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A Guide to Yandex.Direct for Google AdWords Experts

PPC specialists are accustomed to a few different platforms for running paid search campaigns.  Most are AdWords certified users and utilize this expertise as their point of reference when running ads on other systems.   It’s challenging to get out of the AdWords mindset, especially when transitioning to  unfamiliar foreign search engines.  This blog will highlight a number of major aspects of Google AdWords that are easily and frequently confused on Yandex’s ad platform, Yandex.Direct.

While knowledge of AdWords can offer a certain degree of help in transitioning to Yandex.Direct, there are many differences between the two ad platforms that frequently prohibit digital advertisers from reaching their full potential in Russia.  The two CPC based auction systems indeed have a number of similarities and options for creating ads, targeting audiences, and so on but the following differences on long tail queries, match types, ad groups, search query reports, and keyword level tracking are all important to note when transitioning to Yandex.

Long Tail Key Phrases 

Using long tail key phrases (a Yandex.Direct term) is a common practice in contextual advertising. These phrases usually consist of 3 to 5 keywords that will display ads to users searching for a very specific subject. For example, “tickets to Turkey book online cheap” is a long tail variation of a very generic  search for “tickets to Turkey.”

Long tail key phrases allow advertisers to focus on their target audience and to tailor the ad texts to user queries. This results in higher conversion rates, improved CTRs, and drives CPC down. All of the above obviously increases the overall ROI of an advertiser’s paid search campaigns.

The concept of using long tail key phrases in Yandex.Direct is very similar to other paid search systems. However, there are differences on how long tail should be approached. The Yandex search algorithm, traffic volumes, and user behavior are different from other systems. This results in users’ queries normally containing 2-3 keywords.

To illustrate this on Yandex, an example was selected and tested in Russian on Yandex.Wordstat, a free keyword research tool.   The example compares search volumes for “tickets to Turkey book online cheap” and “tickets to Turkey” in June 2015.

direct long tail screenshot

1) ?????? ? ?????? ?????? ?????? ?????? [tickets to Turkey buy cheap online]: 0 impressions

2) ?????? ? ?????? ?????? ?????? [tickets to Turkey buy cheap]: 133 impressions

3) ?????? ? ?????? ?????? [tickets to Turkey buy]: 1727 impressions

4) ?????? ? ?????? [tickets to Turkey]: 11323 impressions

In the example, it’s obvious that key phrase 1 had zero impressions – it is simply too long. Shorter key phrases 2, 3 and 4 received the most traffic. Considering the preposition “to” (?) is omitted by default, these phrases technically contain 2-4 words. Turkey is one of the most popular travel destinations among Russians – niche verticals can have even more traffic that can be concentrated around shorter phrases.

Some advertisers translate keyword lists from global AdWords campaigns and use them on Yandex.Direct. These lists usually contain plenty of 4-5 word key phrases. Usually such queries have zero (or extremely low) traffic volumes.  Users can be searching for advertisers’ goods or services with shorter queries, but not seeing ads for very long key phrases.

To avoid this problem it is recommended to build Yandex.Direct keyword lists from scratch, based on traffic volumes in a given industry and the selected geo-targeting. Yandex.Wordstat is extremely handy when building out campaigns – 100-200 monthly impressions is the threshold when a term can be considered long tail on Yandex. 200-1000 is a medium frequency term and everything above that is high frequency.

It can pay off to use long tail key phrases on Yandex.Direct ads but advertisers should make sure to do the correct research and not assume that results on Google AdWords will be mimicked in Yandex.Direct.

Match types 

Match types are extremely useful to control which search queries trigger keywords.  However, match types on Yandex differ a bit from what most are accustomed to using.  Advertisers can set up broad match where all kinds of relevant queries will trigger keywords. Alternatively, exact match type will make ads show up if the query is identical to the keywords.

The benefits of match types are clear – using the right match types for the right keywords helps advertisers capture just the right amount of the target audience.

It is critical to know the match types differences on Yandex.Direct and AdWords. The concept is similar – you have to add one of the special symbols to a keyword to set a certain match type. However, Yandex has its own set of symbols for match types and its own :

Special Symbol Key Phrase Search Query Explanation
None tickets to Turkey ticket Turkey, Ticket to turkey cheap, turkey ticket buy online Search query has to include all of the chosen keywords, but not limited to them (in any order and grammatical form). Prepositions are omitted
+ tickets +to Turkey tickets to Turkey, turkey to ticket, tickets to Turkey  buy online Forces prepositions and conjunctions to be included in the search query
“ “ “tickets to Turkey” tickets to Turkey, ticket Turkey, Turkey to Ticket Limits the search query to the keywords inside quotation marks – excluding the longer tail
[ ] [Moscow Istanbul] tickets Moscow Istanbul ticket, tickets Moscow Istanbul, cheap tickets Moscow Istanbul Fixes order of keywords inside brackets
! !tickets to !Turkey Turkey tickets, tickets to Turkey, tickets Turkey buy online Fixes the grammatical form (plural/singular, capitalization, etc.)
tickets to Turkey -online Turkey tickets, tickets to turkey buy cheap, turkey ticket Excludes the keyword from the query

The first issue with match types is that advertisers think they are named the same in Yandex as other systems.  The default match type on Yandex is something like broad match modified in AdWords.  User query has to contain the whole key phrase (or a longer tail variation) to trigger an ad.  Note that the keywords will be never triggered by synonyms – on Yandex this is a completely different feature. It is called “Additional Relevant Phrases” and controlled separately at a campaign level.

