SEO and SEM for Russian search engines

Thoughts on Yandex personalized search and beyond

yandex-searchThe end of the year, and here we go again! Another big change in Yandex search algorithm. This was expected; Yandex tends to do big algorithm updates in the end of each year. Last year there were two big changes in Yandex search algorithm: in October, when ad-heavy pages were lowered in the search results, and in November, when the ranking formula for e-commerce sites was modified.

2012 brought yet another big, but not exactly unexpected change: with the new search algorithm “Kaliningrad” 70-80% of Yandex search results became personalized. Western SEOs used to working with Google are very much familiar with SERP personalization, but in the Russian SEO community this change steered a lot of discussions – from “SEO is dead” to “SEO is finally becoming more civilized”.

Time will tell how the new search algorithm will affect Russian SEO industry. For now, let’s have a look at what exactly has changed.

Known facts about Yandex personalized search

- 75-80% of SERPs are now personalized.

- According to Yandex, personalized search saves 14% of time spent by users looking for information.

- 30% of the time people are looking for websites they know from before.

- 10 searches and 20 clicks on search results is enough for Yandex to generate personalized SERPs for a user.

- Before the official roll out, the algorithm was tested on 50 000 000 users.

- CTR on on the first position of a personalized SERP is 37% better than on non-personalized one.

- There are 2 parts of “personalization”: search suggestions and search results.

Personalized search suggestions on Yandex

Yandex always paid a lot of attention to search suggestions. According to them, up to 50% of people click on the suggestions. Personalization of the search suggestions comes in 4 different shapes:

- The search terms that a user searched for earlier are shown on top of the list of search suggestions in purple (resembling clicked links). Yandex claims that 24% of all search queries are repeated, i.e. users already searched for them in the past.

- The websites that a user visits frequently and tends to click on in SERPs will be included into personalized search suggestions.

- Yandex classified all users into approximately 400 000 groups based on their interests. For each interest group the search suggestions are different.

- Yandex now displays more search suggestions related to other search queries within the same search session. According to Yandex, they show session-based suggestions on average 53 million times every day.

Personalized search results on Yandex

Personalization of search results concerns a lot of different aspects, such as user’s geo location, interests, and search behavior.

Localized search results have already been very prominent on Yandex, and so were the language preferences. Since August 2011 Yandex was following whether users liked or disliked to receive search results in English, and showed more results in English to those who liked them (read, clicked on them), and less to those who didn’t.

Now personalization also takes into account “liked” or “disliked” sites, meaning that a user, who frequently click on certain sites, will see them more often and higher up in the SERPs. The sites the user tends to ignore (not click on in the SERPs) will be shown to him / her less often and on lower positions.

Russian language is complex, and a lot of words can mean several different things. A while ago, Yandex started to give “dialog-like” suggestions refining such queries. For instance, a user searching for “кино” might mean a movie or a Russian rock bad called “кино”). Before Yandex would present the user with links saying, “кино слушать” (Kino listen) and “кино в рио” (Movies in Rio; where Rio is a cinema chain). Now Yandex thinks they can predict what a particular user is looking for and present the user with the search results with dominating music or movie listings.

What is interesting is that Yandex personalizes SERPs by default for all users, regardless if they are logged in or not. It is possible to disable personalization by logging in and changing account settings (which of course very few people will do).

According to Yandex representatives, in one third of the cases the top 5 search results for the same query are completely different.

What does this mean for Yandex SEO?

I believe that in this new environment the following 4 aspects of working with websites will become crucial:

- building a brand

- building authority

- improving user experience and usability

- working on improving behavioral factors

Strong brands will naturally benefit from this algorithm change: in the SERPs people tend to click more on known brands, stay there longer and even if some of the sites lack usability, people are more patient and stay longer, when they recognize and favor the brand. Hence, better rankings on Yandex.

Certain sites might see increase in traffic for generic key terms, where Yandex might show them higher than, for example, Wikipedia, to the users, who behave like they are in a shopping mode.

Intuitive interface and pleasant design of a website might positively influence the traffic due to better behavioral factors: more time spent on site, lower bounce rate.

The sites that solely relied on links in their SEO efforts, will most likely be the losers in the new personalized web.

General speaking, Yandex’s personalized search will not change the way most of Western SEOs work. Over the years I saw Yandex making a lot of big and little steps to showing webmaster that in order to succeed they have to think beyond paid links. Now, I believe, Yandex got SEOs to scratch their heads, which is a great thing! It is, of course, too early to judge, but I believe this change will make the RuNet a better place.

Anna Oshkalo

Anna is a blogger and online marketing consultant specializing in SEO and SEM for Russian search engines. To see more of Anna's posts, follow her on Twitter, or LinkedIn.

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