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How Yandex’s removal of links from its algorithm affects international link building strategies


Yandex announced today that it is launching a new algorithm version during 2014 for commercial queries in the Moscow area which for the first time will completely ignore the value of links. The change was launched against a slide backdrop saying, “Without links at all.” Instead, Yandex will be giving more weight and consideration to user behaviour including users’ ability to transact with the site and other usability factors. The announcement can be seen here

yandex-alphaCurrently, this change, which will come in and be modified by experiments which take place during 2014 and then only for the Moscow region, affects roughly 10% of user queries at Yandex. But do not let that 10% figure mislead you! If you are a marketer, its your queries which are most affected because its the commercial buy queries which this change covers – so really its virtually a 100% impact of the activity you are involved with.

Alexander Sadovsky - Head of Web Search, Yandex.  Source: Yandex

Alexander Sadovsky – Head of Web Search, Yandex. Source: Yandex

Whilst this change initially affects just the Moscow region and Alexander Sadovsky who launched it told me there was no certainly it would be rolled out other regions because that would depend on wider testing, there is a strong probability that it will be rolled out further in Russia. Alexander did not believe it would roll out to Turkey in the near future.

However, the news itself is not the most important facet of this announcement. What is much more significant is that this may indicate a direction that search engines may take in the future. Having interviewed senior people at the major search engines, what you notice most is that they all think in similar ways.

All major search engines rely on links – so what now?

So, if Yandex finds a way to reduce its reliance on inbound link structures, then it is likely that other search engines – including Google – are suffering the same challenges, thinking about similar solutions, about to launch similar solutions or similar solutions are already in place they just have not told anyone about them yet.

So, let’s just get a little perspective on this. Until now, all major search engines have relied heavily on inbound links as a significant component of deciding which sites to rank. Google’s growth and success – especially in the early days – is attributed to its Page Rank method which rates the importance of pages based on how many inbound links there are.

Baidu was also built on a hypertext link analysis which was actually patented before Google. Yandex has the Topical Citation Index or CY. In other words, all of the world’s major search engines were built with a link ranking algorithm at their core.

Enter Yandex. Because the link signal is so very noisy, especially in Russia where there are a lot of opportunities for paid links, Yandex has seen declining value in the ranking help that inbound links have been giving it – especially for the most important queries for marketers – commercial queries.

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It is time to think differently about link building in Russia and elsewhere!

What this means is, that once again Yandex is asking us to think differently about SEO in Russia. And we need to think carefully about that because the thinking we learn from Russia we may have to adopt elsewhere too – probably sooner than we expect.

As Alexander Sadovsky advised, there are two key strategies:

  • Generating Quality Traffic To Drive Ranking Development
  • Long Tail

We will ignore long tail for now, as the strategy there does not change much. For new websites targeting competitive terms, we need to do the following to be successful in this new links world:

  1. Ensure there are great inbound links to ensure discovery and that crawlers arrive at the site
  2. Make sure the site is crawlable
  3. Have better usability, content and product than our competitors
  4. Use all tools at our disposal to generate early volumes of traffic.

So, how do we generate traffic before we start ranking? It does not really matter what the source of the traffic is but it must represent relevant and interested users (uninterested users with high bounce rates could have a negative impact). Some examples of methods to generate traffic would be:

  • generate links from great blogs
  • distribute press material
  • buy online advertising – display and search
  • advertise offline
  • email marketing
  • direct mail

Essentially, we have arrived in a world where “search engine submissions” have been and gone; “sophisticated anchor text link building” has been and gone, other than for discovery and traffic and we WILL have to start thinking about “search engine priming” to kick start our rankings in the future. Yes, that priming will mean spending money somewhere to get started. Welcome to the future of link building.

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Andy Atkins-Kruger

CEO at Webcertain
Andy is the CEO of Webcertain. He is a trained linguist with 20 years of experience in international marketing, having helped major brand leaders with their advertising and public relations projects on five continents. Webcertain has been operating multilingual search marketing campaigns for over 15 years and is one of few agencies which only deal with international campaigns; the company doesn't deal in single market projects. Andy speaks regularly at conferences around the world.

2 Responses to How Yandex’s removal of links from its algorithm affects international link building strategies

  1. Sunday says:

    Is it really time to think differently about link building in other countries? I wonder how this link removal strategy is going to improve quality and relevant traffic! Perhaps, we are going to see another “brand” of SEO.

    I have shared this comment in kingged.com – the content syndication website for Internet marketers where I have found this post.
    Sunday – kingged.com contributor


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