Three busy days at RIF+KIB 2011, major Internet event in Russia

RIF+KIB 2011, the main Internet conference in Russia

RIF+KIB 2011, major Internet event in Russia

I just came back from Moscow after spending three days at the RIF+KIB 2011, the biggest Internet conference in Russia. It was a very interesting experience, I have learned a lot about the Russian Internet industry and particularly about online marketing business there, and met a lot of great people. About 7,000 people attended this three-day event, mostly young, in their 20’s, very ambitious and eager to learn about the Internet industry.

I haven’t been in Moscow for almost 20 years, and I was very excited to see the city where I started my military service back in 1983 and then visited several times while doing export-import business before immigrating to Canada. The city has changed a lot, with many new buildings being constructed and a lot of old ones being repaired. Unfortunately, traffic problems in the city were very obvious as well, with so many cars trying to move around the city and making it almost impossible to be on time anywhere.

RIF+KIB 2011 was held near Moscow, in the suburban area called Rublevka known for the most extravagant and expensive houses of “new Russians”: oligarchs, politicians, influential businessmen, government bureaucrats. While our bus was slowly going through the congested road, I was looking at 4-5 storey mansions, almost palaces, many of them staying behind 20 feet tall metallic fences with constant presence of police everywhere. Time to time we were passing very fancy restaurants, Ferrari and Bentley dealerships, expensive boutiques and very modern sport complexes. The presence of big money there was very obvious.

The program of the conference consisted of two main groups of events. The main program was formed by organizing committee and it was broken into sections covering a lot of topics: Online Marketing, Web Development, Social Media, education, start-up businesses, legal aspects, government regulation, etc. I submitted a proposal to speak about SEMPO two months in advance and didn’t get any response from organizers, even after I followed with email asking about the status of my proposal. It simply wasn’t included into the main program, and nobody bothered to tell me why.

The second group (Program 2.0) was formed by participant’s voting for presentations submitted prior the conference. I submitted three proposals to speak, with topics like International SEO, Internet Marketing Education and SEMPO itself and at the end none of them were accepted. Presentations about education was getting quite a lot of interest and votes, but at the end it was the only presentation in this section and was rejected based on the rules. International SEO presentation (which was the only one) was taken into consideration for Regional Promotion section along with several other speakers, and this section was very popular with participants who voted for it. I was watching the voting very closely, and I was confident it would be one of the most popular among attendees. Unfortunately, when I came to the conference, somehow, in a very mysterious way, the whole section with 8 speakers from other regions of Russia wasn’t included in Program 2.0 as well.

Later I had some private talks with people close to organizing committee, and they told me that the conference program was finalized the night before opening, organizers had problems to get speakers for several sections. If it was a case, why any of my proposals were weren’t included along with many other proposals from regional companies – I don’t understand. I was also in many ways frustrated with how difficult it was to communicate with organizers of this event. While all contact info was posted on the website, nobody replied to my emails, and it was almost impossible to get any answers over the phone, especially if you call from Canada.

During the conference I had talks with representatives of almost all major players in Russia like RAEK (Russian Association of Electronic Communications), Yandex (most popular website and search engine in Russia), Begun, Ashmanov & Partners, RBS Corp., RU Center, 1C-Bitrix just to name few. We were talking about the growth of Internet industry in Russia and problems it’s experiencing right now.

I had a short conversation with Arkady Volozh, CEO of Yandex who looked just like an average person and was very polite. When I asked him if Yandex’s global indexing means the beginning of competition with Google, his reply was that Yandex mostly focused on indexing of Cyrillic content on the web. I also met with Andrey Sebrant, Director of Product Marketing, and Eugene Lomize, Advertising Technology Director, whom I met last year in Seattle when he was a speaker at International Search Summit conferences sharing information about Internet industry in Russia and Yandex growth in particular. I spoke about SEMPO and its role, and both expressed some interest to support SEMPO in Russia. We still need to discuss the form of this support.

Interesting  scheme of Russian Digital Marketing Eco-System was presented by Boris Omelnitskiy, CEO of Begun, one of the Top 5 Internet advertising platforms in Russia. It shows key sectors and all major players on this fast growing market. Begun’s Marketing Manager Elena Klimanskaya was very kind to spend some time with me and providing some valuable information about the landscape of Internet Marketing in Russia, explaining me how it works in the market where Google is not a dominant search engine, Facebook has only 5 million users to this date, and number of Twitter’s users is slowly growing as well.

I had a great talk with Ksenia Ryzhkova, Director of Marketing and PR for Ashmanov & Partners, the leader in the field of Internet Marketing in Russia. This company leads the way through organizing conferences, hosting monthly workshops, publishing books about SEO and providing training. Company has experienced big growth in business in last three years that were troubled years for many other businesses in Russia. Ashmanov started to develop its own sophisticated SE tools like this Search Engine Analyzer .

SEMPO was not known to most of the people there. Since I didn’t have a chance to present SEMPO to the big audiences, I printed flyers with info about SEMPO and was distributing them around. I found several companies which expressed interested to become SEMPO members, I am going to follow up with them this week. I have a feeling that we won’t see many individual members from Russia, Russian SEM specialists usually work for some company, I haven’t met any independent professionals at this event. I look forward to see how the Russian companies will react to this opportunity to get involved with SEMPO and global Internet marketing community.

It was very unusual to see so many government officials to speak at such an event. Russian president Dmitri Medvedev sent greeting message to the participants via Twitter, Minister of Communications and Information Technologies Mr. Igor Shchegolev took a tour around and later participated in round table discussions along with his deputy minister. It was also interesting to learn that Russian government has an interest in developing a new national Internet search engine independently from Yandex.

Few takeaways from this conference:

• Russia is still experiencing a big growth in Internet users (57 million people), especially in the regions far from Moscow and St. Petersburg, in smaller cities. Approximately 40% of those users were using mobile devices to access Internet. E-commerce is getting more and more popular as well as more people have access to Internet and credit cards.

• Russian SEM companies are totally focused on Yandex, the leading search engine and most visited website. This search engine has its unique web search service based on a proprietary machine-learning method MatrixNet . Yandex has its own webmaster tips , but more info can be found in Yandex Recommendations for webmasters that are very similar to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines (unfortunately, this document is available in Russian only). Yandex.Webmaster tool also looks similar to Google’s, with pretty similar functionality.  So all these things can be taken as an indication that if your website is optimized according to the Google’s rules, then it has pretty good chances to rank well in organic SERPs of Yandex as well (of course if the content is written in Russian).

• If you want to use PPC advertisement in Russia, Google AdWords could be one of the options, but Yandex.Direct has a clear advantage in this market as well. Be prepared for minimal spending budget that is around $700. You can set up ad campaigns on your own or use one of the certified Yandex ad agencies to help you with this.

• Banner advertisement is still a big topic in Russia. To me it sounds like a stone age, but this is the reality in Russia. All major ad networks like Yandex, VKontakte or Odnoklassniki offer banner advertisement in their networks, and apparently it works well for many advertisers.

• Few SEM companies from Moscow and St. Petersburg totally dominate the Russian market. They open regional offices in other major Russian cities and try to do most of the business through their reps there.

• Russian market looks very self-isolated at this moment. Almost all Russian SEM agencies don’t do business outside of the Russia and CIS countries like Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia or Moldova. Possibly because of language barrier or lack of advertisers interested in foreign market, they simply aren’t ready to do business the way it’s been done in North America and Europe.

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