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How to Write a Press Release (+ Free Template)

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How to Write a Press Release (+ Free Template)

A well-crafted press release can help relationship-building, manage a brand’s image, and improve SEO.

Here’s everything you need to know about press releases, including a step-by-step guide to writing a good one:

Press release template

Do note our template is only a guide. Be sure to consult the style guide your company uses and tweak the template accordingly. Get the template here.

What’s a press release?

A press release is an official statement delivered to members of the media. It’s commonly used to share something newsworthy that a company has done with the aim of securing media coverage.

It’s typically written:

  • In-house by the company’s communications team.
  • By a third-party vendor, such as a hired PR agency.

When is a press release used?

Press releases are versatile and are often used to announce:

  • The launch of a product, service, campaign, event, or business.
  • Major updates to a company, such as its rebranding, restructuring, or new hires (normally at the exec level).
  • Information about a crisis.

This one’s entirely up to you. In general, there are three ways of distributing a press release: manually, through a syndication service, or by way of a mailing list.

Let’s take a closer look at how it is distributed:

Manually

We’re all for manually distributing your press release. While it may be time-consuming, sending a personalized email (along with the press release) can increase your chances of getting media coverage.

Our CMO, Tim Soulo, can vouch for this, having manually sent out over 100 personalized outreach emails as part of a link outreach experiment.

At the risk of sounding stalkerish, it’s also possible to find anyone’s email address today.

Try tailoring your email with these suggestions. You can:

  • Use an eye-catching email subject line. Editors and journalists receive scores of press releases daily. So make yours stand out with selling points, such as “Interview opportunity with Apple CEO Tim Cook.”
  • Address your recipient by name.
  • Briefly tell them why you’re writing.
  • Tie your message to their publication or business. (Why would this piece of news suit their publication?)
  • Where relevant, suggest one to two story angles for their consideration. Include available interviewees’ names and designations.

For the last point, use your discretion to decide if it’s worth pitching story angles in your introductory email.

This really depends on the nature of the news in your press release.

For instance, the launch of a SaaS platform in Southeast Asia may capture the interest of multiple tech publications. To increase your chances of securing coverage, consider preparing one to two story pitches to go along with your email and press release. 

Via a syndication service

Syndication services act on your behalf to distribute press releases and have an extensive network of media contacts.

PR Newswire is one widely used option. It can be used to schedule or disseminate news to thousands of news agencies, media publishers, editors, and journalists instantly.

Via your media contacts list

A press release can also be broadcast via a mailing list, maintained by either a company’s communications team or a hired third-party agency.

In these media contacts lists, you’ll often find members of the media categorized by the publications they write for and the beats they specialize in—such as tech, food and drinks, personal finance, entertainment, and so on.

This ensures only relevant press releases are sent their way. It’s a worthy distribution option if you’re short on time and have amassed a considerable network of contacts.

What to avoid in a press release

Writing a press release is relatively easy once you get the hang of it. But it can also go very wrong, so take heed of the following:

Not having a clear point of focus

We can’t emphasize this enough: A press release should have just one newsworthy idea, whether you’re talking about a product, campaign, service, or event.

The rest of your press release should then complement this piece of information.

If you’re unsure, go back to the drawing board and ask yourself: “Would I be interested in reading this and covering it as a news story?”

Being too wordy

Keep your press release around 400 words.

If it runs far longer than that, do a reread to cut out the fluff. Do you really need a whole paragraph detailing your company’s mission and why it ties in with the product’s launch? Is there jargon that may not be easily understood by the layman reader?

Expressing opinions or sounding too promotional

The subtle sell can be tricky to achieve, but you’ll be in good stead once you find this balance.

To do this, avoid using promotional words and statements—such as “world’s best,” “best in class,” “groundbreaking,” and “one of a kind,” to name several.

Unless you can back these up or are a leading business in your industry, such phrases could work against you by reducing your credibility.

Using too many quotes

We recommend using no more than two quality quotes. What defines a quality quote, then? This brings us to the next point.

Boring, clunky, or manufactured quotes

Choosing quotes is tricky business. As The Guardian puts it, your quotes should offer insight, not information.

