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6 Best Niches for Affiliate Marketing in 2022 (Profitable and Uncompetitive)

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Everyone knows that niches like fitness, travel and tech are lucrative affiliate marketing opportunities. But big broad niches like this are also fiercely competitive, making it hard for new sites to compete. 

For example, you’re hardly likely to outrank the likes of TechRadar, Wired, and The Verge anytime soon with your generic “tech” affiliate site. 

If you want to stand any chance at competing and getting traffic, you need to go narrower.

Here are a few affiliate niches that I think are crying out for a market leader: 

  1. Vacuum cleaners
  2. Hotels with jacuzzis
  3. Travel car seats
  4. Golf equipment
  5. Headphones and earbuds
  6. Zero waste

You’re probably already thinking that this niche sucks if you hate cleaning as much as I hate cleaning. But with an estimated 69K monthly searches for “best vacuum cleaner” according to Keywords Explorer, one thing’s for sure: this is a high ticket niche with plenty of traffic potential. 

Even better, competition is relatively sparse.

Here’s a DR25 site getting an estimated 37.7K monthly organic visits:

High traffic to a low DR vacuums affiliate site.

Who are the current players?

Most of the obvious keywords like “best vacuum cleaner” and “best robot vacuum” are hypercompetitive, with SERPs dominated by brands like Wirecutter, Consumer Reports, and Good Housekeeping. But there are plenty of sites getting decent traffic from lower competition long-tail queries. 

Here are a few of them: 

Although the monthly organic traffic numbers for these sites aren’t astronomical, it’s mostly affiliate content attracting that traffic. 

For example, ~83% of the organic traffic to Home Vacuum Zone goes to URLs containing the words “best,” “vs,” and “review”:

A vacuum reviews website with 80%+ of its traffic to affiliate posts.A vacuum reviews website with 80%+ of its traffic to affiliate posts.

It’s a similar story for Popular Vacuums, with 84% of traffic going to the same kinds of pages:

Another vacuum reviews website with 80%+ of its traffic to affiliate posts.Another vacuum reviews website with 80%+ of its traffic to affiliate posts.

However, if you look at the sites themselves, you’ll realize that they’re far from anything special. Most of them are ugly and feature typical affiliate content from folks who haven’t used the products. 

Example of a typical, ugly affiliate site in this niche.Example of a typical, ugly affiliate site in this niche.

There’s a serious opportunity to become the go-to resource for vacuum reviews for anyone willing to put in the effort and actually test some of these products. 

How much can you earn?

Most of the affiliate programs for vacuum cleaners offer somewhere between 3-8% commission. 

  • Amazon: 3%
  • Walmart: 4%
  • Bed Bath and Beyond: 7%
  • Target: up to 8%

That might not sound like much, especially at the lower end, but remember that vacuums are high-ticket items typically costing anywhere between $50 and $1,000. As a result, even a measly 3% commission from Amazon would net you between $1.50 and $30 a pop. 

Promote Bed Bath and Beyond’s affiliate program, and that rises to $3.50-$70.

You only have to sell a few vacuums through your affiliate links to make bank here.

How to do keyword research for this niche 

Besides reverse-engineering some of the sites above in Site Explorer, you’ll want to use a keyword research tool like Keywords Explorer to find three types of keywords:

  1. General comparison keywords. These follow the format “best [product type]”. E.g., “best vacuum cleaner,” “best robot vacuum cleaner,” etc.
  2. Branded comparison keywords. These follow the format “product [a] vs product [b]”. E.g., “roomba i3 vs i7,” “dyson hp02 vs hp04,” etc.
  3. Product review keywords. These follow the format “product [review]”. E.g., “dyson v15 review,” “irobot roomba 692 review,” etc.

Here’s how to do it for this niche:

General comparison keywords

  1. Go to Keywords Explorer
  2. Enter the terms “vacuum” and “vacuums”
  3. Go to Matching Terms report 
  4. Add the word “best” to the Include filter 
  5. Set the KD filter to a maximum of 20 (optional – this filters for low-difficulty keywords)
General comparison keywords for the vacuum cleaner niche.General comparison keywords for the vacuum cleaner niche.

You can also add the word “for” to the Include filter to hone in on keywords aimed at a specific demographic or task—which tend to be low competition. 

Low competition general comparison keywords for the vacuum cleaner niche.Low competition general comparison keywords for the vacuum cleaner niche.

Branded comparison keywords

  1. Go to Keywords Explorer
  2. Enter vacuum cleaner brands like “miele,” “roomba,” “dyson”
  3. Go to Matching Terms report 
  4. Add the word “vs” to the Include filter 
  5. Set the KD filter to a maximum of 20 (optional – this filters for low-difficulty keywords)
Branded comparison keywords for the vacuum cleaner niche.Branded comparison keywords for the vacuum cleaner niche.

Product review keywords

The process here is the same as for branded comparison keywords. Just add the word “review” to the Include filter instead. 

