If you’re targeting users and customers in Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, or any other country in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), optimizing your website for Yandex is practically a must.
Sure, Google does have a presence in these countries, but the lion’s share of users there tend to use Yandex when they want to look up something online.
Yandex’s search algorithms also work differently from Google’s, so any Google search engine optimization (SEO) efforts you’ve already undertaken may not be the most effective in getting you the best Yandex rankings.
Instead, you’ll need to craft a dedicated Yandex SEO strategy – and we’re here to help with this in-depth explainer on Yandex’s search architecture, ranking factors, and tools for boosting your Yandex website traffic.
Although Yandex’s primary user base is in Russia, the search engine is also popularly used in other countries in the CIS, such as Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Uzbekistan.
Besides its signature search engine, Yandex LLC offers a suite of related products, including navigational maps, advertising, and a web browser. Think of them as counterparts to Google’s Maps app, Google Ads platform, and Chrome browser, respectively!
Why optimize your content for Yandex?
Despite the traditional focus of SEO work on Google, optimizing your website for Yandex can be advantageous if you’re expanding your business into the CIS region. Through Yandex SEO, you stand to benefit from:
Yandex’s high market share in Russia: As of April 2023, the search engine enjoys 58% of Russian search engine market share. Optimizing your content for Yandex can, therefore, significantly boost your business’s search visibility in Russia – and also your customer base there if you’ve got the Russian market in your sights.
Higher search engine rankings: Yandex takes into account a website’s region when ranking web pages for location-dependent search queries such as “prepaid sim card in Moscow.” By setting up your website’s region for Yandex correctly, you signal to the search engine that your web pages cater to such location-dependent queries. Yandex may then rank your web pages higher. (More information on geotargeting later.)
Integrating your website with other Yandex products: As mentioned above, Yandex LLC offers various other products, including navigational maps and advertising. While optimizing your website for Yandex rankings, it makes commercial sense to tap into these products to increase your brand visibility and sales. For example, you could list your business’s physical outlets on Yandex Maps to help Yandex users get directions for visiting them.
A stronger competitive advantage: Given that many international businesses mainly focus on Google SEO, optimizing your website for Yandex can give you an edge in the markets that Yandex caters to – think greater brand awareness and higher rankings on the Yandex search engine results pages (SERPs)!
How does the Yandex search architecture work?
Yandex LLC hasn’t publicly disclosed the full details of its proprietary search architecture. Not surprising, as this is probably commercially sensitive information. But it has elaborated on its architecture’s workings in its public documentation, so let’s take a peek.
The main components of Yandex’s search architecture include:
An index: In Yandex’s own words, this is “basically a database of all the words and their locations known to the search engine.” The search engine has a main crawler that creates and saves a copy of every web page it encounters, and another crawler called “Orange” that does express indexing to get the latest versions of each page as soon as possible.
A metasearch system: This system processes incoming search queries to understand them, then checks if it has stored search results for them in its memory cache. If so, it’ll deliver these saved results so it doesn’t need to run the search query from scratch.
Basic search servers: The metasearch sends queries that it can’t answer to the basic search servers, which is where Yandex stores its copies of web pages it has crawled. Since Yandex splits its search database across multiple basic search servers, the metasearch will search all these servers at once to deliver search results quicker.
MatrixNet: Each basic search server will provide a list of web pages that could satisfy the searcher’s query. Metasearch compiles this list and uses MatrixNet, Yandex’s proprietary machine learning ranking algorithm, to rank the results before displaying them to the searcher. MatrixNet relies on “tens of thousands” of ranking factors to improve the relevance of its search results, and we’ll cover some of these in the next section.
What are some Yandex ranking factors?
Yandex notifies webmasters of updates to its MatrixNet ranking algorithm, which is helpful for businesses working on Yandex SEO.
High-authority backlinks can influence a web page’s search rankings.
The time of day is also a relevant ranking factor.
Yandex has cautioned that some of the code may be outdated and have also used test algorithms, so take the findings gleaned from the Yandex leak with a pinch of salt.
In the meantime, here are some Yandex ranking factors worth optimizing your web pages for. The terms may sound familiar, but they may not work the same way as what you may be used to for Google SEO:
Content quality and relevance
Yandex uses an ICS score to calculate a web page’s relevance to a particular query. Some factors that it takes into consideration when calculating ICS scores include:
A website’s effectiveness in addressing user queries, accounting for user metrics such as the website’s popularity and the time it takes to deliver a result.