In essence, they should complement the facts—rather than reiterate what’s been said in the rest of the press release.

Let’s take a closer look at what makes a poorly written quote:

  • A boring quote is one that adds no value to the press release, either by stating the obvious or repeating what’s been said in the rest of the release.
  • A clunky quote may use run-on sentences, take too long to get to the point, or use sweeping statements.
  • Manufactured quotes fall in the same camp as sounding too promotional.

Here’s one that checks all the boxes on this front:

Clunky Apple quote

Groundbreaking, incredible, magical—followed by a loaded, information-heavy quote that should have been paraphrased.

Thankfully, Apple gets away with it because the tech major’s success speaks for itself. In any other press release, though, you’d likely cast doubt over the bold claims made.

How to craft a press release in 14 steps

Now that we’ve laid out the foundational must-knows, use this step-by-step guide to craft a good press release.

1. Understand the AP Style guidelines

The Associated Press (AP) is one of the world’s largest news agencies, and its stylebook is used as a reference point by journalists globally. It ensures consistency in your press release content.

However, AP doesn’t provide guidelines for formatting press releases. So we’ve put together some general conventions you can use:

Use a common font

Stick to one commonly used font in your press release, such as Times New Roman or Arial.

Style your font

You can vary how your font is stylized throughout the press release—such as bolding your headings and subheadings or italicizing text for image captions. We recommend using the following:

  • Header: 14 pt
  • Subheader: 12 pt
  • Body: 12 pt
  • Image captions: 10 pt

Write in third person

Write in the third person—as in he, she, they, etc. This applies to both brand mentions and quotes.

  • Brand mentions
    Apple mentions itself in the third person in all of its press releases, including this one. So instead of saying, “We have launched the third generation of AirPods,” the company phrases itself like so:

Quote where Apple mentions itself

  • In quotes
    Another thing to note is, ideally, any featured persons should be quoted in the past tense—so said, shared, noted, etc.

Quote by Tim Cook

2. Choose your format

The structure of a press release doesn’t deviate all that much, as you’ll see from our downloadable template.

But there are different ways of hosting a press release, and you’ll want to decide on this before getting to the actual writing. Here are three common ways of doing so:

In pdf format

The pdf is typically attached to your introductory email—which we covered under distribution methods above—as well as hosted on the company’s website (usually under a “Press” or “Newsroom” section).

Newsroom section on Apple's webpage

In interactive format

An interactive press release—or multimedia press release—is one that’s hosted on a company’s site as an article. You’re able to copy and share its elements (e.g., text, images) easily or click on links to visit related pages.

Here’s an example of a multimedia press release featuring Apple’s new AirPods. In addition to hyperlinked text, there are downloadable images located throughout.

Image of girl running with AirPods. Download button at bottom-left corner

You’ll also find these buttons located at the bottom of the press release:

Buttons to share article, copy text, and download images

In email

If you’re opting to manually distribute your press release, another commonly used alternative is to simply paste your formatted press release in the body copy of your email.

This is especially effective for shorter press releases and eliminates the additional step of scrolling to the bottom to retrieve the pdf.

However, editors and journalists generally prefer being able to copy text and download images easily. So do consider hosting your “in email” press release on your website too. (It’ll also help you track your backlinks and mentions more easily.)

3. Pick a newsworthy angle

To identify a newsworthy angle, start by thinking about the main idea you want to sell. Could it be the launch of an ecommerce campaign or an announcement of your company’s restructuring exercise?

What’s special about it, and why should readers care?

This angle should be summarized in one sentence for inclusion in your opening paragraph.

4. Add your release date

Now let’s get to the writing. Start by indicating whether the information contained in the press release can be published immediately or embargoed until a certain date.

It should look like this (delete accordingly):

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE or 
EMBARGOED UNTIL [DATE AND TIME + TIMEZONE] 

5. Leave filler text for your headline and summary

We’ll get back to this shortly.

For now, leave several line breaks between your release date and opening paragraph so that you can fill in your headline and summary later.

6. Write a strong opening paragraph

The most important information should be at the very beginning of your release. To identify what those key facts are, use the inverted pyramid:

Inverted pyramid with 3 levels: "need to know" at top and "nice to know" at bottom

Think of this in terms of how news articles are structured.

