Written by Anastasia Kurmakaeva
Table of contents
A few years ago, we spoke about Yandex’s TCI on our Spanish blog – the Thematic Citation Index, a metric used to measure the reputation and authority of a website. This index became obsolete in 2018, after being one of the most important indicators in Russian SEO for nearly 20 years. Now it’s been replaced by a new indicator called “SQI” or “Site Quality Index” (Индекс качества сайта, or “ИКС” for short, in Russian), serving pretty much the same purpose.
The difference between the two is that the SQI has arrived to adapt to the current situation, encompassing a much broader list of factors than now-defunct TCI, the value of which was mostly based on mentions (links) a website got from other sites.
In the words of Yandex Webmaster’s blog, it was high time they adapted to the current reality, where we cannot measure the reliability of a website just by using the links it receives, as this indicator certainly falls too short in a world dominated by social media, mobile websites, and the growing importance of providing users with a satisfactory user experience.
Today, nearly two years since the index has been launched, and its definitive departure from BETA in November 2019, we are going to look into what it is, how it’s measured, how it evolved, what are the aspects it takes into account, and how we can check this rating both for our website and our competitors, among other interesting information.
What is Yandex’s SQI and how it’s measured
As we were saying, SQI measures que quality of a website. It’s recalculated and updated on a monthly basis. Its minimum value is 0, but the maximum value is unknown. For reference, one of the most visited news websites in Rusia, ria.ru, currently obtains a SQI rating of 61,500, and vk.com, the most-used social networking platform by Russian-speaking users, gets an SQI rating of 330,000. A more modest website, however, for example zootovary.ru (an online shop selling products for household animals operating nationwide) gets an SQI of 260. Therefore, this tells us that we should always consider this value within the context of our industry and our direct competitors in Russia.
If we look at the explanation provided by the company itself in its help section regarding SQI, the indicator measures how useful your website is for the users from the Yandex algorithm point of view. These are the aspects used to calculate this index for any website:
- Size of the audience.
- User satisfaction with the website.
- Degree of trust users and Yandex have towards the website.
- Whether the website has committed any violations or it hasn’t.
- If the algorithm detected any attempts to artificially influence the SQI of the website.
- Moreover, Yandex feeds from the information it gets through its own services (search, maps, zen…), the importance of which varies based on the type of business.
As you’ve probably noticed already, the factors specified by the official sources of Yandex are somewhat vague and insufficient, leaving us with more questions than answers. We can totally understand where they’re coming from: it’s perfectly natural that the company would want to prevent any artificial manipulation of this indicator, so that it reflects as accurately as possible the real quality of the website.
Nevertheless, the aspects bearing an influence on the website’s usefulness and user satisfaction with its content are infinite, so we have no choice but to look into the conclusions we can get in order to improve our image in the eyes of Yandex.
The SQI page in Yandex Webmaster provides the following additional information:
The better a website accommodates the users’ goals, the more popular it is, which results in higher rankings in the search engines’ results and more traffic.
This could suggest that traffic and rankings our website gets can influence in one way or another the obtained SQI rating, but not the other way around; that is, there is no indication that the obtained SQI value directly influences rankings.
If we check out the badges the tool gives to us once we achieve certain goals within this very section, we see that, thus far, we’re going in the right way with our conjecture:
- Popular website: this badge is given to websites, which have a high and constant traffic volume, with a dedicated audience. *Nevertheless, the traffic source or sources taken into account are not specified.
- Users’ choice: this badge is given to websites with a high level of user engagement and loyalty according to Yandex data.
- Secure connection: this badge is given to websites with a significant share of traffic going to HTTPS pages. Websites with a high traffic volume will receive this badge.
- Turbo pages (Yandex’s equivalent to AMP): this badge is given to websites receiving traffic from turbo pages, which considerably increase the download speed on mobile devices.
This data reveals that, indeed, user experience and traffic prevail in calculating SQI. But which metrics and indicators should we worry about in this sense? In addition to the aforementioned factors:
- Good user experience usually results in higher average session time for a website, as Internet users see themselves encouraged to stay browsing a website longer if its usable, its content is relevant and interesting, and the navigation is intuitive. Therefore, if your pages have a high bounce rate, the average session time is low, you don’t get many recurring visitors, or the number of visited pages is very low, you should throughly analyse your website to see what’s failing: how its content is structured, whether the provided information is updated and is valuable, whether navigation is intuitive…
- Having a website with a good download speed and performance, even without the turbo pages, is also key. Even though Yandex is strongly invested in this technology, just as Google is invested in AMP, their use won’t always be our top choice. You’ll still need to ensure that the mobile as well as the desktop version work smoothly in their corresponding devices, and the user’s network quality is not a determining factor for website load.
- Mentions on other websites including social media, while no longer the primary factor as they used to be for TCI, also contribute to boosting credibility and reliability for users. A website that doesn’t receive links recommending it will hardly ever be considered useful for users, and the recognition it gets will be severely limited by it.
How to check Yandex SQI
If we want to measure the SQI of a website we own, or a website for which we have been granted access on Yandex Webmaster, it’s very easy: just go to the Yandex Webmaster tool, where you’ll quickly see the section to check it. It’s the first one on the list, you cannot miss it:
Within the same section we can monitor our SQI together with other websites, which we consider to be our direct competitors, adding up to 19 domains, which including our own make an even 20.
We can even place a small icon with our SQI rating at the footer of our website, so that the users visiting us can see it too, and have another indicator to rely on and verify that they can trust us:
Moreover, if we want to check the SQI for other websites without adding them to our list of competitors on Yandex Webmaster, there are various tools at our disposal allowing us to do so, like this one, or this one too, where we can enter several URLs at the same time and see what Yandex thinks of these websites. We can also enter the following URL into the address bar of our browser of choice:
And then replace the domain “youtube.com” we used as an example by any other domain we wish to check.
How to improve this indicator
Now, we’ve already examined the probable factors influencing the SQI rating, so we would have to analyse in detail our own website’s current state and see where there’s more room for improvement. If we strive to offer our best, we’ll probably see this rating grow over time.
As we explained at the beginning of this post, we have to analyse our Yandex SQI rating within the context of our industry and our direct rivals if we’re going to compare ourselves to other websites, either to know how we compare to our competitors on the market, or in order to find possible optimisations to carry out on our own website, finding inspiration in direct competitors who get better results.
It’s important to keep in mind that this indicator is continuously being developed and updated. Same as Google, Yandex also works tirelessly on refining and improving its algorithm, as well as its tools. This means that we’ll probably see it fluctuate in the long term, but not on a daily basis.
Some final words
A questions many SEO managers and webmasters had with regard to this indicator was the Yandex team’s decision not to calculate the quality index for subdomains. I.e. if we have a blog or a website hosted on a subdomain –blog.domain.com or mywebsite.domain.com– the SQI rating we get will be for the domain in full.
Many users questioned this limitation in the comments underneath the entry announcing the new SQI in the Yandex Webmasters blog. However, Elena Pershina, the maximum authority of Yandex in all things related to search sheds some light in that area. There is an important nuance in that respect: this rule doesn’t include large platforms hosting other websites as subdomains, namely blogspot.com, wordpress.com, blogger.com, etc. Therefore, if our website is hosted on “mywebsite.blogspot.com”, in principle we should get an individual Yandex SQI rating for it.
Nevertheless, the full list of platforms exempt from the subdomain rule has not been specified, so we don’t know exactly which websites hosted on subdomains will be able to check their individual SQI. If we learn anything new, we’ll report it in this very post 👍