Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The largest social network Vkontakte keeps evolving

April 20, 2011

Vkontakte continues to change and introduce new rules and features. I’d say that despite visual similarity to Facebook, running campaigns on Vkontakte requires more patience and a different approach. Before tapping into the most popular social network in Russia, it’s crucial to speak Russian and have a clear understanding of your target audience.

I want to emphasise that people spending time on Vkontakte are different from Russians who’ve chosen to be on Facebook. For example, if you want to create awareness about expensive gadgets, it’s not worth the effort running a campaign on Vkontakte, as this network is predominantly occupied by the younger generation with a weak purchasing power, whilst Early Adopters with money prefer Facebook.

In contrast, if you’re promoting summer English language courses, Vkontakte is the place to be; because the majority of Russian teens  actively participate in this network . Some argue that it’s not worth investing in advertising Vkontakte, as SEM on Yandex and Google are bringing more return on investment. In my opinion, it all depends on objectives. For instance, if you want to create a buzz around your brand and listen to what others have to say it’s definitely worth trying Vkontakte.

Vkontakte is completely overwhelmed with adverts, groups, and spammers. My advice to advertisers would be to ensure a high level of prominence in order to stand in this information-dense environment. The Network’s recent decision to stop banner advertising was a definite shift towards better user experience. However, this month Vkontakte has introduced a new type of advertising: video banners. This exciting innovation means that each time a user clicks on a small textual and visual advert a full screen video appears. These adverts are made to encourage sharing of content between the network users. People can “Like” adverts, add to ‘Favourites’ and see other people who are fond of the same videos.

video ad Vkontakte

The Russian digital agency, AdWatch Isobar, is the first in the market to start using this type of advertising. Their ad campaign for Megafon, a major Russian mobile network operator, which was launched 15th of April, has already proved to be a success. According to the MD of the agency, a сlickthrough rate of the campaign was four to five times higher compared with traditional targeted adverts.

Another significant change is the possibility to create public pages. Vkontakte allows the changing of groups into public pages. This makes it easier for organizations and businesses which previously were only able to use groups to engage with their audience. It’s free to create a public page and any member can do so easily. The only difference to Facebook is that you have to provide a phone number to get the page activated. As of today there are 410 967 public pages falling into the following categories: places, small business, companies, organizations, celebrities and goods

The first public page on Vkontakte was created by Sberbank Rossii (Сбербанк России ), the largest bank in Russia  and is run under the supervision of the famous Russian social media expert, Arthur Welf  It appears that Vkontakte encourages users to switch into public pages as it’s becoming increasingly complicated to recruit members to groups. It’s not possible to send out invitations to anyone in the network except your friends. The most simple, but expensive way to recruit new people to groups is through targeted advertising. The other option is to visit other groups and advertise on their walls or by posting engaging and catchy content.

Another option to attract members is through applications. Such an approach is less expensive than targeted advertising, but can be just as effective.

The most popular app on Vkontakte is a game called Тюряга (Prison) with 6 134 947 installations. The goal of the game is to make tattoos to become a respectful criminal. Russian criminal tattoos have a complex system of symbols and this application educates widely on this topic. I think this is an interesting fact, compared to the relatively innocent leader of Facebook apps CityVille.

Furthermore, it is possible to promote a group or a public page by endorsing celebrity accounts and to attract users from external websites. There are many individuals in the network offering promotion services, although I haven’t used any of them and can’t recommend anyone who can deliver notable results.

It’s exciting to follow developments introduced by this network and learn about its members. Bearing in mind that Vkontakte provides many opportunities for understanding how the product or brand is being perceived in various regions of Russia, not simply exclusive to major cities. Facebook is still the favourite network in the Moscow and St.Petersburg population.

Marketers, expand your knowledge and meet the Russian online users. 

December 13, 2010

At school my favorite subjects were Russian language and literature. I truly enjoyed writing essays, reading, discussing the Russian classics and exploring sophisticated grammar. At the same time, I was also fond of English and assiduously learned the language of business and international communications. It was an unquestionable fact that fluent English would be essential for my career, leisure and overall success in life. Currently, I work for a company providing English language training and it doesn’t take much to put across the message about the importance of English as a second language in someone’s life. I’m very proud that I speak Russian and grateful for all the opportunities I had to master my English which definitely makes my life so much more exciting.

