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Gemma Houghton

Yandex: Russian Language Usage Will Make or Break Online Campaigns


The Russian market is an appealing target for many businesses, but the vast cultural and linguistic differences, as well as current economic uncertainty, can prevent them for making the move into the country. Ahead of her session at the International Search Summit New York later this month, Yandex International Business Development Manager Melissa McDonald shares her insight into this unique market and the importance of understanding the nuances of language, culture and search engines when developing campaigns.

Melissa, what myths are there surrounding the Russian market, and culture?

Like most places, there are many myths associated with Russia. We can thank the Western media for sensationalizing stories and Hollywood for painting Russia as a cold and scary place. There’s truth in everything but what I see on a daily basis in Russia and what I see in the movies are two very different things.  Many people assume all Russians are communists and maintain a very negative attitude about the West. In contrast, the Russians I know celebrate and desire a lot of the Western political and business practices in addition to traveling here and buying our products.

Just looking at Yandex searches alone, we can learn so much about the average Russian. From the data I see, Russians are very forward and global thinkers who take interest in Western TV shows, clothing brands, celebrities, you name it.   Sure, we all maintain our learned cultural and national background, but the Internet is really changing the way we see the world because there’s access to everything.   If Russians really wanted to maintain a closed off culture, they would, but I see an increasingly open minded nation.

Why is it a valuable and interesting market for international businesses? Should they be worried about the economy at the moment?

International businesses have an advantage in the Russian market.  Most international companies in major industries have experience in a number of other countries and are likely a bit more sophisticated and developed than some local players.

When it comes to the Internet, only half of the Russian population is online, so there is incredible potential as this industry grows.  In terms of our work in digital advertising, Russia is attractive to foreign companies because they pay for advertising in their local currencies.   As Russian companies reduce ad spend budgets and are limited to payments in Russian rubles, there’s a real window of opportunity for foreign brands to grab market share.

International businesses shouldn’t be worried about the economy but they should factor it into the equation.  Certainly when it comes to eCommerce, it’s more difficult to ship to Russia right now and locals are shopping less.  However, cross border sales and online shopping is still up from the previous year as this industry continues to grow.  The other thing to keep in mind about Russia is that it has an incredibly wealthy population that continues to remain unaffected by the economy and spends as usual.


Most marketers are very familiar with Google, but perhaps not so much with Yandex. Other than Yandex being the leading Russian search engine, are there any key differences to be aware of?  Are there any common mistakes international advertisers make when running campaigns on Yandex?

There are a number of differences between Yandex and Google. The main thing to be aware of is that they are in fact different.  Organic search results rank differently and the Russian language capabilities of the two search engines strongly impact the type of search results you see on Yandex and Google Russia.  Yandex puts considerable emphasis on quality landing pages and quality ads, making it even more important for webmasters and PPC specialists to provide the Russian audience with good content and relevant ads.

Most commonly, advertisers who are accustomed to using other platforms assume that Yandex.Direct functions exactly the same as others.  Of course, as a CPC auction based system, Yandex is quite similar to AdWords but that doesn’t make it the same. From match types to ad groups, advertisers often rush through their decisions when creating campaigns and don’t realize they may be making mistakes.

Yandex has recently announced changes to its paid search auction system – why is that a good thing for businesses advertising on the search engine?

As of September 1, Yandex advertisers are competing in a VCG auction model. Most simply put, this auction allows for all advertisers to pay the same for baseline traffic and slightly more for additional traffic in higher ad positions.  This auction model eradicates the process of paying a significantly higher price for the top ad positions.  Instead, the CPC is based on the difference between the amounts of traffic in the ad positions.  Yandex will also adjustethe ranking formula for ad blocks in the SERPs that emphasizes ad quality and CTR in addition to the advertisers’ bids.  Businesses can expect lower costs and higher quality clicks.

What would be your top tip for a business running a paid search campaign on Yandex?

My top tip for advertisers running paid search campaigns on Yandex is to place significant emphasis on Russian language.  The majority of the Russian population doesn’t speak English and won’t respond well to ads that are grammatically incorrect or don’t resonate with cultural nuances. From keywords to ad copies, language has the ability to make or break campaigns.  Russian language is certainly complicated but with the help of Yandex account managers, it’s quite easy to take campaigns from English and build them for Yandex.   Plus, its free!

What will attendees take away from your session at ISS?

ISS attendees will learn that Russia is not some big scary place but there’s a lot of fun and unique facts to understand that help play into a company’s success in Russia.  I’ll explain a bit about my own experiences working in Russia, major cultural and language differences to keep in mind, the outlook for the Russian Internet, and of course, there will be a discussion on Yandex and a number of reasons why Yandex offers the best and easiest way to reach the Russian audience – including that free translation and optimization from our awesome account managers.  I’m here to answer questions from the audience and make sure everyone walks away from the session with as much knowledge as possible but more importantly, knowing they have a resource in the US who is always available to help.

And finally, why should people attend ISS?

ISS offers attendees a great overview for international digital advertising.  The team at Webcertain sets the stage for important cultural and language related topics that all international marketers need to consider when entering foreign markets.  Every ISS session provides a learning opportunity in a relaxed and motivating environment that encourages everyone to have his or her questions answered. The additional expert speakers from different search engines truly make ISS a complete course for search marketers around the world.  Each speaker and session ultimately builds on the other creating a really useful picture for advertising dos and don’ts, options in different markets, and differences among search engines.

Baidu and Google will be on the bill at ISS New York on September 28th, alongside international search marketing experts including Andy Atkins-Krüger, Bill Hunt and Michael Bonfils.

Take your global search marketing to the next level with insight, tactics and techniques to boost international performance, drive global efficiencies and develop new markets.

Early Bird Rates Apply until Saturday.


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Gemma Houghton

Gemma Houghton

Director of Marketing at Webcertain
Gemma has worked in international search marketing for over ten years and is Director of Marketing at Webcertain, overseeing all marketing activities for the Group. She also organises and programmes Webcertain's International Search Summit, a search marketing conference focusing on international and multilingual online marketing which runs across Europe and the US. Gemma holds a Professional Diploma in Marketing from the Chartered Institute of Marketing, a Diploma in Management and Leadership from the Chartered Management Institute, and a BA joint honours degree in French and German.

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