Estimated reading time: 11 minute(s)
As acting site administrator, it is my responsibility to try to make sure that search engines are aware of The New Leaf Journal and to undertake various measures to ensure that users can find our articles in search. Several prominent search engines allow site owners to register as “webmasters” and submit sitemaps for their sites to the engines. Several months ago, I obtained webmaster privileges for Google, Bing (Bing and Yahoo share one set of tools), and Yandex. For the purposes of an English-language website based in the United States, Google is far-and-away the most important search engine, followed by Bing. Yandex, the largest search engine in Russia, is less important, although it does provide fully functional English-language search services. In examining how we are doing with each of the three search engines, I discovered that Yandex displays results for the search term “the new leaf journal” in a particularly appealing way.
Below, I will explain a little bit about why I bothered to work on our standing in the Yandex search engine, and how you can use it as a different way to keep up with our latest content if you are so inclined. Some of this information may be of note to other U.S.-based webmasters.
Why Did I Verify The New Leaf Journal With Yandex Webmaster?
The New Leaf Journal is not only an English-language website based in New York City, but it is also a rather small site. We only went live in late April 2020, and this is a low-cost, low-tech operation. While we are seeing more users than ever before as we fast approach our six-month anniversary, our visitor counts likely fall well short of most of the sites you frequently visit. In light of the foregoing, you might ask why I even devoted time to ensuring that our site is indexed by Yandex at all. I have my reasons, see below where I will briefly introduce the search engine and the different services that Yandex offers.
Yandex’s Standing as a Search Engine
According to statcounter.com, Yandex was the sixth most popular search engine in the world in September 2020. While that may sound impressive in a vacuum, that translated to 0.5% of the worldwide search engine market share, tied with my preferred search engine, DuckDuckGo, and significantly behind Google’s 92.26% market share. Yandex did not rank in the top six in the United States, but the mostly-defunct MSN search engine came in sixth with a 0.05% market share. In its native Russia, Yandex fared much better, commanding 39.07% of the search engine market share, but coming in second well behind Google’s 58.37%.
On the surface, it would seem that being indexed by Yandex only has value for sites that are focused on Russia and surrounding countries. While we hope to welcome readers from all over the world, including from Russia, our site is noticeably lacking in the Russian-language content department. Had the Cold War ended differently, perhaps Victor and I would be producing lovely Russian-language content. It did not, however, so our material is likely only accessible to bilingual Russian speakers and those who are interested enough in reading to use a translation service – official translations of New Leaf Journal content are sadly a bit beyond our limited budget.
Yandex’s Suite of Services
Yandex is not solely a search engine. While I have not taken the time to explore all of its services, it seems roughly comparable to Google and Microsoft’s Bing in what it offers. Yandex offers email hosting (comparable to Gmail), free storage (comparable to Google Drive), maps, translation services, and even its own chromium-based web browser. I suppose that were one so inclined to replace all of his or her Google services with services from the Russia-based Yandex, it would be entirely possible. I do technically have a Yandex email account and access to the free storage, but I have not had any particular reason to avail myself of either, so I cannot offer any sort of in-depth review. Although I have cut down my reliance on American big-tech services, I am not looking to replace them with the Russian equivalent. The same applies for Yandex’s web browser – I am happily using the Vivaldi web browser, with Firefox as a backup for limited purposes.
It does appear that Yandex offers a range of services comparable to Google and Microsoft online. As such, I can neither recommend nor discourage people from trying Yandex’s various services over their American tech-giant counterparts. Yandex does not provide any additional benefit in terms of privacy (in fact, one may view it as worse given its location, but I have no insight to offer on that point), so any comparison would come down to whether its products are more usable.
Yandex’s Extensive English-Language Support
Although Yandex is based in Russia and primarily designed for Russian-speakers, it also offers almost all of its services in English. This is notable in that the fourth major search engine that offers webmaster tools (by invitation), China’s Baidu, does not offer any English-language services. Although it does index English-language sites (see search for “newleafjournal”), its UI is entirely in Chinese. The same applies to South Korea’s largest search engine, Naver, although Naver does offer translations of generally suboptimal quality for some parts of the UI.
How I Learned About Yandex’s Webmaster Tools
When I began administering The New Leaf Journal, I was aware of the concept of webmaster tools but did not know much about them. In short, there are various benefits to having webmaster tools. Webmasters can examine statistics about how their site’s pages and different search queries are performing in search engines. Most significantly for me, webmasters can submit sitemaps of their site to search engines, which makes it easier for search engines to quickly find and index a site. In the case of both Google and Yandex (but not Bing), with webmaster privileges one can also access analytics tracing codes. As I noted in a prior article, we did initially use Google Analytics before opting for a more privacy-friendly alternative in Koko Analytics. I have not tried Yandex Analytics, although it appears that it offers features and drawbacks similar to Google Analytics.