Certainly, English is a global language and this explains why the majority of  native English speakers are not that keen on learning other languages. I’ve met a few self – deluded marketers who believe that Google Translate is enough for desktop marketing research and basic marketing communications. Of course, you can always hire a global marketing agency to implement your campaigns in foreign markets. This is a very common practice and makes perfect sense, but can be costly and less efficient than you expect. I think the  worldwide rise of the Internet provides plenty of opportunities for businesses to meet local partners online and secure brand awareness abroad without spending too much money. However, this requires a genuine desire to learn about other cultures and languages plus it requires time to build relationships with people from another cultural and social background. So, despite the fact that the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin sang in English a few days ago the majority of Russians still prefer surfing online in their native language and it’s definitely worth making an effort and spend some time trying to understand the differences between .COM and.RU.

In my future posts I’m going to take a closer look at the particulars of online marketing, SEO, social media, public relations and market research in Russia. In order to obtain the most up-to-date and relevant information I have contacted some Russia-based agencies who kindly agreed to help me with content.

Firstly, I’d like to give a brief overview of Runet. I gathered the data from a few open sources: a report called The State of the Russian Internet produced by a group of enthusiasts from infact.ru, the widely – known www.internetworldstats.com and from the Russian Public Opinion Foundation fom.ru

Currently, there are about 59.7 million Russian speaking people using the Internet, this represents 3.0 % of all the Internet users in the world. Out of the estimated 139,390,205 population of the world that speaks Russian, 42.8 % use the Internet. The number of Russian Speaking Internet Users has grown 1,825.8% in the last ten years (2000-2010). According to the Russian Public Opinion Foundation ( Фонд Общественное Мнение) research this summer 28,6 million Russians logged in online at least once a day, with 38,8 million weekly users and 43.7 million monthly.

Bearing in mind that Russia is a vast country with various economic growth rates in different regions, it’s essential to have a clear understanding of Internet penetration at each region. Today, around 51% of the  population of multi-million cities are regular online users. In smaller places  30%-40% people have access to the Internet and only 20% in villages.  It’s worth emphasizing the Internet penetration growth in Russia depends on regions. 33% of .Ru domains are owned by webmasters from Russia’s remote regions ( not from Moscow and St.Petersburg)

The Internet penetration map of Russia.

Russian Internet Penetration Map

This map demonstrates that 30% of online users live in the Central Region (including Moscow), 13% – in the North-West region (including St. Petersburg), 20% – in the Volga region (cities around the Volga river), 13% – in the South and Caucasian regions, 8% – in the Ural region (cities around the Ural mountain chain), 13% – in Siberia and still about 4% – in the Far East region of the Russian Federation.

So what kind of Russians could be referred as regulars in cyberspace? The table below shows that a typical Internet user in Russia is relatively well-off and can afford the following: 37% of Internet savvy population own a car, 23%  have the pleasure of holding a credit card and 47% possess debit cards, 16% use paid medical services, 12% visit cinemas several times a month, 5% use a PDA and 66% of all Internet users  drink beer.

Russian Internet Users

This graph was provided by a very friendly and successful Russian SEO and search marketing agency, Ingate, with offices in Moscow and Tula. In my next post I’m going to look into the Russian search engine market, contextual advertising, popular searches in Yandex and much more.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing on Russian Search Engines.

December 7, 2010

Russian InternetWhile interest in the Russian speaking Internet is steadily growing, more businesses are exploring efficient ways of reaching the Russian speaking audience online. I’m going to take a closer look at the very relevant and controversial topic of SEO and marketing on Runet. I find it exciting because all successful businesses strive to be at the top of search engines results. No doubts, it’s important to secure the best spot in search rankings. Especially, if the company is targeting a foreign market and has to compete with local businesses. Surely, there is a big difference between Search Engine Marketing with Google and Yandex, the largest search engine in Russia and the particularities are not restricted to language itself. I call the topic of search engine marketing in Russia controversial because I heard a few opinions about some unethical tactics companies use while implementing Russian Search Marketing techniques.

I’m trying to find a Russian-based SEO agency to write a post on my blog about the state of SEO, and hopefully this will cover the topic in the near future with more professional insights. In the meantime, I asked my friend Veronika Jermolina who has done some SEO work on the Russian Internet to share her experiences on my blog. Although she may not be an expert, she has a completely independent point of view. This is what she had to say:

“For the past two years I have been working in the usability industry in the UK. In the last 6 months I have taken a keen interest in SEO, mostly through reading and working on optimising a website of a log house construction company for the Russian market. Although I am by no means an expert, I have noticed several differences between the attitudes towards SEO in the UK and Russia.