Product review keywords for the vacuum cleaner niche.Product review keywords for the vacuum cleaner niche.

According to Keywords Explorer, there are an estimated 41K monthly searches for “hotels with jacuzzi in room” in the US. And the top-ranking page for this keyword gets an estimated 150K monthly visits:

Estimated traffic to the top-ranking page for 'hotels with jacuzzi in room.' Estimated traffic to the top-ranking page for 'hotels with jacuzzi in room.'

That’s an awful lot of people looking for hotels with jacuzzis, and there are also many searching for much the same thing in other, less competitive ways.

Who are the current players?

Quite a few low-authority sites are getting decent traffic in this niche:

If we check the Top Pages report for one of these sites, we see that pretty much all traffic goes to pages for specific locations: 

Estimated traffic to location-focused hotels with jacuzzis posts.Estimated traffic to location-focused hotels with jacuzzis posts.

Most of these pages are pretty much the same content-wise. They list a few hotels with hot tubs in the area, show a few photos, give a brief description, and link to an affiliate for “more information and prices.” 

One of the current players in the hotels with jacuzzis niche.One of the current players in the hotels with jacuzzis niche.

Other sites in the niche do almost the same thing:

Another player in the hotels with jacuzzis niche.Another player in the hotels with jacuzzis niche.

As with vacuum reviews, none of these sites look particularly nice or have much of a recognizable brand. They’re about as basic as it gets. This spells opportunity for any ambitious affiliate marketers out there. 

How much can you earn?

Many travel sites are quite secretive about their commission rates, with some simply stating the percentage of commission you get on their commission. This isn’t particularly useful, as who knows what their commission is? 

Nonetheless, here are a few popular travel sites with affiliate programs:

  • Agoda – 5% commission 
  • Expedia – up to 6% commission
  • Hotels.com – 4% commission
  • TripAdvisor – 50% commission (on their commission)
  • Kayak – 50% commission (on their commission)
  • Booking.com – No commission rate is stated, but most of the current players in this niche are promoting this program.

How to do keyword research for this niche

Most of the opportunity in this niche comes from searches for hotels with jacuzzis in various cities and states. Here’s how to find these in Keywords Explorer:

  1. Enter ‘hotel’ and ‘hotels’
  2. Go to Matching Terms report 
  3. Add ‘jacuzzi’ and ‘hot tub’ to the Include filter (make sure to select “Any word”)
  4. Set the KD filter to a maximum of 20 (optional – this filters for low-difficulty keywords)

It’s then simply a case of skimming the ideas for popular locations:

How to do keyword research for the hotels with jacuzzis niche. How to do keyword research for the hotels with jacuzzis niche.

You can also reverse-engineer current players in Site Explorer, as these have pretty much done the work for you already.

Although this might sound like a super small niche, there are tens of thousands of searches for travel car seats every month. Just look at the traffic potential for “travel car seats” alone: 

Estimated traffic potential for the keyword 'travel car seats' via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer.Estimated traffic potential for the keyword 'travel car seats' via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer.

Who are the current players?

Despite the seemingly limited nature of the niche, quite a few low-authority sites are attracting a good amount of monthly search traffic:

If we check the Top Pages report for the first site (which gets the most traffic), we see that it has fewer than 100 pages in total. Yet it gets over 75K monthly organic visits: 

Estimated traffic to one of the current players in the travel car seats niche. Estimated traffic to one of the current players in the travel car seats niche.

Even more interestingly, over half of this traffic goes to just 29 affiliate pages with the words “best,” “review,” or “vs” in their URLs:

Estimated traffic to affiliate posts for one of the current players in the travel car seats niche.Estimated traffic to affiliate posts for one of the current players in the travel car seats niche.

Most of the other 70 pages are informational guides, such as this list of tips for flying with a car seat. This is a good sign as it means you only need to create a handful of affiliate pages to attract targeted affiliate traffic. 

How much can you earn?

Like in most niches, you can promote Amazon, which gives 3% commissions on baby products. There are also other superstores like Walmart that offer slightly higher commissions. But commissions really jump when you start looking at affiliate programs for specific brands and products. 

Here are a few of the options available: 

  • Amazon – 3% commission for baby products
  • Walmart – 4% commission
  • Saferide4kids.com – 10% commission
  • MiFold – 10% commission (with up to 12% for special offers)
  • Wayb.com – 10% commission

How to do keyword research for this niche

Like with vacuum reviews, you’re looking for three types of keywords to target in this niche: general comparisons, branded comparisons, and product reviews. Let’s look at how to find those in Keywords Explorer.

General comparison keywords

  1. Go to Keywords Explorer
  2. Enter terms like “car seat,” “car seats,” “booster seat,” “booster seats,” etc.
  3. Go to Matching Terms report 
  4. Add the word “best” to the Include filter 
  5. Set the KD filter to a maximum of 20 (optional – this filters for low-difficulty keywords)
General comparison keywords for the travel car seats niche.General comparison keywords for the travel car seats niche.

