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Yandex – an alternative to Google


Introduction


We’ve seen in recent months – in fact in recent years – that Google really isn’t interested in the search process. Rather than developing and improving their offering they have in fact been reducing it. We lost the tilde symbol (~) to search for synonyms and more recently the opportunity to filter by pages that you have or have not visited has gone, as has the reading level option. That’s just a small sample, there are many more. It’s clear that Google doesn’t want us to search, it wants to know best, and give us exactly what IT thinks we need, irrespective of our own search criteria. The result is that Google has brought itself back in line with other search engines, and there are fewer reasons to consider using it above and beyond the other engines out there. It’s true that it does have a large database of pages, but since most searchers are not going to look further than the first 20 or so results, I have to wonder just how important that is.


Yandex and its history.


Yandex is one of the largest internet companies in Europe, operating Russia’s most popular search engine and its most visited website. According to LiveInternet, as of April 2015, it generated 58.6% of all search traffic in Russia. They also operate in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Turkey. It was first developed back in 1990, and the website was launched in 1997, and it became profitable in 2003 Yandex has over 5,000 employees and offices in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, USA, Turkey, Switzerland and Germany. It says that its mission is “to answer any question internet users may have.” Yandex features parallel search, which in their words “presents on a single page the results from both our main web index and our specialized information resources, including news, shopping, blogs, images and videos.” Yandex has a refreshingly different approach to search in comparison with Google. They say that the ‘happiness of the user’ is of crucial importance, and the happier the users, the more a business model will follow. The search makes its money from contextual advertising and annual turnover exceeds $1 billion. That doesn’t put it into the same category as Google of course, but I’m more interested in what it can do as a search engine, rather than inspecting the balance sheet.


Search functionality


As you would expect, Yandex comes with the usual search box, with search options along the top for images, video, mail, maps, metrica and the Yandex browser. The mail option allows users to get access to their email accounts as provided by Yandex. ‘Metrica’ is a tool to monitor an apps performance, and the browser link takes you to a page where you can download their browser, oddly enough. So the menu isn’t just for search, it links to other company options, which to be honest I don’t find terribly helpful – they would be better served by having those items at the bottom of the page, in common with most other search engines. Finally, in the search bar is a keyboard icon which when clicked presents users with an onscreen keyboard. I’m somewhat bemused by that, but then I saw that you could change the language to a number of others, so if you wanted to search more easily in Cyrillic for example, you’d be able to.


Search is straightforward – simply start to type in your keywords and Yandex will supply suggestions, which you can obviously accept or continue typing. The results are in the usual format of title, URL and summary. The site favicon is also displayed to the left of the title. You can also click on the half diamond to see the cached version, more from the site or to complain about the site. Video results are also shown , with an indication as to the numbers of results, and a link to see other videos. You can also see a few appropriate images, and click the link to view more of them. At the bottom of the page is an option to try the search on both Google and Bing, which is interesting. All very straightforward, with nothing particularly exciting, though it’s worth mentioning that Yandex didn’t take into account my location when I was searching, unlike Google. I’m in two minds as to the value of this, but on the whole, I prefer a straightforward feed, rather than a personalised one.


An advanced search function is offered. This is to the top right of the results. You can choose a location, a specific site, an exact match for the search, language (Russian or English with seven more options), file type (web, Microsoft Office, Open Office) and date (last 24 hours, past 2 weeks, past month or from/to). You can also change and save search settings. These are standard or advanced descriptions, opening results in a new tab or the same window, results language, safe search and correct searches or offer search suggestions.