1. Use of ‘black hat’ methods of SEO

The worst offenders of using these ‘black hat’, or dodgy methods are companies who want to rank highly for competitive queries, such as ‘log houses in Moscow’. For example, link exchange schemes when site A places a link to site B in return for site B placing a link to site A. Another technique that is common in Russia is paid links, when an authoritative website or blogger is paid for placing a link to a website. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen serious businesses use this technique in the UK too, but the use of these techniques in Runet is in my opinion absolutely atrocious.

Such techniques, if discovered, are penalised by search engines. They are also counter-productive for the web as a whole. Due to manipulated ratings the user is not given the best result for his/her query. Further, this effort quickly becomes fruitless if the user exits the site immediately due to its poor content.

2. SEO viewed as a part of user-centred and persuasive design

In Russia SEO is definitely seen as one of the most important success factors for a website. In the UK the concepts of usability and user centred design are much more advanced and seen as a priority. Rather than ranking well in search engines the concern is often about being able to deliver relevant, persuasive content and functionality.

3. Lack of research

SEO in itself is a bit of a black box in a sense that no one really knows how search engines work. If people did, it would be too easy to use this knowledge to manipulate and compromise results. However, it is possible to gain a better understanding through changing variables and observing how they affect ranking over time. There are plenty of resources available to English-speaking audiences, for example SEOmoz. One problem I did come across was the lack of research in Russian, specific to Russian audiences. For example, how does transliteration affect the results?”

How to go through the 0 comment threshold?

September 8, 2010

Every time I read a new blog, I pay attention to the Conversational Index Ratio, оr in other words, the number of comments left under each post. I’ve noticed that it’s quite rare for blogs to draw a lot of comments and generate lively discussions. I went through many PR consultancy blogs while pursuing research for my dissertation on the benefits and risks associated with PR consultancy blogs. From a sample of fifty blogs, I observed that despite the fact that many of them were accurate, up to date and well-written they didn’t spark any debates and seemed to languish without any attention from an external audience. Later, I faced the same problem with my personal blog. According to my blog stats people read my blog, some link to it, but I rarely attract comments. This is quite an unpleasant feeling and you start thinking that your ideas are boring. Social media is not the easiest place to become famous.

There are a few reasons why some blogs are more popular than others.  Great copywriting skills, persistence and expertise in a particular area don’t necessarily guarantee popularity. The success of bloggers depends on their personality, their enthusiasm, the amount of time on their hands, genuine passion for digital communications and the ability to get on well with different types of people. Being a popular blogger means being online almost 24/7, always ready to respond or comment, create newsworthy stories, scribble down ideas for new posts and constantly look for opportunities to engage with other bloggers. Nevertheless, blogs are considered as a quick and affordable one –to -many communications channel but blogging is a time-consuming activity requiring a lot of effort and thought. Bearing in mind, that in addition to online activities, there are plenty of things a famous blogger should do offline as well. Such as attending networking events, speaking at conferences, meeting other bloggers, reading and writing books, white papers etc. If you add a full-time job to this list, there will be hardly any space for a personal life or outside interests.

This explains why many blogs don’t seem to achieve a significant outreach in the blogosphere. If you are so busy working on clients’ accounts, running blogs and tweeting on someone else’s behalf, engaging with various target audiences and monitoring the Internet on topics relevant to clients than your own blog suffer. Besides, it’s worth remembering that any post mentioning someone else’s business could potentially result in betrayal of client confidentiality or any other sensitive data. Therefore, some posts on consultancy lack controversial ideas and bold statements. There is no room for debates in this case.

In spite of all these complications blogging is still a very convenient way of sharing thoughts, demonstrating the quality of thinking and showing a willingness to discuss things. The purpose of my blog is to share knowledge and expertise with others and I look forward to reading your comments.

Интервью с российским SEO экспертом Михаилом Шакиным

May 11, 2010

Я провела интернет-интервью с российским SEO экспертом Михаилом Шакиным. Я узнала о Михаиле во время своего исследования о специалистах в области продвижения и развития вебсайтов в России. В среднем на блог Михаила заходят три тысячи человек в сутки, и он -активный участник соответствующих этой тематике форумов. Из этого интервью я узнала об отличительных чертах развития сайтов и SEO в Рунете. Михаил живет в Омске, на юго-западе Сибири, разрушая этим фактом стереотипы о том, что основные эксперты в России находятся в столице. Михаил делает замечательную работу на своем блоге. Я всегда нахожу его посты очень интересными и легко воспринимающимися.

Как Вы охарактеризуете вид своей деятельности?