Branded comparisons

  1. Go to Keywords Explorer
  2. Enter car seat brands like “uppababy” and “bugaloo”
  3. Go to Matching Terms report 
  4. Add the word “vs” to the Include filter 
  5. Set the KD filter to a maximum of 20 (optional – this filters for low-difficulty keywords)
Branded comparison keywords for the travel car seat niche.Branded comparison keywords for the travel car seat niche.

Product reviews

The process here is the same as for branded comparison keywords. Just add the word “review” to the Include filter instead. 

Product review keywords for the travel car seats niche.Product review keywords for the travel car seats niche.

The golf equipment market is worth an estimated $6.51 billion, so unsurprisingly, there are hundreds of thousands of monthly searches for the best golf equipment. 

For example, there are 54K monthly searches just for “golf simulator,” and most of the top 10 results are affiliate posts listing top picks. Some are from relatively low-authority sites too: 

Top-ranking pages for 'golf simulator.'Top-ranking pages for 'golf simulator.'

Who are the current players?

Like with previous niches, most of the current players are typical low-to-medium-end affiliate sites with “okay” content at best. Here are a few of them:

Besides Golfalot and MyGolfSpy, none seem to be testing products firsthand but rather researching tech specs and customer reviews.

Excerpt from a top-ranking affiliate post.Excerpt from a top-ranking affiliate post.

There’s nothing wrong with this per se. Golf equipment is seriously expensive so you can hardly expect your average affiliate marketer to review everything firsthand. Nonetheless, it seems there’s an opportunity for someone serious to come in and create the goto site for golf equipment recommendations—either by reviewing products firsthand or going to town on the research. 

How much can you earn?

Like most niches, you can promote Amazon, which offers a 4% commission rate on golf equipment. But commissions are way higher from dedicated online golf stores. Here are just a few of them: 

Remember, golf equipment is expensive, so even commission rates of 4% can result in decent commissions.

How to do keyword research for this niche

Most of the opportunities revolve around the same three types of keywords we already covered. So let’s look at how to find them in this niche.

General comparison keywords

  1. Go to Keywords Explorer
  2. Enter words like “golf,” “fairway wood,” “putter,” “putting,” “wedge” etc.
  3. Go to Matching Terms report 
  4. Add the word “best” to the Include filter 
  5. Set the KD filter to a maximum of 20 (optional – this filters for low-difficulty keywords)
General comparison keywords for the golf equipment niche.General comparison keywords for the golf equipment niche.

Branded comparisons

  1. Go to Keywords Explorer
  2. Enter golf equipment brands like “callaway,” “pxg,” “srixon,” “taylormade,” “titleist,” etc.
  3. Go to Matching Terms report 
  4. Add the word “vs” to the Include filter 
  5. Set the KD filter to a maximum of 20 (optional – this filters for low-difficulty keywords)
Branded comparison keywords for the golf equipment niche.Branded comparison keywords for the golf equipment niche.

Product reviews

The process here is the same as for branded comparison keywords. Just add the word “review” to the Include filter instead. 

Product review keywords for the golf equipment niche.Product review keywords for the golf equipment niche.

5. Headphones and earbuds

As of 2019, the global earphones and headphones market is worth an estimated $25.1 billion. It’s also expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 20.3% from 2020 to 2027. 

Unfortunately, affiliate marketers often overlook this niche because high-volume keywords like “best bluetooth headphones” are incredibly competitive. This keyword has a Keyword Difficulty (KD) score of 76, and huge brands like TechRadar and Wired dominate the SERP:

Top-ranking pages for 'best bluetooth headphones.'Top-ranking pages for 'best bluetooth headphones.'

But if you dig deeper, there are plenty of lower competition keywords with traffic potential to make this an interesting, low-hanging niche.

Who are the current players?

Most of the players in this niche focus on headphones but also review other audio equipment. Here are a few of them:

If you’re wondering why Headphonesty gets such a huge amount of traffic, it’s because most of its traffic goes to informational guides. This one on how to find a lost or stolen AirPod case gets an estimated 41K monthly search visits alone:

Estimated monthly organic traffic to a top-ranking post from a current player in the headphones niche.Estimated monthly organic traffic to a top-ranking post from a current player in the headphones niche.

However, it also gets plenty of traffic to affiliate pages. 

In fact, URLs containing “best,” “review,” and “vs” get an estimated 209K monthly search visits:

Estimated traffic to affiliate posts for a top-ranking affiliate site in the headphones niche.Estimated traffic to affiliate posts for a top-ranking affiliate site in the headphones niche.

It’s a similar story for the other players. Headphones Pro Review gets an estimated 86K monthly search visits to the same kinds of pages—which is ~60% of its total traffic. And there are only 106 pages attracting this traffic, too.

27-affiliate-posts-traffic-headphone-review-site27-affiliate-posts-traffic-headphone-review-site

However, take a look at these sites and it’s the same old story: they’re nothing special. With the exception of Headphonesty, most of the affiliate content is bog-standard stuff based on research rather than firsthand reviews. (You can always tell when this is the case as the sites use stock product images only).

