Editor’s note: This article was updated to provide relevant 2018 statistics.
Before Larry Page and Sergey Brin ever founded Google, Ilya Segalovich and Arkady Volozh had already created Yandex, currently Russia’s largest web search engine. Google focused on calculating the PageRank of websites, and Yandex’s ranking algorithm took into account the distance between words and the relevance of documents to a searcher's query.
Both search engines have since evolved to be fairly similar in how they determine rankings. As of now, Yandex remains the market leader in Russia with over 50 percent of the Russian search market, while Google has about 45 percent. Except for Russia, South Korea and Japan, Google is the market leader in every country in the world.
Read on to learn more about Yandex's reach, and its advantages over Google.
Playing second fiddle to Yandex in Russia is actually quite significant since the country is the largest Internet market in all of Europe with almost 90 million users. Additionally, Russian Internet penetration is only about 70 percent compared to the 80-90 percent penetration in most other European countries. This allows Russia to continue to have double digit year on year growth for the last few years.
Yandex market share numbers have been relatively stable if not increasing for the last few years, and I strongly believe that Yandex will remain the dominant search engine in Russia.
Here are the five top advantages Yandex has versus Google, which will help maintain Yandex’s share long into the future.
1. Yandex is a portal
Yandex is the largest media destination in all of Russia and for many Russians, Yandex.ru is where they begin their day. In fact, Yandex is the largest media property in all of Russia.
Much like Google, Yandex offers free email, live traffic maps, music, videos, photo storage and much more. Many of these same features are some of the products that Google used to grow its adoption in all around the world by introducing users to the Google brand. Google was able to lure users away from weaker products like Hotmail, Mapquest and even Dropbox to use the Google alternatives. In Russia, Google will not have this opportunity, as the Yandex versions are comparable, if not better.
2. Yandex is better for Russian language search
Yandex was created specifically for the Russian market and is better able to handle specific Russian search challenges. In general, Google is not nearly as effective at parsing user intent over spelling in non-English search, but it is even weaker in Russian.
For example, the Russian language is highly inflected and some words can have up to 20 different endings. All Russian nouns have a grammatical gender, and the gender of the noun will affect the rest of the words in the sentence. Even the spelling of individual’s name could change based on gender. To illustrate, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ex-wife has the last name “Putina” instead of just Putin. While Google’s search only ranks pages that are relevant to the specific user query as it is spelled, Yandex is able to parse the synonyms and user intent regardless of the user’s spelling. As a result, for highly infected search queries, Google is providing the weaker search experience and therefore does not make a solid case for why a user should use Google more frequently.
3. Yandex is even popular on Android
While Google is able to use its Android mobile operating system to grow mobile search due to the embedded nature of Google search in Android, it’s not that effective in Russia. In Russia, Android has over 70 percent of the Russian mobile market; yet, Yandex still has 52 percent of the search market on these very Android devices.
4. Yandex is Russian
While Russians do have an affinity towards Russian brands they also seem to like foreign products. Nonetheless, in the wake of the Snowden/NSA scandal, Russians might prefer using Yandex simply because they distrust Google.
5. Yandex’s algorithm might be able to better account for spam
The Russian online market is notorious for outright link spam methods. There are countless “ad” agencies that exist just to sell links for the purpose of increasing search rankings. As a result, Yandex announced they will not use links in their algorithms on commercial queries conducted in specific areas of the country. Instead, Yandex will solely use user experience and keyword ranking metrics. This effort by Yandex is still early, but it may allow Yandex to generate better quality results than Google. The latter undoubtedly filters spam links, but is most likely still giving credit to low quality links.
In summary, while Yandex saw its market share rise over the last few years as its competitors Rambler and Mail.ru stumbled, Google’s market share of Russian search actually dropped slightly. Yandex is likely to continue to grow at the expense of Google due to market realities that just don’t exist outside of Russia.
With the high stakes and benefits that will come from the continued growth of the web in Russia, we can expect Google will not give up the fight (provided they aren’t legislated away). It will be very interesting to see what sort of investments and acquisitions Google will use to try to become the dominant search engine in Russia.