The headline features the most important, eye-catching information of your press release, and the opening paragraph of the release should answer the five Ws and one H (who, what, when, where, why, how). 

  • Who: The name of the company releasing the information.
  • What: The piece of information you’re disseminating. What’s the press release about?
  • When: The date of this event, whether a campaign launch or new hire.
  • Where: Where can your readers find out more? You can choose to include a location or links to more information here.
  • Why: Why this information matters, and why it’s a story worth being told.
  • How: How the information adds value to the company, its users, or the industry.

7. Body paragraphs

Here, you should elaborate on your introductory paragraphs with supporting details.

Let’s return to our earlier example of this Apple press release.

It opens by announcing the launch of its updated AirPods. The succeeding paragraphs then discuss the product’s design, audio features, and battery life—each under its own bolded subheading.

Excerpt of Apple press release about AirPods' new design

8. Add relevant quotes

Your press release is taking shape! Review your write-up and beef it up with no more than two quality quotes—and from no more than two people.

These quotes should only come from reputable figures in the company or industry, such as C‑level executives or industry representatives.

The first quote is normally added immediately after your opening paragraph; if absolutely necessary, another one may be added further down in the press release.

Pro tip

Generally, formal titles of people quoted should be:

  • Capitalized if you plan to mention the title before the name. 
    • According to Ahrefs Chief Marketing Officer Tim Soulo, “Quote lorem ipsum.”
  • Lowercased if you plan to mention the title after the name. 
    • Quote lorem ipsum,” said Tim Soulo, Ahrefs’ chief marketing officer.

9. Add images

Adding images (along with image descriptions and/or captions) is optional. But research has shown that a press release with images is seven times more likely to be read than skimmed.

If you’re launching a product, including hi-res images in your body copy makes for easier reading and paints a stronger visual of what you have to offer.

Remember to include a link to downloadable assets (try using a URL shortener tool like bit.ly) at the bottom of your press release.

10. Craft a compelling headline and summary

Now it’s time to return to your headline and summary.

While it mostly makes sense to write your press release in chronological order, we reckon these two elements should be written only after you’re done with the main copy. 

Given you would have toiled at the press release to identify the most important information, you would now be able to comfortably craft a headline that’s clean, factual, and fresh.

Below your headline, add a one-sentence summary of what the entire press release is about.

Headline and one-sentence summary

Be mindful that your summary isn’t quite the same as your opening paragraph. It doesn’t have to check off the five Ws and one H but should incite enough curiosity to keep someone reading.

You can write your headline with just the first letter of the sentence capitalized, just like in the above screenshot.

We recommend using title case, which means the first letter of most words is capitalized. Try using this auto-capitalization tool to help you get the headlines looking on point.

Buttons for different style guides. Click each one to show text field for adding/formatting headline

11. Boilerplate

Your boilerplate comes after the main content of the press release but goes before the contact information. It furnishes readers with some information on the company behind the press release.

This should be a one-paragraph summary of the company’s backstory (where applicable), as well as an overview of its products or services. You can also briefly mention any notable achievements.

Here’s what it may look like:

Apple's boilerplate

12. Close your press release

Below your boilerplate, indicate that your press release has ended with the “###” notation.

13. Press contact details

In a new section, add in the necessary contact details so that journalists and editors can reach out easily.

It’s normally written in this format:

Name (bolded)
Name of company or PR agency
Email address
(Country code) contact number

14. Review your copy

At the final stage, review your press release by revisiting the above steps.

In particular, check for the following:

  • Is it objectively written?
  • Is it newsworthy and succinct?
  • Does it contain the key details? 
    • Quotes, images, details on event or launch (time, date, and location), etc.
  • Are there typos or stylization errors? 
    • This happens more often than you’d expect, especially when it comes to people’s names.
    • You should also check for stylization errors. For instance, it’s “AirPods” and not “Air pods.”

Finally, get a second opinion from someone more experienced—this is a crucial step in identifying anything you may have missed.

Once everything’s in order, your press release is ready for distribution.

Tracking the performance of your press release

A natural next step is looking into your press release analytics.