This isn’t necessarily bad; some of these sites’ articles seem well-researched. But again, it presents an opportunity for an ambitious affiliate marketer to come along and steal the show.

How much can you earn?

Given that I’ve bought my last three pairs of headphones from Amazon, my purchasing habits lead me to believe that this is where most people buy headphones these days. Unfortunately, Amazon’s commission rate on headphones is just 3%. 

Luckily there are a few other affiliate programs with better commissions:

  • Target – up to 8%
  • 1more – 8%
  • B&H Photo Video – 8%
  • Adorama – 2% (yes, this is lower than Amazon, but they have a $500 average order size)
  • Walmart – 4%

Some of these sell other audio equipment too, so there’s plenty of scope to expand beyond headphones further down the line. 

How to do keyword research for this niche

It’s the same old story with this niche; you’re looking at targeting general comparison, branded comparison, and product review keywords. Here’s how to find them.

General comparison keywords

  1. Go to Keywords Explorer
  2. Enter words like “earbuds,” “earpods,” “headphones,” “headsets,” etc.
  3. Go to Matching Terms report 
  4. Add the word “best” to the Include filter 
  5. Set the KD filter to a maximum of 20 (optional – this filters for low-difficulty keyword
General comparison keywords for the headphones niche.General comparison keywords for the headphones niche.

You’ll notice that many of the low-difficulty keywords here relate to the best headphones for a specific task or certain type of person. So you might want to add “for” to the Include filter to hone in on these.

General comparison keywords for the headphones niche including the word 'for.'General comparison keywords for the headphones niche including the word 'for.'

TIP

If you see a lot of keywords like “best buy headphones” and “best buy wireless earbuds,” add the word “buy” to the Exclude filter to clean up the report. 

Branded comparisons

  1. Go to Keywords Explorer
  2. Enter headphone brands like “1more,” “airpods,” “beats,” “jabra,” “skullcandy,” etc.
  3. Go to Matching Terms report 
  4. Add the word “vs” to the Include filter 
  5. Set the KD filter to a maximum of 20 (optional – this filters for low-difficulty keywords)
Branded comparison keywords for the headphones niche.Branded comparison keywords for the headphones niche.

Product reviews

The process here is the same as for branded comparison keywords. Just add the word “review” to the Include filter instead. 

Product review keywords for the headphones niche.Product review keywords for the headphones niche.

Interest in living a more sustainable zero-waste lifestyle has ballooned in recent years, and so have searches for zero-waste products. Here’s the trend for “zero waste products” since 2004 via Google Trends:

Google Trends graph for the keyword 'zero waste products.'Google Trends graph for the keyword 'zero waste products.'

That said, this isn’t the biggest niche ever. However, it still has decent earning potential and isn’t overly competitive. 

Who are the current players?

Here are a few of the folks in this niche: 

If we check the Top Pages report for one of these sites, Sustainable Jungle, we see that they’re getting ~75% of their traffic to affiliate pages:

Estimated monthly organic traffic to affiliate posts on a current player in the zero-waste niche.Estimated monthly organic traffic to affiliate posts on a current player in the zero-waste niche.

However, most of that traffic goes to just one page about the best online thrift stores. There are still some affiliate links in this post, but even if we ignore it, the site is still getting ~27K monthly visitors to other affiliate posts.

In terms of the content itself, it’s the same old story: the affiliate reviews are seemingly all based on research rather than firsthand experience. This once again presents an opportunity to easily beat the competition when it comes to content quality by reviewing products yourself. It would probably also be quite easy to get many zero-waste brands to send you products to review for free—especially once you’ve built a bit of a following. 

How much can you earn?

The best thing about this niche is that tons of eco-friendly brands with affiliate programs offer generous commissions. Here are just a few of them:

How to do keyword research for this niche

You guessed it; it’s all about those general comparison, branded comparison, and review keywords.

General comparison keywords

  1. Go to Keywords Explorer
  2. Enter words like “eco friendly,” “plastic free,” “zero waste,” etc.
  3. Go to Matching Terms report 
  4. Add the word “best” to the Include filter 
  5. Set the KD filter to a maximum of 20 (optional – this filters for low-difficulty keyword
General comparison keywords for the zero-waste niche.General comparison keywords for the zero-waste niche.

Branded comparisons

  1. Go to Keywords Explorer
  2. Enter golf equipment brands like “who gives a crap,” “reel,” “cloudpaper,” etc.
  3. Go to Matching Terms report 
  4. Add the word “vs” to the Include filter 
  5. Set the KD filter to a maximum of 20 (optional – this filters for low-difficulty keywords)
Branded comparison keywords for the zero-waste niche.Branded comparison keywords for the zero-waste niche.

Product reviews

The process here is the same as for branded comparison keywords. Just add the word “review” to the Include filter instead. 

