SEO and SEM for Russian search engines

Yandex SEO DOs and DON’Ts in 2013

Over last year we’ve seen a lot of changes in Yandex search algorithm, which of course affected SEO. Increased emphasis on quality of content, site usability and behavioral factors with personalized search on top of that brought Yandex SEO quality standards close to those of Google.com.

Unlike a year ago, severe penalties can be caused by low quality, keyword-stuffed or duplicate content. Keyword research, onsite SEO and link building process have become more sophisticated.

Yandex SEO DON’Ts

Duplicate, keyword-stuffed, auto-generated, and machine translated content

For us, international SEOs, it is very important to understand that Yandex SEO success requires investing time and effort into creating high quality content written in good Russian language.

A lot of international sites fail to do so, ending up with machine-translated or poorly written Russian copy that drags them down in Yandex SERPs.

Penalties for low quality content have become more severe over the last couple of years. I have seen sections or even whole websites thrown out from Yandex search index.

Excessive advertising

Yandex is striving to provide their users with best possible search results. While many people in Russia claim that Yandex search results are too commercial, what you seldom see in Yandex Top 10 is spammy sites overloaded with AdSense or Yandex.Direct ads.
During the years, there were at least 2 modifications made in Yandex search algorithm that aimed against sites using pop-ups, pop-unders and other kinds of “irritating” advertising.

Automated link buying

There are plenty of Russian SEO tools that can take care of your link building without you spending too much time on it – from threatened by Matt Cutts SAPE to sophisticated systems that can be configured in different ways to suit your SEO demands.
Sorry to say guys, the days of winning by spamming are coming to an end. Links placed in obscure places of randomly selected websites, most of which are created solely for selling links, do not work as well as they used to before.

Obsessing with rankings

SERP rankings in Yandex could be misleading metric since the arrival of regional-specific search back in 2009, and even more so after the launch of the latest Yandex search algorithm with personalized search.

Regional rankings can be tricky to monitor with rank-checking tools as the positions vary greatly in different Russian cities based on regional settings of the site and the type of keywords it is targeting. It is difficult to find regional Russian proxies, and manual check through Yandex.Webmaster can be very tiresome.

Since December 2012, when Yandex rolled out personalized search, SERP rankings almost became a thing of the past. Search results are different for 75-80% of all search queries, and all users are opted in regardless of whether they are logged in into their Yandex account or not.

Focus on small list of keywords

Due to personalization of the search results, it is a risky strategy to base Yandex SEO effort on small list of “important” keywords assigned to a few “important” pages.

It is very difficult to say how relevant people find your page to a particular (usually quite general) query. In case a significant percentage of people do not find the page relevant, the probability you site won’t show up for them in top 10 is very high, and there is no way for you to know what their SERPs look like.

Yandex SEO DOs

Continuous work with usability, design and conversion

Usability, design and conversion became a vital part of Yandex SEO success from the day when behavioral factors were incorporated into Yandex search algorithm. Now, with the personalization of search, they way your visitors interact with your site is even more important. The less they bounce and the longer the stay – the better and more relevant your site will seem to Yandex.

Working with site snippets

Snippets are very important for Yandex SEO for the same reason as user experience – they are the first impression of your website and they influence behavioural factors. Moreover, personalized search algorithm stops displaying sites with low CTR from the SERPs or lower them in the search results, as they do not seem interesting to the users.

Make sure title and description tags are well written; utilize rich snippets possibilities when possible.

Broad keyword portfolio

Successful SEO strategy for Yandex in 2013 will be based on a keyword portfolio. Instead of focusing on a handful of keywords, create content around them using different combinations and synonyms. Try to give relevant answers to the questions your potential customers might have about the product / service you are promoting.

Creating unique and useful for the reader content

The content you place on your site should be interesting, engaging and look appealing to the users. Use images, interactive elements, and format text in a way that is easy to read.

It is not enough to only create good content anymore. Presentation is also important. Always keep in mind that user behaviour on your page is an important ranking factor for Yandex.

Building links naturally (or at least carefully)

Link building for Yandex has been ugly for years. For most site owners SEO involved using services for submitting sites to hundreds of directories, spamming social bookmaking sites and buying large chunks of links through Russian link brokers.
These days link building tactics for Yandex changed. I am not saying that paid links do not work anymore. They do. And SAPE is more alive than ever. I do say however that spammy links with exact keywords in anchor texts located in obscure areas will not give the desired effect in 2013.

Most links in Russia remain paid. The selection of placements for links however should be a careful process. Yandex likes links from:

- relevant, on-topic sites
- trusted directories (e.g. Yandex.Catalog, DMOZ etc.)
- news sites (preferably listed in Yandex.News and Google News)
- popular on-topic blogs with a real reader base

I believe the links from sites that don’t participate in SAPE or similar give better effect. Although link brokers might seem like a shortcut and a time-saver, I do recommend to refrain from relying on those.

My general feeling is that in 2013 all of us, who work with Yandex SEO, should take another look at the sites we deal with. For years, the optimization and link building were the focus. Now the 3rd element – user behavior – has come in and strongly positioned itself in the algorithm of the search engine. Even if you are ranking high enough, work on the UX, try to get them to stay on your site and Yandex will give you some extra love.

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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