In the last few months Yandex created a lot of buzz in tech and marketing press around the globe, first with moving Yandex.Direct ad units from the right side to the bottom of the page, then with personalized search followed by real-time personalized search, and now the interactive SERPs / interactive rich snippets, whatever you prefer to call them.
A lot is written in the foreign press about Yandex “Islands”, but little has been said about actual implementation or potential impact of this new technology on Yandex SEO and SEM. In this post I will try to answer the questions that probably popped up in every webmaster’s head (they did pop up in my mind at least) after first hearing about the “Islands”.
The idea behind Yandex “Islands”
I am sure if you are reading this blog post, you have already seen the coverage on sites like SearchEngineWatch and GigaOM, so I will not elaborate on what is new with the interactive SERPs. I would like, however, to emphasize the main idea behind this change in SERP layout, because I think it is brilliant.
Yandex created “Islands” to bring the most important information closer to the user and to simplify finding solutions for users’ problems by answering their questions faster, right in the search results.
This ambition is reflected in two main parts of the interface change:
a) The SERPs will have context-based interface, i.e. the interactive features will depend on what kind of action the user wants to perform (e.g. book a table at a restaurant, check in for a flight, order a cab, compare prices for a particular product or listen to a song).
b) The SERP will consist of blocks instead of links, where businesses will have a great amount of control of what information is presented in their snippet and how it is presented.
This new interface did not come as a cmplete surprise. Yandex has experimented with interactive elements before. For example, there are “Wizards” – interactive elements provided by Yandex right in the SERPs for certain types of search queries. Here is one example, the cocktail recipe wizard:
This “Wizard” is essentially an interactive cocktail recipe search. If a users is searching for “Mojito recipe”, he/she will be presenters with a a) the recipe and a picture of a mojito, b) explanation how to prepare mojito, c) a possibility for discovering other cocktail recipes (on the right). By clicking on the arrows the user can find recipes for more cocktails – stronger ones, more complex ones, or just random recipes for inspiration. All these actions can be performed right in the SERP.
Apart from “Wizards”, Yandex had interactive search suggestions, rich snippets, real-time news feed from Twitter, social media icons, and integration with app stores in the SERPs.
Now, all these bits and pieces are going to be combined together in the “Islands” interface, and the most exciting part is that not only Yandex will decide how to interact with the users, but the site owners get the freedom to do so as well.
Technical possibilities and implementation of “Islands”
To start with, the technical basis for Yandex “Islands” is Open Graph Protocol initially introduced by Facebook.
There are two possible ways of implementation:
1. Creating an interactive search form in the SERP, the end goal of which is directing the user to the most relevant page on your website.
2. Streaming live data from your database into the SERP via an API, the goal of which can be giving the user information about current price and availability of a product, or even letting the user to complete the transaction without having to visit your site.
The interactive search forms are relatively easy to create. Descriptions of the forms and their content (text fields, check boxes, images, buttons etc.) will need to be submitted to Yandex in a separate XML file. After the file is processed, Yandex will start displaying your “Island” in the search results.
As mentioned above, using this functionality, webmasters can create interactive snippets with various text fields and filters to refer the users to the most relevant for them pages. For example, this button in the snippet of Aeroflot Russian Airlines site will lead the user to Aeroflot’s check-in page:
The syntax for creating a button like this is very simple. Here is an example of a code for a similar button in a snippet of a restaurant site. The button leads to table reservation page.
The tags that begin with “interaction” are extensions of Open Graph Protocol. They should be used as follows:
Interaction (interaction Array) – required tag that specifies the action (e.g. BookTable, BookHotel). A few actions are available already now, and more will be added in the future.
Interaction:web_handler (URL) – required tag that specifies the URL where the user will be sent after clicking the button.
Interaction:paid_service (Boolean) – optional tag that specifies that the transaction will include a payment. Omitting this tag will mark the transaction as “free” by default.
Using this markup, you can create very complex forms. In the example below, for instance, the user, who is looking for a car to buy, can select desired brand, model, color, year of production, type of transmission, and body style, and then move directly to browsing the listings of cars matching his/her requirements on, in this case, auto.yandex.ru.
The real-time data streaming via API opens even more possibilities for interacting with the user via snippet in the search results. You can give your potential customers information about prices or current availability of the products they are interested in. You can even let them complete the transaction right in the SERP, like spacetaxi.ru does with ordering a taxi in the example below:
The documentation for technical implementation of Yandex “Islands” can be found here, unfortunately only in Russian for now.
Impact of “Islands” on Yandex SEO and SEM
Let’s start with the easy part: nothing will change for Yandex PPC advertisers. Obviously, the performance of the ads, and possibly their layout, are going to be affected by the change in the SERP design, but no interactive features will be available for Yandex.Direct ads at this point.
Now, let’s look at Yandex SEO:
- The algorithm of Yandex search will stay the same (for now).
- Rankings will stay the same (for now). But, I believe that early adopters of interactive snippets will benefit tremendously from their interactive snippets in the nearest future. Yandex themselves hinted that the implementation of “Islands” markup will improve user experience (read behavioral factors), and hence will help the sites to perform better in the search results. “Islands” will also give a possibility to newer sites to compete with old strong sites that rank today only due to their age and authority, but no longer actively worked on.
- There will be no more “Top 10″. Depending on the query and the quality of answers that can be delivered, Yandex will show more or fewer that 10 search results.
- “Islands” will of course affect traffic that sites receive from Yandex. Since a lot of actions can be performed in the SERP, a certain amount of people will never end up going to the sites. This will make life more difficult for those whose business is based on selling ad space. On the other hand, interactive snippets can simplify the experience and potentially increase amount of transactions by eliminating extra steps between performing a search and reaching the end goal for the user.
- There is no tracking solution for Yandex “Islands”, i.e. neither Yandex.Metrika nor Google Analytics will be able to show how many or in what way users interact with your rich snippets in Yandex SERPs. This is quite frustrating; all you can do at this stage is guessing.
Regardless of all the pros and cons of the “Islands”, the ones who want to continue seeing positive results from their Yandex SEO efforts, will have to invest some time into investigating and creating the new snippets. The message that Yandex gives us is more or less “Be there of be square”.
OK, this is all clear, but can I see how it looks?
Yandex has already launched “Islands” in Turkey (yandex.com.tr), and you can see some examples there. I searched for “Vovlo” and got a result like this:
There is also a preview of an interactive snippet in Russian, but it is outside of SERP context.
Lastly, you can sign up for a sneak preview at beta.yandex.ru, that will be available a few days before the official launch.
“Islands” give businesses great possibilities to take over more space in Yandex search results, to improve interaction with the potential customers, and to make a good impression from the first sight. Now, look at this inspirational video and start thinking what your first “Island” will look like :)