Andrew Raso March 5, 2023

While you may use Google as a term almost interchangeably with just the generic ‘search engine’, there are regions where it doesn’t enjoy the incredible market penetration we take for granted. Take for example Russia. Yandex is by far its biggest search engine, with over 62% of the market share, compared with Google’s 37%. 

The Yandex search engine may not be used in Western countries like the UK, the US and Australia, but its recent data leak still offers keen SEO experts a chance to examine how huge search engines use ranking factors, and what that might mean for search engine optimisation best practices going forward.

What happened in the Yandex data leak?

In January 2023, a Yandex leak released 44 GB of data into the hands of the public. That’s a fairly huge chunk of information from the world’s fourth-largest search engine. Initially, the leak appeared to contain just shy of 2,000 of the ranking factors Yandex uses or had used, with 64% of these listed as being superseded and best avoided. 

However, further digging by people in the SEO community revealed files containing around 17,800 ranking factors hidden within a kernel. Like Google, Yandex is public about algorithm changes and updates, like its Vega update from the last two years, which doubled the size of its index. However, following these public announcements and getting to see the actual codebase are two very different things, and being offered the chance to compare the two allows SEO practitioners to both confirm things we already knew, and gain new learnings. 

What is Yandex

As we’ve mentioned, Yandex is by far the biggest search engine in Russia, and it also has a presence in Türkiye, Georgia and Kazakhstan. In 2015, they experienced another data leak by a disgruntled former employee, and it seems that this more recent 2023 leak may again be the actions of a rogue employee, perhaps one who was politically motivated. 

It’s a home-grown Russian company, and it seems that Russians prefer to use their local search engine over international competitors. Just like Google or Bing, it also offers a number of other services like Maps, Mail, Metrika (for web analytics), Disc (a remote storage solution), and Cloud.   

What are ranking factors

As the name suggests, ranking factors are the on-page, technical and other elements that a search engine takes into account when deciding how to preference its search results. As you might imagine, these are a lot more complex than just mentioning a relevant keyword a few times on a page. With the insights the Yandex leak offers, there’s a chance to see which of the ranking factors we’ve known about are still in use, and whether there are new ones for marketers and SEO experts to watch.   

SEO ranking factors

So far, here are some of the ranking factors we know that Yandex and other search engines use to determine a site’s overall rank within its results pages. 

  • PageRank — One of the oldest and most fundamental ranking factors out there, page rank has improved in terms of sophistication, but essentially it uses internal and external links, which are assessed for quantity and quality, to determine a page’s authority and trustworthiness. 
  • Relevance of text — This is maybe the ranking factor we’re all the most familiar with. Search engines comb through text to assess its relevance to a particular keyword query. 
  • URL construction — Including domain directories, length and overall legibility.
  • Click depth — This metric tracks a user’s journey through your site by number of clicks, to see how engaged they are with the content.
  • CTR and manipulating clicks — CTR or click-through rate and click manipulation is an SEO strategy designed to increase your rate. Yandex is aware of the practice, and it seems they are actively penalising sites for using it. 
  • YMYL — This acronym stands for ‘Your Money or Your Life’. It refers to content around serious subject matter, like medical information or financial advice, and search engines have specific factors they use to decide what content is most beneficial to users’ livelihoods. 
  • Traffic and user behaviour — The amount of visitors from desktop and mobile, their length of stay and your number of unique visitors all remain crucial ranking factors
  • Backlinks — Also a victim of link manipulation, backlinks are being assessed for their relevance, quality of course and age. 

Are there good insights for SEO professionals? 

Getting an inside look at a tech giant’s code base for their search engine does give SEO buffs a chance to examine in detail the ranking factors that are probably in current use, and think about how these factors should inform our view of what is SEO best practice. Shady tactics like click manipulation and other quick and dirty SEO strategies continue to be caught and penalised by search engines, and that’s perhaps the biggest learning here.  

As people within the SEO community continue to comb through the data we’ll no doubt get more updates about what secrets the Yandex leak holds, but for now, there are no major revelations that would turn current SEO know-how on its head.

About the Author

Andrew Raso

Propel your Business Today.

Get a free custom strategy session worth over $4000 full of invaluable insights to propel your business to new heights.

Get your $4000 Digital Strategy Audit Free Now

What are you waiting for?