trustworthiness – particularly in areas like law, medicine, eCommerce, and retail.

That said, Yandex is making it easier for newer domains with better-quality content to rank more highly, but it can take time.

Yandex also takes longer to crawl and index changes than Google. The Yandex crawler visits static pages several times a month, and blogs a few times a day. This means optimizing content can take longer to affect ranking on Yandex than on Google.

Submitting sitemaps via Yandex.Webmaster can make indexing more efficient. And Yandex’s crawling capabilities are growing stronger – they now work with JavaScript and CSS.

6. METADATA

Yandex is much stricter than Google when it comes to metadata. Keep best practice in mind while considering some subtle differences with Yandex:

  • 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 avoid penalties for duplicate content on similar pages. Though 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.

7. TURBO PAGES

In Russia, Yandex mobile search is just as popular 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 was forced to make a widget allowing Android users to switch their default search engine to Yandex.

All this means that optimizing for Russian mobile search is a good idea. Don’t forget to take font size into account. Anything smaller than 12 px can make Cyrillic characters more difficult to read. This impacts user experience, which in turn could affect your rankings.

FINAL THOUGHT

The key to search success in Russia is building a strong Yandex SEO strategy. Focus on building an excellent user experience based on Russian search behavior and user expectations with locally relevant, high-quality, in-language content. An authentic online presence combined with local insights to drive SEO on Yandex will boost your brand’s visibility and success in Russia.