Can the Yandex Leak Help You Rank?
If Yandex was unfamiliar to you before January 27th, 2023, you are most likely aware of it now. Yandex is the fourth most widely used search engine globally, used by around 1% of searchers.
A data breach occurred recently, resulting in the exposure of a section of Yandex’s source code. The SEO community finds this leak particularly intriguing as it includes the complete list of more than 2000 ranking factors allegedly linked to Yandex’s existing search algorithm.
A whopping 44GB of data allegedly leaked by a former Yandex employee revealed the intricate details of Yandex’s main products and services, from their search engines to maps, mail, disc, and cloud services. The leak, released as a torrent on the breached online forum, was said to be an act of sabotage by a rogue employee.
Although Yandex has tried to downplay the leak by claiming the code base is outdated and that their algorithms have been updated multiple times since then, their confirmation of the data leak has sent the SEO community into an unusual frenzy.
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So, how does the Yandex source code leak affect your SEO?
The Yandex source code leak is crucial since it offers the SEO world the closest view it has got till now into the inner workings of the search engine. Most search engines, including Google, keep their ranking mechanism a secret for obvious reasons – they do not want businesses to manipulate the algorithms for higher rankings as this would drastically impact search results quality and user experience.
However, when the Yandex source code leaked in January, it provided marketers with an opportunity to analyze the search ranking factors of Yandex and compare them to Google’s algorithms.
This information could be crucial for SEO professionals and marketers globally, as it provides insights to help them rank higher on various search engines that share common ranking factors.
What is Yandex, and in which countries does it have a presence?
Yandex is a search engine, and it stands for “yet another indexer.” Although it has a global presence, it largely serves Russian-speaking users. With its headquarters in Moscow and 60–65% market share in Russia, the company has offices in Europe and the US, including the famous Silicon Valley.
Though it is most popular in Russia and its neighboring countries, Yandex offers localized versions of its services in several countries such as Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Turkey,
Why is Yandex search engine in the news these days?
On January 27, 2023, a former Yandex employee leaked the Russian search engine’s source code. It’s estimated to be one of the largest data leaks in modern tech history and has caught the attention of SEO professionals everywhere.
This isn’t the first time that the search engine’s ranking secrets have been brought to light. In 2015, another rogue former employee attempted to sell the search engine’s secrets on the dark web. However, this recent leak does not seem to have a financial motive behind it. Fueled by dissent, the event has had a much greater seismic effect on the SEO community. The data wasn’t just being traded in secret; it was dumped on a public square, open for everyone to access every last detail.
Initially, only 1,922 factors were being talked about, but they were all from just one of the leaked files. The entire file dump contained more than 20,000 factors relating not just to search but also to other products and services of the company. It even revealed sensitive information about some of Yandex’s partners and associates.
Reasons why people dismiss the significance of the Yandex leak and why they may be wrong
The Yandex leak has been one of the most controversial subjects in the recent history of SEO. It has generated a mixed bag of reactions, with some people downplaying its importance, others frowning on the data breach, and many more swooping in on the treasure trove of ranking data. Here are some of the controversies threatening to derail the importance of the leak and our take on that.
1. Yandex is not Google
One can expect a stark difference between a search engine that handles about 90% of search traffic and another that handles just 1%. But Google and Yandex actually do share quite a lot of similarities. For one, you’ll find many similar top-page results for several queries on both engines.
2. It’s an outdated code repository
The primary objective of the data leak was not to reveal Yandex’s ranking secrets but to expose the censorship and misinformation on the search engine. It was meant to highlight recent developments on the search engine in light of the on-going war in Ukraine.
While the files date back to 2022, most of the content is likely to be still relevant today because they were meant to prove that Yandex is currently being used as a propaganda machine by the Russian government.
3. It’s just one of Yandex’s many code repositories
People also claim that Yandex has many code repositories, and this may not even be one of the important ones. But it isn’t very wise to dismiss the leak based on this claim as it could be the all-important repository for all we know. Even Google stores most of its source codes—over 2 billion lines of code—in a single repository.
4. Not much has changed about the fundamentals of search optimization
While there isn’t much to obsess about in the leak, it has nonetheless impacted our understanding of search algorithms and compelled many to reconsider the significance of previously known factors. The leak has upgraded many known factors from mere speculations to concrete facts.
How Does the Yandex Code Leak Impact SEOs Worldwide?
It may impact SEOs in many ways. Some of them are as follows:
- Confidential information exposure: If SEO professionals were using Yandex services and their confidential information was part of the data leak, it could impact their reputation and lead to loss of clients.
- Algorithm updates: If the data leak contained information about Yandex’s algorithms or search ranking factors, it could potentially impact the ranking of websites that have been optimized specifically for the Yandex search engine.
- Security concerns: The data leak could also raise security concerns among SEO professionals about the safety of their data and information when using third-party tools and services.
