Unique international trends require a unique marketing approach

It’s that time of the year! That time of year when we all agonizingly optimize for holiday shopping behavior, do our best to navigate complicated family dynamics and read countless end-of-year lists.

SEL reporter Amy Gesenhues recently summarized the annual release of Google’s “Year in Search” for 2017, and there were some interesting takeaways. (Not the least of which was that the “Malika Haqq and Ronnie Magro” query didn’t make the Top 10 Searches Overall list — admittedly, I have no idea who those people are, but their names sure are fun to say!)

Lists of this nature are intended to be simple, fun, and (to be candid) easy press hits. But there’s actually an important and applicable lesson to be distilled here, too. These “Year in Search” lists are representative of the searching populace; the lists communicate the interests of the collective audience. There certainly was no shortage of compelling stories in 2017, but the subjects included in Gesenhues’s piece are what drove the most engagement in this country.

Of course, as digital marketers, we’re obsessed with targeting and often dismiss any characteristics of the “collective audience” as irrelevant to our sophisticated efforts. But in fact, the clear message that this peek-into-the-collective communicates is the value of targeting.

Yandex, Russia’s leading search engine (and my employer), recently released its own version of the “Year in Search” — and there is very little overlap with Google’s. This may not be shocking to you, but if it’s common knowledge that the trends in one market may be vastly different than those in another, then why do so many advertisers apply the same approach across markets?

More and more American companies are expanding their target audiences to incorporate the international consumer. Of course, there are more potential customers outside of the US than within, so the allure is understandable. But each international market is unique, and your marketing strategies need to reflect the differences.

Below is Yandex’s 2017 Year in Search. Don’t forget to compare with Google’s list here!

Events

    St. Petersburg metro terrorist attackBlue Whale Game and social network death groups“Matilda” film scandalIntroduction of fines for vehicles lacking a studded-tire signAnti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) activitiesCoxsackievirus in TurkeySevere storm in MoscowRelics of St. Nicholas in MoscowRohingya persecution in MyanmarOpening of Zaryadye Park in Moscow

Men

    Dima BilanAndrey MalakhovArmen DzhigarkhanyanКirill SerebrennikovFace (Ivan Dryomin)Anatoliy PashininEmmanuel MacronYuri DudVladimir KuzminDmitry Borisov

Women

    Maria MaksakovaYuliya SamoylovaDiana ShuryginaDana BorisovaAnastasia VolochkovaAnastasia ShubskayaRavshana KurkovaNatalia ShkulevaTatiana TarasovaBrigitte Macron

Things and Phenomena

    CryptocurrencyFidget SpinneriPhone XSamsung Galaxy S8iPhone 8Yandex’s AI assistant AliceRap battlesUpdated Nokia 3310BlockchainNew 200 and 2,000 rouble notes

Sports

    Ice hockey World ChampionshipConfederations CupRussian Football ChampionshipMayweather vs. McGregor fightKontinental Hockey League ChampionshipChampions LeagueEmelianenko vs. Mitrione fightWorld Cup 2018Russia-Spain matchRussia-Portugal match

Films

    ItDespicable Me 3Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2VikingPirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No TalesThe Last WarriorThe Fate of the FuriousTransformers: The Last KnightAttractionSpider-Man: Homecoming

Foreign TV Series

    Game of ThronesGrechankaSherlockRiverdaleThe Walking DeadSupernaturalSkamTabooThe FlashTwin Peaks

Memes

    Eshkere (“Esketit”)Zhdun (“The one who waits”)Eto fiasko, bratan (“This is a fiasco, bro”)Cevapcici Na donyshke (“Just a little”) Easy-easy, real talk, think about itTak, blyat (“What the!!!”)HypeVinishko-tyan (term used for a hipster-like youth subculture)Ave Maria! Deus Vult!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Yandex upgrades search algorithm to better understand user searches

Yandex, Russia’s largest search engine, announced they have transitioned to an upgraded search platform named “Korolyov.”

Named after a Russian satellite town northeast of Moscow that has long served as the center of Russia’s space exploration, Korolyov adds two major upgrades above the Palekh system which was launched last November.

