Yandex To Stop Counting Links As A Ranking Factor For Commercial Queries In Moscow

yandex-logo-200pxLeading Russian search engine Yandex is to cease attributing any ranking factor value to links for commercial queries in its Moscow regional results, it announced yesterday to an audience in Moscow thus opening the door to a world after links. Alexander Sadovsky, who is the Head of Web Search at Yandex, announced the change at the Internet Business Conference in Moscow.

Speaking to Alexander this morning he explained that this change applies only to commercial queries representing some 10% of the queries Yandex sees. “There is a lot of noise around the links signal particularly for commercial queries and especially in Russia. We see a lot of paid links and even automated paid links where there is no human actually involved. The problem with these links is they’re frequently off-topic and are effectively cheating users.”

This change will come into effect during 2014 in Moscow and potentially other regions in Russia thereafter. There are currently no plans to make any changes to Yandex search in other countries including Turkey. According to Alexander, “There is a bigger problem of spam links in Russia than elsewhere because Russia has a lot of programmers who have been turning link building into a new profession.”

The Slide Used By Alexander Sadovsky To Announce The New Algorithm Says In Russian "Without Links At All". Source: Yandex

The Slide Used By Alexander Sadovsky To Announce The New Algorithm Says In Russian “Without Links At All”. Source: Yandex

Alexander added that they’d observed a significant reduction in the value of the signal derived from links, “Three years ago the influence of links was still significant, two years ago we noticed a significant reduction and last year it became clear that links for commercial queries had dropped out of the top ten most important factors. This change is a natural continuation of that trend.”

Alexander also confirmed that Yandex has undertaken experiments with social shares and links, noting that Yandex has access to Facebook and to Twitter’s firehose, “We haven’t seen any meaningful signals for ranking from social links. So, our new algorithm will omit those too – but again don’t forget we are talking only about commercial queries.”

How Do You Replace Links? Human Behavior Of Course

As links have been such a crucial factor in search, how do you replace them when they go? The answer is user behavior and interaction with the site. Alexander again, “We’re looking at over 800 factors, but you can say that user interaction with a site has become much more important and is a much clearer and natural signal. So, for instance, we’re looking at the ease of making a purchase, ease of using the site and even how wide the range of goods on offer is from the site owners.”

Alexander wouldn’t be more precise but like Google, Yandex has its own analytics system “Metrika” which gives webmasters and Yandex a large amount of information about how users are interacting with sites and might give us a clue as to factors. In the Webvisor section of Metrika, users can record videos of individual site visits. Its promotional website says that Webvisor, “Lets you look through the eyes of your users at mouse movements, clicks, scrolling, keystrokes and completing forms as well as text selection and copying.”

How Do You Generate Rankings For A New Website Without Using Links?

But if links are no longer involved and human interaction with your site is the key, how do you generate enough user visits to a new site before it’s even begun to rank in Yandex results? Alexander believes this is easier than it might appear, “There are two important strategies to consider; firstly for major sites targeting high volume important queries – for instance in Russia this might be [buying windows for houses], the key is to generate a lot of traffic to your site using all of the marketing and normal traffic generating methods open to you – which of course also includes links from high profile blogs or relevant sites.”

Alexander Sadovsky Head Of Web Search - Yandex Thinks Spam LInks "Cheat Users"

Alexander Sadovsky Head Of Web Search – Yandex Thinks Spam Links “Cheat Users” and Use “Smoke and Mirrors.” Source: Yandex

“In the second case, for sites targeting long tail queries, they don’t need to worry as their content will bring users to their site and enable it to perform well in Yandex’s ranked results!”

Yandex launched machine learning algorithms in 2009 called Spectrum and Matrixnet. Spectrum analyses the type of query and Matrixnet is the algorithm itself and this depends on website assessors pre-defining what a quality site looks like for a typical user – then matches the algorithm factors automatically to deliver that result. Alexander confirmed that link penalties are query independent so even though this new algorithm will only apply to the commercial queries and will be neutral to links, the rankings may still be affected right now by a general link penalty.

