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Last week top Russian search engine Yandex launched the UK version of it's website, and according to some, looks set to be genuine competition for Google and their dominance of UK search.
At the end of last year Yandex was the fastest growing search engine in the world, ranking 8th overall, with Google at number one (Yandex saw a 94% percent growth between July 2008 and July 2009)*
So Yandex.com has been available for just over a week in the UK in it's alpha format, but according to their spokesman Ochir Mandzhikov, Yandex has been indexing foreign pages for the last two years; cataloguing a reasonable 4 billion foreign-language pages. This on it's own isn't particularly impressive for a worldwide search engine; in 2008 Google claimed they had indexed 1 trillion websites and according to Mandzhikov himself, most worldwide search engines would index around 100 billion pages.
So why then does Ochir Mandzhikov seem so confident about the launch of Yandex in the UK? And how exactly do they plan on becoming a major rival to the ever dominant Google?
For starters, many people (Mandzhikov included) don't believe that all of Google's 1 trillion indexed pages are by any means all useful or relevant. Victor Lavrenko, founder of nigma.ru (search engine), suggests that only a few tens of billions of useful sites are indexed on Google, with the rest being made up of duplicate sites, hacked sites or spam content.*
So let's get on to the Yandex.com website - my immediate impressions of Yandex are all pretty good; the homepage is reminiscent of Google's new minimalist approach (see image above) and the results are displayed in an extremely user-friendly way - the results are numbered, which is a nice little touch, and fav icons are displayed along with the results (assuming the webpage has them installed).
So how do the results returned from Yandex actually differ to Google?
First and foremost, Yandex seems to be actively penalising any kind of advertising or spam content on your website; Yandex's algorithm appears to analyse the types of banners you have on your site, using their type to determine spam content. For example, if you have any kind of pop-up banner, redirect or generally anything that abrubtly takes the user away from the site seems to be fairly heavily punished by Yandex.
This would explain why Yandex's results pages are far cleaner than Google's - the results feel far more natural; which can only be a good thing for companies that refuse to utilise 'black hat' SEO techniques. A word of warning though, i can't image that Yandex would be able to distinguish from spam content pop-ups and genuine customer service, or user competition pop-ups. If you're looking at trying to push your website up the Yandex results page, it may be worth avoiding pop ups and redirects all together.
Yandex has it's own version of Google's PageRank, called the TIC (or Thematic Citation Index). From what i can tell, it's fairly similar in that it evaluates the quantity and quality of inbound links to your site, using those figures to determine your how highly you site ranks in the TIC. It's worth noting however that Yandex completely ignores any inbound links from forums, web boards, free hosted sites and unmoderated catalogues - basically anywhere you can add a link for free without having to go through a moderator or webmaster.
Yandex appears to put far more emphasis on geographic location of sites than Google does; Yandex's algorithm utilises something called the "Arzamas These Days", which analyses your site's location by IP address, domain name and geographical content on the site (post codes, addresses, phone numbers, etc). It then provides different users with different results dependent on the searchers location. In theory, this would deliver far more relevant results back to the user.
From what i've seen so far, the search engine optimisation techniques most utilised to improve Google results will probably pay dividends on Yandex too - both sites put a huge amount of emphasis on penalising duplicate content, whilst rewarding content that is fresh and original. I'm also pretty much certain that meta information and other on-site optimisation techniques will also be fairly heavily relevant to Yandex's algorithm, just as it is with Google.
So essentially you're still looking for fresh content, lots of inbound links and of course, link relevancy. Link building as an optimisation excercise should genuinely pay off on both search engines, and as always, content is king.
I'll keep up the Yandex related posts as i learn more about it, but until then, here's a fun fact for the day:
The name Yandex comes from the phrase 'Yet Another INDEXer'. Take that Google.