Product review keywords for the zero-waste niche.Product review keywords for the zero-waste niche.

How to find more affiliate niches

Most of the niches above were found using Content Explorer, a searchable database of billions of pages. Just search for pages with the word “best” in their titles and add these filters: 

  • English
  • Website traffic: 10K+
  • Website traffic value: 20K+
  • DR: 20 max
  • Filter explicit results
  • Filter for one page per domain

Sidenote.

Thanks to everyone’s favorite YouTuber, Sam Oh, for this tip.

Here’s what the results look like:

Searching for affiliate niches in Content Explorer.Searching for affiliate niches in Content Explorer.

It’s then simply a case of sifting through the results looking for affiliate niches. 

For example, this is how I found the golf equipment niche:

Example of an affiliate niche found in Content Explorer.Example of an affiliate niche found in Content Explorer.

You can find hundreds of lucrative niches using this method; it just takes a bit of time.

Final thoughts

Most of these niches might seem relatively narrow and limiting, but that’s a good thing. It means you won’t be competing with and struggling to outrank the big players. And remember, you can expand and broaden your horizons once you build some authority.

Got questions? Ping me on Twitter.

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Google Updates Structured Data Guidance To Clarify Supported Formats

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Google Updates Structured Data Guidance To Clarify Supported Formats

Google updated the structured data guidance to better emphasize that all three structured data formats are acceptable to Google and also explain why JSON-LD is is recommended.

The updated Search Central page that was updated is the Supported Formats section of the Introduction to structured data markup in Google Search webpage.

The most important changes were to add a new section title (Supported Formats), and to expand that section with an explanation of supported structured data formats.

Three Structured Data Formats

Google supports three structured data formats.

  1. JSON-LD
  2. Microdata
  3. RDFa

But only one of the above formats, JSON-LD, is recommended.

According to the documentation, the other two formats (Microdata and RDFa) are still fine to use. The update to the documentation explains why JSON-LD is recommended.

Google also made a minor change to a title of a preceding section to reflect that the section addresses structured data vocabulary

The original section title, Structured data format, is now Structured data vocabulary and format.

Google added a section title the section that offers guidance on Google’s preferred structured data format.

This is also the section with the most additional text added to it.

New Supported Formats Section Title

The updated content explains why Google prefers the JSON-LD structured data format, while confirming that the other two formats are acceptable.

Previously this section contained just two sentences:

“Google Search supports structured data in the following formats, unless documented otherwise:

Google recommends using JSON-LD for structured data whenever possible.”

The updated section now has the following content:

“Google Search supports structured data in the following formats, unless documented otherwise.

In general, we recommend using a format that’s easiest for you to implement and maintain (in most cases, that’s JSON-LD); all 3 formats are equally fine for Google, as long as the markup is valid and properly implemented per the feature’s documentation.

In general, Google recommends using JSON-LD for structured data if your site’s setup allows it, as it’s the easiest solution for website owners to implement and maintain at scale (in other words, less prone to user errors).”

Structured Data Formats

JSON-LD is arguably the easiest structured data format to implement, the easiest to scale, and the most straightforward to edit.

Most, if not all, WordPress SEO and structured data plugins output JSON-LD structured data.

Nevertheless, it’s a useful update to Google’s structured data guidance in order to make it clear that all three formats are still supported.

Google’s documentation on the change can be read here.

Featured image by Shutterstock/Olena Zaskochenko



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Ranking Factors & The Myths We Found

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Ranking Factors & The Myths We Found

Yandex is the search engine with the majority of market share in Russia and the fourth-largest search engine in the world.

On January 27, 2023, it suffered what is arguably one of the largest data leaks that a modern tech company has endured in many years – but is the second leak in less than a decade.

In 2015, a former Yandex employee attempted to sell Yandex’s search engine code on the black market for around $30,000.

The initial leak in January this year revealed 1,922 ranking factors, of which more than 64% were listed as unused or deprecated (superseded and best avoided).

This leak was just the file labeled kernel, but as the SEO community and I delved deeper, more files were found that combined contain approximately 17,800 ranking factors.

When it comes to practicing SEO for Yandex, the guide I wrote two years ago, for the most part, still applies.

Yandex, like Google, has always been public with its algorithm updates and changes, and in recent years, how it has adopted machine learning.

Notable updates from the past two-three years include:

  • Vega (which doubled the size of the index).
  • Mimicry (penalizing fake websites impersonating brands).
  • Y1 update (introducing YATI).
  • Y2 update (late 2022).
  • Adoption of IndexNow.
  • A fresh rollout and assumed update of the PF filter.

On a personal note, this data leak is like a second Christmas.

Since January 2020, I’ve run an SEO news website as a hobby dedicated to covering Yandex SEO and search news in Russia with 600+ articles, so this is probably the peak event of the hobby site.

I’ve also spoken twice at the Optimization conference – the largest SEO conference in Russia.

This is also a good test to see how closely Yandex’s public statements match the codebase secrets.