Korolyov matches the meaning of a search query to all of the content of a web page. Palekh only looked at headlines.Yandex applies Korolyov to a far greater number of pages than Palekh (200,000 vs. 150 per search query).

Palekh was Yandex’s attempt at Google’s RankBrain, and now Korolyov makes it a lot better. The new version of the algorithm is meant to better understand user intent and handle long-tail queries.

The press release explains:

First, “Korolyov” is better at understanding user intent than its predecessor because it examines the entirety of web pages rather than just their headlines. Second, “Korolyov” can scale to analyze a thousand times more documents in real time than “Palekh.”

Like all modern AI-based systems, “Korolyov” improves itself with each incremental data point. Yandex’s position as the largest search engine in Russia creates a positive feedback loop for our deep neural network algorithm, which leads to superior search results for our users.

To me, the interesting point was that the previous version, Palekh, only looked at the headlines of the pages and not the full content of the pages. That has now changed with this upgrade.

Yandex also announced that data from Yandex.Toloka, a mass-scale crowd-sourced platform, will now be fed into Yandex MatrixNet, the company’s proprietary algorithm, along with anonymized feedback data. Yandex uses Yandex.Toloka to have humans analyze and evaluate web content, feeding that data back to train the machine-learning algorithm. It is available at https://toloka.yandex.com/.

Yandex reports 22% YoY increase in revenue for Q4 2016

Yandex earned $364.7 million — or, 22.1 billion rubles — during the last quarter of 2016. According to its recently released Q4 2016 earnings report, the Russian search engine saw a 22 percent year-over-year increase in revenue compared to Q4 2015.

For the year, Yandex brought in $1.2 billion in revenue (RUB 75.9B), up 27 percent over 2017 — but net income was down 30 percent at $111.8 million (RUB 6.8 billion).

“We were pleased with the strong growth in Q4, especially given tough comparisons with last year,” says Yandex COO Alexander Shulgin. The COO noted Yandex.Taxi as a “real highlight” during the company’s year, with the online taxi booking service ride volume up over 400 percent compared to the last quarter of 2015.

“Based on the potential we see in Taxi, E-commerce and Classifieds, we will continue to invest for growth in 2017,” says Shulgin.

As Russia’s largest search engine, the company says it averaged a 55.4 percent share of the Russian search market during Q4, with search queries up three percent year-over-year compared to Q4 2015.

Yandex’s search ad business was up as well. Paid clicks on the search engine and its partners’ websites grew 12 percent year over year. Online ad revenues were up 20 percent during the last quarter of the year compared to Q4 2015 and accounted for 95 percent of the company’s total revenue.

Here’s a breakdown of Yandex’s online ad revenue for Q4 2016:

Shulgin also commented on the company’s commitment to its technology stack.

“Our deep experience with AI and machine learning is enabling us to make significant advancements in advertising technologies and continually enhance user experience,” said the COO, noting that revenue growth in 2016 was driven by Yandex’s improvements to macro conditions and continued innovation.

Yandex launches new algorithm named Palekh to improve search results for long-tail queries

Yandex announced on their Russian blog that they have launched a new algorithm aimed at improving how they handle long-tail queries. The new algorithm is named Palekh, which is the name of a world-famous Russian city that has a firebird on its coat of arms.

The firebird has a long tail, and Yandex, the largest Russian search engine, used that as code name for long-tail queries. Long-tail queries are several words entered into the search box, more often seen in voice queries these days. Yandex says about 100 million queries per day fall under the “long-tail” classification within their search engine.

The Palekh algorithm allows Yandex to understand the meaning behind every query, and not just look for similar words. Which reminds me of Google RankBrain. I asked Yandex if it is similar to Google’s RankBrain, and they said they “don’t know exactly what’s the technology behind Google’s RankBrain, although these technologies do look quite similar.”

