As English-speakers, most of us don’t consider the role linguistics plays in the SEO and SEM world. We focus on and analyze many other aspects of search engines’ ability to return great search results for users while simultaneously identifying the users contextual advertisers are trying to target.
A search engine’s ability to fully understand a given language strongly influences how well it serves its purpose. Since we are used to English and Yahoo, Bing, and Google, we may not think about Czech and Seznam or how it’s not that easy for an English based search engine to just jump into a foreign market on linguistic ability alone.
Most are familiar with Google as the premiere global search engine. In recent years, Google has improved its capabilities to offer users and advertisers a better experience on their regional versions. Still as Gianluca Fiorelli put it, “the regional Googles are broken.” Fiorelli’s assessments note that Google’s lack of updates in regional versions, geo-targeting, and language understanding capabilities can contribute to sub-par search results.
When a search engine struggles to properly understand the language it is running on and it inadvertently misses the mark on what a user wants or returning relevant pages, it will also miss your opportunities for contextual advertising. Advertisers and SEM junkies want the best knowledge on a search engine’s capability to not only produce great search results but more importantly, help paid advertisers identify their customers.
However, some may lack the language skills to test such issues or may not recognize they exist at all. For this reason, many simply translate and run an AdWords campaign abroad hoping to see the same results they get from Google.com. Alternatively, search marketers may also run the exact same campaign on a regional Google and another local player.
This is often the case for Google.ru and Yandex, Russia’s leading search engine with 62% of the market share. For the most part, basic and straightforward queries yield similar results on these two search engines. However, among a few other reasons, Google.ru’s Russian language flaws impact its ability to produce the same search results users get on Yandex. In many instances, Google.ru doesn’t adapt it’s results for local nuances causing language related problems when it comes to producing the right search results for user intent. Ultimately, this also impacts what ads are shown to the Russian target audience.
I ran a series of tests on Google.ru and Yandex to better display the differences between the two search engines. User intent and language related problems include misspellings, verb conjugations, noun adaptation, and transliteration. I, therefore, use an example from each category to test Russian linguistic capabilities of Google.ru and Yandex.
Test 1: Misspelling
For the first round, I opted to test out two Russian words with different meaning and spelling that sound very similar when pronounced. When spoken, I still can’t tell the difference between the Russian word for onion ??? and the Russian word for meadow ???, but as you can see, there is one letter difference.
In order to test the search engine’s language ability, I entered a misspelling for “onion soup,” which means by Russian grammar rules, onion turns into an adjective. I entered “meadow soup” (??????? ???) instead of “onion soup” (??????? ???).
Yandex passed the test giving me all search results for recipes for onion soup. Yandex changed the adjective to the correct spelling, giving me relevant results for recipes and the Wikipedia entry on French Onion soup.
Yandex also suggested the correct spelling, which when clicked, led me to a page with more ads and even better results.
On the other hand, Google tried to give me results from 2012 on “meadow soup.” Many of the links took me to recipes for mushroom soups, which I learned could be some sort of soup with a name relating to greens and a field. Nonetheless, not many people are searching for this and would have misspelled the correct query for onion soup.
While testing other misspellings, both Google.ru and Yandex can handle the accidental queries but when such language-related problems persist, a native speaker like Yandex will understand the user intent more easily.
Test 2: Verb Conjugations
Russian verbs can take on many different forms, adapting for the tense and perfective and imperfective aspects. Depending on the subject of the sentence, the verb will also take up to six different conjugations in present and future tense.
In order to test for verb conjugations, I entered the query “I am going on a first date,” by using the imperfective “I” form of the verb “to go.” Both search engines understood user intent relatively well but there were some obvious differences in the amount of verb conjugations that they were returning.
Yandex had 49 million search results for this query. It recognized the user intent and the various verb conjugations ultimately making more pages return on Yandex for this query. As seen below, Yandex includes six different formations of this verb, offering users advice on how to behave on their first date and where to go.
For this test, Google.ru SERP results were only for the “I” format and the “you-informal” format of the verb “to go.” Other verb conjugations did not appear as I clicked through the various page results.
Google.ru gave me 526,000 search results compared to Yandex’s 49 million. However, I was still surprised by Google’s development here. Google has significantly improved its ability to recognize different verb conjugations. Not too long ago, Google.ru would have only had exact match results for the specific verb format. Still, there is clearly room for Google improvement because two verb forms versus six is going to provide the user and the advertiser with different experiences on Google compared to Yandex.
Test 3: Noun Adaptation
A Russian noun is either masculine, feminine, or neutral and this can mean a few different endings for each gender plus the variation for singular and plural. Based on this, a noun can change into six possible endings for both singular and plural. To complicate things a bit more, there are exceptions to these rules that Russians just need to memorize.
Both Google and Yandex do a good job in understanding this and common queries, will return appropriate results. This is an improvement for Google. Previously, when a user would type for instance “Moving to Canada,” a user would only get the exact match on the noun ending for Canada. Now, Google returns multiple forms of the noun Canada.
In order to test the search engine’s ability to understand noun morphology, I selected the word “lie” or “falsehood.” In its singular format, it can be spelled three very different ways depending on the case – ???? – ??? – ?????.
I entered the second format in the search boxes in Yandex and Google. Both search engines mostly gave me results on movies with «lie» in the title but I got different results for Yandex and Google.
As seen below, Yandex gave me all three formats of the word lie and the first result is the wiki entry on the word’s more basic format.
Google.ru very clearly understood the query and gave some similar results to Yandex. However, as you see below, it only gave me exact match results. I was not served a single ad on Google.
Test 4: Transliteration
For the fourth test, I wanted to test the respective search engines’ linguistic ability to recognize locals’ search for the word “apple” because it is a brand but is also a common fruit. Russians often transliterate their searches for major international brands. This means they will take the original word and spell and sound it out in Russian. For instance, they will sometimes search for Gucci and other times search for the transliteration ?????.
Based on several tests, I know that both Google.ru and Yandex know that Russians search for many major brands this way. That being said, I wanted to test each search engine for the word apple to see if the search for the fruit would be confusing.
Yandex knew I wanted a fruit and not a computer or an iPhone. The results were all related to apples and not to the company.
Google.ru assumed I was talking about the company, as it does on Google.com. The Russian version has not adjusted to Russian language here, as seen by Apple, Apple Store, and iCloud included in the results below.
While this example is very specific, it shows how Yandex recognizes the local nuances that Google.ru does not. In the US, these results would be fine because the user needs to specify whether or not he or she is looking for the company or the fruit due to the brand name and popularity. In Russia, this is obviously a different story because people don’t necessarily associate the Russian word ‘apple’ with the brand, the maker of iPhones/Macs.
Yandex understands the Russian language far better than Google.ru. While Google Russia has recently made positive strides to improve SERP results, it still has a long way to go before it catches up with Yandex. To an English speaker, these differences may seem subtle but to a Russian speaker and advertiser, it matters as it has a big impact on user experience and on digital advertising.
As the post demonstrates, the paid search results are different on Google and Yandex, therefore running PPC campaigns on both Google and Yandex is advisable. However, it is also important to have an understanding of the types of organic results these search engines return which will affect how a business uses Google and Yandex in their Russian marketing (PPC) campaigns.
Some advertisers may think, that by simply duplicating the campaign from Google.com into Google.ru, they will get the same results. However, this is not the case. As we have seen in this post, Google.ru still has more work to do before it can be considered to be on the same level as Google.com. Therefore any business running PPC campaigns should anticipate their keywords will generate different impressions in Russia.
Feature image from Flickr