Onsite optimization for Yandex SEO

Companies that enter the Russian market sooner or later realize the importance of Yandex as a channel for their digital marketing. While it is quite easy to get help with PPC from the Yandex team, organic ranking formula can be hard to crack for marketers, who come from Google SEO world. This article talks about basic onsite optimization for Yandex emphasizing main differences between Google and Yandex.

Content quality

Yandex is very fond of content; the quality of content is much more important for Yandex than for Google.ru. A lot of international brands that do not invest enough effort in localization and proper keyword research, see poor results in Yandex organic search becoming victims of numerous filters for low quality content. A website can lose positions or, even worse, be excluded from search index for over-optimized / keyword-stuffed copy, machine translated texts and excessive amount of pages with thin content.

It is very important to understand that if your flagship .com site is very strong in Google and pulls up all the other international versions in local markets, its authority will not help ranking better in Yandex. Yandex will evaluate the Russian site as a separate entity, assess the quality of its content and rank the site accordingly.

Production of good content is costly and time-consuming and every site owner will eventually notice that there is a lot of copy-pasting and content scraping going on in the Russian Internet. This can be very problematic, especially for newly launched sites, as scraper sites might start ranking higher than the originals due to their age and higher trust and result into duplicate content and hence indexing problems for the content creator. To avoid these unpleasant situations, I strongly recommend submitting all content via Unique Texts tool in Yandex.Webmaster before publishing it on the web.


Content quantity

In order to rank better in Yandex, pages need to contain substantial amount of text. Pages with thin content (e.g. product pages with very short descriptions, lists of items or links etc.) are most likely to be excluded from search index. Yandex is very harsh towards low quality content, so starting up a Russian website it is better to focus on quality of content rather than on its quantity.

URL structure

Best practices for URL structure for Yandex are not much different from those for Google: URLs should be unique for each page, preferably static, and contain important for the page keywords. Pages with very long URLs might face indexing issues.

I often get a question if Cyrillic URLs are better for Yandex SEO. The truth is, Yandex is very good at understanding searches, and whether the search query is entered in Cyrillic or transliterated (Russian words written in Latin characters), the search engine will understand it give similar answers for both spelling variations.


This also means that the search engine will understand the meaning of the URL in both Cyrillic and Latin. Cyrillic URLs are more user-friendly, however some content management systems are known to have problems with Cyrillic characters in page addresses.

Image optimization

ALT tags should be filled in for all images. Even though the content of ALT tag does not have significant effect on rankings, it will help the images to rank in Yandex image search, which can bring additional relevant traffic to the website.

Meta tags

Meta tags are an important part of onsite optimization for both Yandex and Google, but the best practices are slightly different, and knowing them will help writing meta tags that are effective for both search engines.

Yandex take into consideration the following meta tags:

Title tag: title tag needs to be unique for all pages, and contain important for the page keywords. Generally, Yandex allows slightly longer titles than Google – up to 70 characters – however I recommend keeping the title tag at maximum 60 characters so that it looks good in both Google and Yandex.

Meta Description: Meta Description should also contain selected for the page keywords and describe the content of the page in the best possible way. Keep in mind that Yandex much more often than Google neglects the content of Meta Description tag in the SERP snippets and often show a part of page copy that seems more relevant to the search query (yet another reason to write high quality page copy!). Recommended length for Meta Description is 150-160 characters.

Meta Keywords: Meta Keywords tag still has some importance for Yandex, although very minor. It is recommended to fill in Meta Keywords tag with 4-5 keywords that are most relevant for the page.

Canonical tag

Yandex support canonical tag, however in a slightly different way than Google.

First of all, cross-domain canonicalization is not supported.

Second, a common practice of adding canonical tag to each page on the site making the page canonical to itself, can result into indexing issues in Yandex.


Usability aspects

Since 2011 Yandex has been taking usability into consideration when ranking websites. What usability means for them is, of course, not 100% clear, but some of the known metrics are:

– Click-through rate from the SERPs

– Bounce rate back to the SERPs

– Time spent on site

For commercial sites factors such as wide range of products, competitive prices, clearly visible contact information and convenient product search also play a role and can positively influence their rankings.

Domain age

Domain age is a very important for Yandex factor. Some SEOs in Russia even believe that Yandex applies a so-called “Sandbox” filter to all websites that are younger than one year, which does not let these sites rank too high. Whether it is true or not, only Yandex web search team can tell, but the fact is that newly launched site do have difficulties to rank high for competitive terms. This should by no means discourage you though – working with long tail keywords and creating high quality content can pay off already at a very early stage. Ranking for highly competitive terms will take time, just like in Google, but it is of course achievable with a smart SEO strategy.