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What Did We Learn from the Yandex Leak?

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Search engines like to keep their algorithm a secret.

If search engine optimisers (SEOs) knew exactly how a search engine worked out what results to display for a query, then their algorithm could be easily manipulated – creating an untrustworthy web for everyone!

However, this doesn’t stop people from wanting to find out (including our SEOs in Liverpool!). So when Russia’s top search engine, Yandex, was the victim of a politically-charged leak at the end of January 2023, revealing source code data that made up part of its search algorithm, the SEO world flew into a frenzy.

Since then, SEOs and data miners all around the world have combed this code and deep-dived into the data to work out (as best as they can) how Yandex works. They discovered code for almost 18,000 ranking factors!

Many individuals and businesses who were not at all interested in Yandex saw this as an opportunity to find out what could potentially be part of Google’s algorithm.

As Google is the world’s biggest search engine and the one favoured by the western world, a peek behind the curtain into its algorithm would be massively beneficial for UK businesses wanting to improve their rankings and increase their traffic.

Of course, Yandex and Google are completely separate entities. Just because a certain ranking factor was found in Yandex’s algorithm, this does not mean that it will also be present in Google’s algorithm.

Still, there is the possibility that some information may crossover. This is also a good opportunity for SEOs who have developed their own opinions on how Google works to validate their theories based on the logic that Yandex has used.

So, let’s take a look at some of the information that came out of the Yandex leak, and discuss whether any of it is beneficial for businesses trying to improve their ranking performance on Google.

Important Yandex ranking factors

The majority of data that was leaked contained code that was outdated, has since been improved or was part of internal testing. Some of it was written by Yandex developers more than a decade ago who have since moved on from the company, and have come out to say that their code is no longer applicable.

However, some code was relevant and revealed information that can be used to guide SEOs in how they should conduct their work.

In the code, there are weighting coefficients for positive and negative ranking factors. Positive ranking factors have a coefficient of between 0 and 1, and negative ranking factors have a coefficient of between 0 and -1.

Let’s break down some of the leaked ranking factors with the highest-weighted coefficients.

On-page advertising

The ranking factor with the highest negative coefficient was for sites that are full of advertising.

This does not mean advertising in the form of sponsored links or paid-for posts. It means sidebar or banner ads that generate revenue for the publisher.

As a user, nobody wants to view a page that’s full of advertisements. It looks spammy and detracts from the content on the page.

SEOs have been aware that the presence of too-many ads negatively impacts user experience for a while now. They have developed best practices that allow them to include ads on a page without affecting SEO performance.

Google has stated that they want to reward sites with good user experience, so you can think of this Yandex ranking factor as transferable to Google. 

Top level domain

Domains with a .com extension receive a large positive ranking factor.

It is unclear whether other domain suffixes receive a similar ranking factor or less, or whether they receive none at all.

SEOs are mixed on whether top level domain matters much for SEO performance on Google, but most are of the persuasion that .com is preferred for most sites. This is generally for the trust that .com provides users, and to give a business the option of operating globally in the future.

How old is the content?

Yandex values content that is fresh and new, and provides rewards for being so.

Sites will slowly lose this reward for every day old their content is, with content that is 10+ years old receiving no positive reward.

Pages that have no metadata indicating their age will also receive no positive reward.

Content that has been published recently has a higher chance of including more relevant information than older content, therefore being more helpful to the user.

To avoid receiving penalties for old content, go back through your site and give it a refresh. Cite newer sources, correct any mistakes, and include any recent developments.

Not only will this improve your website’s user experience, but it will also increase your SEO performance.

Backlink ratio

There are two ranking factors that relate to a site’s backlink profile: one that punishes sites for backlinks from poor quality websites, and one that rewards sites for backlinks from good quality websites.

Therefore, provided that a site has more backlinks from good quality websites, it will receive an overall positive benefit to its ranking factor.

How do they choose what websites are good or bad quality? We don’t know! It may relate to their page rank system, or it may be a completely separate signal.

In order to stay on the safe side, try to secure backlinks from high-traffic domains with good-quality page scores on any of the major SEO tools.

And don’t forget to make use of as many approved link building techniques as you can to give yourself the best chance at receiving high quality links.

Run ads on Yandex

It’s long been theorised that businesses that run Google Ads receive a ranking boost from Google in the SERPs (search engine results pages).

This theory is unproven though. And in fact, Google explicitly states otherwise. Of course they would, because they don’t want their users to believe that SEO is a pay-to-win model.

Nevertheless, we now know that it is in fact real – as far as Yandex is concerned.

Yandex’s algorithm has a coefficient that applies a positive ranking coefficient to sites that run adverts on Yandex. However, it is important to note that sites that don’t advertise on Yandex do not receive a penalty.

Does this extend to Google? We can only guess.

In a way, it is possible to see improvements to your SEO if you pay for Google Ads. Running PPC ads is a good way to increase relevant traffic to a site, which can in turn increase SEO performance if the site contains helpful content and provides a positive user experience.

How can we apply this information to Google?

A lot of the factors that were present in the leak confirmed current SEO best practices for Google, so SEOs should carry on doing what they know works.

Create quality, helpful content, secure links from authoritative sources, and ensure that your site is fast and responsive by managing its core vitals.

Do this consistently over time and you will notice your SERP performance increase.

If you spend your time trying to find shortcuts to give your site a performance boost, you run the risk of damaging all of the hard work that you’ve put in so far.

It is not worth deviating from current, proven strategies to try and capitalise on ranking factors that may or may not be included in Google’s algorithm.

Improve your SEO performance with Blaze Media

If you would like to see an increase in your organic traffic, then get in touch with our team at Blaze Media. We’d love to have a chat with you!

We can discuss your business and what we can do to help you achieve your goals. There’s nothing better for us than seeing our clients do well.

Oh, and by the way, because we’re a full service digital marketing agency, we can also provide you with paid ads services – should you require them!

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