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Yandex & Seznam: Local Powers That Be In Europe

A few weeks ago, the Czech online industry suddenly was in an uproar. The search engine Seznam was seemingly outranked by Google in market share. With almost the entire of Europe being dominated by Google, the Czech Republic, together with the Russian Federation, held an exceptional position.

In these countries, Google isn’t the most dominant force in search. Instead, local search engines take the leading positions there.

The shift in dominance from Seznam to Google was disputed by Seznam, and it seems they have a valid point in their criticism. The numbers provided by web measurement service Toplist are based on traffic coming to Toplist sites, which is not the ‘regular’ way of calculating market share.

But the smartly placed post and press release, which gave Toplist some nice attention (and links for that matter) did raise another interesting question: what makes Seznam and Yandex amongst the few who are capable of challenging Google in their regions?

Let’s take a look at both search engines.


First let’s look at the Czech giant. What makes them so special?

The reasons for the position of Seznam in Czech are several. The first and very important one is that Seznam is a local search engine and many Czechs are really fond of their local products compared to foreign products. It’s not just that they prefer Seznam over Google, but that they would rather drink the local Kofola cola instead of Coca-Cola or Pepsi.

This kind of behavior mainly consists within the older generations. The youngsters are slowly switching to more foreign products, which partly explains the growth Google is seeing.

Another reason why Seznam has outrun Google for a long time is that Google was kind of ‘sloppy’ when it came to their efforts to gain more market share in Czech. The US giant didn’t have an office in Prague and with the Czechs being fond of their local stuff, that was a mistake.

To really get a grip on the market you have to be there, connect with the local industries and get known. Google didn’t do that.

The third major reason for Seznam’s dominance is the fact that the Czech language is a specific language, one which Google hasn’t quite been able to get a grip on. The data which Google provided simply wasn’t good enough. That is a problem which Google has in other countries, and which has partly led to Yandex’s dominance too.


The Russian search engine Yandex is the other search engine in Europe which is capable of competing with Google. As with Seznam, there are many different ways in which market share is calculated. Yandex itself looks at FOM’s (Public opinion foundation) data. According to FOM, 40% of the Russian Internet users are using Yandex. This means an overall daily audience of 32 million users.

One of the issues with the calculation of numbers regarding Seznam and Google in Czech, is due to the fact there were also many searches conducted in other languages from inhabitants within the Czech Republic who have a different native language; Yandex acknowledges the difficulties with detecting a language that used in a search query.

With Yandex, you’ll have to look at the difference between alphabetical text, which “we” use and Cyrillic, which is used in the Russian language. That last part is 73% of all queries, so you could safely say that the majority using Yandex comes from within Russia.

But Yandex is in one way very different from our example of Seznam. Even though Russia is their native country, users are also in Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. That makes that the reasons for popularity are different than from Seznam.

Yandex itself believes their popularity in these countries comes from taking local specifics seriously. This is a hint again towards Google, which in many cases simply ‘drops’ their US way of working in the specific countries. That might sometimes work in Western European countries, but in the Eastern European countries it is a lot less successful.

Yandex believes therein lies their big advantage over Google. They how to adapt techs to local markets. This means they also think they can adapt in new countries quickly, which might be an indication that Yandex is not stopping at where they are, but that they are thinking of expanding even more.

Yandex chief editor Elena Kolmanovskaya told a Finnish publication last year:

“We believe that the borders for each service are defined by the language. We used to believe that we were making yandex.ru for the Russians and the Russian-speaking users worldwide, whose numbers tally up quite considerably, especially across the former Soviet Union bloc. But then, we launched yandex.ua, yandex.kz and yandex.by, that is, we learned how to use languages other than Russian and, what is much more difficult, learned how to build different ranking algorithms (relevancy) not only for specific countries, but also for specific regions and even cities. And we’ll keep developing our skills.”

The capability to adapt to a “new” country is what made Yandex successful against Google in the East of Europe. It’s the same conclusion we can pull from looking at Seznam: the local powers can adapt better to what the local audience wants.

But at the same time, that can be the danger for the local search engines. Google is going local more and more, and if they really put their minds to it, the Silicon Valley residents might “get” that Eastern European feeling and get closer to what Yandex and Seznam can do in Europe.

Alexander Amzin, Media relations manager at Yandex, acknowledges that:

“Local search engines do have the same challenge as global ones: to find good answers to difficult questions. As time passes level of expertise needed for successful development of search engine increases. “Global” results are losing their importance because a user awaits personalized, localized search results. To provide each user with such results – is a great challenge for any search engine.”

So with the local search engines, the battle is also about local results.

What can we learn from this? We can first learn that local search engines still matter. But more importantly, we can learn from these engines that it’s very important to look into the local aspects. Get close to the locals and learn what they want if you want to be successful in Europe. Go the European way.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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