- Search engine algorithms are knowable: The source code used by search engines isn’t as mysterious as some people may have previously speculated. The Yandex leak brought into question repo practices such as Google hosting its entire code on a single file, making people wonder whether such repos can be totally secured from unauthorized access.
- Yandex isn’t that different from Google: Call it a spin off, an imitation knock off or whatever, but Yandex doesn’t seem to be that different from Google after all. Several developers have confirmed the similarities between Yandex’s code repo and what they’ve seen from reverse-engineering Google’s algorithm. It’s no wonder why search results on Google and Yandex overlap by 70%.
- Do not underestimate the value of underperforming pages: The leak also sheds light on some factors that could make seemingly underperforming pages high-value assets for SEO.
How Yandex Responded to the Data Breach News
According to Yandex news, “the contents of the archive (leaked code base) correspond to the outdated version of the repository—it differs from the current version used by our services.”
What part of this code base is actively used by Yandex is debatable.
How Significant Is Yandex Data Leak to Understand Google’s Ranking Factors?
When compared side-by-side, Yandex is nowhere near Google, but a deeper analysis reveals that they have almost the same inner workings. Both search engines have former engineers in common, use many similar open-source technologies, and attend the same conferences.
Thus, the data breach has been able to provide highly accurate insights into Google’s inner workings after a long time.
Some of the Yandex Ranking Factors Revealed After the Leak of Yandex’s Source Code
Here are some of the most interesting Yandex ranking factors that SEO professionals worldwide should know:
1. Link Age Matters
Link age refers to the age or the length of time that a specific backlink to a website has existed. In the context of search engine optimization (SEO), the age of a backlink can be an important factor that affects a website’s ranking in search engine results pages (SERPs).
2. Percentage of Organic Traffic Matters
The percentage of organic traffic can be an important metric for SEO professionals to track. Organic traffic refers to the visitors to a website who arrive via search engine results, as opposed to visitors who arrive via paid advertising or other referral sources. A higher percentage of organic traffic can indicate that a website has a strong search engine visibility and is attracting visitors through its relevance and authority on a particular topic. This, in turn, can positively impact a website’s overall traffic, lead generation, and conversion rates.
3. Returning Users Could Give You a Boost
Returning users can have a positive impact on a website’s search ranking, but it was never considered a direct ranking factor for search engines like Google or Yandex. The Yandex code leak exposed the fact that it’s a crucial ranking factor for Yandex and possibly could be one for Google as well. Returning users can indicate that a website is providing a valuable user experience, which can increase the likelihood that visitors will spend more time on the site, interact with its content, and share it with others. These engagement factors can be indirect indicators of a website’s relevance and authority on a particular topic, which can positively impact its ranking in search results.
4. Numbers and Lots of Slashes in URLs Are Negative Factors
The presence of numbers and slashes in URLs can have a negative impact on a website’s search engine optimization (SEO) in some cases. This is because search engines use URLs as a way to understand the structure and hierarchy of a website’s content. URLs that contain a lot of numbers or slashes can appear spammy and make it difficult for search engines to comprehend the content of a page. This can negatively impact a website’s ranking in search results and make it more difficult for users to find the page they’re looking for.
However, it’s important to note that numbers and slashes in URLs are not necessarily negative factors, and their impact can depend on the context and usage. For example, if a URL contains a date, such as “/2022/12/31,” it can help search engines understand the timeliness of the content and improve its importance for certain search queries.
Key Takeaway: SEO professionals should aim to create clean, descriptive, and easy-to-understand URLs that accurately reflect the content and layout of a website. This can help search engines better understand the website and improve its ranking in search results.
5. Average Domain Ranking Across All Queries Matters
Average domain ranking across all queries is a metric used in search engine optimization (SEO) to measure the overall visibility and ranking of a particular website in search engine results pages (SERPs). The average domain ranking is calculated by averaging the ranking positions of a website for a number of keywords or phrases.
For instance, if a website has a high average domain ranking, it indicates that the website is ranking well for a number of keywords, which can be a positive sign for the website’s overall SEO performance.
On the other hand, if a website has a low average domain ranking, it may indicate that the website is not ranking well for many keywords, which could be a sign that the website’s SEO strategy needs some modifications.
Also, remove old, irrelevant content that is ranking poorly. It might reduce your average domain ranking.
6. Internal Linking Is a Ranking Factor
Considering the latest data, orphaned pages are going to have a harder time ranking, so consider internal linking. According to the data leaks, it’s one of the significant ranking factors. Ensure that your main pages can be accessed within one click of the homepage. You can easily find them via Screaming Frog or other crawlers.
7. Links and Mentions on Wikipedia Boosts Your Rankings
According to the Yandex ranking factors leak, Wikipedia is a ranking factor. Similarly, getting traffic from Wikipedia is also a prominent ranking factor.
8. Users Bookmarking Your Page May Boost Your Rankings
Users bookmarking your page is considered a trivial thing, but surprisingly, search engines consider it a prominent ranking signal.
