Expanding into Ukraine is something many companies consider doing, but are they managing their SEO correctly? As part of our International SEO Video Series, we were joined by Anna Matviienko, an SEO expert from Dnipro, who took the time to share her top tips for managing SEO in Ukraine.
How has the war affected the SEO industry in Ukraine?
It’s probably no surprise that marketing budgets inside Ukraine have been cut because of the war, and companies are counting every penny spent. This has led to PPC campaigns almost coming to a complete halt, with marketers having to adapt quickly to what’s happening in the country. It also means that keeping your SEO running in Ukraine is more important than ever.
Let’s talk about Ukrainian and Russian. How similar are the languages, and are people turning their backs on Russian?
One of the main reasons Putin used to justify the invasion of Ukraine was because Ukrainians were apparently discriminating against Russian speakers. This, of course, isn't true, and Anna told us that she grew up speaking Russian, much like 42% of the population (in 2012). That number, however, has slowly dwindled, and as of April 2022, only 16% of the population categorize Russian as their native language. So, instead of "rescuing" Russian speakers, Ukrainians are now prouder than ever to speak Ukrainian, which is why it's so important that your marketing campaigns are done in Ukrainian.
Looking at the similarities between Russian and Ukrainian, there are a few words like bread ('chleb' vs. 'chlib'), but Ukrainian is actually closer to Slovak and Polish than it is Russian.
The word for Sunday is 'voskresenye' in Russian, and 'nedilia' in Ukrainian, which is very similar to the Slovak word 'nedel'a'.
How has the war impacted the Ukrainian market as a whole?
One of the most significant changes is that Ukrainian consumers wont purchase products made in countries that support Russia. There are now apps that can be used to check where a product has been made so that a conscious decision can be made about buying a product or not. On the other hand, people are buying more from countries that help Ukraine. A good example is a small Czech business that made pillows with Zelensky's picture on them. These became very popular and boosted sales for that business.
Another change is that people are taking much longer to convert than before, which is understandable. Since people are living with the uncertainty of not knowing if they'll get their next paycheck, Ukrainians are making sure that their purchases are necessary before buying. And they're much more price-conscious, too.
Which search engines are used in Ukraine?
A common misconception that foreign companies have when they’re looking to expand into Ukraine is that Ukrainians use Yandex, like Russia. However, Google has a 91% market share; therefore, it's the search engine you need to optimize for if you're aiming to do SEO in Ukraine. Yandex was reported to have a 3% market share in 2021, which has been reported to have dropped to 1% after the Russian invasion.
In 2017, the Ukrainian government blocked Yandex and other popular Russian sites like Vkontaktye and Odnoklassniki. So, when it comes to social media, Facebook, Youtube, and Instagram are the most popular channels used in Ukraine.
How to succeed with Ukrainian SEO
If you’re looking to rank at the top of Ukrainian SERPs, there are a number of steps you can take to ensure that this happens.
You must have a Ukrainian website
Not only is Ukrainian a must from an ethical standpoint, but laws in Ukraine also require that a website's primary language be Ukrainian. Of course, you can have multilingual websites, but there must be a Ukrainian option for Ukrainian consumers.
You need to support Ukraine as a sovereign country
As a business, it's important you don't just virtue signal your support for Ukraine; you need to show that you mean it. This can be achieved by showing your volunteering efforts or publicly sharing how much you've donated to the armed forces.
Your marketing campaigns needs to show that you’re supporting the Ukrainian economy
With the ongoing war, make sure to show Ukrainian consumers you care about them and that you are supporting the Ukrainian economy. This could be done by showcasing jobs you've created or other initiatives you've taken to protect people's livelihoods during this very testing time.
Make sure your design is clean and modern
Ukraine is spoilt for choice when it comes to web designers. This is why Ukrainians are accustomed to having modern and user-friendly websites, and they won't settle for anything less. A good tip would be to consult with a Ukrainian UX/Design expert to gain insight into if your website would be popular or if it requires a facelift.
Your services need to be fast and high quality
In Ukraine, local businesses provide fast and high-quality services, which is why it's important that you can aptly compete with them. If you can't, consumers will stick with their local options because they're accustomed to a high standard of service.
Ensure you set your HTML language to "uk" for Ukrainian. It's a quick change but one that many foreign SEOs forget to make.
Another mistake that foreign companies make is the incorrect use of hreflang tags for Ukraine. For a Ukrainian site, the hreflang tags are "uk-ua" and for Russian, you use "ru-ua".
Anna is an SEO specialist from Ukraine. She began her career in 2018 as a content strategist before moving to an agency role. She was promoted to Head of SEO in 2021 but was forced to change course as a direct result of the war. Since June 2022, she's been working in-house within the gaming industry and specializes in technical SEO.