Exactly 2 weeks ago Alexander Sadovsky, head of Yandex Search, announced new ranking algorithm – “Minusinsk” (tradionally, since 2008, all versions Yandex have been named after Russian cities) – that brought back links as a ranking factor into Yandex SEO. The difference with the search algorithm that Yandex had a year ago is that now links can have both positive and negative influence on site rankings in Yandex.
The new algorithm is going to be rolled out gradually starting from mid-May. Unlike the previous algorithm change, when links were removed as a ranking factor, which only affected some of the commercial verticals and only in Moscow region, the new algorithm will cover all regions of Russia, all types of search queries and all websites – from big to small.
A year of link-free Yandex SEO
Removal of links as a ranking factor was announced by Yandex at IBC Russia conference in Moscow in December 2013. In February 2014 Yandex confirmed that the links had been “turned off” in the Moscow SERPs for a number of commercial verticals.
What happened after was a big mess. Some SEO specialists took away all paid links, and in majority of such cases their websites lost positions. After the drop, some tried to restore the links, typically buying through link brokers, but as a result they got filtered by the algorithm for so-called “link blasts”. During summer and fall of 2014 the SERPs of Yandex were extremely volatile and unpredictable – both due to large amounts of links being removed and bought again, but also, presumably, due to tweaks and calibration of the new ranking formula.
At the same time, companies like Sape, whose business is built on facilitating link sale, created multiple studies and cases that showed that links kept influencing organic rankings in Yandex, although maybe to a lesser extent than before. The latest study that was presented last week at Russian Internet Forum in Moscow concluded that:
- Sites that removed paid links in 2014 generally lost rankings, while sites that kept building links improved their rankings.
- Sites that did not use keyword-rich anchor texts generally don’t rank high.
- The biggest effect from link buying is seen for positions 40-50.
- E-commerce sites see the smallest effect from link buying, while sites that sell services see good results.
- Links are being indexed very slowly.
After analyzing the year of link-free SEO, Yandex concluded that the number of paid links in Russia dropped by only 16% during last year, which was simply not good enough for them.
Yandex position towards paid links
Yandex clearly state that they consider link buying to be a black-hat SEO technique. They also know that more than 70% of links in commercial verticals are paid.
Image source: the photo is taken by our contributor Marcus during our last year’s visit to Yandex HQ
“We can define which link is paid and which is ‘good’ quite precise thanks to our machine-learning based algorithm of categorising” – Yandex team told us. “And just to highlight: this new changes does not mean our last year initiative turned to be fail – not at all. We considering link removal as a great step, but we have to confirm we didn’t predict the ‘black-hat’ SEO is so much sluggish”.
Return of the links and what it means for Yandex SEO
The new algorithm is going to be rolled out on the 14th of May and initially should only affect a few hundreds of sites that were overly aggressive with link building (aka buying). Some of these websites have already started receiving warnings via Yandex.Webmaster. Notifications will only be send out once and only to the sites with extremely artificial backlink profiles. Once the algorithm has been rolled out, there will be no further notifications and penalties will be applied algorithmically.
Image source: Seonews.ru
According to Alexander Sadovkiy’s presentation, the selection of sites for the first wave of penalties will be based on both absolute number of paid links and percentage of paid links in their inbound link profiles. Affected sites’s positions will be lowered to 2nd SERP or below. The penalty will last for a long time – how long is unclear, however knowing nature of Russian link building, we are probably talking about several months. The majority of sites represented in link buying platforms are created specifically for link sale and hence are not very well taken care of, have low quality content, which seldom gets updated, and hence are not crawled very often.
Natural organic links will again become a good signal for Yandex ranking algorithm.
The first wave of Minusinks should not be too bloody. As Sadivskiy said, only a few hundreds of sites should be affected, and this will give us better understanding of how spammy the inbound link profile needs to be in order to get penalized.
For those, who worked with Russian SEO agencies or internally and used any kind of link brokers, it is recommended to go through all the paid links and stop renting / remove the cheapest / most spammy-looking ones. Overall quality of links generated via link brokers is very low, so it will be a lot of work.
Image source: CheckTrust.ru. Red bars represent low quality sites, yellow – average quality sites, green – high quality sites in each link broker’s database.
To speed up the task of analyzing Russian back links, I suggest cross-referencing the links with link broker blacklists or checking questionable placements using tools like CheckTrust.