They help you determine your campaign performance, whether the resources spent were justifiable, and if you reached the right audience through the right platforms. It’s also a good way to better understand the overall sentiment toward your press release, which can inform future press releases.

Most distribution services offer basic visibility reports that allow you to review commonly tracked metrics, such as click-through rates, conversion rates, backlinks, and downloads (if you released the press release in pdf form).

The trouble is such services can be expensive, so a free tool like Ahrefs Webmaster Tools can help to offset unnecessary costs while allowing you to easily track backlinks and mentions.

How to track backlinks

First, follow this pictorial guide to set up your first project on Ahrefs Webmaster Tools.

Then, in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, enter the URL of the page on which your press release is hosted. From here, you’ll be able to see the number of backlinks received.

Site Explorer overview of Apple's press release

For a detailed breakdown, head to the panel on the left and go to Backlink profile > Backlinks. Here, you can look at “live” backlinks, as well as recent and historical ones.

Backlinks report for press release

You can also hover over the tooltip (marked with a tiny “i”) on each metric to get a better idea of what you’re looking at.

If you’re in a hurry or aren’t sure if it’s worth signing up for a free account, try using our free backlink checker tool instead. The tool provides an overview of the top 100 backlinks for your page.

Backlinks overview showing UR, DR, and overview of top 100 backlinks

How to track mentions

If you’re interested in monitoring the mentions of certain keywords, quotes, or your brand’s latest products, you can set these up in Ahrefs Alerts. These mentions will be sent to your email inbox at a frequency of your choosing.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do it.

While it may seem similar to Google Alerts, Ahrefs Alerts offers a more comprehensive view of insights, according to our mini study of both monitoring tools.

Final thoughts

So there you have it—your detailed guide to what a press release is, what to avoid, and how to craft one.

It’s also a good idea to revisit the basics on occasion, just so you don’t lose sight of the foundations of press release writing.

Got something to say? Ping me on Twitter with your thoughts and suggestions.




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Google CEO Confirms AI Features Coming To Search “Soon”

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Google CEO Confirms AI Features Coming To Search "Soon"

Google announced today that it will soon be rolling out AI-powered features in its search results, providing users with a new, more intuitive way to navigate and understand the web.

These new AI features will help users quickly understand the big picture and learn more about a topic by distilling complex information into easy-to-digest formats.

Google has a long history of using AI to improve its search results for billions of people.

The company’s latest AI technologies, such as LaMDA, PaLM, Imagen, and MusicLM, provide users with entirely new ways to engage with information.

Google is working to bring these latest advancements into its products, starting with search.

Statement From Google CEO Sundar Pichai

Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and Alphabet, released a statement on Twitter about a conversational AI service that will be available in the coming weeks.

Bard, powered by LaMDA, is Google’s new language model for dialogue applications.

According to Pichai, Bard, which leverages Google’s vast intelligence and knowledge base, can deliver accurate and high-quality answers:

“In 2021, we shared next-gen language + conversation capabilities powered by our Language Model for Dialogue Applications (LaMDA). Coming soon: Bard, a new experimental conversational #GoogleAI service powered by LaMDA.

Bard seeks to combine the breadth of the world’s knowledge with the power, intelligence, and creativity of our large language models. It draws on information from the web to provide fresh, high-quality responses. Today we’re opening Bard up to trusted external testers.

We’ll combine their feedback with our own internal testing to make sure Bard’s responses meet our high bar for quality, safety, and groundedness and we will make it more widely available in coming weeks. It’s early, we will launch, iterate and make it better.”

In Summary

Increasingly, people are turning to Google for deeper insights and understanding.

With the help of AI, Google can consolidate insights for questions where there is no one correct answer, making it easier for people to get to the core of what they are searching for.

In addition to the AI features being rolled out in search, Google is also introducing a new experimental conversational AI service called Bard. Powered by LaMDA, Bard will use Google’s vast intelligence and knowledge base to deliver accurate and high-quality answers to users.

Google continues demonstrating its commitment to making search more intuitive and effective for users. As Pichai said in his statement, the company will continue to launch, iterate, and improve these new offerings in the coming weeks and months.

Source: Google



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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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Featured Image: FGC/Shutterstock



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