Yandex’s Palekh algorithm has started to use neural networks as one of 1,500 factors of ranking. A Yandex spokesperson told us they have “managed to teach our neural networks to see the connections between a query and a document even if they don’t contain common words.” They did this by “converting the words from billions of search queries into numbers (with groups of 300 each) and putting them in 300-dimensional space — now every document has its own vector in that space,” they told us. “If the numbers of a query and numbers of a document are near each other in that space, then the result is relevant,” they added.

When I asked if they are using machine learning, Yandex said they do use machine learning and explained that they teach their “neural network based on these queries will lead to some advancements in answering conversational based queries in the future.” Adding that they “also have many targets (long click prediction, CTR, “click or not click” models and so on) that are teaching our neural network — our research has showed that using more targets is more effective.”

Yandex updates their version of PageRank named Thematic Index of Citation (TIC)

Yandex announced in Russian that they have updated their calculations and metrics they use for their thematic index of citations (TIC). The blog post is in Russian, but using Google Translate, Yandex wrote there were some “serious changes” made to that algorithm to “clean reference signal mechanisms.” They said they “excluded many outdated figures” “from the calculation algorithm.”

TIC is Yandex’s version of Google PageRank. Yandex’s help document on TIC describes it as:

Thematic Citation Index (TIC) determines the “credibility” of internet resources based on a qualitative assessment of links to other sites. The greater the quality the more “weight” the link is said to have. This indicator is calculated by a specially developed algorithm. The similarity in content between the source and the site to which it links, plays an important part in this equation. The number of links to a specific site also influences the TIC value, but the TIC is not ultimately defined by the quantity of links, but the total of their weights.

The Russian Search Tips blog explained, “TIC is an equivalent of Google PageRank, but unlike PageRank, TIC still gets regular updates and gives quite replicable indication about website’s authority.” That means that although Google killed Toolbar PageRank, Yandex still shows their scores to webmasters.

Russian webmasters have noticed their scores changed yesterday. The Russian Search Tips blog added, “The main changes in the TIC calculation formula concern inbound link-based signals, which is in line with the latest changes in Yandex search algorithm.”

Yandex is the largest search engine in Russia. With about 60 percent market share in that country, it is the fourth-largest search engine worldwide.

Yandex Rolls Out Mobile-Friendly Algorithm In Russia, Code Name Vladivostok

Yandex has told us they have rolled out their mobile-friendly ranking algorithm for their Russian index today. They code-named this update Vladivostok, the name of the largest city in the Russian Far East, where the share of mobile internet users is the largest compared to other regions in Russia.

A Yandex spokesperson told us that the new mobile-friendly algorithm is currently available only in Russia but will be available to searchers in Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Turkey in the coming few months.

In November 2015, Yandex began labeling mobile-friendly pages in their index with the goal to release this new algorithm.

This doesn’t mean Yandex will remove pages that are not mobile-friendly, but they may not rank them as high as mobile-friendly pages for mobile searchers.

“Vladivostok implementation doesn’t mean web pages not optimized for mobile experience will now disappear from search results, but their position on SERPS may differ depending on whether the user search[es] on their mobile or desktop,” they told us. They added, “although mobile compatibility is only one of 800 of ranking factors, the needs of our users is our top priority. We want to make sure it’s easy for them to interact with the webpages we deliver on any device.”

How does Yandex define what is mobile-friendly? It doesn’t differ much from Google or Bing’s interpretation:

A mobile-friendly webpage is a webpage whose content (text, images, etc.) fits the small screen, features vertical, rather than horizontal, scrolling, and is accessible on mobile devices (Java applets, Flash and Silverlight plug-ins are not supported by most of mobile browsers). Flash Video media files, for instance, cannot appear in search results on the mobile version of Yandex’s video search and hosting service, Yandex.Video, which only supports the HTML5 format.

Webmasters can test their pages in the Yandex Webmaster portal to see if they are mobile-friendly.

Bing just rolled out their mobile-friendly testing tool last year but had the mobile-friendly label for some time. Google released their mobile tool almost two years ago, with the mobile-friendly label.