In 2019, working with Yandex’s PR team, I was able to interview engineers in their Search team and ask a number of questions sourced from the wider Western SEO community.

You can read the interview with the Yandex Search team here.

Whilst Yandex is primarily known for its presence in Russia, the search engine also has a presence in Turkey, Kazakhstan, and Georgia.

The data leak was believed to be politically motivated and the actions of a rogue employee, and contains a number of code fragments from Yandex’s monolithic repository, Arcadia.

Within the 44GB of leaked data, there’s information relating to a number of Yandex products including Search, Maps, Mail, Metrika, Disc, and Cloud.

What Yandex Has Had To Say

As I write this post (January 31st, 2023), Yandex has publicly stated that:

the contents of the archive (leaked code base) correspond to the outdated version of the repository – it differs from the current version used by our services

And:

It is important to note that the published code fragments also contain test algorithms that were used only within Yandex to verify the correct operation of the services.

So, how much of this code base is actively used is questionable.

Yandex has also revealed that during its investigation and audit, it found a number of errors that violate its own internal principles, so it is likely that portions of this leaked code (that are in current use) may be changing in the near future.

Factor Classification

Yandex classifies its ranking factors into three categories.

This has been outlined in Yandex’s public documentation for some time, but I feel is worth including here, as it better helps us understand the ranking factor leak.

  • Static factors – Factors that are related directly to the website (e.g. inbound backlinks, inbound internal links, headers, and ads ratio).
  • Dynamic factors – Factors that are related to both the website and the search query (e.g. text relevance, keyword inclusions, TF*IDF).
  • User search-related factors – Factors relating to the user query (e.g. where is the user located, query language, and intent modifiers).

The ranking factors in the document are tagged to match the corresponding category, with TG_STATIC and TG_DYNAMIC, and then TG_QUERY_ONLY, TG_QUERY, TG_USER_SEARCH, and TG_USER_SEARCH_ONLY.

Yandex Leak Learnings So Far

From the data thus far, below are some of the affirmations and learnings we’ve been able to make.

There is so much data in this leak, it is very likely that we will be finding new things and making new connections in the next few weeks.

These include:

  • PageRank (a form of).
  • At some point Yandex utilized TF*IDF.
  • Yandex still uses meta keywords, which are also highlighted in its documentation.
  • Yandex has specific factors for medical, legal, and financial topics (YMYL).
  • It also uses a form of page quality scoring, but this is known (ICS score).
  • Links from high-authority websites have an impact on rankings.
  • There’s nothing new to suggest Yandex can crawl JavaScript yet outside of already publicly documented processes.
  • Server errors and excessive 4xx errors can impact ranking.
  • The time of day is taken into consideration as a ranking factor.

Below, I’ve expanded on some other affirmations and learnings from the leak.

Where possible, I’ve also tied these leaked ranking factors to the algorithm updates and announcements that relate to them, or where we were told about them being impactful.

MatrixNet

MatrixNet is mentioned in a few of the ranking factors and was announced in 2009, and then superseded in 2017 by Catboost, which was rolled out across the Yandex product sphere.

This further adds validity to comments directly from Yandex, and one of the factor authors DenPlusPlus (Den Raskovalov), that this is, in fact, an outdated code repository.

MatrixNet was originally introduced as a new, core algorithm that took into consideration thousands of ranking factors and assigned weights based on the user location, the actual search query, and perceived search intent.

It is typically seen as an early version of Google’s RankBrain, when they are indeed two very different systems. MatrixNet was launched six years before RankBrain was announced.

MatrixNet has also been built upon, which isn’t surprising, given it is now 14 years old.

In 2016, Yandex introduced the Palekh algorithm that used deep neural networks to better match documents (webpages) and queries, even if they didn’t contain the right “levels” of common keywords, but satisfied the user intents.

Palekh was capable of processing 150 pages at a time, and in 2017 was updated with the Korolyov update, which took into account more depth of page content, and could work off 200,000 pages at once.

URL & Page-Level Factors

From the leak, we have learned that Yandex takes into consideration URL construction, specifically:

  • The presence of numbers in the URL.
  • The number of trailing slashes in the URL (and if they are excessive).
  • The number of capital letters in the URL is a factor.
Screenshot from author, January 2023

The age of a page (document age) and the last updated date are also important, and this makes sense.

As well as document age and last update, a number of factors in the data relate to freshness – particularly for news-related queries.

Yandex formerly used timestamps, specifically not for ranking purposes but “reordering” purposes, but this is now classified as unused.

Also in the deprecated column are the use of keywords in the URL. Yandex has previously measured that three keywords from the search query in the URL would be an “optimal” result.

Internal Links & Crawl Depth

Whilst Google has gone on the record to say that for its purposes, crawl depth isn’t explicitly a ranking factor, Yandex appears to have an active piece of code that dictates that URLs that are reachable from the homepage have a “higher” level of importance.

