Rapidly-changing global markets and growing ecommerce opportunities in emerging economies are the reason so many businesses make the decision to expand their international presence online. For highly developed and saturated Internet markets such as the U.S. (79 percent), the United Kingdom (84 percent) or Germany, Russia represents a natural opportunity as Europe’s largest and fastest growing online audience. With 70-plus million Internet users already, Otkritie Capital Research reports that Russia’s Internet penetration rate is only around 50 percent but is projected to reach 80 percent by 2015.
An even more optimistic 2013 report from Morgan Stanley forecasts Russia to become one of the most dynamic ecommerce markets worldwide. Despite the risks of the historically volatile Russian economy and government involvement, Russia’s ecommerce is looking at a projected compound annual growth round of 35 percent. Expect a rapid shift of advertising budgets online and further monetization of the search marketing sector as Russia’s ecommerce market steadily marches toward an estimated $72B by 2020.
Why Yandex? Where Is Google?
The key beneficiary of these strong projections in the Russian digital space is Yandex – the leading search engine and number one online destination for Russians. According to a recent AlphaWise survey from Morgan Stanley, the vast majority of Russian online shoppers (87 percent) use search engines to research product information and compare prices. Enjoying 61 percent of Russian ecommerce search traffic, Yandex leads Google (36 percent) as the predominant search engine used prior to consumer purchases, both online and offline. With a resume like that, it is no surprise that Yandex has also become Russia’s leading online advertising platform.
The following are the most important factors search marketers should consider when building their visibility strategy for Yandex.
1. The Easy Part Is in English
In many ways, optimizing your pages for the Russian audience should be very similar to the standard SEO practices of creating quality websites, notes Preston Carey, Yandex’s Director of Business Development in the US. As long as you follow white hat SEO practices, build quality links and stay away from spam and things like link farms, your web site should have no trouble getting indexed and ranked by Yandex.
In the last couple of years, Yandex has dramatically decreased SEO pressure by introducing multiple safeguards to evaluate commercial sites. Now the ranking algorithm for the top business search results rewards fast loading, secure commercial sites with quality content.
Take a look at these general criteria originally released by Yandex at a Moscow conference in November 2011:
New priority in SERPs for commercial subjects
- Assortment of products sold: the variety of product lines produced by a company or stocked by a retailer
- User trust in the site and company
- Ease of navigation and use for product/service selection
QUALITY OF SERVICE
- Convenience, speed, and usability of the checkout process, variety of payment and delivery methods
- Quality in website design
(Source: “SEO optimization & Site Promotion on the Internet” conf., Moscow, Nov. 2011)
You can see that most of these guidelines are very straightforward and mostly focus on penalizing low-quality commercial sites. If your site has no issues with intrusive ads, contains valid code and provides easy access to the services/product pages, you should have no problem meeting these criteria.
More good news — Yandex Webmaster tools, advertising, analytics, and directories information can now be accessed in English with easy electronic payment options for those interested in paid search and contextual ads. “Be sure to check your Yandex Webmaster account regularly and pay attention to what we are doing to help you uncover and iron out any errors that might prevent your site from being properly indexed by Yandex,” recommends Carey.
It is important to remember that even if you are not required to understand Russian when purchasing advertising, reviewing traffic stats or checking your site’s indexing status, you’ll need to work directly with a native speaker any time you deal with content. This is pretty much where the easy part ends and the hard work begins.
2. Hard Work: How Local Does It Get?
In an ideal world, translating your site into the local language is a must to be able to compete, earn traffic and ultimately be successful in any foreign country. However, if the investment of translating the whole site is a budgetary no-go, you may consider translating just the landing pages plus any critical pages that take your prospects to the bottom of the sales funnel, recommends Carey.