Another common mistake is assuming match type symbols are the same in both systems. This assumption leads to uploading a keyword list with special symbols from AdWords into Yandex.Direct. Here is what happens in this scenario:

  • +tickets +to +Turkey – in AdWords would mean a broad match modifier. In Yandex.Direct “+” would just force to in the search query.  Tickets to Turkey can be used instead.  As seen below, the amount of impressions for both key phrases is the same.

turkey ticket 1

keyword 2

  • [tickets to Turkey] – instead of an AdWords exact match this would fix the word order.  This phrase can be triggered by a long tail query, like buy tickets to Turkey online cheap.
  • “Tickets to Turkey” – Yandex.Direct will limit the queries to just these keywords. So the key phrase will not be triggered by a Tickets to Turkey buy right now query.  The difference in traffic for these queries is seen below.

keyword 3

The above leads to displaying ads to a broader audience than required (or limiting your audience beyond any reason).

Again, the key to success here is adapting keyword lists rather than simply copying them. Yandex.Direct advertisers, check if to make sure your match types are configured correctly in Yandex.Direct!

Ad Groups

An ad group is a number of different ads that can show up for a set of keywords. These ads are displayed in rotation and after some time, performance of each ad is compared. This is another commonly used tool in paid search – ad groups are perfect for running A/B tests. For example, you can compare performance of different ad texts or landing pages.

Yandex.Direct ad groups are quite similar to other systems. They work in a slightly different way though – ads are rotated until the system finds an ad that has the highest CTR. When this happens, the system will give more impressions to this ad. This is somewhat similar to the Optimize for Clicks default mode in AdWords.

A high CTR of an ad does not always mean a higher conversion rate and ROI.  Measuring this will be a more manual process in Yandex.Direct – here are the instructions:

  • Set up different tracking links for each ad in a group.  This allows advertisers to manually compare conversion rates in the tracking system on their end. Note that the system will still give more impressions to the higher CTR ad.  This ad can be manually disabled to let the higher converting ad receive all the impressions.

ad group 1

ad group 2

  • Set up two identical campaigns, where campaign A will have texts A; campaign B will have texts B. By using time targeting settings, advertisers can then set campaign A to work in even and campaign B in odd hours of the day.

time settings

These are great ways you can improve your usage of ad groups on Yandex.

Search Query Reports

Search term reports show which search queries are triggering advertisers’ keywords and ads. These reports are critical for optimizing performance of paid search campaigns. Advertisers can find longer tail terms which are not used in their Yandex.Direct account yet and then add them as keywords. Irrelevant queries can be also identified and added in as negatives. These adjustments help make advertising more focused on the target audience and increases ROI.

While the search term reports are available by default in some paid search systems, others require additional actions to pull such a report. This is explained by different technology and logic that different search engines use.

On Yandex.Direct the search query report becomes available when Yandex.Metrica, Yandex’s free web analytics tool, is installed on an advertiser’s website.  Yandex.Metrica is the most popular web analytics tool in Russia, offering customizable reports and an English interface.  Considering how important search queries are when it comes to campaign optimization – installing Metrica is highly recommended.


Yandex.Metrica is a great tool itself and has plenty of unique and useful features. It also unlocks the real potential of Yandex advertising, as it is also used to launch retargeting and look alike campaigns.

Keyword Level Tracking

Measuring performance at a keyword level is one of the basic advertising needs today. This approach allows advertisers to see how well each keyword contributes to overall campaign success. There are multiple ways to do it and one of the most popular solutions is having a unique URL for each keyword.

It is important to know that Yandex.Direct currently supports one URL per ad. Still, keyword level tracking is possible but just requires a slightly different approach to setting up analytics system and using ad URLs.

Here are the most popular solutions used:

  •  Yandex.Metrica: It offers keyword level tracking with no additional action (even tagged URLs). Metrica has reports with all required post click data by keyword, including conversions and revenue (set up goals and assign monetary values to them).
  • Dynamic parameters in ad URLs: Yandex.Direct supports multiple dynamic parameters in ad URLs. One of these parameters is {keyword}. Keyword that triggered the ad is dynamically inserted into the URL when a user clicks on it. For example, you can have an ad with ten keywords, which has the following URL: www.mysite.com/?utm_source=yandex&utm_keyword={keyword}. In this scenario technically one URL per ad is used, but it is modified right on SERP. This is great for keeping keywords grouped by ads and tracking performance of each keyword at the same time.

keyword level tracking

  • Break up the whole account into one keyword per ad: Each of the ads will have a unique URL. You can go with this solution if you have unique URLs for each keyword (for example, pre generated redirect URLs). However, this can make you account more bulky and harder to control via the interface.

Keyword tracking is absolutely possible in Yandex.Direct. The best solution will depend on ad advertisers’ tracking/bid management system and required level of report granularity.

Advertisers should also check the traffic volumes for keywords before going for groups. The higher the frequency of a keyword list – the more impressions each ad will get, impacting the credibility of results.


AdWords experts who pay special attention to these differences on Yandex.Direct should have a successful transition to running paid search in Russia.  Users should first pay specific attention to some of the language differences and ways that Yandex may use a Google term in a different way or have their own variation all together.  Always keep in mind that you are dealing with users who may search differently (users in different parts of Russia approach search very differently depending on their familiraity with the Internet) and are using a different language.

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Melissa McDonald is the International Marketing Manager at Yandex, Russia's leading search engine, which offers free English to Russian translation and optimization for advertisers. Melissa also regularly blogs for RussianSearchMarketing.com, a news and information resource for digital advertising in Russia.