Я бы сказал так – работаю в интернете. Основная моя сфера деятельности – продвижение и развитие сайтов.

Сколько посетителей  за сутки в среднем заходят на ваш блог Shakin.ru ?

В среднем три тысячи человек с небольшим.

Есть ли разница на сколько активно люди пользуются интернетом в разных регионах России? В каких городах наиболее высокий процент жителей, пользующихся интернетом? Вы следите за статистикой? Если да, какими источниками информации Вы пользуетесь?

Да, конечно, число пользователей интернета напрямую зависит от его доступности и распространенности. В России лидируют Москва и Санкт-Петербург, это логично – интернет там самый доступный и скоростной. Могу сказать по своим знакомым в Омске – об интернете знают все, но мало кто в нем хорошо ориентируется. Обычно дальше социальных сетей и почты большинство интернет пользователей не идет.

Являетесь ли Вы активным участником каких – либо социальных сетей ( Вконтакте, Facebook, Oдноклассники)?

В Одноклассниках зарегистрирован давно, но не помню, когда заходил на этот сервис. Недавно завел аккаунты Вконтакте и Facebook, но активно там не общаюсь.

Считаете ли Вы создание профайлов в социальных сетях и расширение круга виртуальных друзей необходимыми составляющими для продвижения любого онлайн бизнеса?

Думаю, тут важны не столько профайлы в социальных сетях, сколько знакомые и владельцы интернет ресурсов по тематике Вашего сайта. С ними можно договориться о взаимовыгодном сотрудничестве – это дает хорошие преимущества. Конечно, для того, чтобы что-то получать, нужно что-то давать.

Какие западные блоги Вы читаете для пополнения своих профессиональных навыков?

Зарубежные ресурсы я часто читаю и нахожу в них много полезной информации. Те сайты, которые я читаю, я недавно описывал в статье http://shakin.ru/seo/foreign-seo-resources.html.

Кто, по вашему мнению, является лидирующим зарубежным блоггером, пишущим про SEO оптимизации?

Я бы назвал Лорена Бейкера, основателя SearchEngineJournal.com. Он дал интервью для моего блога, которое можно прочитать здесь: http://shakin.ru/interview/loren-baker.html.

Вы читаете какие-либо учебные пособия по SEO?

Когда начинал в сфере продвижения сайтов, то читал книгу Ашманова “Продвижение сайта в поисковых системах”. Сейчас все познаю на практике. Если нужно выяснить какой-либо момент – то провожу эксперимент.

Существуют ли учебники или пособия по  SEO, написанные российскими авторами?

Основным учебным пособием считаю вышеупомянутую книгу Ашманова, в ней хорошо описаны теоретические основы.

Вы посещаете конференции или семинары по SEO в России?

От Омска до Москвы 2800 километров. Если бы не это расстояние, обязательно бы посещал различные мероприятия.

Как относятся российские владельцы бизнесов к онлайн рекламе и SEO? Насколько они осознают значение интернета в продвижении их товаров и услуг?

В крупных городах все больше бизнесменов понимают перспективу интернета для их бизнеса. В городах поменьше многие не осознают этого.

Вы когда-либо выполняли заказы на  западных компаний на SEO в рунете? Если да, то приведите, пожалуйста, пример.

С западными компаниями в плане продвижения сайтов не работал.

Какой Ваш любимый российский блог?

Мне нравятся многие блоги в рунете, но какой-то один выделить сложно.

На каком сайте по Вашему мнению,  лучше  узнавать последние новости о развитии интернет-маркетинга, PR, социальных медиа в рунете?

Думаю, лучше всего узнавать новую информацию в любой тематике – это подписаться на RSS ленты ведущих сайтов. Затем в Google Reader’е можно удобно просматривать и фильтровать информацию с помощью поиска. В последнее время в этом плане выходит Twitter – замечаю, что подписавшись на интересных мне людей, узнаю о всем новом именно в твиттере.

В чем , на Ваш взгляд, заключается основное различие между российской и западной блогосферами?

В англоязычной блогосфере намного больше рекламодателей и возможностей заработать на своем блоге. В рунете большинство блогов испытывают трудности в этом плане и часто забрасывают свои сайты через некоторое время. Хотя при желании те, кто хотят, преодолевают этот момент.

Есть ли у Вас пожелания западным компаниям, которые собираются заниматься онлайн- бизнесом в России, например Еbay, Facebook, Google? Какие особенности им необходимо учитывать, чтобы не потерять деньги и не поставить себя в неловкое положение на российском рынке?