10. Embedded Videos Can Improve Your Search Engine Rankings
Apparently, Yandex likes embedded videos, thus it may as well be true for Google also. However, they shouldn’t be broken, or else, they might end up decreasing your rankings.
11. User Behavior Matters
A lot of ranking factors connected with user behavior such as CTR, last-click, time on site, and bounce rate are taken into account by Yandex as ranking factors.
12. Content Freshness Matters
Document age and last update both are considered valuable ranking factors, according to the revealed code of Yandex. Make sure you update your content frequently.
You can also read our blog related to the freshness factor for a successful website
13. Short-Video Links Matter
There are special ranking factors for short video links such as TikTok, YouTube shorts, and Instagram reels.
14. “Keywords in URL” Is a Ranking Factor
The keyword optimized URLs rank better than those without them. The optimal volume would be up to three words from the search query.
15. Percentage of Direct Traffic Is also a Ranking Factor
If all your traffic comes from organic search, it seems suspicious to the search engine. Additionally, it’s a bad signal for rankings. Some of your traffic must come from direct searches and social media as well.
16. Ratio of “Good” vs “Bad” Backlinks Is a Yandex Ranking Factor
Bad backlinks are hated by search engines. Unfortunately, it’s not yet clear what exactly they mean by “good” backlink. However, irrelevant, spammy, unrelated, and links coming from low domain authority websites are typically considered bad.
17. The Volume of Advertisements on the Web Page Is a Ranking Factor
More advertisements on your landing page can be disastrous for your website rankings. The less is better.
18. The Quality of Content on the Domain Is a Ranking Factor
Pages with low quality content affect the entire domain and not just the page. Thus, you should remove low quality content as soon as possible.
19. Is Your Website Hosted on Reliable Servers
Yes, search engines also give emphasis on your hosting partner. Hosting on unreliable servers may lead to frequent downtimes etc.
20. Pay Attention to Capitalization in the Title
According to the leaked document, the percentage of capital letters in the title is a ranking factor. So, use capitalization in your titles and subheadings.
21. Do You Have a Verified Social Account
Verified accounts on social networks rank higher on Yandex. During brand searches, search engines look for only your domains + verified social networks to rank your brand in the top 10.
22. Backlinks From High PageRank Websites Boost Your Rankings
Backlinks from the top 100 best websites indexed according to their PageRank boost your rankings.
23. Yandex Uses YMYL as a Ranking Factor
YMYL (Your Money, Your Life) is widely used within Google and it’s also practiced by Yandex. Thus, the search engines give weightage to “expert advice” as a ranking factor for medical, legal, and financial content.
24. 404/5XX Errors Are Frowned Upon by Yandex
You should perform frequent audits to do away with 404/5xx errors. Yandex is serious about such issues on your website.
25. Having Google Analytics on the Site Is a Ranking Factor
Don’t forget to include Google Analytics on the site. It’s always considered a ranking factor.
26. Crawl Depth Is a Ranking Factor
The term “crawl depth” in the website context indicates the degree to which search engines include the site’s content in their index. A site that has a high crawl depth will have more of its content indexed compared to a site with a low crawl depth.
27. Top pages need to be closer to the main page
Your important pages should be one or two clicks away from your home page. This demonstrates a better-organized inbound link structure, which signals better user experience.
28. Searchers ending their search on your site is a great ranking factor
Whenever your website is the last stop for searchers, it further proves the authority and relevance of your site.
29. There’s a word count formula for every query
Search algorithms also weigh the value of content based on a formula that determines the appropriate word count for every query.
30. Your wordings in general are a huge ranking factor
Search engines also measure the relevance of a page by assessing the wordings in general – that is words taken out of their context and sentence structures. In other words, there are certain words that search bots expect to find on relevant pages.
31. Personalization matters
The local search trend is also driving a move towards personalization. Search engines want to make sure that returned results are most accurate for the location, preferences (based on search history), and other unique attributes of the searcher.
There are many more ranking factors that the leaked code revealed, but none of this is guaranteed to be important to Google’s algorithms.
However, it sheds light on how search works today and how marketers can use these insights to create quality content for their audiences and search engines too.
But it has certainly given us all a lot to think about, both in terms of how search works today and how marketers should create content for their audiences (and for search engines, even when we don’t want to admit it).
These signals are true for Yandex as per the leaked code, but are they true for Google as well? Well, a Twitter user named Alex Buraks, who is the Head of Growth at Discover Cars, claims that most algorithms are the same to a great extent because both use RankBrain, analogue MatrixNet, PageRank, and lots of text algorithms.
So, is the Yandex leak a crucial event for SEO? What we can confidently say is that Yandex as a search engine is not Google’s clone. In its approach, the Yandex algorithm is far behind Google. However, it has given SEO professionals and business owners insights into the specific factors that Yandex considers when ranking websites.
This information can be used to optimise websites for better rankings on Yandex and other search engines, including Google, to potentially improve their visibility in search results.