The Yoast SEO plugin, which we use for various search optimization purposes, includes a section with fields for adding verification metatags for the world’s four largest search engines: Google, Bing (and Yahoo), Baidu, and Yandex. I quickly verified my ownership of The New Leaf Journal for Google, and Bing conveniently accepts Google’s verification of a site as proof of site ownership without any separate process. After some quick research, I learned that Baidu only offers webmaster tools by invitation, and given that barrier and its entirely Chinese-language UI, I made no attempt to submit our site to Baidu. As I noted before, however, it appears that Baidu’s web crawlers found our site on their own without any help (“the new leaf journal” returns our site as the top result in Baidu).
Yandex, however, not only offered an English-language UI, but also the same kind of webmaster verification process as Google and Bing. Furthermore, although Yandex does require independent verification of site ownership, it allows users to sign in with their Google account for purpose of accessing the webmaster panel – something I took advantage of before later making an independent Yandex account.
Benefits of Being Indexed by Yandex as an English-Language Site
Since Yandex webmaster tools were readily available, I saw no reason not to take advantage and submit our site for indexing. Even if there was no benefit beyond Yandex, there is certainly no harm in increasing the number of ways that people can find our humble online magazine. However, there was one particular reason I was interested in Yandex.
My preferred search engine, DuckDuckGo, relies on more than 400 sources, in addition to its own bots, to compile search results. One of the many sources that DuckDuckGo relies upon is Yandex. As DuckDuckGo explained on its official Reddit, it primarily uses information from Yandex to inform search results for users who are using the site from the Russia region or searching in Russian. Since DuckDuckGo is the fastest growing privacy-centric search engine and the one I have used for years, I was interested in ways to ensure that fellow DuckDuckGo users can find our site in search. In general, appearing in as many places as possible is a good thing.
With no hesitation, I created an account, submitted our sitemaps to Yandex, and attempted to verify our site. I initially failed at verifying our site, but fortunately, I realized the error and corrected it before Yandex deleted my webmaster account.
A Note on Trackers, Privacy, and Webmaster Accounts
Before continuing, you may recall that I have been working on making The New Leaf Journal as privacy-friendly as it can be. To this end, I replaced Google Analytics with Koko Analytics, worked to remove third party tracking scripts from our site proper, hosted Google Fonts locally (we now host author avatars locally as well), and am looking for tracker-free ways to embed third-party materials into our content, such as OpenStreetMaps instead of Google or Apple Maps. Furthermore, I am continuing to research how website’s work in order to make further improvements to improve visitor experience while simultaneously respecting our visitors.
In this article, we are discussing ways to allow search engines to find our site rather than things that are actually part of our site. For example, when I submit a sitemap to Google, Bing, Yahoo, or Yandex, I am giving them information about the structure of our site in order to make it easier for their web crawlers to find our site and add it to their search results. The same principle applies to submitting special RSS feeds to Yandex for Yandex Turbo, which I discuss in the next section. This is distinct, for example, from including an analytics tracking code from Google or Yandex in the site, which generally keeps track of basic information about site visits and sends it to a third party.
This is, of course, my basic understanding of how this all works. If I have said anything in error, or even unclearly, please do correct me in the Guestbook. Like Victor in his story about capos and TikTok, I am always interested in learning new things.
Notes on My Experience With the Yandex Webmaster Tools
Before I note an interesting way that our followers can use Yandex if they are feeling adventurous, I will describe a couple of interesting points about my experience as a registered webmaster.
A Warning: Yandex’s Slow Indexing
While Google and Bing expeditiously found and indexed The New Leaf Journal – the latter had already mostly indexed our site before I submitted sitemaps – Yandex takes its time indexing. Although I did not check Yandex constantly, it probably took about two months for a search for our site title to show up at the top of Yandex’s search. If I recall, our Facebook account showed up in Yandex search well before our actual site.
From this, I gleaned two things. First, given how slowly Yandex indexes some sites, there is likely a clear benefit to submitting sitemaps. While submitting sitemaps is never a bad thing, provided that they are properly configured, Google and Bing are more than capable of indexing sites that never manually submit sitemaps. Second, patience is a virtue when it comes to Yandex’s indexing a site.