Whether the website evokes expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (Google’s equivalent of these considerations is known as E-E-A-T).
Whether the website contains any of Yandex’s 16 prescribed quality marks, such as being an official brand website, serving its content over a secure connection, and whether it loads quickly.
The website’s reach, as estimated by Yandex.
The keywords you use on your web pages are especially important as they help Yandex determine your content’s effectiveness in addressing user queries. As the Yandex support documentation states:
“If a search query contains a term, but it's not mentioned on the pages of your website, it's unlikely that the search engine will consider your website to contain a good answer to the query.”
Therefore as you undertake Yandex SEO, conduct keyword research to identify relevant keywords for inserting into your content. SEO tools such as Ahrefs or Semrush can help you identify not just relevant keywords, but also their viability in terms of monthly search volume or estimated ranking difficulty.
And since you’re targeting searchers from Russia (or those from other CIS countries), localize your web pages into their native languages. Doing so will help searchers understand your content more easily, improving its usefulness – and possibly also its Yandex rankings.
P.S. If translating and localizing your website sounds daunting, Weglot can make such work quick and easy. More details later!
If you’re familiar with the Google Analytics tool for analyzing website traffic, Yandex has an equivalent tool called Yandex Metrica – and also uses some of its user engagement data points to rank websites. These include user behavior metrics such as:
The average amount of time a user spends on the website after accessing it from a non-SERP web page.
The average “depth,” or number, of pages the user views, after accessing a website from a non-SERP web page.
In other words, the longer a user stays on your website, and the more pages they visit during their time there, the more relevant your website will appear to Yandex. It may then give you a rankings boost!
With this in mind, produce engaging content that attracts and retains users on your website for as long as possible. Creating content in their language is a given here, and you should also work on delivering valuable information or resources they may not find on other sites.
Does your website offer products, services, or regional media content? If so, you’ll need to signal its region to Yandex so the search engine can rank it for location-dependent queries – namely, search queries related to specific geographical locations.
Yandex refers to these sources for determining a website’s region, so set them up for your website as best as you can:
Yandex Webmaster: This is Yandex’s set of webmaster tools with features such as tracking the queries that drive traffic to your website and assessing your website’s quality. There is also a setting for stating your website’s region. Once you’ve set it up, a moderator will review your input to decide whether to approve it.
Yandex Business: Yandex Business is a business directory where you can create a dedicated listing for your business. This includes information on your business’s address so Yandex knows your geographical areas of operation.
That said, just because you’ve assigned your website a certain region setting, this doesn’t mean your website won’t appear for search queries originating from other regions.
A website’s region is but one ranking factor that Yandex uses to rank websites. The search engine may list your website in the SERPs for other regions if it deems it relevant nevertheless!
Like many other search engines, Yandex rewards websites that are mobile-friendly – and especially those that fall within any of these categories:
Websites with an adaptive design: In other words, the website’s pages are available at the same URLs regardless of the user’s device type, and their design accommodates the device’s screen size and resolution.
Websites with a dynamic page layout: The website’s server uses different sets of HTML and CSS code to display the website depending on the user’s mobile device.
Websites with a mobile version on subdomains: The website displays a dedicated mobile version on a subdomain such as “m.website.com”.
If you have connected your website to Yandex Webmaster, you can use its built-in tool to assess your website’s mobile-friendliness.
Yandex also recommends enabling Turbo pages for mobile searches, where the search engine will store optimized versions of your page content on its servers and use its own content delivery network to deliver them to mobile users. According to Yandex, Turbo pages load 15X faster than non-Turbo ones!
Like Google, Yandex looks at the quantity and quality of backlinks a website has accumulated when deciding how to rank it.
Yandex has a long list of backlink-related ranking factors, and here are just some of them:
The backlink’s age.
The relevance of the backlink to the website’s topics.
The use of keywords in the backlink’s anchor text (including the percentage of anchor text the keyword comprises).
The frequency of backlinks to the website.
The ratio of “good” to “bad” backlinks a website has.
So we can see that backlink quality is a significant consideration, as well as the number of good backlinks a website has gotten.
With all this in mind, work to obtain high-quality backlinks through methods such as:
Creating quality content that others will want to link to (even without you asking!)
Submitting guest posts to publications related to your industry and topic.
Building relationships with other website owners in your industry so they’ll be more than happy to link to your website.