Yandex factorsScreenshot from author, January 2023

This mirrors John Mueller’s 2018 statement that Google gives “a little more weight” to pages found more than one click from the homepage.

The ranking factors also highlight a specific token weighting for webpages that are “orphans” within the website linking structure.

Clicks & CTR

In 2011, Yandex released a blog post talking about how the search engine uses clicks as part of its rankings and also addresses the desires of the SEO pros to manipulate the metric for ranking gain.

Specific click factors in the leak look at things like:

  • The ratio of the number of clicks on the URL, relative to all clicks on the search.
  • The same as above, but broken down by region.
  • How often do users click on the URL for the search?

Manipulating Clicks

Manipulating user behavior, specifically “click-jacking”, is a known tactic within Yandex.

Yandex has a filter, known as the PF filter, that actively seeks out and penalizes websites that engage in this activity using scripts that monitor IP similarities and then the “user actions” of those clicks – and the impact can be significant.

The below screenshot shows the impact on organic sessions (сессии) after being penalized for imitating user clicks.

Image Source: Russian Search NewsImage from Russian Search News, January 2023

User Behavior

The user behavior takeaways from the leak are some of the more interesting findings.

User behavior manipulation is a common SEO violation that Yandex has been combating for years. At the 2020 Optimization conference, then Head of Yandex Webmaster Tools Mikhail Slevinsky said the company is making good progress in detecting and penalizing this type of behavior.

Yandex penalizes user behavior manipulation with the same PF filter used to combat CTR manipulation.

Dwell Time

102 of the ranking factors contain the tag TG_USERFEAT_SEARCH_DWELL_TIME, and reference the device, user duration, and average page dwell time.

All but 39 of these factors are deprecated.

Yandex factorsScreenshot from author, January 2023

Bing first used the term Dwell time in a 2011 blog, and in recent years Google has made it clear that it doesn’t use dwell time (or similar user interaction signals) as ranking factors.

YMYL

YMYL (Your Money, Your Life) is a concept well-known within Google and is not a new concept to Yandex.

Within the data leak, there are specific ranking factors for medical, legal, and financial content that exist – but this was notably revealed in 2019 at the Yandex Webmaster conference when it announced the Proxima Search Quality Metric.

Metrika Data Usage

Six of the ranking factors relate to the usage of Metrika data for the purposes of ranking. However, one of them is tagged as deprecated:

  • The number of similar visitors from the YandexBar (YaBar/Ябар).
  • The average time spent on URLs from those same similar visitors.
  • The “core audience” of pages on which there is a Metrika counter [deprecated].
  • The average time a user spends on a host when accessed externally (from another non-search site) from a specific URL.
  • Average ‘depth’ (number of hits within the host) of a user’s stay on the host when accessed externally (from another non-search site) from a particular URL.
  • Whether or not the domain has Metrika installed.

In Metrika, user data is handled differently.

Unlike Google Analytics, there are a number of reports focused on user “loyalty” combining site engagement metrics with return frequency, duration between visits, and source of the visit.

For example, I can see a report in one click to see a breakdown of individual site visitors:

MetrikaScreenshot from Metrika, January 2023

Metrika also comes “out of the box” with heatmap tools and user session recording, and in recent years the Metrika team has made good progress in being able to identify and filter bot traffic.

With Google Analytics, there is an argument that Google doesn’t use UA/GA4 data for ranking purposes because of how easy it is to modify or break the tracking code – but with Metrika counters, they are a lot more linear, and a lot of the reports are unchangeable in terms of how the data is collected.

Impact Of Traffic On Rankings

Following on from looking at Metrika data as a ranking factor; These factors effectively confirm that direct traffic and paid traffic (buying ads via Yandex Direct) can impact organic search performance:

  • Share of direct visits among all incoming traffic.
  • Green traffic share (aka direct visits) – Desktop.
  • Green traffic share (aka direct visits) – Mobile.
  • Search traffic – transitions from search engines to the site.
  • Share of visits to the site not by links (set by hand or from bookmarks).
  • The number of unique visitors.
  • Share of traffic from search engines.

News Factors

There are a number of factors relating to “News”, including two that mention Yandex.News directly.

Yandex.News was an equivalent of Google News, but was sold to the Russian social network VKontakte in August 2022, along with another Yandex product “Zen”.

So, it’s not clear if these factors related to a product no longer owned or operated by Yandex, or to how news websites are ranked in “regular” search.

Backlink Importance

Yandex has similar algorithms to combat link manipulation as Google – and has since the Nepot filter in 2005.

From reviewing the backlink ranking factors and some of the specifics in the descriptions, we can assume that the best practices for building links for Yandex SEO would be to:

  • Build links with a more natural frequency and varying amounts.
  • Build links with branded anchor texts as well as use commercial keywords.
  • If buying links, avoid buying links from websites that have mixed topics.

