Yandex not only continues to thrive in Russia, Russia continues to thrive in Yandex. Both Russian search engines and Russian sites in general are growing with the rapid expansion of the Russia-based and Russian-speaking web. So says Eugene Lomize who is the Director of Advertising Technology at Yandex and a recent speaker at the International Search Summit.
Russia is a large place, but most do not realize just how large. More than 11% of the world’s total land mass is Russian or roughly 17 million kilometers. That’s a lot of land, which I can confirm having flown over it and traveled on it. Flying to China from Europe, you cross barely more than half the Russian Federation—and once I had to take a taxi from a place barely half way to the Urals to Moscow—a journey of more than 5 hours. 142 million people live in Russia or 2% of the world’s population. There are also 83 federal states in the Russian Federation, 11 cities of over a million people, more than 180 different ethnic groups and nine time zones. Moscow is less than 3 hours flight from London, and yet eastern Russia is within just a few miles of Sara Palin’s Alaska. Mindboggling.
The Russian Web Is Growing Rapidly
It is no surprise that, viewed over a period of years, the number of millions of people in the Russian Federation who are using the web is growing. What is striking is that the global crisis of 2009 barely touched Russian web users. Apart from a slowing down of new users, there was no decline, and in effect the numbers of regular users actually increased. Share of the advertising market statistics provided by Yandex also demonstrate that the volume of advertising revenues spent online marginally increased during 2009, but the jumped from 6.6% to 8.9% because other channels were much more affected by the decline.
The age distribution curve at first site seems to reinforce the logic—which we have been advising clients for years—that the majority of internet users are in the big cities, such as Moscow or St. Petersburg. However, comparing the statistics over time it is clear that outlying regions are expanding their use of the web across the age ranges at a faster rate than the cities. That’s not to say that today the cities are no longer dominant; their sheer size will continue to make them an important feature of marketing to Russia for some time to come.
The Runet Isn’t Only Russia
“Runet” is a term used by Russia-watchers and by Russians themselves to refer to the world that is Russian-speaking. The above chart illustrates the fact that the Russian language is also important outside the Russian Federation itself. In addition to the 60 million Russian-speakers online within the Russian Federation there are over 25 million who speak and use Russian who live outside Russia (and a few in our office of course!). I’ve always thought it odd justifying to people that they must use local domains in Russia, namely the .ru, when the industry is talking about the Russian web as Runet.
Soon the Runet will be supplemented by the RFNet as the Cyrillic version of the .ru name—as in this domain for Yandex (Яндекс.рф) — is increasingly taken up by users. Yandex has been at the heart of the Russian web for years and has handled the Russian language much better than its competitors, which is why it took the lead in terms of search engine market share.
Russia Is Different In Many Ways, Including Browsers
The data on web browsers is normally not something particularly interesting worth showing. Mostly the debate is how Firefox is surviving against Google’s Chrome and whether Internet Explorer is managing to hold its position or not. Not in Russia. Here the discussion is around Opera, which has a share second only by 1% to Internet Explorer. For marketers, this means it’s important to ensure your website is sufficiently compatible with Opera, or you may be saying goodby to significant market success.
Russia Also Likes To Network Socially Online
Facebook has been growing its presence in many markets, such as France where it recently overtook Skyrock to become number one. Can Facebook achieve this in all markets including Russia? Statistics from comScore put Facebook in fourth place with vKontakte in first place, but those positions somewhat belie the lead vKontakte has in the marketing with almost 10 times the volume of unique visitors over Facebook at 31 million. Second is Odnoklassniki with 16 million visitors and even Mail.ru’s social networking facility MyWorld is ahead of Facebook by more than 10 million users.
Most Top Sites In Russia Are (Surprise) Russian
The most popular sites in Russia are generally Russian owned, though that’s assuming you treat Facebook.com as a non-Russian entity despite the “$200 million investment in Facebook in exchange for preferred stock, representing a 1.96 percent equity stake at a $10 billion valuation” announced by Facebook in May 2009 with the money coming from the same Russian investors who have helped fund vKontakte and Mail.ru.
That aside, it does seem that “being Russian” appeals to the Russian user with 12 out of the top 20 sites being Russian. This is almost certainly not just a question of national preference but a linguistic one. Western-built sites rarely accommodate the requirements of the Russian language successfully, which is one of the reasons Yandex itself has been so successful in Russia. Yandex built search technologies which were so much better at handling the Russian language that it has taken Google a long time to look like it is doing anything significant (ironically, as Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin is Russian by birth).
The statistics from Liveinternet.ru show that Google’s gains in the Russian market over recent years have been almost entirely due to Rambler losing share. In 2010, not only has the Russian web been thriving, but so has Yandex with a fairly substantial step up in performance versus Google which has actually declined slightly against 2009.
At the moment, it is true to say, when Russia thrives, Yandex does well too.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.