January 25, 2023, the day that Yandex—Russia’s search engine—was hacked.
Its complete source code was leaked online. And, it may not be the first time we’ve seen hacking happen in this industry, but it is one of the most intriguing, groundbreaking events in years.
But Yandex isn’t Google, so why should we care? Here’s why we do: these two search engines are very similar in how they process technical elements of a website, and this leak just showed us the 1,922 ranking factors Yandex uses in its algorithm.
Simply put, this information is something that we can use to our advantage to get more traffic from Google.
Yandex vs Google
As I said, a lot of these ranking factors are possibly quite similar to the signals that Google uses for search.
Yandex’s algorithm shows a RankBrain analog: MatrixNext. It also seems that they are using PageRank (almost the same way as Google does), and a lot of their text algorithms are the same. Interestingly, there are also a lot of ex-Googlers working in Yandex.
So, reviewing these 1,922 ranking factors, which come from the “Kernel” archive (and are only just one of the many sets of factors in the Yandex codebase) is a must. Understanding how they play into search rankings and traffic will provide some very useful insights into how search engines like Google work. No doubt, this new trove of information will greatly influence the SEO industry in the months to come.
That said, Yandex isn’t Google. The chances of Google having the exact same list of ranking factors is low — and Google may not even give that signal the same amount of weight that Yandex does.
Still, it’s information that potentially will be useful for driving traffic, so make sure to take a look at them here (before it’s scrubbed from the internet forever).
An early analysis of ranking factors
Many of their ranking factors are as expected. These include:
- Many link-related factors (e.g., age, relevancy, etc.).
- Content relevance, age, and freshness.
- Host reliability
- End-user behavior signals.
Some sites also get preference (such as Wikipedia). FI_VISITS_FROM_WIKI even shows that sites that are referenced by Wikipedia get plus points.
These are all things that we already know.
But something interesting: there were several factors that I and other SEOs found unusual, such as PageRank being the 17th highest weighted factor in Yandex, and the 19th highest weighted factor being query-document relevance (in other words, how close they match thematically). There’s also “spam karma” for dubious sites, based on Whois information. So sites used for spam and link farming and such are likely to take a hit.
Other interesting factors are the average domain ranking across queries, percent of organic traffic, and the number of unique visitors.
You can also use this Yandex Search Ranking Factor Explorer, created by Rob Ousbey, to search through the various ranking factors.
The possible negative ranking factors:
Here’s my thoughts on Yandex’s factors that I found interesting:
FI_ADV — this factor means having tons of adverts scattered around your page and buying PPC can negatively affect rankings.
FI_DATER_AGE — this one evaluates content age, and whether your article is more than 10 years old, or if there’s no determinable date. Date metadata is important, so if it’s missing from your content, it can lower your rankings.
FI_COMM_LINKS_SEO_HOSTS — this can be a negative factor if you have too much commercial anchor text, particularly if the proportion of such links goes above 50%. Pay attention to anchor text distribution. I’ve written a guide on how to effectively use anchor texts if you need some help on this.
FI_RANK_ARTROZ — outdated, poorly written text will bring your rankings down. Go through your site and give your content a refresh. FI_WORD_COUNT also shows that the number of words matter, so avoid having low-content pages.
FI_URL_HAS_NO_DIGITS, FI_NUM_SLASHES, FI_FULL_URL_FRACTION — urls shouldn’t have digits, too many slashes (too much hierarchy), and of course contain your targeted keyword.
FI_NUM_LINKS_FROM_MP — always interlink your main pages (such as your homepage or landing pages) to any other important content you want to rank. Otherwise, it can hurt your content.
FI_HOPS — this factor shows us that the longer it takes to get to an important page, the less likely it will rank. So, reduce the crawl depth for any pages that matter to you. No important pages should be more than a few clicks away from your homepage. I recommend keeping it to two clicks, at most.
FI_IS_UNREACHABLE — likewise, avoid making any important page an orphan page. If it’s unreachable from your homepage, it’s as good as dead in the eyes of the search engine.
The possible positive ranking factors:
FI_IS_COM— .com domains get a boost in rankings.
FI_YABAR_HOST_VISITORS — the more traffic you get, the more ranking power your site has. The strategy of targeting smaller, easier keywords first to build up an audience before targeting harder keywords can help you build traffic.
FI_BEAST_HOST_MEAN_POS — the average position of the host for keywords affects your overall ranking. This factor and the previous one clearly show that being smart with your keyword and content planning matters. If you need help with that, check out these 5 ways to build a solid SEO strategy.
FI_YABAR_HOST_SEARCH_TRAFFIC — this might look bad but shows that having other traffic sources (such as social media, direct search, and PPC) is good for your site. Yandex uses this to determine if a real site is being run, not just some spammy SEO project.
This one includes a whole host of CTR-related factors.
It’s clear that having searchable and interesting titles that drive users to check your content out is something that positively affects your rankings.
Google is rewarding sites that help end a user’s search journey (as we know from the latest mobile search updates and even the Helpful Content update). Do what you can to answer the query early on in your article. The factor “FI_VISITORS_RETURN_MONTH_SHARE“ also shows that it helps to encourage users to return to your site for more information on the topics they’re interested in. Email marketing is a handy tool here.
FI_GOOD_RATIO and FI_MANY_BAD — the percentage of “good” and “bad” backlinks on your site. Getting your backlinks from high-quality websites with traffic is important for your rankings. The factor FI_LINK_AGE also shows that adding a link-building strategy to your SEO as early as possible can help with your rankings.
FI_SOCIAL_URL_IS_VERIFIED — that little blue check has actual benefits now. Links from verified accounts have more weight.
Yandex and Google, being so similar to each other in theory, means that this data leak is something we must pay attention to.
Several of these factors may already be common knowledge amongst SEOs, but having them confirmed by another search engine enforces how important they are for your strategy.
These initial findings, and understanding what it might mean for your website, can help you identify what to improve, what to scrap, and what to focus on when it comes to your SEO strategy.