Below is a list of link-related factors that can be considered affirmations of best practices:

  • The age of the backlink is a factor.
  • Link relevance based on topics.
  • Backlinks built from homepages carry more weight than internal pages.
  • Links from the top 100 websites by PageRank (PR) can impact rankings.
  • Link relevance based on the quality of each link.
  • Link relevance, taking into account the quality of each link, and the topic of each link.
  • Link relevance, taking into account the non-commercial nature of each link.
  • Percentage of inbound links with query words.
  • Percentage of query words in links (up to a synonym).
  • The links contain all the words of the query (up to a synonym).
  • Dispersion of the number of query words in links.

However, there are some link-related factors that are additional considerations when planning, monitoring, and analyzing backlinks:

  • The ratio of “good” versus “bad” backlinks to a website.
  • The frequency of links to the site.
  • The number of incoming SEO trash links between hosts.

The data leak also revealed that the link spam calculator has around 80 active factors that are taken into consideration, with a number of deprecated factors.

This creates the question as to how well Yandex is able to recognize negative SEO attacks, given it looks at the ratio of good versus bad links, and how it determines what a bad link is.

A negative SEO attack is also likely to be a short burst (high frequency) link event in which a site will unwittingly gain a high number of poor quality, non-topical, and potentially over-optimized links.

Yandex uses machine learning models to identify Private Blog Networks (PBNs) and paid links, and it makes the same assumption between link velocity and the time period they are acquired.

Typically, paid-for links are generated over a longer period of time, and these patterns (including link origin site analysis) are what the Minusinsk update (2015) was introduced to combat.

Yandex Penalties

There are two ranking factors, both deprecated, named SpamKarma and Pessimization.

Pessimization refers to reducing PageRank to zero and aligns with the expectations of severe Yandex penalties.

SpamKarma also aligns with assumptions made around Yandex penalizing hosts and individuals, as well as individual domains.

Onpage Advertising

There are a number of factors relating to advertising on the page, some of them deprecated (like the screenshot example below).

Yandex factorsScreenshot from author, January 2023

It’s not known from the description exactly what the thought process with this factor was, but it could be assumed that a high ratio of adverts to visible screen was a negative factor – much like how Google takes umbrage if adverts obfuscate the page’s main content, or are obtrusive.

Tying this back to known Yandex mechanisms, the Proxima update also took into consideration the ratio of useful and advertising content on a page.

Can We Apply Any Yandex Learnings To Google?

Yandex and Google are disparate search engines, with a number of differences, despite the tens of engineers who have worked for both companies.

Because of this fight for talent, we can infer that some of these master builders and engineers will have built things in a similar fashion (though not direct copies), and applied learnings from previous iterations of their builds with their new employers.

What Russian SEO Pros Are Saying About The Leak

Much like the Western world, SEO professionals in Russia have been having their say on the leak across the various Runet forums.

The reaction in these forums has been different to SEO Twitter and Mastodon, with a focus more on Yandex’s filters, and other Yandex products that are optimized as part of wider Yandex optimization campaigns.

It is also worth noting that a number of conclusions and findings from the data match what the Western SEO world is also finding.

Common themes in the Russian search forums:

  • Webmasters asking for insights into recent filters, such as Mimicry and the updated PF filter.
  • The age and relevance of some of the factors, due to author names no longer being at Yandex, and mentions of long-retired Yandex products.
  • The main interesting learnings are around the use of Metrika data, and information relating to the Crawler & Indexer.
  • A number of factors outline the usage of DSSM, which in theory was superseded by the release of Palekh in 2016. This was a search algorithm utilizing machine learning, announced by Yandex in 2016.
  • A debate around ICS scoring in Yandex, and whether or not Yandex may provide more traffic to a site and influence its own factors by doing so.

The leaked factors, particularly around how Yandex evaluates site quality, have also come under scrutiny.

There is a long-standing sentiment in the Russian SEO community that Yandex oftentimes favors its own products and services in search results ahead of other websites, and webmasters are asking questions like:

Why does it bother going to all this trouble, when it just nails its services to the top of the page anyway?

In loosely translated documents, these are referred to as the Sorcerers or Yandex Sorcerers. In Google, we’d call these search engine results pages (SERPs) features – like Google Hotels, etc.

In October 2022, Kassir (a Russian ticket portal) claimed ₽328m compensation from Yandex due to lost revenue, caused by the “discriminatory conditions” in which Yandex Sorcerers took the customer base away from the private company.

This is off the back of a 2020 class action in which multiple companies raised a case with the Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) for anticompetitive promotion of its own services.

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Google Updates Search Console Video Indexing Report

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Google Updates Search Console Video Indexing Report

Google’s updated Search Console Video indexing report now includes daily video impressions and a sitemap filter feature.

  • Google has updated the Search Console Video indexing report to provide more comprehensive insights into video performance in search results.
  • The updated report includes daily video impressions, which are grouped by page, and a new sitemap filter feature to focus on the most important video pages.
  • These updates are part of Google’s ongoing efforts to help website owners and content creators understand and improve the visibility of their videos in search results.



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