So it seems that a future search marketing world after links will be much more focused on attractive usability and ease of transaction for users as well as ensuring the site has traffic going to it in the first place. Link building may not die after all, but the metrics will be very different and only links which drive real user traffic will have any value at all.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Link Building: General | Top News | Yandex


About The Author: is a linguist who has been specializing in international search since 1997 and is the CEO of WebCertain, the multilingual search agency and Editor-in-Chief of the blog You can follow him on Twitter here @andyatkinskruge.

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  • Andrew Perez

    Ok, simple.. All you have to do is run adwords and Facebook ads to drive traffic to your site. Make sure your site is user friendly and track user interaction. That’s it.. This will give you the traffic you need to start sending Yandex user interaction signals. I still think that ranking sites using links is much a better approach. Google is getting very good at assessing the quality of links and devaluing low quality or spammy links, and will only get better as time goes on. If Yandex has encountered problems because of spammy links (like every search engine), maybe they should get better at analyzing the links they crawl…

  • atentat

    How is Yandex planning on measuring traffic from links? Seems like bs to me!

  • Durant Imboden

    If “last year it became clear that links for commercial queries had dropped out of the top ten most important factors,” then wouldn’t it make sense to devalue links for commercial queries everywhere, not just in Moscow regional results? (Maybe this is just phase one of a larger plan?)

  • Yves Dropp

    I don’t think they’re going to at all, which is what appears to be the point of this article.

  • Yves Dropp

    I think that’s what it is. And I’m sure Google & Bing will be keeping a close eye on this.

  • nickdavison

    Seems to me they are just going to find that they have replaced link building with proxy and tracking manipulation. I doubt it will be long before auto browsing proxy powered Yandex SEO programs come out.

  • andyatkinskrueger

    What Yandex explained to me is that they will be testing this in Moscow – which the area most competitive and where most paid links exist. They will roll this out to other regions of Russia subject to testing and learning. They have no plans to roll it out beyond Russia. However, the bigger point is could this be a glimpse of a world without links – at least in the algorithm? It’s very common for search engines to adopt similar strategies over time.

  • andyatkinskrueger

    You have a point and these things are often cat and mouse – but each time the bar is lifted it gets more difficult. I suspect also that search engines can tell the difference between natural behavior on sites and faked behavior more easily than they can detect paid for or unnatural links.

  • hGn

    Seriously, we REALLY need to Alexander Sadovsky working at Google, it’s time to layoff Matt Cutts.

  • Yanus.Pro

    We’ve got first public auto-browsing system for work in Yandex since 2011

  • Сергей Нижегородцев

    Thanks for this great interview!

  • alex

    Why Yandex English doesn’t have a news section?

  • uptimizator

    Yandex has its own analytics system called Yandex.Metrika. Most of commercial websites are using it.

  • Дмитрий

    Alexander said, cpc traffic won`t change the organic user behaviour metric.

  • Дмитрий

    They might have plan, but quality of regional serps is low, without sites, promoted with links. Doorway and catalogues and federal sites will rule in regional serp this way.

  • Дмитрий

    Same time Alexander said they will penalies sites with user behaviour manipulation.
    Some years ago they penalized all the client`s sites of bdbd (that time a lider on seo market in russia), cause they used that kind of manipulation. I suppose – not a chance to play it again .

  • Дмитрий

    No office in america, no news in america))

  • james

    So, the cat and mouse game continues between search engines and SEO folks. Since you can never stop people from trying to find loopholes and going after higher rankings, I think it would be much better for search engines to stop focusing so much on stopping SEO’s. Rather they should try to find ways to show the best websites on top.

    Sometimes, the best websites for a query may have done some SEO work and it shouldn’t be a reason to penalize that site if it is a good match for a particular user query. Hope I make sense.

  • Alex Polonsky

    So Yandex is scaring Russian SEO’s out of building links, similar to how Google has done it. Make them scared to build links, and they’ll slow it down… find out who slows down, and flag them as a spammer.

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