Your backlinks’ anchor text should also include your target keywords as far as possible.
Due to their larger file sizes than text content, images are notorious for slowing down a page’s load speed. This can be a problem as Yandex regards such speed as an “important indicator” of a website’s quality.
Using an image compressor tool like ImageOptim can help get your images’ file sizes down and reduce their drag on your page load speed.
As for helping your images themselves rank on Yandex’s image search, Yandex’s advice includes:
Using descriptive file names, alt tags, and link anchor texts for your images.
Weglot: your solution for multilingual SEO on Yandex
Of the various factors Yandex uses to rank websites, we’d recommend first focusing your efforts on its requirement for relevant and quality content. That’s because content forms the meat of your website and affects:
How long users engage with your website,
The appropriateness of your content for its specified region setting, and
The number of websites that link back to yours,
which are all Yandex SEO ranking factors in their own right, too.
Weglot is an ideal option for optimizing your website content for Yandex here. If you’re new to Weglot, it’s a website translation solution that detects, translates and displays the content of your website into more than 110 languages.
Key Weglot features you’ll find useful for your Yandex SEO efforts include:
Automatic content detection and translation: Weglot automatically detects your website’s text and metadata, then translates these using leading neural machine translation, providing the best translations for the given source and destination language pair. It can even translate text on lead generation forms, pop-ups, and checkout pages!
Translation management tools: All translations are stored in a central Weglot Dashboard, and you’ll have complete editing control over them. You can also invite other users, such as your team members or external translators, to your Weglot project to assist with the translation and localization work.
Automatic hreflang tag implementation: On the technical SEO front, Yandex recommends using hreflang tags on your web pages to indicate their intended language and region. Hreflang tags can be troublesome to implement manually, but Weglot will automatically set them up for you while translating your web pages.
Translation display: Weglot displays your finalized translations on your web pages for you under language subdomains or subdirectories – you won’t have to transfer them from the Weglot Dashboard to your website manually.
Having discussed various Yandex ranking factors and best practices so far, let’s tie everything together with a step-by-step approach to executing a comprehensive and effective Yandex SEO strategy for your business.
Evaluate your current performance: Use tools such as Yandex Webmaster and Yandex Metrica to assess how your website is currently faring on Yandex’s SERPs. Key performance indicators (KPIs) to use here include your average ranking positions, monthly website traffic, and time on content. Don’t be discouraged if the numbers are less good than you would like, as things can only get better from here!
Set clear objectives and goals: Now that you understand your current position, set clear and measurable goals for your Yandex SEO strategy. These could be improving your rankings for certain keywords, or increasing your website traffic volume by 20% within three months. And be realistic with your goals: for instance, you’re unlikely to get the #1 position for a keyword within a week if your website is new!
Develop a comprehensive Yandex SEO plan: Flesh out the steps you want to take to hit your goals and your timelines for getting these tasks done. Also, delegate each task to your team and document the assignments so everyone knows their responsibilities.
Leverage Weglot for multilingual SEO: As discussed above, Weglot’s translation capabilities greatly speed up the website localization process. Other built-in multilingual SEO features, such as hreflang tag implementation, also only improve your website’s visibility in countries in which Yandex enjoys the highest usage!
Stay up-to-date with Yandex’s algorithm changes: Yandex updates its search algorithms from time to time. Be on the lookout for such changes in case they’ve caused your rankings to drop, and you need to take remedial action.
Monitor your strategy and adjust it accordingly: Yandex SEO isn’t something you do once and subsequently forget about. Your rankings – and hence your organic traffic numbers – can fluctuate over time in response to changes to competing content, world affairs, or even Yandex algorithm updates, as we’ve just mentioned. Keep an eye on your KPIs and react swiftly if things start to take a worrying turn.
Add Weglot to your Yandex SEO strategy!
Optimizing your website for Yandex is a whole new ball game from ranking your website for Google, or even Bing. Many of the search engine’s ranking factors work differently than you may be accustomed to, so you’ll need to develop a solid Yandex SEO strategy that accounts for their unique requirements perfectly.
Use the insights we’ve shared in this guide to put your action plan together, then pair it with Weglot to get your Yandex SEO efforts off the ground! Our website translation solution contains all the features you’ll need to localize your website’s content and improve its Yandex search visibility.
Weglot’s ability to provide you with an instantly live multilingual website will also mean you’ll have an international site up and running quicker than competitors struggling to translate all their content manually.