SEO for Yandex:
7 things you need to know

Although Google optimization is becoming more and more popular in the Russian-speaking market, there is another SEO approach that you should familiarize yourself with if you’re interested in optimizing your content for Russian-speaking users. Welcome to SEO for Yandex.

Yandex, one of the most popular search engines in the region, attracts a good deal of online users in Russia (60%), Belarus (30%), Kazakhstan (20%) and the Ukraine (10%)*. You read that right: Ukrainians are still among Yandex’s users, even though the search engine was banned in the Ukraine in 2017 due to political tensions.

Plus, there are Russian speakers throughout Europe, North America and the world at large who are very likely to turn to Yandex to browse the Web or go shopping online.

Whether you’re looking for new potential customers or investors, you’ll want to make sure that your target audience can find your website in the search results. That’s what SEO is there for. You likely already know about SEO, and you’ve probably already optimized your website for English or another language.

But if it’s Russian speakers you’re after, ignoring Yandex could cost you over 50% potential users. The good news is that Yandex and Google are based on very similar SEO principles; there are just a few differences you should keep in mind when trying to get your website to rank in the Yandex search results.

To make things a little easier for you, we’ve prepared a list of things worth knowing about Yandex SEO.

1. Content always matters

As far as content is concerned, Yandex can be rather picky. Not only does it prioritize sites that provide the most complete and relevant answers to queries — but it pays a lot more attention to quality. Yandex uses several algorithms to scan content quality and, once it’s spotted content that’s not up to snuff, will penalize the site.

To stay in Yandex’s graces, stay away from copy-pasting, and don’t over-optimize your content. Keep in mind that spammy content and duplicates are not favored here either. Spend enough time developing a transparent, user-friendly structure for your website and fill it with quality content that helps your target audiences get the information that’s most useful to them. Besides, everyone in content marketing knows content is king.

2. Know where your target group is located

Although Google and other search engines offer geo-targeting features, Yandex places greater importance on it. Think about it: Russia is a massive country, so it makes sense to hone in on smaller regions. Yandex offers two types of searches: geo-dependent and geo-independent.

Geo-independent searches are those that could be relevant to anyone, regardless of where they’re located — a music-review website, for example, or the website of an international organization.

Geo-dependent searches, on the other hand, focus on products or services that are so localized they can’t be found anywhere outside of a particular region or city. Think of your local beauty salon or events that might be going on nearby.

By specifying your target regions through Yandex Webmaster Tools and submitting your business to the Yandex Business Directory, you’ll be well on your way to making sure your very localized and region-specific target audiences find the information they’re looking for and that your marketing campaigns function the way you want them to.

4. The older the better

Let’s talk about your domain. Have you just recently launched a brand-new website? If so, you may face some challenges down the road, or will at least have to be very patient for your website to bubble up to the top of the Yandex search results. That’s because Yandex favors domains that have aged well, like a good wine.

If your website’s already been around for a while, you’re probably fine. But if you’re new on the scene, you might consider purchasing a domain that’s been around for a lot longer and using that as the basis for your new website.

3. Engage your users

The best way to know your website content is great is if people engage with it. Anyone who’s ever recommended a product or service to friends or peers, or even binge-watched a TV show for days on end, knows this. Yandex’s search engine algorithms know this, too.

While backlinks are an important factor for ranking on page one Google, they’re not as important for Yandex, which puts a heavy emphasis on analyzing user-engagement metrics to determine the relevance and quality of content.

Ultimately, Yandex wants to make sure that the results are relevant and enjoyable to its users. With Yandex.Metrica, you can analyze how users coming to your website engage with your content and see how and where you can optimize it to enhance the overall user experience.

By enhancing the user experience, the more people will engage with your site. And the more people who engage with your site, the higher you’ll appear in the Yandex search results.

5. Like Dostoyevsky, Yandex is all about the meta

Sure, meta tags are important for Google, too. But comparably, Google doesn’t take them as seriously as Yandex. In fact, if you don’t get your meta tags, title and description tags, URLs and canonical tags absolutely right, you might find yourself in trouble like Raskolnikov found himself in Dostoyevsky’s novel. In short, have your webmaster put these up on your priority list:

Title and description tags
While titles can be a little bit longer for Yandex than Google, it’s a safe bet to stick around the 60-character range. For descriptions, go with around 160 characters. But be careful: Like we mentioned above, quality is key. If you automatically generate these texts without reviewing them for quality, they might disappear from SERPs.

Meta keywords
It’s very important each page has at least a few target keywords. Although Google’s pretty much done with the meta tag for keywords, Yandex, like Baidu, still values them.

Canonical tags
Remember how we mentioned that Yandex doesn’t like spammy content? Duplicates, of course, could be considered spammy. So, make sure your canonical tags are all in order.

URLs
Since we’re going after Russian speakers, your URLs should appear in Cyrillic for the Russian-speaking regions you previously geo-targeted.

7. No trash links, please

You probably weren’t expecting this one, but Yandex scrapped backlinks as an overall SEO requirement for ranking in its search engine results. Of course, cross-linking is still important, but again, user engagement is essential for ranking with Yandex.

So, if you incorporate links into your website, make sure users will find them interesting and engaging. This will increase traffic. And the more traffic and engagement you have in Russia, the higher you’ll rank on the first page.

6. How legit is your business?

As a business, there are four factors you’ll have to consider if you don’t want to lose out on the market in Russia:

  • Trustworthiness,
  • Usability,
  • Design quality and
  • Service quality

It doesn’t matter what type of business you are, trust and service quality are essential to any business transaction. Usability and design quality, of course, enhance the experience customers have with your brand platform.
These factors translate into a number of basic requirements you’ll need for Yandex to recognize you as a business acting in the best interest of its customers. In short, you’ll need to provide and offer the following:

  • Detailed contact information,
  • A shipping service if you’re selling products,
  • Company profiles on various social media channels,
  • Detailed product descriptions,
  • A customer-service team that customers can reach out to with ease,
  • Clearly listed prices and
  • A return policy

The Russian-speaking world is a valuable market

Don’t miss the opportunity to spread your content and presence in the Russian-speaking world. Yes, there are a few differences to Google SEO, but having your webmaster implement those few additional steps into your Yandex SEO marketing strategy will be worthwhile.

Mobile friendliness

It’s no secret that search engines prefer sites that are mobile friend. It’s common knowledge that Google ranks mobile-friendly sites higher than those that are not. In fact, as of July 1, 2019, Google has made mobile-first indexing the default for all new websites. But Yandex also places high value on mobile-friendly sites.

In 2015, Yandex began labeling mobile-friendly sites and then launched an update called Vladivostok, which regulates mobile search results. Luckily, there’s a tool that webmasters can use to see how mobile friendly their sites and pages are; you can find it over at the Yandex Webmaster portal.

This list is by no means exhaustive, and there are more things you could consider for ranking with Yandex. Or which translators you’ll want to hire to recreate your quality content in such a way that it’s still engaging for your Russian-speaking target audience.

If you’re also interested in expanding your business into or launching a marketing campaign in the Chinese market, check out “Baido SEO: 14 things you need to know.”

*Percentages of specific countries’ unique overall traffic.