Желательно интегрироваться с российскими платежными системами – Яндекс Деньгами и Webmoney. Для любого крупного зарубежного сервиса в рунете желателен региональное представительство и русскоязычная техподдержка. Зачастую, когда появляется новость, что какой-либо сервис открывает представительство в Москве, начинаю говорить о серьезности намерений этой компании в рунете.
Считаете ли Вы возможным существование государственной цензуры в российской блогосфере?

Трудно сказать. В любом случае, определенные правила должны быть, чтобы меньше людей страдало от мошенников и недобросовестных сервисов.

Interview with Russian SEO expert Mike Shakin

May 11, 2010

I’ve done an email interview with Russian SEO expert and popular blogger Mike Shakin. I found out about Mike, while doing an online research into website development specialists in Russia. Mike has more than 3000 visitors to his blog per day and is an active member of  forums relevant to his area of expertise. From this interview I’ve learned about the particularities of running an online business in Russia. Mike lves in Omsk, located in southwestern Siberia, breaking out of the stereotype that major web development experts in Russia are based in the capital city. Mike does an amazing job with his blog. I always find his posts very informative and easy to understand.

How would you describe your occupation?

I work on the internet, focusing on websites development and promotion.

How many visitors  do you get to your blog  Shakin.ru a day?

 On the average, I get more than 3000 visits daily.

Is there a difference in the Internet usage levels in various regions of Russia? Which cities have the highest internet penetration level? 

Sure, there is. The amount of Internet users  depends on its affordability and availability. Moscow and St. Petersburg are the most Internet advanced cities. For example, in Omsk everybody knows about the Internet, but not everyone is fully conversant with it. Usually, people don’t go beyond social networking sites and emails.

Are you an active member of any social networking websites?

I registered in Odnoklassniki.ru long time ago, but haven’t visited it for a while. Recently, I’ve joined Vkontake.ru and Facebook, but don’t use it actively.

Do you  consider creating profiles on social networking sites and adding lots of friends is essential for any online business?

In my opinion, it is essential to know people running Internet resources relevant to your website, rather creating profiles on social networking sites. You can win from mutually beneficial cooperation. Obviously, it should be always give-and-take relationships.

Which Western blogs do you read to enhance your professional skills?

I always find a lot of useful information on Western online resources. Here is the list of blogs I read http://shakin.ru/seo/foreign-seo-resources.html.

 Which blog is the best in covering  SEO optimisation topics?

I would say Loren Baker, the founder of the SearchEngineJournal.com. He gave me an interview published here http://shakin.ru/interview/loren-baker.html.

 Do you read any textbooks about SEO?

In the very beginning of my career I read the book of Ashmanov ‘ Optimization and Promotion of Sites in Search Engines’ .  At present, I prefer to learn on practice. If I have to find out about particular topic,  I conduct experiments.

Are there any textbooks about SEO written by Russian experts?

I can recommend  only Ashmanov’s book.

Do you attend any conferences or seminars on SEO in Russia?

 No, I don’t. The distance from Omsk to Moscow is 2000 kilometres. It’s too far to travel.

What is the attitude of Russian business owners to online advertisement and SEO? Do they realise the importance of the Internet promotion?

In bigger cities more businesses appreciate the importance of the Internet for their development, in smaller ones many haven’t realised it yet.

Do you have a favorite Russian blog?

I like many blogs in Runet and can’t name the only one.

Which websites in Runet are the best sources of information about digital marketing, PR, social media?

The best way to keep abreast of the news is to subscribe to RSS feeds of leading in this area websites. Then I use the Google Reader to filter and look through information by search. Also I receive breaking news from following interesting people on Twitter.

What is the main difference between the Russian and Western blogoshperes?

On the English-Speaking Internet there are more advertisers and opportunities to make money blogging comparing to the Runet, where the majority of bloggers find it difficult to make money on blogs. Therefore, many blogs get abandoned after a while. However, those who keep going overcome any obstacles.

What is your advice to Western companies doing online business in Russia, for example Ebay, Facebook, Google? What should they consider not to lose money and avoid unpleasant situations?

 It is desirable to integrate with the Russian online payment systems – Yandex Money and Webmoney. For any foreign companies starting working on the Runet it’s essential to open regional representation offices and get the Russian-language technical support. As soon as I get the news that a foreign company opens a representative office in Moscow, I start to believe that this company has serious intentions on the Russian market.

Do you consider the possibility of a state-imposed censorship on the Russian blogosphere?

It’s hard to to say. Either way, certain rules must be applied, so fewer people would suffer from fraud and unfair services.


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