Two months ago at IBC Russia conference in Moscow Yandex made an announcement that turned SEO world upside down. The Head of Search of the biggest Russian search engine in presented the new search algorithm that does not include links as a ranking factor. The news provoked a lot of discussions and speculations in forums and communities, but Yandex kept silent up until now.
Earlier this week one of the major Russian sites for Internet industry news published a short article [in Russian] that stated that Yandex’s Head of Search made an appearance at an agency event and said that SEO links are going to be “turned off” as soon as in late February or early March.
Later the same day Yandex confirmed that according to their plan SEO links will stop influence rankings for about half of commercial queries in Moscow regional SERPs in Q1 of 2014.
What are the alternatives to SEO links?
When the death of links was declared, many tried to make assumptions what the next big thing in Yandex SEO will be. The most obvious candidates were behavioral factors, social signals, usability, content, and structured data. All of these things are already incorporated into Yandex’s search algorithm, one way or another. Usability and behavioral factors were especially hot topic in SEO circles for the last half a year.
Behavioral factors (i.e. metrics measuring users’ behavior on the site) as a part of ranking formula were introduced by Yandex back in 2011. At the same time a bunch of tools that can artificially “improve” behavioral factors came to the market, followed by a new Yandex penalty for artificially manipulating behavioral factors.
After the Yandex’s announcement about algorithm change behavioral tools re-appeared on the market with aggressive advertising campaigns. Yandex responded with their own advertising campaign against such tools:
Everyone searching for behavioral factors-related terms will see Yandex’s ad saying “Attention! Artificial manipulations with behavioral factors are dangerous for your site“. Alexander Sadovskiy at IBC Russia warned against using such tools, and hinted that a penalty for this kind of manipulative techniques was already in the works.
Some webmaster however believe that Yandex’s reaction confirms that a) behavioral factors work, and b) that Yandex cannot automatically penalize sites using behavioral tools and instead trying to scare off their SEOs.
Social has slowly become a part of SEO, however not to the same extent for Yandex than for Google. Of course, VK groups can be SEO’d and rank high in search results, tweets help speeding up indexing process, not to mention the recent Yandex / Facebook agreement (what will that bring us!?).
The influence of social on rankings in Yandex has been marginal, and recently Yandex admitted [in Russian] that social signals are not a strong enough indicator and hence cannot replace links.
Yandex has been telling us about the importance of usability for a bit over a year now. They do not really tell what usability is in their view, but it definitely is closely tied with improving the behavioral metrics. Better usability obviously results into lower bounce rate, longer time spent on site, more page views, etc. These metrics are known to Yandex partly from monitoring users’ interaction with the site, and partly from Yandex.Metrica, which is a very popular analytics tool in Russia. Besides, Yandex has human assessors, who manually grade sites, their quality and relevancy to particular search queries.
Another part of working with usability and improving behavioral factors will be creation of interactive snippets, aka Yandex Islands. The users will be able to interact with the snippets right in the search results, and as a result of that will be either directed to the relevant page on the site or even complete the action without going to the site at all.
Only a few weeks left until we’ll know how the new algorithm changes the course of Yandex SEO. Of course, the creative Russian SEO community is preparing for the big day. New tools for measuring the impact are being created, like for example, SerpVisor [Russian only], that monitors changes in SERPs for commercially oriented keywords taken from Yandex.Wordstat. Watch out for changes and stay tuned for more news!