Russia is one of the few countries where online shoppers tend to heavily rely on their native language when searching for imported products or services and using descriptive attributes, such as color, features and calls to action. Therefore, carefully localized keyword research can yield impressive results and maximize the returns on your translating investment. Be sure to use the Yandex keyword research tool Wordstat to help pick the right keywords for the region you are interested in.
Another important thing to consider is that unlike most major countries in Europe, approaching Russia as a whole may simply not work. Carey points out that the majority of traffic on Yandex comes from Moscow and St. Petersburg. Higher disposable incomes and well-established postal, supply chain and logistics infrastructure in these two hubs account for the lion’s share of Russia’s ecommerce sales. According to Morgan Stanley, the two cities will be able to sustain ecommerce sales growth of 30 percent through 2020 (compared to other regions which will grow at 20 percent).
In a country with nine time zones, this is a very important factor to consider when working on your search marketing and advertising strategy. If your products or services are mostly targeting the local hubs, such as Moscow and St. Petersburg, you will need to make sure your content or your search engine ads are geo-targeting those regions. “For paid advertising, we recommend people take a look at Moscow and St. Petersburg as their first step into the country. Be sure to geo-target your ads to those specific regions. Otherwise, you may run the risk of blowing through your daily PPC budget in cities like Vladivostok on the East coast of Russia before your target audience starts to wake up.” Yandex advertising tools allow the option of refining the region and displaying your ads to the users with targeted IP addresses as well as consumers who have selected that region in their portal settings.
For local organic search results, be sure to register your site with Yandex.Catalog, Yandex.Webmaster and Yandex.Spravochnik. These services and directories will help Yandex assign relevant regions to your geo-dependent content and potentially go as deep as the city level to ensure proper ranking of the site.
If your business is looking to provide services in multiple Russian regions, consider creating either region-specific subdirectories or subdomains for each of the target areas.
Geo-Targeting Examples with Region-Specific Subdirectories or Subdomains
Unlike Baidu, Yandex can index international sites and, therefore, doesn’t require sites to be hosted on a local server. Having indexed approximately 30 billion documents worldwide, the size of this search index is now comparable to both Google and Bing. However, keep in mind that if you do choose to host your content outside of Russia, you still have to watch out for things like the loading speed and your page size for dial up and slow Internet connection users in Russia. Any significant issues with the site loading speed might negatively impact your rankings.
3. Online Success Is Measured Offline
Whether you are planning an organic or paid search marketing campaign in Russia, measuring the conversion rates and your impact on sales is going to be the biggest elephant in the room. Close to 60 percent of Russian ecommerce transactions use cash on delivery (COD) as the primary method of payment with mass-market credit card adoption restricted to specific categories such as online travel.
This means that a good number of your visitors won’t reach the desired pages at the bottom of the sales funnel and use alternative means, such as telephone, to either contact the company or make an offline purchase.
For paid search, this means that your typical conversion tracking is no longer a valid option since a large number of your customers will not appear in the Yandex Metrics reports. As a result, you’ll have to rely on your own offline conversion analysis to figure out the true impact for the search marketing campaign.
For organic campaigns, the fact that most Russian online shoppers use search engines to find product information (87 percent) means a tangible opportunity to improve the discovery process and educate target audience during the initial and crucial stages of engagement. Consider implementing product or service-related rich snippets for Yandex. Highlighted structured data, such model name, image, reviews, price or availability allow consumers to navigate to relevant information, speed up the discovery process and drive higher click-through rates wherever applicable.
For product-specific verticals, such as clothing, you may consider registering with a local shopping comparison site, such as Yandex.Market to boost your visibility in the local search results. The vast majority of Russian online shoppers go to search engines to compare prices (81 percent). And according to Morgan Stanley, about 40 percent of commercial searches originate at Yandex.Market.
Russia’s volatile, yet rapidly expanding e-commerce market comes with a number of search marketing challenges and high ROI campaign opportunities. Localizing strategy, content and analytics are the three crucial steps for businesses looking to succeed with the growing number of Russian consumers.