Yandex To Notify Webmasters Over Violations Of Their Webmaster Guidelines

Yandex, the Russian search engine, has been busy, as Anna Oshkalo from the Russian Search Tips blog reports. Now, Yandex says they will warn webmasters and SEOs when they violate their webmaster guidelines — similar to Google’s manual actions notifications.

The warnings that Yandex will give webmasters include these penalty notifications:

Buying SEO links (aka Minusinsk penalty)Selling SEO links (aka AGS penalty)Artificially inflating behavioral factorsThin affiliate pagesKeyword stuffingHidden text

Anna also provided screen shots of what the notification looks like. For example, here is a screen shot of a website without a penalty:

Here is a screen shot of a site with a link penalty:

Yandex, Russian-Based Search Engine, Adds Mobile-Friendly Label To Search Results

Yandex has added the mobile-friendly label to their mobile search results, for pages that meet their mobile-friendly criteria.

The Russian Search Tips blog reported on the change, saying Yandex announced it in Russian and now, mobile-friendly web sites will show the label.

Here is a picture of the label:

Yandex told me that this currently “does not influence on ranking at the moment” but that may change over the next several months. Yandex will let us know when it does change.

They also released a mobile-friendly diagnostic tool so webmasters can check to see if their sites are mobile-friendly. If they are not, the tool will offer advice on what changes to make to be mobile- friendly. Yandex contacted me to inform me that it only checks webpages, not the whole web-sites.

Here is a screen shot of that tool:

Earlier this week, Yandex told webmasters to stop blocking JS and CSS. I assume that notice was aimed at Yandex being able to detect better if a site is mobile-friendly or not, among other things.

Bing just recently rolled out their mobile -riendly testing tool, but had the mobile-friendly label for some time. Google released their mobile tool a year or so ago, with the mobile-friendly label.

Yandex, The Popular Russian Search Engine, Begins Crawling JavaScript & CSS

Yandex, the large Russian search engine, announced (in Russian) that they are now crawling, as a test, through CSS and JavaScript files. The purpose is for Yandex to better understand web pages and the content on those web pages that are designed for more modern browsers. They are starting to test this crawl process on a small subset of known pages, but they plan to expand it later to a larger set of the index.

Because of this effort, Yandex is informing webmasters to make sure their CSS and JavaScript files are not blocking the Yandex crawler. In the same way, Google and Bing have recommended you do not block their bots from crawling your CSS and JavaScript files and resources.

The Russian Search blog summarized this also in English, since they speak fluent Russian, and I do not. They added, “this change in Yandex’s indexing routines can possibly have effects on Yandex SEO, at least in the long run.”

Russian Regulators Give Google November Deadline To Change Android Contracts

The Federal Antimonopoly Service of the Russian Federation (FAS) told Google it has until November 18 to address a finding that it violated Russian competition law. FAS agreed with Yandex, which had complained that Google was in violation by requiring phone makers to pre-install selected Google apps on Android as a condition of gaining access to the Google Play store.

FAS also said the Google contracts included a ban on any pre-installation of competitive applications from other companies, such as Yandex.

The regulatory investigation was initiated in February after the Yandex complaint. The decision was handed down a couple of weeks ago. While Yandex is the dominant PC search engine, Android has a roughly 80 percent market share in Russia.

TechCrunch obtained a statement from Yandex, which celebrated the FAS ruling. Below is an excerpt of that Yandex statement:

Our goal is to return fair play to the market — when apps are preinstalled on mobile devices based on how good or how popular they are rather than due to restrictions imposed by the owner of the operating system. The fact that such restrictions have continually been tightening, led us to filing a request for investigation with Russia’s Antimonopoly Service.

Yandex and Google alike understand the needs of web users, and they both know how to provide a top-notch service. Professional competence of Google Russia’s team is beyond doubt, but why use restrictions or ban competition if one truly believes in the quality of their product?

There’s a comparable investigation into Android requirements in Europe, and the US FTC recently announced it will also reexamine Google’s app pre-installation rules. I strongly suspect we’ll eventually see a similar outcome in Europe (if not the US, as well), seeking to uncouple hardware OEM access to Google Play from any required Google app installation and placement.