Setting Up Yandex Turbo Pages With the “RSS for Yandex Turbo” WordPress Plugin
Yandex offers a service for mobile searches called “Yandex Turbo.” While I am far from the best person to explain it, Yandex Turbo seems somewhat comparable to Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), offering versions of webpages optimized for quick loading and scrolling on mobile devices. While I had decided that enabling AMP for The New Leaf Journal was not necessary, I noticed that the Yandex webmaster panel practically implores webmasters to configure Yandex turbo. Since I was somewhat irritated that I had not seen any indexing of our site for all the time I spent configuring my Yandex webmaster account, I decided to try setting up Yandex Turbo.
Yandex Turbo requires the submission of a particular type of RSS feed for it to index and convert. It should go without saying that configuring this manually was way beyond my meager capabilities. Fortunately, I did not have to – a developer who goes by Flector created a free WordPress plugin called “RSS for Yandex Turbo.” Although the plugin is entirely in Russian (I suppose that makes sense), language barriers did not stop me from buying a Japanese WordPress theme, so I would not be deterred this time either. I installed the plugin and applied a translator to convert it to English.
I must say that RSS for Yandex Turbo is an outstanding plugin. It contains a significant number of options for carefully fine-tuning a Yandex turbo feed. Even through a translator, I found the options very easy to understand and navigate – and I say that as someone who is hardly the world’s foremost WordPress expert even with English-language plugins. After creating the RSS feeds, I submitted them to Yandex and they were accepted. I was able to see how our articles looked in Yandex Turbo through the webmaster panel, and I used that preview to fine tune our settings in Yandex Turbo to resolve one issue regarding our featured images.
I send my compliments to Flector, and highly recommend this plugin to any WordPress Yandex webmaster, regardless of whether he or she speaks Russian.
Although I think our site works well on mobile devices as is, you can try taking advantage of Yandex Turbo for mobile searches if you are so inclined. Please send us feedback on your experience in the Guestbook if you do try and let me now if there are any problems.
Using Yandex to Find the Latest Content at The New Leaf Journal
After much ado, we finally reach the stage of the article where I reveal why our regular New Leaf Journal readers might find one part of Yandex useful even though I doubt many of our readers use Yandex.
Yandex’s Stylish Return for “The New Leaf Journal” Search Query
In every major search engine, and several niche privacy-friendly search engines such as DuckDuckGo, Startpage, Qwant, Swisscows, and Ecosia, a straight search for “the new leaf journal” brings up our homepage as the first result. While that is hardly a world-beating accomplishment, it suffices as a bare minimum for search standing. Yandex is no exception on that particular point, but it is an exception in how it displays our site as a search result. Behold the picture below:
A Yandex search for “the new leaf journal” not only posts our site as the first search result, but also offers a carousel with our ten most recent articles as thumbnails. I must note that this is one better than our own home page, which I set to show our nine most recent articles. Yandex’s presentation of our homepage in the search results is outstanding, and some of you might find it to be a quick way to see our most recent content and skip to an article of particular interest (of course, I hope that you read all of our articles).
Yandex Offers a Different Way to Keep Up With The New Leaf Journal
In general, there is not much reason to use Yandex as an English-language user unless one is searching for information from Russia and surrounding countries. It does not offer any privacy-related benefits over Google and Bing – something that will be the subject of an upcoming article on alternative search engines – and its English-language results are likely not better. But for one specific purpose, seeing what is happening at The New Leaf Journal – Yandex reigns supreme as the world’s finest search engine.
If you think that Yandex’s display of our recent article is useful, you can bookmark the page with Yandex’s New Leaf Journal search results for your future reference. While I recommend following our site by checking our homepage directly, subscribing to our RSS feed and newsletter, or even following us on social media, Yandex offers an additional, albeit unusual, option for keeping up with our newest content. As more visitors find our website through search engines, search engines will begin to view our site as responsive to various web queries.
With hard work and a bit of luck, we hope to see more web searchers finding our content and that our content is relevant to their search queries.
Conclusion for Fellow Webmasters
Whether it is worth submitting to Yandex sitemaps for a United States-based English-language website depends on the particular site and its goals. I hope this article shed some light on the process and why one small and growing online magazine decided to put some time and effort into being indexed by Yandex. If you are looking for an in-depth guide to verifying your site with Yandex and taking advantage of its webmaster tools, there are plenty such guides available online.
Whether the time I put into using the Yandex webmaster panel pays off in a meaningful way remains to be seen, but at the very least, I am pleased with how the search engine neatly presents our homepage in its search results.