Why does the SEO industry care about the Yandex leak?
Laura Rudd of No Brainer spills about the Yandex code leak and what it means for SEO – and whether it’s worth caring about.
Is the Yandex leak much ado about nothing? / Chinh le Duc via Unsplash
Fascinating news entered the SEO sphere recently (a welcome break from ChatGPT). The leaked source code from Yandex – supposedly by a disgruntled former employee – included details of thousands of the search engine’s ranking factors.
You probably heard about Yandex, it’s the 4th biggest search engine by market share worldwide. Yesterday proprietary source code of Yandex was leaked.
The most interesting part for SEO community is: the list of all 1922 ranking factors used in the search algorithm
[ THREAD] pic.twitter.com/6x82AAmbON— Alex Buraks (@alex_buraks) January 27, 2023
Why does the SEO industry care?
Yandex is a huge tech company, albeit not that well known (not outside of the SEO industry at least). As a search engine, they hold roughly a 0.1% share of searches in the UK currently, compared to Google’s 93%. In Russia, where Yandex was founded, it’s more like 54%.
The reason why it’s of interest to those working in SEO in the wider world is that ranking factors (or signals) are a closely guarded secret for search engines, so any insight into how they may work is worth knowing about.
There’s a statistic floating around that Yandex and Google share around 70% similarity in their search results, and that it’s a search platform built by people that used to work at Google who may have even incorporated Google’s own code into Yandex’s search engine (for example, Yandex has a factor called PageRank, which is also the name of Google’s foundational algorithm, fueling the theory).
If all this is true, the leak could indeed give in-depth insight into how Google works, but there’s a lack of any credible source for this claim or any data to back it up.
A quick search on LinkedIn shows that several hundred people have worked for both companies, although it doesn’t necessarily mean that they worked on the search side of either operation. After all, both Yandex and Google offer far more than just search results.
Google (unsurprisingly) remains quiet about it, as it often does; they’d never willingly share the recipe to their secret sauce. On a LinkedIn thread on the subject, Google’s main search-related mouthpiece, John Mueller, commented on the reaction from the SEO community rather than the actual leak or claims that Yandex and Google work in similar ways.
What can we learn from the Yandex leak?
Comparing what we know about how Google works (from a combination of what they tell us and user experience), and how Yandex search seems to operate – even if they’re not like-for-like – it’s fascinating to see how established search engines work.
One interesting point raised by several experienced SEOs who have been deep diving into the leaked code is that Yandex scrapes other search engines, including Google, Bing, YouTube and TikTok, for their search results, using this data in their own algorithms.
Other Yandex factors identified are essentially negative, detecting elements that are ‘over-optimized’, which will go against a page or site in terms of value to the search engine. This one does fit well with many of Google’s updates over the last few years, such as their recent helpful content update; in ethos perhaps as much as in practice.
Search engines are complex beasts, so even experienced coders will need to delve through a huge amount of information to try to make sense of things – and test it. All of that will take time to unpick and understand.
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Will the Yandex leak change how we do SEO?
The Yandex code has only been in the ether for a few weeks at this point, so it’s possible that more insight will be found as different people dig into it further and share their thoughts. But judging from everything we’ve seen and heard so far; I don’t think it will have a fundamental impact on anyone’s SEO strategy if they’re focusing on driving better results with Google or Bing.
Underneath the layers of code and algorithms, we fundamentally know that creating high-quality optimized content, which meets the needs of users and provides them with the answers they are looking for, is what search engines look for and reward.
SEO integrating great content with technical know-how, site-wide, in a strategy also incorporating digital PR, is proven to deliver the best results for organic performance – nothing I’ve seen in the Yandex leak has changed my mind about that.
It’s rarely a useless exercise to take a look at things like this, even if all it does is confirm we’re probably on the right track already. Questioning and pushing back rather than always taking what search engines tell us at face value is part of what makes the SEO industry great and keeps things moving forward.
SEO has evolved so much over the last two decades, but the wider SEO community is still a brilliant group of people who are happy to investigate, share ideas and help others – as the response to the Yandex leak shows. I hope the evolution continues.
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