Since 2002, Yandex has established itself as the leader of the online search market in Russia. Not only did it leave its Russian competitors in the dust – nowadays Mail.ru commands less than 8% of the search market and Rambler less than 2% – it has also successfully resisted Google’s offensive.

Technologically, the initial Yandex advantage was to have been specially designed for search in Russian, with all its linguistic specificities.

Google launched its Russian-language search engine in 2001, but it opened its first office in Russia and introduced Russian-language morphology-based search capabilities only in 2006. Like most US web giants, Google did not or could not consider Russia as a priority market in its early international development plans. This left Yandex some time to firmly establish itself on the local market.

However, in the mid-2000s, Google began to assert itself more aggressively in Russia. “Google raised its market share from 6% to 18% and ours fell from 60% to 51%,” Yandex CEO Arkady Volozh recalled in an interview last year. “It was really scary. We moved with a counter attack before they could take Moscow, as it were. By the end of 2008, Yandex search had changed radically and in 2009, in my view, we got ahead of Google in many aspects.”

After 2008, Google stopped gaining market share, in spite of growing marketing efforts. In 2010, its position even dropped 1.9 points to 21.5% of the market.

“Yandex made substantial improvements in regional search parameters to show different, more relevant results for users in different cities,” Volozh added. “While international search engines differentiate countries, we focus different cities. Our main breakthrough, however, came in December, 2009, when we integrated the Matrixnet search platform which allows Yandex to analyze not just hundreds, but thousands of factors. It’s like a new telescope for astronomers, delivering a resolution several times higher than the one of competing analogues.”

“Although the capitalizations of Yandex and Google are of different orders of magnitude, the engineering and innovation potential of their respective R&D departments are comparable,” confirmed Sergey Kuznetsov of the Yandex Department at HSE‘s School of Applied Mathematics and Information Science in an exchange with East-West Digital News. “In some directions, Yandex is even ahead of Google, for example, the Yandex real-time traffic monitoring service launched 4 years before Google could offer a similar service to its Russian users.”

Expert commentaries
  • Google vs. Yandex: Does Google have any chance on the Russian market?

Alexander Galitsky, co-founder and managing partner at Almaz Capital Partners:

“In the medium or long term, Google has its chance, especially if Google will make some special deal with leading telecoms. It won’t be easy, however, since Yandex is a well structured company and it will be almost impossible for anyone to win the search competition with Yandex. The best Cyrillic search results will keep users around Yandex for a long time to come.”

Yandex CEO Arkady Volozh (quoted by Forbes.ru):

“They will not die of they do not conquer Russia. But we will die if we loose her.”

Andrey Zotov, East-West Digital News co-founder:

“Of course, Yandex’s leadership might not be eternal. Google could significantly reduce the gap with a strong team and sufficient investment on the Russian market. But it is difficult to imagine Google seriously threatening Yandex positions in the next 5 to 7 years.”

  • Yandex vs. Google: Does Yandex have any chance on the international market?

Alexander Galitsky:

“Yandex will continue to grow its presence on the international scene, but it will be limited to Slavic speaking territories and a few other places like Kazakhstan and Turkey, for example, where Google isn’t focused and where Yandex already has a good solution for the language families present on those markets.”

Lyubov Simonova, Principal at Almaz Capital Partners:

“Against Google’s well established brand, Yandex will need big money for marketing on international markets. The most important thing is to choose the right entry strategy for each country. Countries where trust in America has been shaken could represent additional opportunities for Yandex.”

Andrey Zotov:

“If Yandex can offer a search engine on the global market that incorporates today’s most advanced artificial intelligence – an algorithm capable of reducing the useless millions of results found in half a second to a more manageable number of worthwhile links – this will be an important success.”

The views expressed by these experts do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations.