Digital marketing in Russia: a talk with “Russian Search Tips”
The digital scenario in Russia is among the most interesting ones. Against the global trends, Russia keeps on proving how local habits and platforms still play a vital role in such a challenging market.
We discussed these issues with Anna Oshkalo, a Russian Internet expert that launched the blog Russian Search Tips, among the top sources of info about digital marketing in Russia and in the Runet – the Internet in Russian-speaking countries such as Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan).
– Hi Anna. Why did you decide to launch your blog, and when?
Hi Guido! I started Russian Search Tips in 2009. Back then I worked for a gaming company in Stockholm and was responsible for SEO for Russia and CIS. While working there I realized that a lot of foreign companies are interested in Russia as a market, but the information about the market and marketing tools written in any other language that Russian was scarce.
I thought somebody should fill the gap and started the blog with tips and tricks to help fellow webmasters who, just like myself, tried to conquer Russia and Yandex. Then I got addicted to it – the more I learned the more I wanted to write. So, here I am!
– You live and work in Sweden: in terms of digital strategy, what are the most relevant differences in approaching Russian-speaking markets, compared to the Western ones?
I think the biggest differences are not in tools and methods, but rather in consumer behavior and also local infrastructure. The Russian online market is less mature than most of the Western ones, and people don’t trust online merchants easily.
Brands should not just try to sell online, but also invest into building a brand and social presence from day 1. But even for established brands, conversion rates in Russia are often lower than in other markets – in some cases up to 4-5 times lower.
That’s also part of the reason why only 17% of the 68 million Russian Internet users actually buy products or services online.
Apart from the trust issues, there are also issues with payments and delivery: Russian Post is very slow and unreliable (which not only complicates deliveries, but also returns), and Russians do like to pay for their purchases by cash upon delivery. Local merchants often solve these problems by employing private delivery companies that can both ship goods faster and accept cash when delivering packages, but you can imagine what a hassle it is for a foreign company to deal with all this.
More on this complex issue: Closer look at Russian online payment jungle, on Russian Search Tips (editor’s note).
– Speaking of SEO and SEM, what would you suggest to position a brand in Russia: Yandex, Google, “all of the above”, or “it really depends”?
In terms of SEM, I would definitely recommend to use both Yandex.Direct and Google AdWords. While Yandex is the leading search engine and will be delivering the majority of PPC traffic, Google has around 25% market share in Russia, and CPC levels are lower due to lower competition. It’s a shame to miss out on such opportunity!
When it comes to SEO, well, it really depends. Yandex and Google have slightly different “requirements”, most Russian companies very aggressively push (especially in terms of links) in Yandex and sort of don’t care Google. I personally like to optimize for both, which implies less aggressive and more quality-oriented methods.
– You focus a lot on Yandex: what are its most distinctive features as a digital advertising platform?
To start with, Yandex.Direct can be pretty confusing for those who are used to Google AdWords. At the first glance the interface is less user-friendly, and working with it involves more manual work. Campaign structure is different: there are no ad groups, and only one ad is allowed per set of keywords. This makes campaigns chunky, more difficult to navigate, and complicates ad copy testing.
On the other hand, Yandex.Direct offers some pretty advanced bidding strategies that can fit any advertiser’s goals, which AdWords doesn’t have.
To know more, here’s an interesting post: 10 lessons of Yandex SEO, on Russian Search Tips (editor’s note).
– Speaking of social media, what would you suggest to a brand approaching Russia: Vkontakte, Facebook, Twitter, “all of the above”, or “it really depends”?
Russians are very active in social networks, and since VK is the biggest one it would probably be the safest choice for any brand.
Twitter has around 11 million Russian account, so for some industries it can be a great social channel too.
– How about Odnoklassniki or other local platforms?
Odnoklassniki is the second biggest social network, and its members spend most time per day there compared to other social networks, according to a recent research from ComScore.
Generally, it is said that Odnoklassniki has older user base than VK, so if it fits brand’s targeting audience, Odnoklassniki can be a good social platform, I guess – the graph below shows the growth of Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki vs. Facebook (source: Russian Search Tips, editor’s note).
– The future of the Runet: do you think Facebook will finally overcome local SNS in the long run?
To be honest, I don’t have high expectations for Facebook in Russia. They came a couple of years too late, and since everyone is already on vKontakte, that also happened to look almost exactly the same, what is the point to get on Facebook?
If we turn to official stats, ComScore says that Facebook’s market share in Russia keeps shrinking year over year, while the local players keep growing stronger.
From personal experience, I see that most of my friends in Russia signed up for Facebook, but have never been active there. The only ones who log in to Facebook from time to time are the ones who have friends in other countries.
– Thanks Anna!