At first glance, that looks like all that you can do. However, if you persevere, more options present themselves. You can link words together using the & function, so librarian & school & London will result in a query that finds all of the words in the same sentence, rather than anywhere on the page. You can do an exact match either by using the already mentioned advanced search function or by using the double quotes option, so that’s fairly standard. You can run a search to find words within a certain number of other words, so school /+3 librarian finds the word librarian located up to 3 words after the word school. Interestingly you can also run a search such as school /-3 librarian, which will limit results to pages that contain the word librarian up to 3 words before school. It’s possible to be even more precise than this however. By running a search such as school && /3 librarian you can limit the search to pages that contain the two words within 3 words of each other in the same sentence. This is very helpful in avoiding false hits. If that’s not complex enough, you can run a search for either option and it’s in the form of school /(-1 +3) librarian, to find results where librarian is either one word before school or up to three words afterwards. This really allows for some very precise searching; far superior to anything that Google is capable of.


Yandex will also exclude words for you, by using the minus symbol, so school –librarian will remove pages that contain librarian, but it also offers you the chance to change your mind, and you can cancel the operation, just searching for both words instead. However, we don’t need to stop there. Instead of using the minus symbol, you can use the tilde symbol, so school ~~ librarian will give you the same result as school –librarian, BUT if you run a search for school ~ librarian results with the word librarian will be excluded, only if the two words are in the same phrase. You do have to leave a space after the ~, rather than run it straight onto the keyword.


The OR operator works as you would expect, with school OR librarian giving results with web pages that contain either or both terms. If you want to be absolutely precise you can restrict Yandex from searching for alternatives by using the exclamation mark. For example, searching for ‘dog’ will also return terms such as ‘doggy’, but searching for !dog just gives you exactly that term. What’s really helpful is that this function allows you to limit results by capitalisation, so librarian will find you any page with the term, but !Librarian should return pages that only have the word with its initial capital letter.

Limiting by language is fairly obvious – if you don’t want to use the advanced search function, simply add in lang=”en” to the search.


You can search for pages with a specific title, and the functionality is title[“School Librarian”] or you can also use title:school librarian. This version gives you variants on the terms though, so you’ll get results that contain ‘school library’. In order to get exactly what you want, you would need to run a search for title:school !Librarian.


As well as title searches you can search for fragments of a url such as inurl:school As you’d expect you can also search through a specific site with the function site:philb.com. It’s also easy to search for a specific type of site, with the domain: option, so librarian domain:.gov.uk will limit the search to pages from the UK government that contain the word librarian.

The asterisk works in searches and will be replaced by any other word, such as "national * orchestra" Please note however that you must include the double quotes, or the search will not work – you’ll just get results for national orchestra.


Multimedia searching


I like the way that Yandex does image searching; it provides a variety of different filters, such as size, (large, medium, small or specific size),  recently added images, a wallpaper option, orientation, type (photo, with white background, pictures and drawings or people), colour, specific file type (jpeg, png, gif) or images on a specific site. You can also get Yandex to search based on an image that you provide, either that you upload or that you point it towards on the web. When you have run a search the images appear on the left hand side of the screen, with the right hand side being reserved for a larger sized version of the image result that’s been highlighted. You can then use that to search for similar images, or the the same image in different sizes. Finally, you can share the image directly onto Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter.


Video searching provides various different options as well. You can search by duration (any, less than 10 minutes, 10-65 minutes or more than 65 minutes), HD format, recent videos, or sort by relevance or date. One thing that I particularly like is the fact that you can choose a particular video and it will run directly on the search results page – you don’t have to go off to the originating site such as YouTube.


There is a map search function, and this is the only thing that I found to be really quite poor. I found the actual map very colourless and devoid of detail, unless you really zoom in. You can search nearby restaurants, cafes, museums and hotels, but this function simply didn’t work at all; it was a total fail.


Summary


Yandex is a great search engine. It’s very powerful, and it really does match or exceed Google in almost every area. If you’re an advanced or specialist searcher, Yandex really does deserve your attention. The elephant in the room with it is of course the fact that it’s Russian. However, I don’t see why this should detract – in fact if anything it may give a slightly different perspective on the results that you get. However, don’t take my word for it – try Yandex out for yourself!