SEO and SEM for Russian search engines

Yandex Catalog and its benefits for Yandex SEO

Yandex Catalog, also known as YaCa, is a collection of links, each supplied with a short description, categorized by topics and geolocation, similar to Yahoo Catalog or DMOZ.

Yandex Catalog was created in back in 2000, and since then went through several new editions and releases. YaCa is a popular web resource in Russia and boasts 3 million page views per day.

yandex-catalog

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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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Yandex SEO is maybe not dead, but links are

yandex-no-linksThe day has come when I can start writing articles ala “SEO is Dead” about Yandex SEO. Today at IBC Russia comference Alexander Sadovskiy, Head of Web Search at Yandex, announced that in the beginning of 2014 they will roll out a new ranking algorithm that does not takes links into considerations.

Just as most of the previous scary changes, the new Yandex algorithm will affect commercial search queries. The reason is that there is too much link spam in commercial verticals, explain Sadovsky. There are fewer “SEO links” in informational sites’ link profiles, and since the links are mostly natural, it is fine to use them as a ranking signal, and Yandex will continue doing so.

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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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Link building in Yandex SEO – status quo and best practices

As search engines develop, a bunch of SEOs always tries to find ways to cheat the system. Over the years link buying (aka building) has been one of the most abused SEO tactics. In Russia it became more extreme than in other markets — bulk link buying is a general practice most SEO agencies would offer you even today. It is not a secret to anyone; even Yandex themselves said that they know for sure that about 90% of links in Russia are “SEO links“. So let’s take a closer look at Russian link building practices.

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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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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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8 simple tricks to create awesome snippets for Yandex

All of us worked with or at least heard about rich snippets in Google. Rich snippets are great, but since implementation requires some development, a lot of however neglect them. There is always a better way to spend those precious developers’ hours, so the requests for those small pieces of code often end up being pushed in the bottom of backlogs and never makes it to the top. Does is sound familiar? Unfortunately.

When working with Yandex, there are also certain tricks to distinguish site snippet in the SERPs, and they are actually quite easy to implement. In most of cases I list in this article you won’t need developers’ help at all.

1. Title and Meta Description tags

The basis of a great snippet is of course great Title and great Meta Description tags.

The title for Yandex should not exceed 70 characters, including spaces, and contain relevant keywords. Meta Description tag can be around 150-160 characters long and should describe the page content in the best possible way.

When the tags are not written in a good way, Yandex often replaces Titles and Meta Description with snippets of text from the page, or data from DMOZ or Yandex Catalog, which is often not ideal. While there is a possibility to opt out of using DMOZ and YaCa copy, it is difficult to predict what piece of text Yandex will pick up from the page to replace a carelessly written description. In the example below, instead of a could-have-been converting text with great call to action, description contains bread crumbs (poker articles >> poker strategies >> read more) and random text strings:

2. Favicon

Favicon in the SERPs is something special for Yandex. Effective favicon can do a lot to your CTR, but being used to Google’s SERP layout, many webmasters do not take this feature into consideration. For example, compare the 3 search results for “weather in Paris” (погода в париже):

The third result without a favicon does not stand out as much as the other two.

Make sure your favicon is simple and clear, made in bright distinctive colors and stands out comparing to your SERP competitors.

3. Sitelinks

Just like Google, Yandex can display sitelinks in the SERPs. Similarly, sitelinks are generated automatically based on the importance and weight of pages.

Yandex gives webmasters more control over sitelinks for their sites than Google. Using Yandex Webmaster tools, you can remove unwanted sitelinks, and choose the anchor text for each sitelink from several variations offered by Yandex.

4. Capitalization in “display” URL

Yandex allows to change capitalization in longer domain names in order to make them more readable. For example, I could configure that russiansearchtips.com would display as RussianSearchTips.com in Yandex SERP.

Here is another example from online poker industry – both domain names use the capitalization feature:

Capitalization of domain name can be configured through Yandex Webmaster.

5. Social links

Links to social profiles in snippets is one of the newest features introduced by Yandex. In order for the links to your/ your company profiles vKontakte, Facebook, Twitter, LiveJournal and YouTube to appear in the snippet, they have to be present on the homepage and linked via Yandex Spravochnik (analog of Google Places) / configured through Yandex Webmaster.

I covered the process for getting social links in Yandex snippets in one of my earlier posts. Please feel free to have a look!

6. Special snippets for businesses

Yandex allows business owners to add a lot of additional information about different types of companies and organizations in their snippets. For example, for a hotel website it is possible to display its star rating, number of rooms and available facilities (in the example below Hotel Beta is displaying the following information through their special snippet: 3 star hotel; 1000 rooms;  restaurant, Internet access, air conditioning and a mini bar):

Currently special snippets are available for 75 types of organizations, such as, for example, restaurants, bars, night clubs, hotels, shopping malls, petrol stations and pharmacies.

This type of snippet is only available for official sites of organizations, and cannot be used by guides or affiliates.

The information for special snippets can be submitted via Yandex Webmaster or via Yandex Spravochnik.

7. Contact information

The contact information (address and phone number) can be displayed in a snippet for an official site of almost any kind of organization, regardless if there is a support for special snippets for its type of business.

The contact information can be submitted via Yandex Webmaster or via Yandex Spravochnik.

8. Product information for retailers

For retailers Yandex can display product information and even prices right in the SERPs. In the example below the snippet displays the price of an item (iPhone 4 32GB) and area available for delivery (Moscow):

Product information in the snippets is displayed automatically for Yandex Market (analog of Google Shopping) advertizers.

For those who does not advertise on Yandex Market, it is possible to submit product information via Yandex Webmaster tools. This way is a little bit more complicated, as the product information needs to be in YML (Yandex market language), which is a special type of XML file supported by Yandex Market. Generating an YML file might require some development, but the results will pay off (especially for stores with competitive prices).

Why care about Yandex snippets?

Apart from the obvious reason that a better snippet will result in better CTR and consequently in more organic traffic, there is another important motive: Yandex gives a lot of weight to so-called “behavioral” factors in the ranking formula, and SERP click-through rate is one of them. Improving snippets and SERP CTR should be high on your agenda, because better snippets will not only bring you more visitors, but also help your site to rank better!

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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